Overture

It takes me three weeks. I can’t find the words, not even a single sound to encourage introduction. The closest moment was also the first, when I saw her there stirring the coffee a little too long. The rhythmic turning of the spoon, sleeves pulled down low over her hands, she never once looked up as I let this new reality sink in. Pale to the point of translucent, her skin was barely covering the cracks. I could see the blue of veins in her temple and the strain of neck when she took off her scarf. I couldn’t breathe. I should have just said hello right then, but I kept silent and came back every day.

She’s beautiful, Mack. In the way of an artist’s sketch, all lines and shading and the mere suggestion of form. Revealed beneath layers that would come off one by one as the weeks passed – the lowered cap, the padded jacket, the dark glasses finally removed. I kept coming back to find her. I survived the memorial at work and the slowing of stories in the news – the little pieces of you slipping away, because she was there, this woman on whom your whole life turned. We sat across from each other at this city café every morning and it was the only thing that slowed my heart to a tolerable beat.

Once, she looked up and I offered a smile, but we both looked away before it was finished. I might have never managed a word, there isn’t a single one I could make fit until the day they accidently bring me her change.

I’m sorry this isn’t for me I say as the waitress sets down the plate and coins, I mean thank you but

Lucy Mason looks up from the next table. That’s for me, I think – she reaches over and holds my gaze a second too long before flushing red and looking down. I feel as if I’m about to fall. It is the look of somebody who knows.

A minute and then softly, without looking up – Do I know you?

What? Oh. Ahhh. No. I – and still I have no idea what to say.

When she finally looks up I am fixed with an inscrutable stare. Cerulean eyes – is that the last thing you saw? I can feel you all through me as I take a deep breath and hold out my hand.

I’m sorry if I have been … well I didn’t know what to say, but I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. It’s just …

Lucy’s expression has not changed, she is betrayed only by a pulse at her throat. My hand stays suspended between us and she does not move to take it.

I don’t want to cause any trouble, I promise. I’m just … it’s just … Benjamin Mackintosh – Mack – was my friend.

And then of course I burst into tears. My friend, my lover, what kind of truth could I say right now to have this woman understand? This woman who has been through a nightmare that sits right at the heart of mine. This woman you died trying to save. I have no idea what the fuck I am doing as she finally reaches over and takes my hand.

***

The other central relationship in this book of mine. Lucy in fact sits at the heart of everything.

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