The one that got away

I felt a light touch on my shoulders.  Familiar.  Hungrily digging in to my collarbone, fumbling for the familiar crevices.  Uncomfortably intimate and out of place.

“I’m sorry but I don’t think I..” I turned to say.  I was alone in New York City.  Know one knew me well enough to touch me like that.  They must have mistook me for another blonde.  One of the other blondes in the blonde army.  Blonde hair is playfully ubiquitous. And that’s why I like it so.

I turned my head to reveal the mistake, saying my sorries - you’ve got the wrong girl - and then I realised.  I gripped my teeny tiny espresso with a birdish claw.  Dropped my pen.  Felt the air swim and pulse and ferment into a kind of concrete that I had to wade through.  Breathing laboured.  Humidity doubled and sweat condensed in tiny clusters in mutiny on my upper lip… 

“Ofelia,” you said. Steadying yourself by pinning my name on my face in the jungle of buildings and bodies that restricted us.  “Hi I’m, I’m sorry to just pounce on you like this but, I just got in and began to trawl through the area, Williamsburg is it, where you said you were staying?  Here.  I’ve been searching since 10 this morning.  I almost gave up.  I knew it’s crazy.  But it was also like a little tour, a little Ofelia-safari.  I thought I…  I guess it was audacious to think I’d find you…” you trailed off.  I had started melting.  You stopped talking and waited patiently, as if braced for a tirade or embrace.  Feet planted firmly to resist an explosion.  The response I was mustering gurgled inside me. I sipped my coffee and waited for all the clogs to fit nicely together like bricks.  

“Give me a second” I pleaded.  Feeling judged by all the people and the tiny chic cafe.  Earlier a refuge, now a stage.  There weren’t even any seats for you to sit down at.  So you just stood next to me and let the audience stare.  Long beard.  Chequered shirt.  The smell of the beach, carried through on the plane and through dirty streets to bequeath to me.  Wrenching the air from my lungs.

I breathed in your beach and exhaled.  Staring at your shoes.  “You came to see me then?” I said.

“Well, yeah, I, I had this dream of surprising you.  I kept thinking about it.  About what you’d do.  About how you love making rash decisions.  How it suits you somehow and you always fall on your feet… How maybe, if I couldn’t be with you, I could try being more like you… And then, seeing in me the things I love about you we might begin to mirror each other.  Maybe you would indulge me.  Maybe I could show you….”

“Show me what, Matt?”  A teaspoon rang out with startling clarity.  Placed melodically on a saucer.  No one spoke.  Brawling Australians… I guessed everyone was thinking… Brawling bloody Australians.  Boozehounds.  Bogans.  Landing, staying, multiplying, obliterating themselves.  No.  No, I didn’t want Matt here at all.  I felt pinned down and helpless.

Even more sickening were the urging smiles in the stalls.  Strangers enjoying the theatre.  Go on they whispered say yes.  Exonerate him.  He’s here now, making it up to you.  My husband would never do that, I could hear the middle-aged ladies sigh.  And swoon over Matt and that rugged dangerous look he has.  Free-spirited and a little savage.  Up to no good. I imagined what I should have said, had I the breath, the eloquence and sass to pull it off.  I would have screamed our story at all those smug strangers.  Partly to berate him, partly to absolve me, I would have screamed:

I used to travel 3 hours on trains to see Matt on the weekends.  I didn’t have a car.  I schlepped on the train and begged him in that pitiful “I don’t care but if you could possibly, I’d really appreciate it if, I mean it doesn’t matter if you’re busy” way girls have.  To collect me.  And I’d be so excited the whole stinking ride on public transport wouldn’t even bother me.  It would fade away in my fervor.  Obsessive hair brushing, eyelash curling and skirt straightening.  Just for him. He who was always half an hour late to collect me.  Generally disinterested or stoned.  Board in the back - a little grumpy I’d ripped him from the crest of a killer right.  And I was grateful just to be inhaling the same particles of air that he exhaled.  I was that poor eager handbag that you just want to shake.  You want to hug, shake and slap her all at once.  Do you know how long it took me to realise I was better than that?!

And what did you say to that girl Matt?  I could have said in the cafe.  Cross-examining him.  He would have remained silent, I think, and I would have answered with the wild satisfaction of the deeply scarred: you told her you didn’t love her, you said it was nothing serious, you made no priority of her, she was either present or not, and you gave nothing to her.  Nothing of yourself, nor any kindness or compassion.  While she dreamed up schemes to worship you silently.  Head against the mirror, shaking with tears, when you kissed another girl at the party.  This isn’t a relationship, I banged my head.  Dabbed my mascara, slumped against the door, legs splayed and toes pointing inward.  Raped of something.  

Even after that I let myself cry at your feet and ask your chest for permission to be your girlfriend.  And you walked out, and left me there.    

The corners of my lips turned up as I imagined that apocalypse.  You were still waiting.  Never yet had either of us owed the other anything.  We both wanted to own the other’s limbs at different times.  I’d paid more of a price than you for my longing.  Deep, and unrequited.  I never imagined that the mistake you made might have torn you up so much that you’d put yourself on a plane and wait here to be judged.

Air thick with all the things I might have said, I studied you.  Letting the silence become music.  The longer it persists the more beautiful it is.  The rarer the moment.  The deeper the gaze.  Body language allowed to reign.

“How did you afford the ticket?” I asked  “I just did, Ofelia.  I just made it work”.  A wave of tenderness ironed the creases on my brow.  “Can I buy you a coffee?” you asked.  “I have no right to ask much more of you now”.  

“You have no right to ask anything of me”, I flared, clutching at my anger with frustration.  Holding on to something that seemed to be seeping away.  Flaking as I searched for it.  I felt like throwing a tantrum and slapping him.  Like having a shot of tequila.

“Because you knew I’d love the surprise didn’t you?  The shock?  That, it was the only way to do it, because if you asked I would have said no.  No, we’re done.  I’m here and I love it and I don’t want you to disrupt my solitude.  And I don’t”, I added.

You were about to laugh.  I was about to walk away.  Everyone kept feigning disinterest.  Even some people outside.  I must have been gesticulating with fury.  My hands had come to rest below my chest caging a column of air across my stomach.  You took them in yours.  “Just give me this much rope Ofelia".