The feelings of longing are often abated by the feelings of anticipation.
Before she leaves the house she stops by her vanity, pausing for a moment to dive through the chest of drawers, in search of a still-full bottle of perfume. There are never enough occasions to justify the expense but today was occasion enough for her to dab the scent against her wrists before tossing it back into the drawer. She wanders through the house like a wraith, staking stock of the state of affairs, creating a mental checklist before she reaches the door, keys in hand. Grey clouds roll overhead as she exits the house and heads to the car, a large duffle bag hanging of her shoulder. The scent of a storm crackles in the air, casting a sickly glow before dawn but she pays it no mind.
Within the safety of the car, where the stormy scent was gone she arranges the contents of her bag throughout the car. A bag of snacks on the passenger seat, a travel mug with fresh coffee in the cup holders, a blanket in the backseat and finally, her sunglasses. She takes a quick look outside before she stows her sunglasses in the duffle bag and keeps it at the foot of the passenger seat. With a thin smile on her face she starts the car and backs out of the driveway.
Love is a strange thing. It is like smoke, hard to catch, hard to keep but when it is thick and warm and everywhere it can make your chest hurt.
Love provokes behaviour that would otherwise be considered abnormal. One would not willingly breath smoke the same way one would not travel half way across a country every third Saturday of the month.
And yet, it happens.
He is on a bus. It is never crowded, not many people ride this way and he often has an entire row to himself. He makes sure to arrive at the station one hour before the bus arrives, neurotic he knows, but busses come every five hours and he cannot miss this bus. He has his headphones in, choosing a selection of songs to create a new playlist as he files into the bus alongside strangers whom he had now grown accustomed to seeing.
There’s an older woman who always wears a leopard print fur coat, a mother and a son who always laugh as they drop crackers onto the dusty bus floor and an older man with a bowler hat who has a locket pressed to his lips the entire ride.
He settles into a seat and lies against his bag, preparing for the long ride.
She adjusts her rear-view mirror to catch the slow build-up of light as the sun crests past the low hanging storm clouds.
They both sigh.
If people could be connected across space and time, these two are an example of the phenomenon.
He's three hours into the ride and turns his phone on to call her.
She's just merged onto the national highway when she sees his call. she picks up and cannot help but smile as she hears his quiet, tired voice.
They speak as if they were beside each other. She tells him about her new breakfast smooth and how traffic was light today. He tells her about how he bought ice cream before the trip and how he thinks the mother and son dropping crackers might live at the destination they were both travelling to.
She says something funny in the phone, giggling at herself as he laughs too loudly, surprising the surrounding bus passengers. But love has no volume and so he does not realize he is too loud until he notices the wary looks. He quiets down and curls into his seat, wrapping his arms around himself, imagining as he speaks to her that it is her arms wrapped around him.
It is almost silly. They are travelling to meet each other and would be together in a few short hours, so why call? Why run through the topics of conversation that could be left for their reunion? Why talk to the point where there is no longer any meaningful conversation, where they exchange sighs, hums and unintelligible noises instead? But they were not meeting so they could regale each other with stories of their own lives. They were meeting so they could remind each other of the simple fact that they both exist.
Rain is battering her windshield and over the sound of the car wipers she asks him how his new friends are, jokingly adding that she was jealous they got to spend so much time with him. They both know she is not joking. He tries to reply lightly, mentioning that they are well but that they really want to meet her. He pauses and then adds that she could come out to meet them some time soon.
Soon, she echoes.
They both sigh, their voices heavy with an understanding they wish they did not have to understand.
And then suddenly the call cuts.
She’s not worried. It has happened many times before, her large cell phone bill be damned, her phone would always drop the call at some point after leaving the city. She waits for a few minutes, the silence of the car amplifying the sounds of the road.
He always calls back.
So she waits and waits and waits, he does not call back.
He never does.
The next call she gets are from paramedics, then the police, then the hospital.
The next call she makes is to his family.
The next call she makes is to a funeral home.
So this time when she drives on the third Saturday of the month, the drive is void of any conversation. Her sunglasses are now balanced on the bridge of her nose, the sun shining almost violently against her car. Her drive is long and she pops chips in her mouth between the winding turns of the road. It is almost 2pm when she reaches her destination, a small town carved into the side of a mountain, halfway between her home in the city and the opposite coast.
She parks her car and walks to the local diner. The staff recognize her, ask her why it has been so long since they last saw her. She waves them away with a chuckle, blaming the poor weather. The waitress comments how they have not had bad weather since that infamous storm a few years ago. She ignores the comment and orders two milkshakes.
She exits the diner with the two milkshakes and makes her way to a local lookout point, the edge of the dusty rock giving way to a valley filled with brilliantly coloured trees, the multi-coloured leaves straining against the autumn wind. She walks a well-worn path to a small bench and sits down, placing a milkshake beside her before taking a sip of her own and looking out into the valley.
It is not the same doing this alone. She goes through the motions, buys the milkshakes, huddles under a blanket on the bench, notes the variants of trees in the valley, but it is empty. She does it anyway because to her, it is better than nothing.
She takes a long breath, stinging her lungs slightly with the chilly air.
Behind her the trees rustle and she turns to see a young boy, no older than 17 shyly hiding behind the foliage. She waves him over and watches as he limps towards her, a crutch supporting where a leg should be. She hands him a milkshake when he sits down. She looks back at the valley, the milkshake in her hand trembling. They sit in silence for a few minutes, as they usually do.
“This conversation ends up being the same every time,” She says wearily, breaking the silence when her milkshake was half empty.
“Well the reason doesn’t change,” The boy says simply, “So we can’t really expect the conversation to change, right?”
She laughs, surprised at the unexpected wisdom in his words, “You’re right.” Her eyes catch the shadow of a hawk soaring above the trees below her, no smaller than button from her point of view, “I’m always going to wish that I told him I loved him.”
“And I’m always going to wish that we were doing something other than dropping crackers on the ground,” The boy finishes, “I don’t think we can wish any different.”
She brings the milkshake to her lips, “Thanks for coming every month.”
He shrugs, “Helps me too.”
“Not really sure what it does for me,” She admits, as she feels a particularly sharp gust of wind. It blows down into the valley and she finds herself watching the trees rustling together, leaves breaking from branches only to float away.
Sometimes, the feelings of longing cannot be abated the feelings of anticipation. On those days, the longing is that much more painful.