There we were. Round table, three chairs. Every month we’d be there – the same lonely café. I didn’t like the place for obvious reasons; this was after all, your neighborhood. But Ann liked the concept. Loose tea leaves, coffee with toasted marshmallows, natural sunlight through glass walls. Plus, there was a pleasantly great lack of people. It was a good place to write. It was a good place to think.
“What happened to that prose you were writing?” Ann asked, swirling her marshmallows with a spoon, legs crossed, eyes prying into my own.
It didn’t register for a moment. It was like I’d forgotten it ever existed: sentences that knew every feeling I’ve had. Strange, isn’t it? After all the time spent.
“You mean,” I paused, knowing the answer but asking anyway, “the one about her?”
Ann nodded, her face frowning as if I’ve written anything else in prose. Ann knew me best; it was her whom I always went back to. But it just seemed so far away from me now – our story. How long has it been?
“I don’t need to write about that anymore,” I said, tilting the tea and feeling the warmth on my lips.
“But the story wouldn’t end…” Ann trailed, and I knew of the thought she was engaging in. “There’d be no closure.”
I sighed, reuniting the cup with its saucer. Her last words hung in the air between us and I could feel my breath pushing against my throat. She didn’t understand it. She didn’t understand how I could throw away so much time; to have bled into the keyboards and leave it all in the archives.
“It’s like this,” I start. “I know I still stop whenever I catch a whiff of Guerlain’s Shalimar, or come across red poppies.” I blinked, an image of you already starting to form in my head. “But that’s it. That’s all they are, just signals for memory.”
You know, there was a time where I couldn’t do such a thing. I couldn’t reduce you. I couldn’t let our ending leave without an end. Cause maybe we’re not ever going to end. After three years, I still find myself staring at my phone whenever you leave a stray comment or liked one of my pictures. I’d sit across you every school reunion and our feet would touch with winces of the resulting present. You see, people don’t end.
“And I think it’s okay that it happens. I mean, I know it’ll never end. And after awhile, it becomes okay.”
Ann didn’t look convinced but she didn’t press further. She knew how hard this was for me. Her eyes were enough to say it all – how was that, in any sense, okay? But we had other things to go through and I wasn’t going to allow you to be one of them. Even if you do turn out to be all of them.
Ann left for the washroom when the front door swung open and the little bell hanging on the doorknob rang. And I remembered why I didn’t like this place. This was your neighborhood. If chance would have it, we would meet.
And you still looked like the person who had to leave.
“You’re here,” that’s how you said hello.
I tried to smile. I tried to be okay.
Your eyes glanced over to where Ann was sitting and you took the empty chair. I told you whom she was, where she went, how we were going through our work and stories – things you knew.
“Does it really become okay?” I heard the softness in your voice. Without looking, I could already picture the pity spreading across your face. All I did was swirl the tea leaves.
You flipped through the papers on the table and picked up an unfinished manuscript. “This one… how do I end in this one?” It was that prose I was writing. Or stopped writing. It was just like you to ask. You knew that in some ways, you would be in every one of my stories. And it wasn’t pride that drove such a question. It was pure concern. After all that had happened, you still seemed to care on how I was doing. And in some ways, that was what made it… not okay.
“Did I die here?” Something in your voice dropped and your expression was carefully steady. “You can’t lie to me.” You were hurt. I could see that you were hurt.
Do you really want to know what happened in that one? You did die, yes. Except not really. You were dead to me. Because in another universe, another story – not this – it would have been easier if you were dead. It would have been easier if there were no choice to our ending. There are, I have realized, worse things than death.
“You know, the least you could do is honor the ending that I chose.”
And I had nothing to say to that. Ann returned to her seat and started reading the manuscript she belonged to. She couldn’t see you. None of them could – no other character.
But you saw her clearly. She had your eyes, your habits, your thoughts. Just a different name, a different career, a different story.
“You named her Ann.” You leaned close towards her, examining a version of yourself. “Short for Anastasia… meaning resurrection.” You shifted your gaze towards me.
She wasn’t you. I knew she wasn’t you. Not completely.
Ann paused from her reading and took a sip, “You’re quiet.”
“Do you know why I love their coffee? With the little marshmallows bobbing about?” Ann asked, her tone oblivious.
“They are like icebergs,” they said. Two voices merged into one.
There was too much hidden.
Ann went back to her reading and you stood up to look beyond those glass walls. I knew you didn’t approve of this. All these stories, all these versions… they were what I needed to get here – for me to be able to finally face you, after all these months and years.
“So where was ours?” You turned to me.
But have you ever considered that this is our story?