I stroll past the beggar with the shiny coin in a tin can by his side. He is singing one of those songs you might actually find beautiful in your next life, something you could even write about in your kitchen as your children run past you. He raises his head up, glances in my direction and lets out a guttural scream. He has a bald head, I laugh because you'd laugh if you saw him too.
I drop a part of me as I push past his unwavering gaze. I drop a part of me that stills my thoughts on moments like this. I drop your smile so that I do not, afterward, remember if you'd smile at that lady with the orange overalls. I wonder if you'd pull your lips apart in your usual slow smile for this man who dances by the side of the road, creating cheap jokes.
The breeze whistles past my ears faintly at first then forcefully like the beggar's scream a while ago. I close my eyes for a brief moment, only that much. When I open them up, I see a man in a plaid shirt walking his dog. He moves with a kind of delicate awareness, carrying his dog along. He has on a smile so big, so genuine it slows me down. But in his eyes, I see something I've always known. I see pain. The kind of pain that floats out of his blue eyes and into the world is a kind of pain that leaves you in the middle of the night feeling rejected and frustrated. Now he might smile a million times but the pain in his eyes is unmistakable.
This is how I know:
We were watching Titanic for the seventh time and every time it got to the part where Jack dies, you hold my hands and let a tear fall. That night, as the wine flowed into our stomach, we argued over which movie to watch. I said something about altering the movie choices like we shouldn't watch another Titanic. You said no. We argued over everything that night.
You said, "let's watch Titanic, Abigail, please."
"We've been doing that all week. Let's watch something else."
"Stop behaving like you know it all. It's not like I'm asking for a million dollars..."
"Can you hear yourself, Eva? We've been doing nothing but watching the same thing. I already know every little detail and I'm not about to start again."
"This is how you are, always. You always want to be right because you think you are better. You think you're smarter!"
"I never thought so, please! But if you insist, well, yes I do think I'm smarter. Which is why we are not watching this."
"I can't believe we are fighting over something so childish. It's like I fell in love with a six-year-old."
"You are calling me a six-year-old?"
And then we left the movie argument aside and dived into why I never call while at home. I told you, I remember now, that I was married and I'd been home with my family. You said you had a family too and yet you always found a way to call me. I shrug it off. I think that upset you the most and you smashed a glass against the kitchen wall.
I said ok let's watch Titanic for the eighth time and we sat and began to watch the movie. I looked at you then. I knew you weren't really watching the movie. Your eyes were very sad. Painfully tragic.
Then you said, " I watch this movie not because I love to. I watch it because I want to know how sadness feels like. But today, you've shown me enough sadness to last a lifetime." Of this, I'll never forget.
It was almost a whisper. I stared at Jack on the tv screen but I saw your face and the exasperated look on your face. I saw that I wasn't enough and would never be. I saw our love drowning in the unfamiliar smell of comparison and all we did, that night, was watch Titanic.
That is how I know this man walking his dog in the early morning sunlight is sad. I look away at the cafes lining the roadside. Julian Cafe, your favorite. You loved coming here for the espresso and cinnamon rolls and in house special, while I walked alongside you. Somehow I always hoped the cinnamon rolls would last forever so we wouldn't have to go back to our homes.
I walk into your favorite cafe and Mary Jane smiles at me. I sit at our usual table. Mary Jane comes to me.
She says, "She isn't here with you today?"
"No, " I say.
"We all miss her. I heard her birthday is today...wish her a happy birthday for me."
I nod. But I won't.
"What can I get for you?" She asks with the same smile she always has for the both of us. I want to tell her to stop smiling, that it reminds me of you. But of course, I do not. I never do.
"The usual, please."
She hurries off. In the time that I'm left alone, I try to think which is our usual. Now that you are not here I cannot recollect our usual. I remember espresso and cinnamon rolls, of course, but I do not know which would be considered usual when you are not here with me.
And then Mary Jane comes back, still with the same smile. Your type of smile.
"The usual..." She repeats as my table fills up quickly with croissants and cinnamon rolls and iced tea.
"No espresso?" I ask.
"Since she isn't here and you never take that, I didn't think to add it."
"I never take that?" I ask.
She looks at me for a second that feels like years. But she doesn't know that I have forgotten.
"You don't take coffee. You are allergic to it." She says and moves away.
I take a bite at my rolls and then I get a kind of deja vu feeling. I've been here before, I say. I have been here before. I can't be here again, I think.
I stand up, dunk my bills on the table and run outside. I imagine Mary Jane in the cafe, standing behind the counter with nothing but confusion. I imagine her biting the tip of her fingers; imagine her with a frown. And this makes me smile. Almost.
I want to see you. I miss you. I want to hold you as the morning comes; touch you in places unheard of. I want to love you in spite of the fact that I will have to put up with Titanic and pizza and wine.
I call you again. It rings for a while and then it goes into voicemail. I want to tell you things but I don't know how to say them after the beep. I keep my phone in the pocket of my shorts and I begin the walk to your house.
We never go to each other's homes because of our sordid affair. Like you won't let your husband know you are with a woman. You say your children will look at you with disgust when they find out that their mother is with someone like me. You don't come to my house lest my husband finds out the same thing. That we are sinners.
But I love you.
I see your house now. I am standing by the bench and I see it now. I see you come out of the house with the kids, the ones you chose over us. I see him hold your waist, the one I hold and claim as mine those nights and it makes me choke. I see him say something, see you laugh, see your daughters giggle.
I call you again. I see you look at the screen. I see you keep the phone back in your blue purse, the one I bought for you last valentine and I hear it go into voicemail.
I love you. But I turn back and head home.