I was surprised to receive her message. I had not talked to her for over five years and had not seen her in person for a bit more than ten. “I am visiting the city. They admitted me to a remote master’s program, and I will be there for their orientation events.” We agreed to get a drink sometime during the week. “Friday would be best” she said on Monday. On Thursday I asked her if we would still go out on Friday night, and I was surprised to hear that not only we would but that she needed a place to stay that night as she had messed up her hotel booking. “You could stay at mine” I texted. I waited for a couple of hours before I got a reply “That sounds like a good idea. Thanks for helping out”.
Monica closed the car’s door behind her and walked with a bouquet of flowers towards the sidewalk.
“They are for my sister” she mentioned as soon as we had said hello. “Do you want me to help you?” I asked trying to pry the luggage from her hands. “No”. I looked at her for a moment. There she was, her body turned flesh after having lived in my head in the form of a vanishing memory for more than ten years. “Sounds good” I blurted out as I scoured my pocket trying to fetch the apartment keys.
She left her luggage in the living room. We sat for some time at the kitchen table. “Do you want some water?”.
When we left the apartment the two glasses were still full and lay there covered in a vaporous veil.
“Sir, what do you want?” the waitress asked me. I looked up from the menu, crossed a swift glance with her and pointed to one of the imported beers the bar had in offer. When the waitress turned to Monica, she pressed her finger over the wet paper menu and slid it slowly down the list of options until she found the one that pleased her the most.
I tried avoiding talking about the past. What was the point. Then years had passed, and with them, all that was felt and all that was had melted into a gray soup of faded memories. We talked about the general state of things, the incoming hurricane, the presidential election, her job and my paintings.
Once the band that was playing at the restaurant finished their act, we paid and left. A short stroll up the street landed us at the door of a dimly lit establishment with plenty of empty tables.
We sat by the bar. The bartender was quick and soon enough we were in front of two glasses of beer. There was a long mirror and on its surface one could see the reflections of the tables around us, and even the heavy traffic of the street.
We were also there, our two faces’ contours chiseled by the dim light of the bar. I lifted my glass and looked at myself while sipping from the foam-stricken surface. To my left Monica played with her hair, gazing abstractedly towards a shelf stacked with colorful bottles.
We remained quiet for some time, no more than a minute or two. She was there, so close to me. The idea of thrusting my arm towards her and letting it coil around her waist crossed my mind. For I moment I considered what would happen. She would pull away, I thought. And my mind played the whole scene; my arm moving, the contraction of her hips, the breaking of her smile.
As the night went on and our conversation kept circling around the edges of our story of old, I couldn’t avoid thinking how there was a time I would’ve walked to the moon if that could’ve brought a moment like the one we were having, sitting side by side, beer in hand and the past forgotten.
When I finally reached out and my hand rested on her lower back, she didn’t move. She just finished what she was saying and rested her eyes on mine. For a fleeting moment I felt it. She tilted her heard to the side, her dark hair flowed down her neck and her brown eyes twinkled with a faint light unearthing a mellow, almost forgotten sense of wonder inside me. She had been the vessel of my affection. I had been madly in love with her. Yes. I had been once. All that was left was this trace of a moment, one that wasn’t truly there anymore.
When we went back to my apartment, a dense alcoholic fog was hovering in my mind. We stood side by side looking at the latest watercolor I had painted. She said her apartment down in DC didn’t have enough art and suggested I gift her the piece. I didn’t.
She was there, a few centimeters from me, the smell of her cologne floating in a sweet mist around us, and the back of our hands touching each other as the effervescence of the alcohol we had consumed shook our bodies side to side.
She laid down on the couch. “Do you have a blanket?”. I had a Japanese mattress, which I helped her setup with a pillow and a comforter. I slept on the bed. She slept on the floor.
The next morning, we walked around town, went for breakfast at a diner and visited a hardware store where she gave me multiple suggestions on how to decorate my apartment. “You should get a key rack with a slot for holding mail. It can help you organize your keys and that way you can avoid dropping the unread letters on the kitchen table as you are doing now” I bought a similar item a couple of weeks later. She was right. My mail is very organized now.
Her bus was to leave at 4:30 so we got back to my place one hour before that. For thirty minutes I struggled to say much. Perhaps I was expecting something to happen, but nothing did. When her Uber arrived, she insisted to carry her luggage down the stairs by herself. I helped with the bouquet. The flowers remained as fresh as the night before.
As she lifted her bag into the car’s trunk, I stood there waiting. A confused mix of feelings drew circles in my chest.
We hugged and kissed before she hoped into the car. As I watched the vehicle drive away, the place where her lips had touched my cheek felt moist. I turned around and went back into my building. I let the door close slowly behind me.