Bent Words

Bent Words

September 30, 2006

For some reason, the first thing she thought of when she saw his face, after what seemed so many years, was that he had said he was going to quit smoking. This surprised her, initially, at least – to see him sitting in the corner of the room, liberally exhaling cigarette smoke as his face turned upward with laughter.

She knew that laugh.

The man sitting next to him was someone she did not recognize. The stranger’s tall, slight, dark physique contrasted with his so much that it nearly made her laugh. The stranger looked comical and out of place; next to that man, anyway.

He was not very tall. Not taller than her and probably not shorter – though she suddenly could not remember. His hair was much lighter in color and seemed even more so than she could recall. Perhaps some gray had begun to creep in. His wrists appeared more thin than in previous years and – what a thing to comment on! but there he was; thin wrists and all.

His eyes were the same shade of tired as she remembered and the lines beneath them curled up when he smiled. His chin still held a dimple and his ear, an earring, but where in the world did he get that watch? It wasn’t one of the watches she had given him… Or was it? No, it could not be.

It did not occur to her that she was yet standing at the foot of the door, holding the top of a chair in one hand. All at once, she glanced around and found a seat just to the left of where she had entered, sat down, placed her notebook and phone on a sticky table that had not been cleared.

Why couldn’t she breathe?

She was just trying to decide what she should do next – take up and leave or wait for her friend as she had promised to do – when a nice looking, young waitress, swung by to clear her table. Luckily, she thought, she would not have to stroll over to the bar for a drink.

But why should that matter? She did not know that he was going to be here. She did not plan this or even want this! She would rather be anywhere but here. For, being here meant she would have to try not to ask the questions that she found rolling around in her head.

“How are you doing? What have you been doing? Is it so bad that I ask? Should I not care and how’s your new life? What has happened and what’s going to happen? And why did the things that happened, happen?”

She struggled past all the voices trying to overpower her mind and requested a drink. She did not ask the waitress to keep it ‘light.’ No, she did not want a menu. Just an ashtray and a therapist, please.

“Can I tell you about school and pass on some ‘hellos?’ I write for the paper now and would have made the Dean’s list last year save for the fact that they don’t care if you’re part-time because apparently part-time students don’t matter but I still got a 3.75 GPA which is something to be proud of.”

Silly – how she couldn’t discern old, friendly acquaintances from the dead and done past. But what was the past when all you once thought of was the future? Wasn’t that supposed to be the present? Wasn’t that what they had been working toward? What ‘they?’ There was no ‘they.’ Just a dead and done past.

The stranger stood up and slammed the remaining gulp of his beer. He took a drink of his own and, upon placing the butt on the waxy-topped table, swallowed and made that same face she had remembered him making a million times over. Before looking up from his half empty bottle, he began peeling the label and then, as though he knew all along, looked directly at her with piercing, omniscient eyes.

They held the glance for a moment. A moment that slowly rolled over into an eternity and than back into the brief, hanging moment – all within the shock of a stuttered heartbeat.

She knew those eyes.

His half smile was shy but the persistence in his glance was not. His eyebrows tilted in sympathy – no, empathy – and his gaze became harder, more piercing and real. He was saying something. She expected him to look away. She expected him to lose the contest or fail to see the question in her soul. She thought he would turn toward his beer, look for his friend, wave his hand at the waitress or find fascination in anything else. Anything but her.

But he persisted and he was saying something.

He was saying “hello” and “how is school?” and “where are you working?” and “who are you with?” and “what have you been up to?” and “you look good – a little more meat, but good” and “what’s that notebook for?” and “how are the folks?” and… “it’s good to see you again…”

He was also saying he was sorry.

It did not matter what for. The reason was lost a long time ago. Now it was just good to feel it – to see it. To finally let it go. It was just good to know that he cared – somewhere, at some point, in that life left behind. It was just good to know.

“I’m sorry, too.”

Written at 4:01 p.m.