I poured more coffee into the flimsy paper cup marked with my name ‘Alexandra’ from the ancient coffee maker in the worker’s lounge area. The coffee tasted like watered-down tar, but I don’t complain, at least they gave us free coffee. I willed the very little caffeine in this watered-down coffee to start up my engine so I could stay standing until 5:30 AM while I stocked shelves at the local Shoprite.
The shift went by slow, and by 5:15 my feet were dragging, and my head was hung low. I went to take the trash out, newly my favorite activity. This was the time of day the painter in the sky presented one of his beautiful watercolor paintings, projected across the sky of Philadelphia. As quickly as the show began it ended, leaving the canvas a bright blue until the painters’ next visit at the start of my shift tonight.
I turned my attention back to the task at hand and lifted the plastic lid of the large rusted green metal dumpster ready to throw away the full and heavy trash bag. I peered into the dumpster, and something caught my eye, a brown leather strap. I grabbed the strap attempting to dislodge it from the bags of trash.
I put all my weight into pulling the bag out, praying the thin leather straps don’t snap under the pressure. With a thump, I went flying backward into the cold damp asphalt as the bag came free. I wiped my hands which were now an array of small clumps of asphalt and red wet dots before looking at the bag. It was a soft buttery brown color, it looked to be expensive. The damp ground soaked my tan khaki work pants while I sat and looked inside the bag.
There were some feminine products in the bag, tampons, lipstick, and face wipes. There was also a hoodie and some notebooks. I checked the front zippered pocket and there lay a wallet and an envelope. I decided to investigate it all further once I was home. I went back into the store to comb through the box of merchandise that was going to be thrown out which consisted of some cake mixes, crackers, snacks, and hair dyes.
I jogged through the dark dank streets of Philadelphia eager to get to my apartment, ignoring the catcalls from men on street corners and sad begging looks from those sitting in cardboard shacks. I finally arrive outside the ‘studio apartment’ I lived in. Generally, when someone thinks of a studio apartment, they think modern and sophisticated, suitable for a handsome young bachelor. Perhaps I was the only one who made that assumption when my mother told me we would be renting a studio outside of Northern Liberties. Luckily, we were not bachelors. The door has not one but three deadlocks. The brick of the exterior was a mix and match of different shades of red, all equally revolting. There were bars over the windows obstructing the beautiful view of the garbage, smog, crime, and light pollution that Philly generates.
The only good thing about this dump was the windowsill, despite the bars with black chipping paint and the thin pane which let in a cold draft of dry wintery air. I often sat on top of the old wood windowsill which creaked in vexation. I loved sitting there to peek through the sheer lace curtains to spy on the city of brotherly love while I wrote on my laptop. I would write stories of a girl who resembled me but that lived in a beautiful city, writing in coffee shops all day long.
A few years ago, my mom got me the laptop. It was far from new, but it was all a single mother without a drop of child support could afford. It has always just been my mom and I, now, it’s just me. The days were lonely since she passed, I tried to focus on writing, but no words have fallen out of my brain and onto my keyboard since she died. My mother had pancreatic cancer, just like Alex Trebek. We never watched jeopardy, but they always played reruns of it in my mom’s hospital room. My mom was diagnosed a few months before Trebek. She used to say that if he could make it and be strong enough to still host a game show, she would also be fine. But he died in November, and she died in October.
Finally, I dumped the bag out onto the twin mattress. I directed my attention to the notebooks splayed out in Infront of me labeled ‘creative writing’ and ‘college algebra’. I page through the stories in her writing notebook. This girl always wanted to be a writer, just like me. I was struck by an inkling of guilt; I wonder if whoever this bag belongs to knows its missing. I put the notebook down and reach for the wallet and envelope, opening the wallet first. Her Temple University ID said her name was Alicia Griffins, and she had shoulder-length thick brown hair and blue eyes just like mine. In a way we looked similar, we were only a year apart in age and her hair was brown but mine is blonde. Her wallet had money in it as well, about $300. She had credit cards in here too, but I could never do that to someone. I got up and grabbed the scissors, cutting the cards to shreds.
Finally, I investigated the envelope. After tearing the white paper sealed by Alicia’s spit I pulled out the printed piece of paper and opened it up, my jaw dropped, and my heart stopped. Inside the envelope was something I had only seen in movies. It was a plane ticket to Seattle for three days from now. I sat down on the side of the bed, my mind going 100 mph thinking of the things I could do with this. I quickly realized, despite never being on a plane before, that only Alicia could take this ticket and I am not Alicia. I took a deep breath of disappointment before flopping back onto the lumpy old mattress. I closed my eyes and thought of myself in Seattle in some tiny coffee shop with my old laptop typing away. A small tear slipped out of the gates of my eye and down my cheek. I realized that Alexandra Pechman would never go to Seattle, only girls like Alicia Griffins perused their dreams in Seattle.
Three days later at exactly six am I strolled into the airport with brown hair, exactly two hours before Alicia’s flight. I had eyeliner on, just like in her student ID and my skin was painted a slightly paler than my normal tone. I had gone to work the night I found the bag and the whole shift I thought of how I could live a life like Alicia’s. When I was looking at the free bin, a singular box of brown hair-dye peered up at me. For a second the model’s face on the cardboard box morphed into a more familiar one. It was me, my blue eyes looking back at me but with brown hair rather than blonde. My heart raced as I grabbed the box and walked with power to the manager’s desk, handing in my resignation.
I walk through the airport towards security in the dress I wore to my mom’s funeral, which happened to be my nicest dress. My heart pounded in my ears as I prepared myself. This could end in two ways; me getting on a plane or being escorted out by security for identity fraud. I emptied all my belongings to run through the detector and handed the woman ‘my’ driver’s license. She looked at the license and then back at me multiple times and in worried haste, I grabbed the wallet and pulled out the Temple school ID and mustered up my most airhead silly voice.
“I also have this if you need that as well, ma’am. I don’t really know how these things work” I said coyly with a silly smile. The women glanced at the plastic card and then smiled.
“You go to Temple? It’s a great school, isn’t it? I graduated from there in ‘09” she said handing me back the driver’s license. The sweat stopped leaking out of every pore of my body and I took a relaxed breath and smiled back at the woman.
As I walked onto the plane my heart was racing with anxiety but also excitement. For the first time in my life, I was finally leaving Philadelphia. I said goodbye to my mom last night and told her I was finally getting out of this city and moving on to pursue my dreams of writing. I cried while sitting in front of the grey granite rock that was now all I had left of my mother.
I was looking out the window, peering upon the workers in reflective yellow vests when someone sat next to me. He was a young man, maybe a few years older than me. He had brown shaggy hair and green eyes, and when he smiled, he had the most captivating dimples.
“Hi, I’m Arron,” he offered, reaching out his hand towards mine. I blushed slightly.
“Uh, hi Arron. Nice to meet you” I said awkwardly, clasping my hand around his much larger one.
“And you are?” he asked, chuckling. I thought for a second before replying
“Sorry, I’m Alicia” I stated with a smile. This stranger didn’t have to know that my name was Alexandra. We were flying away from Alexandra and her home, and Alicia was ready for her future in Seattle.