by Zinta Aistars
Was that you? Across the lobby? So crowded, all those bodies milling, all those faces, all those mouths moving in chatter, noise and heat and bustle, and so I could hardly tell, was that you? Across the decades? Crowded, too. All those bodies milling, all those faces, all those mouths opening and closing and creating the noise of passing time, passing life, so much life, that sometimes I can hardly tell if that life was all mine. Or did I share it? With variations on a theme that was me, me the child, me the girl, me the girl heating up into woman (where you were), me the woman ripening into all that I could be, perhaps less, sometimes more, and me the woman now, someone with whom I am still striving to make acquaintance. Was that me? All those children, girls, women—me?
It looked like you. Transported across time and space. Not so very, not so utterly changed. Only the brown shaggy hair gone white. So white! Even now, needing a trim. The glasses sliding a little down your nose, that too unchanged, that I recall and that it did something, oddly enough, to me. You peering over. At me.
A little weightier, perhaps. Well, yes. As am I. The fourteen year old girl I was, although the hungry boys all mistook me for much older, or wanted to. You were twenty-one, and shy. I was always drawn to the shy, as I still am, that undiscovered and hidden treasure, not easily shared. Did you know that I sometimes thought about being an archaeologist? I could argue that being a writer is much the same.
What did you become?
Yes, the marriage. I heard about that. You stuck to one, I had more than that, foolish girl, more foolish woman. But there was a threshold there to cross when you first touched me. That summer. Oh, that summer, and the next one, too. Living by the lake, walking through the sand until you came down from the throne where the life guards sat and stood in front of me, smiling. Would you like to… ? Shall we….? Hello, my name is… and I noticed that…
You took me out on the lake in the boat and then cut the engine. We would float on the blue, rocking on it, up and down, back and forth, the waves sloshing against the sides of the boat, the sun beating down, and I was in that bikini, the one with tiny red flowers on a field of chocolate brown, lazy in the sun, and you watched me. Peering over the glasses, slipping down your nose, your mouth coming open a little. I was naïve with youth and all-knowing, all at the same time. More confident then than I am now.
Now, I know. Too much.
Have nearly lost what you began to teach me. Polite beyond measure. Your voice soft like silk, a whisper in my ear. Unshaven cheek. Lying in the sand at midnight, you explained the constellations and brushed sand from my bare arm, my shoulder, the bend of my neck. And then there was your mouth. Your sweet, warm mouth. Your living mouth.
Yes, I'm sure it's you. I would know you anywhere. Even with the white hair, the arc of lines at the corners of your mouth. Frowning a little with concentration. Peering at me over your glasses. I had to look away. I had to. I always run from what interests me.
I'm sorry I hurt you.
I'm sorry life is so imperfect. That one life can't, after all, contain all our lives, but bends and twists and bursts open at the seams sometimes, spilling out the soft white insides. I always meant to tell you. How sorry. Only years later (two more lifetimes) understanding what it means to break a heart, took me years (two more lifetimes) to develop one. At fourteen, at fifteen, at sixteen and seventeen, I only lived from one moment to the next, and I was quickly distracted, loved a pretty story, chased a random butterfly, fell into a lap that rocked me into daydreams that would last through yet another lifetime.
I did think of you, sometimes.
Passing under willow trees, I would remember. Standing barefoot in hot sand. Tracing the stars in the sky, Aquarius the bearer of water, holding a cup out to the gods to quench a thirst that was unquenchable. I sometimes hold that cup in my hands now, thirsty.
Think louder, I still say. I can't hear what you are thinking, say the words.
Across the lobby, I send none. Pass a cup of cool water through the milling and jostling, toward you, and then leave by the back door, quickly, quickly into the night, still alone.