Tipping the contents of his bag gently, the 53 year-old boy disappointingly dumped the rest of his stale bread into the pond. The ducks had avoided him almost purposefully. Or so he thought. Looking in their direction, he noticed for the first time a single-file line of ducklings mimicking every move their mother made. He scoffed internally at himself. How could he miss such a pleasant sight? Spitting on the ground, he wondered why the sight did not fill him with pleasantness at all.
Standing and shaking his head at the nature that enveloped him, he turned to make his way back home. It was a solitary hike to the pond. A solitary hike back. A solitary drive down a solitary street where he'd park his car in a solitary lot. It hadn't always been like this. He reminded himself of this fact daily. Why, though, had he all of sudden been slapped with the realization that he is alone?
He chewed on that thought as he huffed and puffed his way up the steps of his apartment building. Damn elevator's out. He considered, while stopping to hold onto the railing and breathe, that perhaps all his life he had just been distracting himself from this epic loneliness. Filling his parlor/living room with guests, many of whom he barely knew, hosting lavish parties where he drank too much and had to wrack his brain to remember the details, inviting women over who he had no business dancing with at a bar down the street, not to mention holding them in his arms... Could it all had been nothing but well-orchestrated distractions to amuse and circumvent his loneliness?
No. He thought as he turned the key. There was Delilah.
The back of his door hit the wall with a force he hadn't expected.
Had the thought of her made him do that? He dropped his keys, his eyes unfocused and unblinking. Bending over to pick them up, he fell into a memory.
What was it first that overtook his senses? Her laugh? The touch of her hair brushing against his cheek? No, no it was her aroma. Like earth and sunlight, but sweeter. He remembered baking with her and not even the cookies could match the way she smelled. Then again, it could have been her eyes. The minute he met her he had dropped something and stumbled to pick it up before she noticed. Of course, she did notice. And her eyes how they smiled at his awkwardness. They were blue. But not just any kind of blue, these were darker. Much darker. He had never seen someone with such eyes. They drew him in until he forgot entirely what he was doing. Their denim magic was something unique, maybe even dangerous.
Her voice echoed from somewhere inside his small apartment.
Is that you? I can help you with the groceries, just give me a sec.
He was stronger then, he remembered, as he lugged bags full of fresh vegetables, meats, and cheeses up to his apartment. He had replied, almost robustly,
"Don't worry about it De, you're never on time anyways," as he made his way inside and started unpacking. And she had appeared then. Half-dressed with a curling iron in her hand, standing by the bathroom door with a look of pretend anger. The sight of her made him almost giggle.
"Kidding," he had said, his palms up in submission. And as her lips curled upward into a playful smile, something inside of him leapt alive. Dropping whatever item he had on the counter, he rushed to her passionately, a schoolboy smile on his face as she tried to keep up her act of being upset by his comment. Pressing his face closer to hers, she finally cracked under the pressure and laughed for him. Such a laugh. It made him kiss her then, and again, and again, until she pushed him away, saying teasingly,
Let me finish getting dressed for our date.
And he had thought inside, "why get dressed at all?" But he didn't say it. He just smiled at the thought and continued unpacking the ingredients for their soon-to-be fabulous dinner.
Now an old man, or so he thought, he sat on his couch and shoved his fork into an old take-out container of stale noodles. The entire apartment was stale. He had never considered moving but sometimes the whiff of his life made him want to pack up and migrate. Where would he go?
South America? Europe? Asia?
Anywhere, he agreed, anywhere but here.
While cleaning up the few dishes that he used, the thought collided with him once more. He knew Spanish, French, and Arabic. He could move practically anywhere. What was stopping him?
So, she had said, pressing forward on her elbows, how was my fabulous dinner?
"Fabulous," he had replied.
It's Peruvian, you know! She was elated to share this bit of information with him.
"Really?" He buckled up and got ready for the plethora of stories she was about to unleash. He smiled because every time she started to speak his mind took a mental break. Not saying he checked out of whatever she was saying, it wasn't as if he wasn't listening, he just was able to turn off his fear. Fear of impressing her or fear of himself. For a moment, while she was chatting away, he could just sit back and relax at the sound of her voice. It was a world entirely his own, here, in between the words and breaths that she took. A world that he reveled and dreamed in.
Something about her talking so much made it ever more mystifying whenever she was speechless. Whenever he took her breath away. He remembered the first time it happened. In fact, it was their first kiss. She had been talking about a student in her 2nd grade class, how badly this student had tried and tried to read but seemed hopelessly stuck. Delilah was passionate about teaching then. He wondered if she still was now? The story of Amelia's struggle with letters and sounds, something that came all too easily to Delilah, made her tear up. Andy noticed the tear in her eye.
Embarrassed, she wiped it away, and turned from him. In that moment, she had stopped her story, feeling all too worked up for her own good. It made him ache, the stunted silence that she fronted. Worst of all, her sadness. It rocked his very core. Taking her by the shoulders, he turned her body towards him and, placing his hands under her delicate cheek bones, he pressed his mouth to hers gently. It was soft, the first kiss they ever shared. He retreated from her as quickly as he came, afraid that he was out of place, if his actions were too abrupt. But Delilah was a woman of inescapable passion. Whenever it took hold of her, it seized her entire self. She sensed his backpedaling and reached for him, throwing her arms over his shoulders and pulling him closer and closer to her. He surrendered willingly to her passion and the truce electrified him. This woman, he had thought, will be my last love.
With some relish, he marked up student essays full of red ink. What was so selfishly cathartic about grading? Slurping a beer next to his bed he thought, This is shit, this is shit, this is shit, do these idiots listen to any of my lectures?
He finished the seventeenth paper and had another thought.
When did I stop loving my job? When did this become work? Perhaps, the better question between the two was: could I even remember the last time I enjoyed this?
He had become an English teacher because he had subconsciously surrendered the idea of his becoming a writer. Delilah had always said that he didn't want it enough. That, if he wanted it more then he would get it. He always got what he wanted if he just tried hard enough. At least, that's what she always told him.
Cracking another beer to finish up the last of his papers, he noticed a light blinking from outside his window. Taking a closer look, it seemed that a streetlamp was slowly dying out. He sighed and stood there for another second. A moment passed before he realized that he was still peering out his window at a busted streetlamp. He supposed he was drunker than he thought.
But then, it suddenly went out.
His measly little living room was pitch black. It surprised him slightly just how much that streetlamp had lit his dim apartment.
Why do we take for granted the light and only realize it when we're in the darkness?
She was crying as she packed.
One piece of memory that he hadn't forcefully ejected.
Crying, and talking, of course.
But this time he wasn't able to settle into the words. In fact, he could barely keep up. It was as if ICE had found him, an immigrant in a foreign land that was not his own at all. Cuffing his wrists and deporting his heart.
She had made her way to the door with the two large bags that she was able to muster before he was able to get a word in. Taking a second to wipe away a fleeting tear, the slight sound of her sniffling enabled him a moment to speak.
It came. And went. He had no words. Although he desperately wished he had.
If you'd have wanted it enough, then you'd have worked for it.
And with that, the door opened, slammed closed, and she was gone. The light, out. His stay in her world, abruptly ended. His life forever changed.
Still grimacing out the window with an open beer sweating in his hand, the silence of her absence rushed him. It started with a single tear and then an entire fleet of sobbing followed. Why had he let so many years freeze over that moment? Why had he never called? Never tried? Never even cried over her, until now?
Fifty-three years old and he felt the same as he did at thirty.
If he had wanted her enough, he would have worked for it.
Blinking through overwhelming tears, he decided. I do want her.
More than I want life, I want one more moment with Delilah.
He didn't waste any time. Her passion, even from far away, was as controlling and impetuous as ever. Flicking on a light and tossing his beer on the counter, he scrambled for a phonebook. His brain worked at a lightning speed as if his weeping had shaken loose any doubt of his next move. It was a long overdue cleansing. Now, for the first time in many years, he knew what he wanted and saw it clearly in his mind's eye. Gathering what scattered information his memory had lethargically collected over the years, he remembered essentials. She had gotten married, so her last name would be different. He saw it once on Facebook, it was something generic like Smith or Brown. She had moved somewhere hot. Still in the States, perhaps New Mexico or Arizona?
He stopped. What good would a phonebook do, then?
He could try to Facebook message her? No.
He didn't even have that. He supposed he could look her up in the school system, find where she was teaching. Was she still teaching? The questions made his eyes jump from the page to the screen to the wall, where they focused on a photograph of ducks he had hanging there. Taking the bottle with a gesture of pure, unrestricted anger he flung it against the frame and watched the glass and alcohol shatter.
A few minutes later, he had resolved to giving up. As he cleaned up the remnants of his drink and his picture, he felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. I've never gotten that worked up. Ever. Must be losing it, Andy. Carefully picking his way through the glass and beer, he took the soggy picture and flung it in the trash. Taking a break from his self-pity, he remembered: Why do I even have this dumb photograph?
He wiped down the floor and found a large piece of glass that had slipped under the couch. That would have been fun to slice my foot on he thought, grateful that he hadn't missed it. Reaching for it cautiously, he realized there was a piece of paper wedged underneath it. Somehow it hadn't gotten as wet as the rest of the picture. Tossing the glass, he took the paper in his hands and sat on the floor like a child.
What had it been doing framed behind a picture of ducks?
Ducks. The pond. Her dog had gotten lose and he had been feeding the ducks. Their first 'date.'
The thrift shop. That strange man with the pencil thin mustache behind the counter. And this photograph. It had reminded her of when they met. He bought it for her. Their third or fourth date.
He had kept it?
He was astonished with himself. He never considered himself to be such a hopeless romantic. Who keeps the scrap of paper with a woman's number on it behind a photograph hanging on the wall?
But, he thought, it's not just any woman. It's the last woman I will ever love.
The phone rang three times. He didn't consider that her number could be different now. He didn't even give it a second thought. Suddenly, he heard it pick up. A moment of gut-wrenching silence.
Breathlessly, he asked,
"Is this Delilah?"