I trace the delicate twist and stroke of her handwriting as though my fingers are tracing the contours of her face, running down the sharp outline of her cheek, the swirls of the letters reminding me of the intricate curls of her jet-black hair. I treat the paper it’s written on reverently, as though it’s a precious parchment which could crumble into the dust of a thousand years. Are you coming tonight? Her handwriting is unmistakable. The words have the power to invoke memories of her which I had thought were long drowned, but now seem to have been floating just below the surface of my consciousness, waiting to rise again with the oxygen of hope. I haven’t seen Philly in over five years, but the memories come flooding back. She was like a shining star, a supernova, dazzling everyone not only with her beauty, but also her wit and intelligence. She loved life, and she burned with a brilliance which forced me sometimes to avert my eyes, lest I be forever blinded. What she saw in me I never knew. I was a sullen, moody man given to fits of despondence and anger, happy to be alone and seeking no-one’s company. We were polar opposites, but maybe that’s what made us attract, perhaps I was the yang to her yin, or perhaps I was the shadow which she required to shine more brilliantly. But in her presence I felt alive like I never felt before. I reveled in her flame, and let myself be consumed by her. I tremble to think that I have the chance to see her again, and maybe exorcise some of the ghosts from my past.
There is no where or when, but there doesn’t need to be. It was always the same place, always the same time. La Riviera, 8pm. The thought of going to our restaurant again makes my guts cramp with anxiety, but also injects a thrill of anticipation into me. I feel alive again at the thought of her, but am also paralyzed by the practical considerations. What should I wear? I’m a writer, but not a famous one. Not even a particularly successful one, and certainly not one who’s ever been to classy publishing parties at the Ritz or Savoy. Would she even want or expect to see me smartly dressed? Back then I simply wore a blue lumberjack shirt, jeans and hiking boots, and she used to accept this as who I was. She of course could shine even if she wore a bin liner. Should I signal that I’ve moved on by wearing something new? Or would she even recognize me if I wore something else? In a fit of nostalgia I decide for the lumberjack, and turn my attention to the scruffy face which observes me in the bathroom mirror. I’ve always had a beard, so that isn’t a problem. It’s just that it’s, well, grown a bit since I saw her last, and invokes more Gandalf than Ben Affleck. I grab a pair of scissors from the bathroom cabinet, and hack away till it presents a more tamed version of its wild self.
It’s only 5pm, so I grab a beer from the fridge and sit down at my computer, forcing myself to concentrate on the manuscript glowing out of the screen before me. I half-heartedly add a new paragraph, then realize I’ve written complete shit. Never mind, I can go over it again tomorrow. No, actually I won’t, because the whole manuscript is complete shit. I sigh, then shut down my computer. The truth is I haven’t been able to write anything decent in the five years since I saw her last. She gave me energy and motivation, and believed in what I was writing. What would she think of me now? I think back to the last time I saw her. Actually, it was the last time I didn’t see her. We had planned to meet at the restaurant, but for some reason I lost my nerve and I didn’t go. I justified this by saying I had a crisis of confidence, I was in one of my despondent phases where I felt I was deep down in a pit, unable to motivate myself for anything. I didn’t go, and I never saw her again. She disappeared from my life. But now the note, and a chance to make things right?
I arrive at the restaurant shortly before eight, parking the little Fiat at the back of the car park in the hope she won’t notice that I’m still driving the same car. It’s a late summer evening and the sun is low in the sky, but the air is still warm, humid even. I walk out of the car park and down the small lane which leads to the restaurant garden. We always used to sit outside, and I booked our favourite table earlier. We loved this spot because you can see the water from here. The lake shimmers in the evening sun, and the swallows dart low over the water, wheeling and diving in a display of aeronautical agility as they snap up the insects which hover low over the surface. I’ve ordered a bottle of the house Montepulciano and two glasses, and I pour us each a glass now, in the expectation of her arrival. As I sit and sip the deep red wine, I feel there is an almost magical feeling in the air tonight, perhaps a combining of two worlds with the feeling that anything is possible.
I look up and she is sitting there, although I didn’t hear her arrive. She gazes at me with a smile that is both wistful and melancholic, and I feel a pang of regret cut through me like a hot knife. She looks the same as ever, but somehow the brilliance with which she used to shine is diminished, as though I’m not looking into the sun directly, but rather at a reflection on the water. “It’s time, isn’t it?” I say, and she bows her head as though she is praying for me. We stand up and walk side by side to the water’s edge. With only slight hesitation I carry on walking into the water, and she follows me lightly. “Will you stay with me?” I ask, as the water reaches my waist. She swirls around me, her ethereal form sparkling like sunshine on rippled water. I’ll always be with you she breathes into my ear, and then she is gone, but also still there, in the warmth of the evening, in the ripples of the water, in the last swallows skimming over the lake. She wrote the note five years ago, and it was the last thing she ever wrote. She was as bright as the sun, but she fell like Icarus. She drowned herself in this very lake, on that night when I wasn’t there. My Ophelia. But now we will be together again, as two lost souls were always meant to be.