Yesterday, I felt the smell of autumn in the air — like an unexpected someone from the past with time on her hands and memories to tell. Because we remember autumn, she and I — fresh days and school books and sacred secrets so tender you could cut them with a glance. Long afternoons dark with broken hearts and lingering poetry no one will ever read. And she and autumn spoke as though the years were stored in cardboard boxes, dusty, glue-dried and sagging. Then, at the end, she said she’d missed me and kissed me on the cheek in the glove-cold street of the autumn afternoon, because …
Autumn is the long notes of the last jazz piano when the café is closed and only the serious remain, sitting like abandoned angels unable to fly. And there, somewhere in the final tales of lingering whiskey, they wonder if second-hand love could possibly redeem them.
Autumn is a park bench moist with morning, waiting like a reluctant traveller who’s been left behind. And there’s a puddle, quiet with reflection and a footprint and floating leaves leftover from the wind. And the worn letter plaque tells no one but the sky that Arthur Wilson liked to walk his dog.
Autumn is stone empty streets slanted with light from the windows of strangers. But you keep walking because you don’t know if they’re warm with conversations, or silent with despair.
Autumn is a movie, old and familiar, when the outside night is bony and brittle and full of the dark. So you pour the wine in the kitchen and break the chocolate onto a plate. And you cozy into your one-light twilight and wait for the melancholy.
And autumn is a black-and-white San Fran foggy night, heavy with crime. He’s turned his collar high so only his eyes can see her, standing in the silhouette shadows, sinister with deceit. And he knows (because he always knows) that she will walk away, and the sound of her footsteps will be his only souvenir.
Nothing prepares you for the quantity of love. The words of the poets are only sips at the fountain, forever overflowing. The songs of the minstrels cupfuls you might carry away. And even the tales of happily ever after we tell are merely quenching moments. For love is vast, beyond endless, and no one who slips into its waters can see its depths.
Sylvia Harrow had spent the lazy Wisconsin summer bathing in it like a pampered Eastern princess. Lounging leg long, submerged to her shoulders in warm and wet, her head back in conscious sleep, lost in the languor of what could be their dreams. And she would slide forward, slowly sinking, denying her instincts, letting the water touch her face, hold her hair, cover her mouth until she closed her eyes and willingly, wantonly allowed herself to drown. And lying there full still, soundless, the water told her that she was the Venus he said she was. She was the one fantasy she saw in the want of his eyes. The moment of naked desire that only the two of them would ever know. And he, flawed perfection, was the one enough she had ever wanted, the aching hunger she had glimpsed more than once but had never fully seen. He was the never alone again, the warm regular breathing bed, the first touch and the last kiss goodnight. And then she would raise her head like an emerging goddess and feel the wet run down her face, shake her heavy hair, point her painted toes and, mouth half-closed, gasp a breath as if it was the finish of the world.
Sylvia loved being loved and being overpowered by it, but she knew that, slowly upon slowly, the water would cool, the mirror glass surface murk with age, and the steamy mists fade on the breeze of years. There was no naïve that could convince her otherwise. But she also knew, deep in the forever sound of his idle laugh, the step she knew from far away and the single scent of him on the pillow, that this would be enough. What she felt right now would be enough to fill their life with eternity and the waters that surrounded them would always reflect the stars, splash with the rain, freeze and thaw and sparkle in the brilliant sunrise sunshine.
Sylvia looked at the moon, a smudged coin disappearing in a cloudy sky. It would rain soon, probably before morning. That didn’t matter: she planned to be safe in bed by then. Tomorrow night, she was going north, but tonight – tonight was hers. Tonight was an ice-cubed whiskey in a heavy glass. The fish? No, the beef — with scallops to start and a wine so red it turned black on her tongue. Then coffee and honey-wet pastry, sticky and sweet, and a hotel bedroom key. It was a night of boat neck shoulders, cuff length sleeves and a tight walk hemline. It was a night of long jewelry earrings that touched her throat, a dancing emerald ring and tall heels. It was a night that men and their women noticed her when she walked in, watched her sit down and wondered who she was there for. It was a night of little tongue candles that made licking shadows. A night of dim shaded faces and intimate reflections. It was a night of eyelashes and lipstick and deep silver fingernails. It was a night breathing with seduction.
Once, a few years ago, when she was much younger, she’d brought a man to a night like this. He was a handsome European with diplomatic immunity and a coming career. He spent the evening trying to recruit her into his bed, like a qualified negotiator. The evening faded and finished, and Sylvia walked away. Unfortunately, a couple of days later when Sylvia didn’t call, he came looking for her and ended up meeting Mirac in an underground carpark. Since then, Sylvia kept these nights to herself.
On the other side of the moon, Karga was reading a bedtime story to his two sons, Mustafa and Taavi. It was a tale of a reluctant thief and a clever slave girl, Morgiana, who made him rich. He read parts in English so his boys would get to know the words. And when he was done, he went downstairs, drank tea with his wife and waited for the rain.
Sylvia raised her glass to where the moon should have been. And all alone in a crowded restaurant, she touched her lips to the cold glass, drank, and waited for the warmth of the whiskey.