Susan E. Lloy
Turn Left on California

‘Turn left on California.’ She likes the sound of that. Those were his exact instructions when she told him what time her flight would get in. He wanted to meet her at the airport, but she prefers to take the Bart to Powell Street and then walk over to his place. That’s if, she still has energy after the long flight. If not she’ll hitch a Lyft. She knows the city well from previous visits with its steep rolling hills and eclectic architecture. The ocean always within sight and often trees filled with chatting parrots depending on the hood.
      He isn’t at all practical. She met him online and he lives thousands of miles away. But, she is bored with her present and imagines what life might be. What time has in store for her? She constantly regurges her past, worries about the future and is barely here in the now, continually pondering what empty spaces she may inhabit someday or not.
      She should have sought a local hook up, yet California sounds appealing. She fantasizes what her life might be like there. Wearing jeans and casual tops. Something she never does at home. In this place it’s mostly black and sombre tones. Occasionally, a signature piece. Maybe she’ll touch up her grey locks with blond highlights to resemble the carefree West Coast sun-kissed windblown hair. She’ll walk his dog Yoyo and hang at the beach with all the other canine cuddlers. She’s bound to meet new friends.
Although just before her trip she gets a call for a follow up MRI. They saw something on her routine chest x-ray. As she waits for her test she examines the assortment of posters on the wall of different countries: Africa, Egypt, France, and others further down the corridor that are not within eyeshot. She looks up at the corrugated ceiling and tries to count the tiny holes within each panel waiting for her name to be called. She thinks about her exam and if it’s bad news she won’t be taking any destined excursions. She will stop time right on the spot. Not draw it out or fret about what may come.
      But for the moment, while she is positioned in the machine, she forces herself to be in the present, to breathe slowly and follow the instructions without twitching or moving unnecessarily. Each time she’s had this exam, all parts of her body begins to itch and cry out for her attention. She tries her hardest not to shift, to concentrate, envisioning herself on a beach, the warm water lapping at her feet. She stares at the horizon holding her breath as she is instructed and watches the red ball of the sun slowly dip below.
She flies out the following day anxiously awaiting to hear from her physician. Perhaps he hasn’t read the report as yet and all is masked if sinister or not. If he takes his time getting back to her she’ll enjoy her trip and look out at the Pacific and dream of things to come. She will get in better shape and give up social smoking. Out there she’ll get ‘the look’ if she lights one up on the steep streets. The smoke lost in the morning fog. She’ll sell up back east and start afresh here. In a week or two she’ll become one of them as if she’s born and bred.
       She dozes lightly along the way and has strange dreams of falling, only to be woken up abruptly from turbulence and the overhead announcement to fasten seatbelts. She sees the ocean. Cerulean and welcoming. She lets out a long breath and feels lighter as if she’s expelled all that worry into the air. She adjusts her phone from airplane mode and there are two messages from her doctor instructing her to contact him as soon as possible. But, for now she’ll focus on her trip and enjoy the surroundings. And try not be scared of looking down. AQ