And if, in some strange country
where we meet again, and I
reach up to kiss your lush lips,
trembling with uncertainty,
then there, among the silent hordes
and the grey walls, there – is it
possible, that you will choose
to forget all my unthinking
words (knife-slashes), all of my
mistakes, and taste only passion
touched with (so much) regret
to press your lips upon mine
-- M.A. Mohanraj
Such an incongruous place. Such an unlikely atmosphere. The clink of glasses and polite conversation. Hushed tones kept low in an intimate setting. The swish of aprons around starched table clothes, and the dull pop of a wine cork under atmospheric illumination.
Such false brightness.
Who would guess that these emotions could attempt termination in this place? Who would guess that such a light place, such an airy place, with the cheerful hum of tourists and patrons buzzing the background, would be the scene of attempted resolution?
Not she, and certainly not the tall, broad-shouldered
man who sits patiently – waiting, expectantly silent – at a table in the
She remains steadfast, hidden by a column, refusing to yet emerge from the safety of her concealment. Cold stone against her cheek and the contradiction of warm sun scattered by soaring skylights. She sucks in a breath, relishing the time-slowed rasp of it sliding down her throat. The bite of pain as she blinks around a headache present since his call will not be silenced and hardens her resolve.
She measures her steps, approaching a past she views best left unconfronted. His eyes have yet to meet her, yet to see her slim form as it weaves among the cultured and those seeking culture in this cafe. Will he recognize her? Have the years erased so much of her that he will be unable to see even the shadow of the woman who once was? Have barriers grown up around her image as well as her heart?
She seeks his eyes, forcing concentration, willing him to notice who she is, who she has become. His vision slinks around the crowded restaurant, alighting briefly upon her before moving forward. In a moment of realization, his eyes move slowly with unwanted recognition to rest again on the shape of her face.
Thin now, aged with lines worn proud with the honor of being earned, hair a less vibrant hue than he remembers. Years and sorrows hang around her visage. She nears, and he searches for the familiarity he could once see in her…
and finds it in her eyes.
They are as restless now as ever they were. Colors shifting, changing with the play of the light and the concealed flow emotions behind those vibrant orbs. A brilliant summer-sky blue, a crystal pine-needle emerald, a clear thundercloud gray. Soulful eyes. The only unguarded part of a spirit forged in steel.
She stands before his table, looking down on him with those ancient eyes, attempting a word, searching the pain for the remembrance of what to say. Cracked and dry, the words are sharp with unabandoned formality. “Sir.”
It is almost laughable now, in this setting, years after these titles have been left behind, that they should address each other this way. It is almost ironic that after what has transpired, after the knowledge of the wrongness of this greeting that they should still cling to tradition. It is almost laughable.
With the scrape of wrought iron over slate, she sits opposite him. There is quiet uncertainty as they regard one another. She will wait for him to begin – to explain the summons that has brought her here. He must explain his words, uttered in so familiar a long unheard voice over the crackle of a static filled connection, the words that have urged her presence.
She is filled with the question of why she is here.
“He wants to see you.”
It is not what she expected.
News of his death maybe, of the last breath of a man whose passing she once believed she would be able to feel even separated by countless miles and years. That she could have imagined, almost even, in a sick and sorrowful way, hoped for. Maybe then, free of the life-shackles that bind them, maybe then she would have felt free. Maybe then, knowing that in fact she had not felt his passing, that it had not even registered within her soul, maybe then she would feel alone and finally know that the meaning of that feeling was rightfully hers.
Yes. She might have dealt with his death. It would have torn the last shred of him free, pulling apart the blood and spirit ties that encircle them still, despite the ravages of these past years. She would have sighed then, abandoning herself to the bliss of solitude, to at last being utterly alone. Knowledge of his death would have brought on a little death of her own, a death steeped in numb solitude, the freedom of unfeeling that is a haven only understood by those who have suffered enough to appreciate its empty attributes.
But he is not dead, and so she is not free of him yet; she wonders if she will ever be. She knows, in some deeply guarded part of her, in the darkness where she still fears to reach, that even death could not be her reprieve. The truth of them is inescapable.
And now he wants to see her.
Also now, seated across from her, a man whom she once viewed as a sort of father figure, a man who wears his own feelings of failure upon his face like a shield, waits expectantly for her response to this little bomb he has deposited so carefully into her lap. Absently, she dips the tip of a thin finger to graze the surface of the cool water in the glass poised before her. The chill of it communicates along her nerve endings, as she swirls her finger around the rim of the glass, listening to the high squeak of her actions.
She studies her chipped manicure, fastening her gaze upon unkept cuticles and rough, nervous bitten tips. “Why?”
He seems taken aback by her question, as if he didn’t anticipate her need for answers. Did he think she would come running? Did he think that one word from him would be enough to erase the past?
He swallows roughly, the muscles of his throat contracting noticeably in the bitter light of the table at which they sit. “I’m not sure…” he is stalling, avoiding the revelation of what he knows is not his place to reveal. “It’s not for me to say.”
Nodding slowly, she accepts this, assuring him that he does not bear the taint of her blame.
The glass is cool as she brings it to her mouth, allowing the moisture to wash passed her parched lips, making her voice less like harsh sandpaper. “What does he expect?”
Again, confusion mars the stone of her one-time boss’ features. He rises from the table and pulls his jacket from the back of his chair. As he moves past her, he unclenches a hand she had not realized remained locked in a fist this entire time. Drifting to the surface of the table, among the scattering of dollar bills he is leaving for the waitress, is a slip of paper. She stares at it, not really allowing what it might be to infiltrate her understanding. He is moving away, and she feels him pause behind her. Then, unexpected after years of avoided physical contact, she feels the momentary warmth of a hand upon her shoulder, the faintest of squeezes, the lightest hint of pressure.
It is an apology and an affirmation. It is all that can now be said between these two people who never shared many words to begin with, two people whose solitary link has always been the life of a man both found themselves unknowingly drawn to, a man whose life continues to draw them together. The gesture is sweet in the fleeting manner in which it is given. If she had not been paying attention, she might have missed it entirely. As it is, she cannot even be totally sure that the brief contact may not just have been imagination.
The air around her stirs with his movement away from her. She does not turn around, does not venture one last glance at the retreating figure of a man who once upon a time played so prominent a role in her life.
She wonders briefly if she will ever see him again.
Standing now, she remains immobile by the side of the table, cursing a fate that could bring her to regard a simple piece of paper as so important an item in her life. She could leave it there; resting between the crispness of newly minted dollar bills. She could leave it there and never look back, placing the final nail in the coffin of their relationship.
Would he be waiting somewhere, expecting her arrival? Would he silently curse her as he realized she was not to appear?
Or would he understand? Could he understand that even though time may bring forgiveness, sometimes wounds wrought deeply enough can never heal? They scab over, allowing new flesh to grow over where the scars once were, but it is only camouflage. She forgave him with the last tear she cried for his absence, but could he understand that to see him again would only strip her bare to the fierceness of wounds best left untouched?
In the end, cursing the weakness she had thought long ago overcome, she reaches down with eyes shut firm against the act she is committing, and snatches the crinkled slip from the table. It burns like fire in the palm of her hand, as she listens to the sharp crack of her heels retreating from the museum.
She walks with determined grace, hoping that the steadiness of her steps will not betray the uncertainty in her heart.