You were at the cafe, conveniently rained in, bundled in scarf, hair tied back, tethered to book and tea, packaged in quiet beauty; you were flipping pages; pouring over words, pouring over sentences, reading to the rhythm of the rain, but stopping at every semicolon; you were making commentary in the margins, having silent conversations with the author, unconcerned by passing minutes; then checking your watch to glance peripherally at my glances from the register line, a little perturbed but protected behind hardcover, pouring over more pages, more words, dipping your head lower as I approached, and perking up very marginally when the first words from my mouth were how you would hate the ending; you were curious of my response because it was secretly your second time reading the book through, and finding improbable resonance with my opinion that she, the protagonist, would become unrealistically hopeful, drag herself too quickly out from all the tragedy and vicissitudes, and find the most ridiculous form of conciliation in a stupid, stupid, clearly metaphorical view of the sea; as ridiculous, I said, as the romanticized quality of the red sun being pasted in the sky like a wafer in “A Red Badge of Courage”.
You were finding yourself in surprisingly-calm dissonance with me (as this was actually your third time reading the book), listening to my words: of how much you reminded me of the main character of the book, of her sweaters for sweater weather, proclivity towards oolong as dark as black, and fondness for the rain but none of the water; you were growing more in disagreement but less in disconcertment, voicing your opinions, letting me voice mine, and finding yourself a little courted by the pleasant exchange; you took your feet off the chair across from you (and I took their place), kindly informed me on how misinformed I was on the meaning of the book, of all the subtleties I had overlooked, and opened to me the comments in the book to build your case; you made me concede defeat, and, in your consolation (but secretly mine), you traded a napkin with your phone number for my umbrella—and left, smiling all the way home because I gave you rain without the water.
When the clouds were gone, and I convinced you the roads were no longer darkened by rain and safe for travel, we ended up sharing frozen yogurt; catching a movie; grabbing dinner without candles; sharing an un-symbolic ocean view, throwing our cell phones in the car and dangling our feet at the dock, kissing once, complaining about the mosquitoes, sharing a few more words, kisses, sentences, and compliments—to me, for a location well-chosen, and for the clouds a job well done keeping that pesky, pasty red sun away. We figured we’d make like normal people and get some shut-eye, so were soon sleeping in the same bed (but first not sleeping before that), and then waking up, and having pancakes.
Weather no longer permitting, we were grabbing dinner at a place you insisted had the best fries, catching a show here or two, spending a night on the road in search of the perfect middle-aged diner waitress to be served pie from, and all the while, painting a few dreams, making silly faces at each other, talking over the phone, writing a small to-do list together; going to your friend’s wedding, complaining about the food, visiting Montreal, speaking a little French, speaking a lot more English, trading a few secrets, reading together, taking photos of cards in Hallmark and tracing our own for President’s Day, writing a bigger to-do list, and grabbing a candle-lit dinner so we could blow out the candles.
But, like real people, like standard probability, we found work in different cities, and argued for what felt like the first time since we met; we threw numbers and facts, figments of your cynical imagination, and bolded every word; I said distance was something else, an inconvenience or illusion or rockiness in a stupid fucking sea or something, and you said distance was part of us. We made up, drew each other into some of our dreams, and traced our outlines in pen, but you were always strained by it all; you were quick to blow out the candles on our to do list; to flip pages, dog-tag a particular chapter as memorable, and move on. And of course; of course, of course, of course, I was not, so you did without me.
You disappeared from the town and I did too, but in another city I saw you, and I dreaded every one of you—crossing the street, grabbing coffee, selling flowers at the corner boutique, sitting on park benches, adjusting books in the bookstore, filing papers into metal cabinets. I saw those who vaguely resembled you as you. They didn’t even dress like you, and probably hadn’t read a book in the past six months, but I made them you. I made you commonplace, made you replaceable, made you seem less quietly, distinctly beautiful in my eyes and my memory—and from all this fiction, suspended all my beliefs about us.