And so neither of them moved. She felt glued to the ground, impotent, like a carved wooden soccer player on a fuse-ball table. She could only turn this way or that, and she could see everything happening around her, but she couldn’t for the life of her move.
They lingered in silence. Whatever bravery she had prayed for never came and she gave up on the possibility of crossing the threshold from platonic into romantic. They continued to chat about inconsequential things until she noticed the goose bumps on her arms.
“If you’re cold, we can move to a sunnier spot,” she suggested. They delayed their departure a little longer and then finally got up and headed back towards the car.
She tried to keep her shoulders from slumping, but it was difficult. As soon as they stood up from the slides, it was as if they had concluded a scene on stage. This was the part where they exited into the wings and waited with bated breath to see if the audience cheered for an encore. The magic that had crackled between them wasn’t completely gone, but it was no longer harnessed in a stolen glance, a suggestive comment. That was as close as she would get to perfect circumstances and she hadn’t even tried.
She wondered about Olympus then. Were there idle gods on air-light chaises sipping immortality while watching some earth-girl choke in the face of love? (Wait, love??) She glanced up, half expecting rain to come out of nowhere, or perhaps a defecating heron on his way back from that council meeting.
They had come across a black and pink sweater. It lay discarded and forgotten on the grass, most likely in a moment of pure, juvenile fun. They inspected it and found it too small and too damp to be worn by either of them.
What was it with this theme of innocence?? All day there’d been sweet moments involving children. The boy pirate at the tea house, the two brothers riding their bikes across the empty school grounds, this token of a little girl’s fondness for hooded sweatshirts… Even their very location seemed to echo some untold metaphor.
It made sense. Being with her made her feel infinite. Tabula rasa. Blank slate. So full of potential. She could’ve been anyone or done anything as long as she was beside this tempest of life contained in the body of a guarded and enchanting woman. It was easy to be careless around her, but in some ways, she felt older and wiser than ever before. This girl had allowed her to discover a stark truth about herself: she hadn’t fully lived before today.
They drove back to the house. She was briefly introduced to a tall man with kind eyes. She heard the voice of who she assumed was her mother. She didn’t have the opportunity to speak to her. Good, because she would’ve hugged her warmly and said, “Your daughter is the most incredible person I have ever met. Thank you, thank you for giving her life, for she has changed mine.”
They headed down the stairs to her apartment and then stood a fair distance from one another. The air seemed different, but maybe it was just her. She still felt like she was floating. They’d been sitting so close, and here she was, back in her chambers, with candles and laundry and kitchen utensils and anything that had the privilege of interacting with her every. single. day. Was she really jealous of a couch? Furious with the blinds? Angry over an oatmeal canister filled with cat food? She was losing her mind.
And when she glanced over and saw her smiling, she realized that she really HAD lost her mind. Because it was there, held in her finespun hands, along with her heart.
Oh gods. Oh no.
She unconsciously reached up to touch the center of her chest, then masked the gesture by fiddling with her tie. Her tie.
“My tie,” she said, “I wanted you to try it on.”
She was perched on the arm of the couch. “I don’t know anything about tying a tie.”
“It’s easy. It’s just a knot.”
“I don’t know anything about knots.”
“Well here,” she stepped forward and finagled the tie from around her neck while keeping it knotted. She dangled it from one finger. “I can show you how to do it.”
I’m offering myself to you.
“You might have to show me a lot.”
I don’t know how to do this.
She came closer. “I’ll go slow.”
I will end myself before I ever hurt you.
I don’t know how to do this.
She hoped she didn’t notice that her hands trembled slightly when she loosed the knot and placed the strip of fabric around her neck.
“It’s fairly simple…”
Is the cloth still warm from my skin?
“One side has to be longer…”
Isn’t it obvious? How I feel?
“You make an X…”
But what about you? Angel, goddess, leopard in the purest snow, what about you?
“You go around once…”
Here’s a bridge.
“Pull it up from the back…”
Are you going to cross it?
“Tuck it in…”
I’m right here.
She stood as still as a gargoyle on the roof tops of Notre Dame. But she wasn’t majestic. In fact, she was covered in bird shit. She took a step back.
Fool. She doesn’t want you.
The tie looked sensational on her as she assumed it would. It brought her joy, knowing that her skin had touched something of hers. “It looks good on you.”
She smiled in response. The silence was pregnant. Her body was still tingling from being in such close proximity. She didn’t know how to proceed.
Her phone made a noise. It was her sister. She took that as her cue from Fate and gathered her things. She handed her a letter, a response to the one she’d sent in the mail. She resisted the urge to smell the envelope, to see if it held a trace scent of perfume. She shoved it in her back pocket.
They went up the steps and she showed her to the door. She wanted to hug her goodbye, make some kind of gesture, but she felt awkward and rushed. Had she done something wrong? Had she crossed a line and had something other than the tie come undone? Because she felt as though a fort had been erected and she dared not storm the castle.
She walked to her car and took one last glance over her shoulder, held up her hand, and waved.
The drive back seemed to take ages. She felt like a fish swimming against the current. All she wanted to do was go back, knock on the door and say, “I’m crazy about you,” but she continued north and ignored the tugging in her chest.
She slowed to a stop and paid the toll. The bridge ahead seemed to stretch on forever into the distant clouds. She wondered if she’d ever make it across. She turned on the stereo, let her foot up off the brakes, and drove forward.