By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were in fire. I didn’t look back, but I could smell the burning paper and I could imagine her sullen, disturbed face.
Not the end I wished for, frankly. I’ve always been very careful what I have wished for, never falling in exaggeration or desires beyond my merit. That’s fairness, isn’t it? I longed for a decent partner, a comfortable life, and for some respect. Due respect. Not much, you may say, but this is all I can offer in return.
She couldn’t settle for that. She couldn’t content herself with the obvious course of nature like as she wanted to reverse the flow of a river in pursuit of rebellion just for the sake of it.
I should have guessed. The self-whipping thought popped up when I walked pass the library we met. I did, actually. When I saw her first, absorbed in a book I coauthored, a new edition she couldn’t afford to pay £20 to buy, a sense of threat rose in my chest. I knew I have had to work a lot on this relationship if I wanted it, but my fate had been decided by then.
She lifted her glance, amazed. And amazingly embarrassed. She placed the book on the top of the sheet she was making notes on and she smiled back at me.
Oh dear, that smile still haunts me. This is what I wish to get back. That humble yet seductive, genuine smile. It’s faded away, somehow. For the last couple of months I couldn’t recall any smile of her, not quite surprising in the aftermath of events. I hastened my steps, hands in my pocket.
Annoying, distorted smirks of pumpkins stared from a window. It was the coffee shop where we used to see each other in the beginning, in her lunch break. She was an assistant to a giant corporation, a chanceless, inconsiderable grain of sand in the desert. She knew that, as I was aware after our intimate conversations. The commitment I demonstrated opened her up and she answered the gestures of kindness and attention with honesty. I liberated her back then, sharing the details of my fatigue-some daily tasks, revealing the sacrifice behind my success and by listening to her awkward confession about her messy past and boring job. I assisted her to get realistic regarding her ambitions.
One day she was particularly upset. I don’t remember why, I only paid attention to the blaze in her eyes with an unspoken pity for the wasted passion. Then I proposed to leave the whole circus and join me in my home.
The teaspoon she stirred so nervously all along her tirade fell out of the grip of her fingers. So, I went on. Wasn’t courage she was seeking for, I argued. Be brave, I said. Leave your fiascos behind and embrace what satisfies you, which was the rising love between the two of us.
Indeed, she had to admit. I was the only person truly caring about her, offering relief and intellectual challenge to her. We worded the resignation letter together and once her index-finger – led by my gentle hand – hit the send icon an overwhelming sense of victory stormed over us.
While the northern winter cast a grey blanket of seasonal depression upon the country, our passion lasted, glittering my days and nights. She blossomed once she left all those toxic relations behind. I channelled the strengths she needed to resist whenever her ugly ghosts reached out to drag her back. We were just enough for each-other, why would we take the journey to family gatherings or meaningless days out with so-called friends at all?
I approached the park nearby my office. I paused. Red and orange berries tinted the evergreens, but I remembered the pompous spring. Every day on my way home I ripped a flower for her, then I handed it over as she was waiting for me in the kitchen. She was touched, day after day. The glass – as I didn’t have a vase small enough – sat in the middle of the dining table. She always removed the dead flowers, at least for a while. By the time the smell of lilac filled the house, I had to warn her to clean up the faded daffodils.
No wonder, looking back, she was plotting the betrayal by then. I bet she did. Despite my warning, she longed for a life she could not cope with. Every time she’d got in trouble – and she’d got in trouble far too often before we met – it was because she was weak. A nice and kind person, even precious I would say, yet the lack of objective judgement shoved her in a spiral of failure.
My observation, however not my personal experience, is that the illusion of importance has a mesmerising effect. Dummy friendships, the falsehood of career let alone the societal mimicry of self-expression and so on and so forth. How many times I’ve heard people talking about ‘seeking for their way’ or ‘building themselves’! I was straightforward about this whole self-deceit when she started chirping about it, and I repeated myself ever since.
I’ve been squeezing the purple aster I couldn’t give to her tonight. I rehashed our flower ritual as I noticed she was about to get distracted. She looked confused, actually ashamed when I entered. The letterhead document fell down. Contract, the bold letters shouted aloud what she did to me. To us.
Anyone else would have lost temper, facing such a disloyalty I had to face. But I’m not anyone. With a guarded tone, I explained what I was going to do to save her from herself. I would reveal her past to her new employer. She fought for grasp but I went on. I would tell them she has had an affair with her uncle, a married man. ‘I was fourteen.’ she moaned. Indeed, she was. It’s a serious question who was the victim in this scandal, swept under the rug by herself. Then the addiction problems. I have listened carefully when she's shared these stories. Now it paid off.
‘Think it through.’ I asked, calmly, when I left.
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were in fire. I didn’t look back, but I could smell the burning paper.
I was going to forgive, of course. I had no grudge in my heart when I got home.
The purple aster was the last flower in the glass, its petals have fallen on the table. Smell of rotten stem flickered around, so I binned it this morning. I opened the post. A paperback dropped on my lap, face down. According to the brief review, it was an inspiring auto-biography of a survivor. I turned the book, rather irritated by the superlatives. Heathers framed her name and the title: Straw.