Joy has been named incorrectly.
For her, happiness has always been skimpy. There’s been fleeting moments, of course. That time when she experienced her first kiss, buying her apartment, the warmth of Sadie when she curls on her lap.
But implosion always threatened, like troops on the border making a stealthy advance. Even those times of pleasure didn’t last: Sadie was run over, the boy who kissed her spat in her face and laughed, and her apartment, well…she still owned it, but it was in need of renovations and repairs.
Joy is in the local park, her back leaning against a tree. Around her, the park is an array of lush verdant tones. Joggers and couples smooching on blankets barely notice its beauty, so caught up in their own lives. Nor does anyone notice her, and that’s how she likes it. She sniffs, wipes the trail of salty tears from her cheeks. Her whole body feels heavy, achy. She closes her eyes.
She is weightless, drifting in warm liquid. It envelopes her, comforts her. She stretches her legs and arms but they are restricted. She curls herself back into a ball, tucks her head in tight to her chest. Music chimes somewhere in the distance. A lullaby. It tugs, deep in the recesses of her memory.
Now she is running, breathless. She looks over her shoulder. It is coming for her, following her. Close now. Joy opens her mouth to scream, but her voice is muted. She is rocking from side to side.
‘Miss! Are you OK?’
Joy opens her eyes. A man is crouching beside her, his arm on her elbow.
‘Oh, pardon me. I must have fallen asleep,’ Joy says, standing up.
‘Was quite a dream. You were screaming.’
Joy looks up, squints as the sun’s glare shines directly in her eyes, preventing her from looking into his.
‘Thank you,’ Joy mumbles. What else can she say?
‘Can I offer you a ride home? A coffee? There’s a cafe just across the road. I’m Matthias, by the way.’
‘Thank you Matthias,’ she repeats. ‘I’m fine though. I’ll just walk home.’
‘I’d really like to make sure you’re OK. That was quite a display.’
Joy’s eyes have adjusted to the sun’s brightness. His eyes are kind, a chocolate brown. She squirms as her drive to connect fights with her fear of rejection.
‘One coffee?’ Matthias asks. ‘I wouldn’t feel right about leaving…’ His voice trails off as if he’s not sure how to finish his sentence.
Joy stops struggling. ‘One coffee would be terrific.’