She: a Short Story

calmer

Ten years go by, and I still can’t forget her. The world slowed the moment she walked in the door to the bar. The pianist lifted his eyes to the door, and everyone else stared, dumb. I smoked a cigarette and followed the grey smoke with my gaze. It eventually landed on her. She had green eyes the color of emeralds, and her hair was dark like silk dyed ebony. Every cigarette I smoke now tastes of her name. I will not speak her name. She is a part of my heart that has been cordoned off til now.

Her dress skimmed down her body, which was slim and lithe. Her skin was the color of ivory, and she was flawless. I vowed to never fall in love with a woman at a a bar, so I turned my eyes back to the bourbon I had been sipping from. A waft of jasmine and vanilla settled on me, and I cocked my head ever so slightly. I was looking into her emerald eyes. We talked all night, and she smoked a couple of my cigarettes. I would have invited her back to my place if it weren’t for the curdling fear in my stomach that everything could go right for once.

I took my business card out of my wallet and slipped into her hand. Her fingers trembled as she closed her grasp around it. With a delicate touch, she slid it into her sequins purse; the sequins caught the light and sparkled like a dew-dropped spider web. I smiled, but by then, the bar was closing. She had scribbled her number hastily on my hand in a bright blue pen. She wrote her name as well, her letters were angular and unfeminine but still beautiful.

She murmured words in my ear I could not quite make out, but I felt determined all the same. When I walked down the street, all the streetlamps were lit, despite the impossible hour. After I saw her walk off in the opposite direction, I whispered her phone number to myself again and again until by the darkening moonlight, I returned home and wrote her number onto a pad of paper I kept by my bedside.

A few days passed, and she called me. I answered on the second ring. Her voice was even more eloquent in the daytime, husky yet warm. I could smell jasmine and vanilla wafting through the telephone line. There was so much I wanted to say to her, but the words died in my throat. I was ill-equipped to fall in love. The threads of reason all dissolved, and I agreed to follow her on an adventure. It was simply a matter of running errands: go to the laundromat, pick up groceries for that night’s dinner, and we walked around a park near her house. Not exactly a full-blown adventure, but enough to make me love her all the more. She wore black panties without frills. She ate tortellini but did not buy sauce. She fed the ducks but despised the geese.

Her singing voice was soft, hesitant, when she sang along to the car radio, but she had dimples when she smiled. She only smoked in bars if it was late, but she had a weakness for coffee drinks with fancy Italian names. She didn’t know why the bar went hushed when she walked in because she did not realize she was beautiful. It was like the sun not realizing it was a ball of fire. The realization that she was gorgeous fell over her, and her features changed when she realized this. It was as though she were being transformed like you see in those rags-to-riches make-over stories. I watched the epiphany change her, and her voice raised as though excited.

She tried to tell me so much, but I felt as though she were out of reach. She explained how she loved art, but she could never touch it, so she began to create art that was touchable. It meant nothing to me, but it meant everything to her. Pretty soon, the day was over, and when the night fell, she wanted to be alone with her art and create more. She promised she would invite me out again, and I told her I would look forward to it. I was truthful. I was always honest with her.

Months went on like this, she took me out: we would go to art museums, art stores, we would discuss her creations, and she would run errands that seemed inconsequential, but those were my times with her. We would run around town, gathering ingredients for complicated meals I would never join her for or folding clothes with her. Clothes I never saw her wear.

She was a beautiful, magnificent enigma. One day, she took me to the art gallery that featured her art, and she encouraged me to touch it, to feel the textures, and I looked around suspiciously as though a guard would tackle me to the ground. She had giggled at that. We fed the ducks and she sang along to songs I did not recognize with female singers whose names I could not pronounce. She told me about her mother and her father. She told me about her younger sister who had a drug addiction and was in a facility until she got better. She told me about a dog she had when she was young. I told her about my record collection and my love for old movies. I told her about actresses she reminded me of and about my job. I told her I had a dog who was a stray and slept with me in the bed when it thundered.

One night, we went back to the bar where we had met. It felt like everything was falling into place. I had not yet kissed her, but that night, I lit a cigarette for her, and it felt like magic–touching something that was so close to her lips. I brushed her hair out of her eyes, and her eyes glittered like stars. The words were swelling in my throat, and I had to get them out.

“I love–” I began, and right as I began the words, her words came out in a rush.

“I’m seeing someone. His name is Gregory. We plan on getting married. Something small, in a garden somewhere. I love him, and he is my best friend. I just needed you because you needed somebody. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I needed you in a way differently than I needed Gregory. You filled the emptiness. You filled the silences, but I do not love you as much as I wish I did.”

And with that, my heart shattered, my world collapsed, every star in the sky was snuffed out, and every dream I ever had evaporated. Ten years go by, and I still remember her. I still can’t forget her. I don’t speak her name because then I think of the art galleries where I touched textiles and experimented with texture. I think of actresses  she reminded me of, I think of my old dog who shared my bed when it thundered, I think of singers whose names I could never pronounce. I think of how she hated geese, but fed the ducks. I remember it all and can’t let go.

Ten years have passed, and I still can’t forget her.

 

“Cheers Darlin'” – Damien Rice

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