The Realist

September 10, 2021

“Hey, how are you.”

It’s never a question. Always a statement, because they pass too quickly to answer.
“Hey, how are you.”

Saying only hey is short and impolite. The rest is just kind enough to blend with the grayness of artificial caring.  I’m not wondering how they’re doing, what their days have been like.  The routine of living pushes and pulls me in its direction.

“Hey, how are you.”

They pass me in strides, looking at their shoes and blinking their eyes in time to avoid mine. 

“Hey, how are you.”

Just a noise they hear, four separate words smashed together. A middle C among the symphony of everydayness. 

“Hey, how are you.”

Their coats flap in the wind with their brisk steps.  Hands in pockets.  Scarves strangling their necks. 

“Hey, how are you.”

Does it make me a liar? To ask how they are without asking? To ask without a question mark? 

“Hello, how are you.”

Because they aren’t asking me how I’m doing, the young man in gloves.  They respond with a simple nod of the head, a quick close-lipped smile, and a flick of the scarf back over the shoulder.  That’s if they glance up, if they offer me a bit of acknowledgement.

Indoor, the unravelling of myself from my heavy layers reveals nobody important.

Coffee stains on sweater sleeves.  Shallow mugs, half empty, half full.

On days like today, it’s both.  Other days when I get an answer like “Fine, thank you,” the glass is up to the rim with water, up to the rim with words like “Fine, thank you.”

Fine, thank you.

On most days, the water, the words—they evaporate into the air, out the window, floating above the buzzing of electricity from the city.  Skyscrapers erect from the asphalt out there, stretching up to me.  The voices thunder with a heartbeat and vibrate with blended lines of small talk.

Hey, how are you.

Fine, thank you.

Overcast clouds cast a gray shadow upon the tall cinderblock and steel.  Windows reflect windows, just glass bouncing back and forth, faces gazing past faces.   It’s not every day that I get a response, and once I go back out the next day, day after day after day, the routine sucks me back in.

“Hey, how are you.”

Again, the wind tunnels through my coat, my shoes, my socks.

“Hey, how are you.”

To follow the streets that predict my steps, and to breathe in the air already exhaled, I allow the city to foresee my ways.  Nothing it hasn’t before looked down upon.

“Hello, how are you.”

Then, a blur of brown clouds my space, a collision of black robes, boots, and pantyhose.  The noise first appears in my head, a resounding illusion that fills the glass.  But it’s real.

“Fine, thank you.”

Our impact spins us face-to-face, her dark eyes lined in make-up, lips like roses.  Mine, just an open hole, pushing out the words, “Excuse me?”

With the pause of her body, she hushes.  Her heels straighten her posture.  “I said, ‘Fine, thank you.’”

“I know.  I just wanted to hear it again.”

“May I ask why?”

“Please ask me.  Ask me why I want to hear you say it again.”

“Say what?”

Those beautiful words that might be as false as my hey, how are you.  But the routine stops, clashing with someone else’s day.  “’Fine, thank you.’  Not many people answer me when I ask.”

“Well, in that case, you’re welcome.”

“For what?”

“Making you thankful that I answered.  I suppose it made you thankful?”  Her lips curve in blood colored waves, pouring out words I only hear from myself.

“Yes, it did.”

“Then, fine, thank you.”

“Your skin is so white, so cold; please let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

With a parting glance down the path of which she was pursuing, her blackened eyes lay on me, on my covered neck, on the hat that shields my face from the glances of strangers.

“I will.”

Together, we set a new path, an unexpected turn down the side street between two brick buildings.  The road is unfamiliar; my feet catch on the fractures in the pavement, on the stone walkways, and we leave everyone on their path that’s etched on the sidewalk.  To and from their jobs they go, making money, buying their same cup of tea, day in, day out.  Passing the same perfumes in the windows of the monotonous, romantic shops.  Everyone is the same.

She stops, places her hand on the storefront.

“What are you reaching for, darling?”

She tilts her head at the window, but an answer, I need not.  I already got a response, and I got her to say it twice.

Still:  “What are you reaching for, dear?”

“That perfume in the window of that romantic little shop.  That ordinary glass bottle of perfume.” 


M.M. Cochran is a YA writer and author of Between the Ocean and the Stars (summer 2022). With an educational background in English and creative writing, she has worked in the journalism industry, as well as the agenting and publishing industry, and she is currently a freelance book editor for her service, Elegant Editing. Now pursuing a career in publishing and becoming a full-time novelist, she spends most of her time editing and writing in her novels. Meanwhile, you can find M.M. collecting coffee mugs or slipping into an oversized sweater, wishing for a white winter.


Featured Image by youssef naddam on Unsplash