"The Observer" | mariteaux

The room's so quiet, I can hear my ears ring. The room's so dim, I don't have to squint. My hands are still. I'm calm.

I'm calm and I don't know why.

I put my snout up against the plate glass of the second-story cafe lounge window and stare down at a world I've stopped being a part of. A parade of everyone in town I've ever seen, all bundled up for the cold I don't feel, and barren branches shimmering like spiderwebs in the orange glow of the streetlamps. They've got fireworks all ready to go behind Mayor Appleberry. I won't be able to hear either.

I've never felt this separate.

"It's too noisy out there for me," a polite little voice said to me from across the room. "And cold."

I turned back. She was another armadillo, surprisingly enough. A pink one. Absolutely tiny. Wrapped up warm in coat after fleece coat that still didn't puff her up to my size. Her gloves were discarded on the low wooden table next to her, though she kept her smile and her thermos closer.

I didn't know what to make of her, or—why she'd want to talk to me.

"I didn't know there were other armadillos in town," I mumbled back, squinting a little.

"Me neither. I—don't go out much."

"...I don't either."

Something pulled me awkwardly to the couch next to her. A pleasant, inviting hospitality, maybe. A gentleness I don't get from anyone else. I should've gotten annoyed by then.

"I like coming up here sometimes though," she said, shifting a bit to face me. "When it's not busy."

"I've never been up here. Kevin and Penny—my, uh, friends—wanted hot chocolate and I had to come with them to make sure they didn't get in any trouble."

"Are they troublemakers?"

"Mmh, yeah, kinda." I pulled out my laptop and jostled the charger into the closest outlet I could find. "Anyway, I'm only up here to get some work done."

And with that, she went back to idly staring off into space. And while I did intend to get work done, I—didn't feel like it anymore. Something about her took me out of it. It was like an arctic frost that kept me from breathing thawed when she drew near. Like a floodlight in my face dimmed just long enough to rest my eyes, or a shrill, piercing siren torturing me wherever I went ceased to be for a few precious minutes.

"...What's your name?" I asked quietly.

"Catherine."

Catherine. Goddamn...what the hell was she doing to me?

"I'm Sebastian. Or, um, Seb. If you want."

Catherine giggled. "I like that name."

I cracked a little grin myself and reclined. "It's a dumb family name is what it is. ...At least it wasn't Percival, though." Poor, poor Percy. "So are you...new here?"

"Been here my whole life," she answered. "My parents bought a big brick house by the library when I was born, and—now it's mine while they're abroad."

"How long's that?"

"Gosh, I wanna say...three years now? Last time they sent me a letter from Wales."

"They've been in Wales for three years?"

"Well, before that, they were in Belgium...and before that, Poland...they're everywhere, man."

I nodded quietly, setting my laptop aside and joining her in watching the commotion outside, all the people pacing like ants and that doofy purple leopard fumbling with the mayor's papers in the cold. "...In a few minutes, they'll be doing fireworks, I bet," I said to her.

"It's a new decade. Gotta be a little festive."

A life of nothing but sitting around an old brick house or up here in the cafe lounge...surely, she had to keep busy somehow, didn't she? What'd she do for a living? What were her hobbies? And—why was I this curious about her? It's only been recently I've even been able to put it into words, this...kin I felt with her.

I still wasn't sure what was going on, and as we sat together, I still kept my distance some, but—I was starting to hope it'd last long past that.