November rain is cutting through the stillness of the day, like a reminder to be present—a reminder that they are finally together, even without much to say to each other, and that maybe they shouldn’t drift apart from each other yet. It’s still early, and conversation is hard to hold. Their voices are breaking too often. They sound nervous and uneasy, clinging to their comfort zone. Nobody could tell they used to be lovers, and they can’t tell if they are going to be lovers again.
But she looks at him as if he were glowing. His presence is the small bliss of her morning. She wouldn’t say that out loud, of course not. He leans back in his chair, arms folded behind his head, and watches her draw patterns on the table with her fingertips. She’s surprised to see him smile, but secretly loves it. He remembers her drawing circles across his back with her fingers. He always enjoyed watching her draw—she was always in a hurry to start or finish a sketch—and wondered where she got her ideas. The few times he asked her, she turned around, her soft brown hair curling like smoke in the air, looked at him for a moment as if wondering where the question came from, and then shrugged. She never really answered it, but his innocence filled him with a feeling like warm water rising up his body.
That face she often put on to hide answers she didn’t want to give, and he went back to his novels and his plans for what to do next. But since he’s been back, he’s realised he doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces anymore. He wants to tell her about everything he’s seen, all the experiences he’s had, all the people he’s met, and all the cities he’s gotten lost in, only to come out a cleaner, better, stronger man. After all, that was the reason he left in the first place. But now that he’s back, he doesn’t know where to begin to put together the puzzle where his life out there and their life back here and paint the picture he dreamed of. The only picture she could never draw because she didn’t understand it in the first place.
The coffee warmed up her whole body. She likes it when the brown sugar melts in her drink and then the hot steam rises. It is still quite early in the morning, and even though she would rather sleep most Saturdays, this Saturday is special. Fighting the pull to crawl back to the warmth and dreams, she splashed cold water on her face, hoping it would get make her feel excited for the day ahead. During all these months she had dreamed of his return, of his rumbling car and his huge backpack from which peeked out maps and journals and perhaps small gifts for her. He would have buttoned up a white shirt and given her a smile, as if those months of absence were just to prove how strong they were.
But instead, she woke up to find him in a café near the train station, and they sat in silence, not saying much to each other. At first she felt anxious and wanted to ask him lots of questions, but she had been waiting too long to taint their new first date with stupid, meaningless words. She had been looking forward to being here for months, and she was not going to spoil it. What she appreciated most about them as a couple was that they did not need artificial smoothness to feel comfortable around each other. She thought their silence must be proof that that was the case again, and then refused to think about it again.
A little over a year ago, she lived for nothing but their world and her art. She had been so good at erasing the outlines of her real life and filling herself with magic before his eyes. She sprinkled their world with high hopes every morning and got him used to the good, and he saw her as a different kind of explorer—the kind who could tone down abrupt beginnings and loose ends, escape wanderlust, and not exorcise the abstract within because she could embrace the unknown. She was wonderful, in a warm and meaningful way that he always admired and secretly envied. She was kind, easy going and peaceful when you watched her work. She painted sunlight and shadows, skin and words and light, and every time she showed him another finished canvas, it felt like Christmas. Later in their dating days, she told him that he makes her come alive as a wilder creature than she’s ever imagined herself to be. But as much as part of him wanted her to be that, more of him wanted her to stay the same beautiful, blue-eyed, quiet girl he had fallen in love with at the seaside fair.
When he decided to leave for a while, it was the first time he saw her upset, angry and, above all, scared. She asked him to stay, told him about all the plans she had made in her head and never dared to share with him. He laughed quietly to himself, and she thought he was laughing at her plans, but he was laughing at his own. He knew that going away was selfish and basically stupid to leave, but he did not want to wait another year. Something told him that she would still be there. That she would still be here. But as the saying about how you can’t stand in a river at exactly the same place twice goes, he knew he would never find the same beautiful, blue-eyed, quiet girl he had fallen in love with at the seaside fair again.
Her soul was far from her shore too, but in a different way. Her paintings speak for her—they are like marbles tossed into the air. She lets the viewer wander in the air to see the pattern, and then moves on to the next one. He never understood them, but he liked them all. They were beautiful and incomplete and strange, just like her, and he knew he could fall in love with her a thousand times, once for each new painting and each new bit of soul she would reveal. He liked her mysterious ways and her penchant for open endings and multiple interpretations. He was not like that; he was a planner, a doer. She was like water running down his fingers, dripping off his skin onto the floor. He always felt like he lost her between minutes, but then found her again at the end of the day when she came crawling into bed beside him.
Her fingertips still press lightly on the table, like they used to dig their nails into his arms. He clenches his fists.
‘I’m really glad to see you,’ he says again.
He’d say it again and again, but he waits. He knows he’s fighting against many months, but he’s determined to draw her back into the story, even though neither of them is in it anymore. But her eyes sparkle, and he can’t think of parallel lines anymore. Finally, here they’re, together. This must be the line that leads to infinity, with them on it.
‘I don’t know what to say to that,’ she finally replies, and her honesty surprises him. ‘I’m happy to see you too, but this feels so much like a dream. It’s like you’re going to disappear in a minute, and I’m going to stay behind and stare at particles of happiness floating in the air like confetti.’
‘Hey, I’m back,’ he says, ‘and I won’t disappear unless you ask me to, and maybe not even then. I’m ready to share everything with you now, and I want you to share everything with me.’
She puts the cup back on the table and lets out a big heavy sigh.
‘I don’t have as much to share as you do. That would be unfair.’
‘No, it wouldn’t.’
‘The more you’ve lived, and the more you have to tell me, the less I feel like my paintings still mean anything to anyone but me. It’s an indescribable feeling to create imaginary worlds on paper and then pretty them up, but that’s all I can do. Honestly, it’s all I want to do, too.’
He watches her lips move in fascination.
‘You wouldn’t know this, because you’re a traveller. But I’m not, and I don’t have much to say except what’s in my head, and I know that was never enough for you. You wanted it all, yes; plus the rest of the world, too.’
‘Listen, that’s not true. I asked you to come with me, and you didn’t want to, but now that I’m back, we’re going to tie up the loose ends. I’ll make a rope or a ladder—don’t laugh—and come to save you from negativity. You can take your colours with you, I’ll take the maps and albums, and we’ll build something beautiful out of both photographs and imaginary corners of the world. I’ll tell you all the stories and you’ll paint them, and someone will feel inspired to write purple, poetic prose about it all. We both win because we get what we wanted. What do you say?’
She doesn’t really say anything. She drinks her coffee and nervously suggests they go for a walk. What he doesn’t know is that it’s late for her and her new boyfriend is waiting for her in town to have breakfast with her before signing his book at her favourite library. It was there where she’d met him. He thought she was the most beautiful woman in the room, and after the speech, he invited her out for coffee the next day. She blushed, but thought of her old boyfriend and said in a firm voice that she didn’t drink coffee with strangers. He didn’t seem to like her answer, so she’d to add that she liked his new book anyway—which was true. His face then brightened up and he said that reading a book was like having coffee with the author and vice versa. She couldn’t think of any other excuse. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t want to either.
He holds the door open for her, and there’s sunshine! She makes a joke about how unpredictable the weather is, and he tries to laugh. The bright daylight makes everything that’s been going on inside seem rather surreal and awkward. It’s still cold, and she puts her hands in her pockets. He wanted to hold her hand, but wasn’t quick enough, so he abandons that thought. Her face looks fresh and beautiful, and he can’t think of anything clever to say. After a brief silence, she complains about the low temperature and suggests that they could meet later. He agrees, and she kisses him on the cheek, then turns to her right and walks quickly away, checking her phone. He almost wants to follow her home, through the short, narrow streets he knew so well, but he doesn’t. Instead, he walks down to his red car in the otherwise empty parking lot, drops into the driver’s seat and lights up a cigarette. He has to come up with something to win her back quickly, before another man sweeps her off her feet with better words and better plans.
Every concern she had when he first left ended up being magnified by the end. She made a promise to herself not to persuade him to come home earlier than he wanted, and she kept it during the months he was gone. At night she would lie awake, making up strange scenarios in her head. Sometimes he’d come back and ask her to go with him again. Other times, he didn’t return at all, but found his inner peace somewhere in Asia or South America, and she never saw him again. Most of the time he came back after a year or maybe two and acted as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed. As much as she tried to push those thoughts away, something inside her continued to burn with a low, blue flame alongside the memories, the promises, and the plans. Going around the decision to wait was like swimming in circles. Maddening. And full of hope. But mostly, maddening.
She was alive, and sometimes life hurt. At first, she would simply snuggle up on the sofa, close her eyes, and reach for the girl who embodied all the strength she thought she’d have in this life. It didn’t take long for her to realise that it was all a lie. She’d never become the hero she’d dreamed of in her childhood. She was like any other woman—in love, and unable to be easy. And then she met Adrien.
On their first date, she wore a blue dress that fell just above her knees. He thought she was glowing and never suspected that she might be unhappy. Many women fancied him. He was a handsome, charming man who drove a 1970s green Mercedes and opened the door for anyone. There was no room for many doubts. And most importantly, she thought, he wasn’t going anywhere. But when he told her that the way she painted was like a love letter to life, she realised that she wouldn’t run away either.
Their first time together felt promising, and she genuinely liked him. As he drove home, he could still feel the taste of her cherry red lipstick and the shape of her smile on his lips. In a world where his people and his gods were slowly but surely being dethroned, one by one, he was able to reinvent divinity for the first time by covering the outside with the inside. And she was all over.
As she curled up in her bed late that night, she thought about painting more, letting him see past the fake smile, and maybe buying an old car of her own—all the while staring at the world map glued to the wall and fantasising about it peeling off, somehow.
4 thoughts on “Sneaking Out of Your Second Story’s Window”
I could read this story forever and ever. Having to stop is like being ripped away from special old friends.
I hope to continue it, that’s why I used the word ‘promising’.
Intriguing as ever. I like the idea of “collaborating”. How very exciting! :)
It should be, or so I hope!