FICTION: LOVE AND REGRET

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Anthony Vaccaro

There is fog. And wet snow. The trees are bare, blackened, skinny. She’s here, waiting where she said she’d be.

Eyes moist, breath visible. It had been a while. She doesn’t say anything, instead we simply walk along the unused strip of land in silence. We go up an embankment, over the unused railway tracks, and into the shelter of a forest. Partially hidden, I take hold of her wrists, working her sleeves up so I can feel the coolness of her skin.

This is the first time I’ve felt her but we’ve known each other for five years. Henry was my friend. I had known him longer than her. Shit, I’ve known Henry forever.

He was offered a job in Vancouver three years ago and he pounced on it–relieved to be able to take her away from those who made him jealous.

She didn’t work, so she relied on him and had to follow. He was security, and she clung to him the way a former foster child does–manically, despite herself.

“I’m going to Vancouver.” “I figured you would.” “You should visit me.” “Yeah, I told Henry that I would.” Just mentioning his name violated our unspoken code.

Her eyelids clenched, as if stung, but I was hurt by her leaving, and so needed to hurt her, too. That was three years ago. I never went to Vancouver and I didn’t keep in touch.

They married and I heard that they even had a kid. So I was surprised to see them at Joan’s party last night. No one told me they were in town. Maybe no one knew. “It’s good to see you.” “Yes” “How long has it been?” I felt Henry’s eyes on us. Fuck, even a ring and a kid didn’t make him feel protected.

That was his weakness. He always feared that sinister armies were camped outside his walls, and he, the false king, hadn’t the strength to defend his kingdom. He’d rather flee.

“We should really be going,” he said far too early in the evening. His eyes unable to look into mine, sprouting horns out of his jealousy. The phone rang early the next day. “Can I see you?” “Where?” “Behind the lumber yard.” “When?” “In an hour.” “OK.”

Some relationships are so barren they need talking. No, not talking-constant convincing. Conversations are marked by an incessant yearning. Even meaningless pillow talk comes out sounding like a muted plea.

But other loves overflow and feel words as a hindrance. Such loves are full before words can be spoken, and when, inevitably, they must be spoken, the lovers feel that their love has somehow been tainted, its surreal essence tarnished by the markings of an imperfect language.

Her dark coat is already undone. Beneath it a red undershirt worn into tones of pink and orange. My hand moves under it. Pushing towards her bones and up along her side, it runs up until I reach her underarm, I clasp hold of her, and pull her towards me.

Her breath faint on my cheek; mine is hard on the nape of her neck, still unable to kiss her. Afterwards, as we walk back over the railway line, down the embankment and towards the lumber yard there is no talk of her leaving Henry and no mention of when we might see each other again. Just two warm hands interlocked.

We know what has just passed between us is a storm. A storm that has been brewing on the horizon for centuries, and so a storm that would destroy the paltry lives that we’ve constructed for ourselves out of greed and anxiety.

Or maybe it isn’t a storm at all. Maybe it is just the natural state of things, but a state that our modern lives have become too weak to live with. As if we have built our lives in a vacuum, so that the foundation, the walls and the roof would crumble were they ever to meet the natural elements of a pure and primordial love.

I drive out to the airport the morning she is leaving. The terminal is crowded, and it isn’t hard to camouflage myself amidst the hoardes of overdressed bodies. From behind a magazine rack I watch.

Henry handles the tickets, she pushes the baby stroller. Her hair is pulled back in a pony-tail, she’s wearing the same black winter coat that she wore two days earlier. My eyes focus on her hand, gripped firmly on the stroller handle; her silver diamond wedding ring stands above.

Henry, having just checked the bags, leans back towards her and kisses her cheek. It’s a casual gesture, no one around pays it any mind, but with it, I feel a fissure open across my insides, and I know that from now on, all of my words and actions will be marked by a loss.

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