I was strolling down the rue de Calais one afternoon stopping every now and then at the markets to pore over second-hand trinkets sold for more than their worth, when there in between all the junk I saw the identical string of pearls I found in your coat pocket all those years ago. They gleamed with a silent silver luster, not wanting to draw any attention yet they opened up a door in my mind that immediately began playing a picture show of long forgotten memories. The first of which burned me the most, the moment I should have walked away but chose to believe you instead. I saw myself standing against the closed door of our room imploring you to explain yourself, we both knew they were not mine, I’d always hated pearls because they reminded me of my cruel grandmother. And you were sitting on the edge of the bed contriving a story but your eyes betrayed you and your lies slipped through your eyelashes and I held your hand in mine as you asked for forgiveness, your cheeks stained by ghostly rivulets of tears. Fool that I was I forgave you in an instant believing it was the only time.
You were so deceitful so indifferent to my love and my sadness, I don’t know how I ever loved you for so long.
After that night you began to stay out more frequently, whole days and entire weekends you could not be found but I always knew where you were with her and I remember standing in the cold kitchen at 4 in the morning my eyes were red and almost swollen shut from crying in front of the moon and the sky. I moved out in the middle of the night a week later while you were still away, Agnes and Peter helped to carry my large old valise and my boxes across the street into their apartment where they let me stay for as long as I needed, my eyes well up even now when I think of their simple kindness and how grateful I was to know them.
I lingered in their spare room for a week like a stowaway, I only wanted to scare you but all I felt was nausea and anxiety every time their phone rang and it was all for nothing because it was never you on the other side. Your apartment lights stayed off all that week and I’ve always wondered if you even knew I wasn’t there anymore. Eventually I gave in and called you at work, your voice was distant I could barely make out the words you were saying, my knuckles were white from clutching the phone to my ear, my eyes were closed to keep from crying. My world was crumbling into funereal ashes around me and you were watching, doing nothing.
I was surprised when you agreed to meet me after work.
It was a Wednesday in late October, the sun was setting in its sky when I set out to meet you, orange leaves flew before me clutching the coat tails of the wind as they went. The thought that you would not arrive briefly crossed my mind but the nausea had crept in again and I was too anxious to dwell on the uncertainty. I sat at the assigned bench outside the park gates. Some school girls in green blazers walked by then stopped suddenly, a tall brunette promptly began to re-plait her friend’s braid that was loosening, they were laughing and tied three ribbons on the end of it to be sure, then they walked on, their bright ribbons glittering in the sun, beige and yellow leaves waltzed around their footsteps. I hoped none of them would find themselves sitting on a bench one afternoon feeling sick because of love. I waited.
I waited and I waited and the wind grew colder and the sky got darker.
More and more people passed me by, the workday was over, their hurried heels clicking on the flagstones their packets of milk rustling after them trying to keep up. I was sure now that you wouldn’t arrive but I could not move. Across the street a waiter was stacking chairs and carrying them inside the café, when he was done he started on the tables, they were trickier and he had to coax them this way and that before getting them over the threshold. He returned to the vacant pavement with a broom and began to sweep away the last traces of the day, he took his time. He must have been around nineteen and I could tell from the movement of his head that he was humming to himself.
I looked everywhere but your face I couldn’t find.
My hands were freezing and I tucked them under my thighs, I should have carried my gloves, I thought. The waiter had moved inside the café and was wiping the windows, I remember thinking he had an awful lot of tidying up to do before he left for the day but he was quick and his face was pleasant and I felt less alone knowing he was there. I had waited almost two hours by then and the sky turned from navy blue to black and the streetlights began bursting into life.
How silly of me to believe you would actually come.
My God, I wanted so much to see you, I wanted you to answer all the questions that clung to my mind.
I knew deep down that this meeting would be futile, your eyes stopped lighting up at the sight of me months ago but I wanted to hear it in your voice, I wanted to see it on your face.
The waiter had replaced his uniform with a black pants and long black coat and was locking the door of the café a plastic cup in his hand. He crossed the empty street and walked directly to me then held out the cup.
‘’I’m sorry he did not come. I hope this makes you feel better.’’ He said, smiling.
I took the cup wordlessly and he walked off into the darkness. I sat drinking the hot creamy chocolate it contained and became acutely aware of the small kind acts in this world being offered in corner stores and outside school yards and on park bench. I began to understand the affection I was looking for in you didn’t reside in you alone it could be found all around me. Moments of sweetness, slivers of happiness were being passed around and shared every day by friends, by strangers, by concerned neighbours who live across the street. I realized I didn’t need to wait for your answers anymore, my soul had been warmed anew, so I woke up and made my way home.
*This story was originally published in Halcyon Literary Magazine, September 2016*