She looked amazing. It was the first time I had seen her in what felt like an age and she was stunning. Standing just across the road in front of me, with her new blunt cut fringe and concave bob dyed a peroxide blonde – so blonde it was almost white. She frowned across the crowded pedestrian crossing, looking through her fellow inmates in this human zoo. The sandstone blocks and aging marble plinths of City Hall and the banker’s temples form a faded backdrop as she picks her way through the cold shadows they cast across the street. She lifts her hand and I smile, nodding. Delicately she pulls at the vines climbing her breasts, ascending from her pocket, delicately she plucks the buds from her ears.
We walk, she is too busy talking to notice the subtext barely hidden beneath each of my loaded words, and I was too lost in my thoughts to listen to hers. The warren of side streets and alleyways embraces us, encouraging our wandering, drawing us slowly toward the riverbank. She’s a cheap date, she insists, laughing into her take-away frappe as I take her words too seriously outside the hipster coffee shop she demanded we try. We take our time on the Riverwalk, trying to fit in with the in-crowd, trying to blend in with the gaggle of checked shirts and too-tight skinny jeans. My tongue fills my mouth as we both stumble around the tension, already obvious and flooding the air around us with a fog of unspoken feelings.
I manage to speak again, finally uttering a line I’m sure she’s never heard as a flotilla of jellyfish drift passed beneath the boardwalk jutting out above the mangroves and into the river itself. “Do you know what one of my favourite things is.” I ask her, “It’s one of those little coincidences that pop up in language.” She stares, bemused that a quirk of language could ever be one of someone’s favourite things. Wonding at what point it could’ve been that I’d made the leap from her inane story. Her story. A story about some other guy, on some other riverbank somewhere else.
“Well, what is it?” she asks me, tersely. My mouth feels filled with sand as I choke and splutter my way around an answer. I feign injury, signaling with a violent flap of my hands that my coffee went down the wrong tube, or was too hot – anything to distract her for a moment. She puts her hand on my shoulder, patting my back; her hair brushes soft against my cheek as she asks if I’m alright. I tell her that I am now; she thinks that I’ve cleared my throat, that I’d finally caught my breath. The smell of her hair fills my nostrils, the smell of strawberry shampoo giving me the courage to keep talking.
“Yeah, I’m fine…really, don’t worry, apparently I just can’t swallow properly,” she smiles at this, and I sense that this is my moment, my chance to use my favourite line. “Do you remember that rhyme we all used to sing in primary school, whenever you had something that someone else wanted? You wish jellyfish? She nods, hesitatingly – she can’t quite see where this is going. “Well in Italian it rhymes too, in Italian you say: Tu sedusa medusa. Or something like that, my Italian isn’t really up to scratch…”
It didn’t have the effect I’d hoped for. She looked unsure about what to say next, like she knew that I was using my best material. It didn’t make her laugh, or say anything ridiculous about ‘inherent race memories’ or anything like that. She was different to most other girls, she didn’t subscribe to that tribe of self-inflicted idiocy. She didn’t say anything, nothing at all; she just turned on her heel and stalked away.
I struggled to catch up to her, desperate to explain, to tell the punchline. She shook her head before I could say anything, she told me that it had gotten weird between us, since she had gone away. That maybe I was attached to my memories of her, not who she was now. She told me she couldn’t look at me as a friend anymore, that I had betrayed a trust, that she could only ever see me now as a suitor. And, if that were the case – she wasn’t interested. I must have looked hurt, because she said that she was sorry, and that maybe we could be friends again one day, that I wasn’t her type. She spun away from me again, started repeating herself, saying that she was sorry, that “the more we love our friends, the less we flatter them.” I couldn’t love her until I could love myself, she told me, told me that “it is by excusing nothing that pure love shows itself.”
I didn’t really understand what she meant; those sorts of things tend to just fly over my head, most of the time. I’m not what you’d call in touch with my feminine side. I finally said what I had wanted to, ever since she had gone away. I told her that I thought I loved her. She rolled her eyes, and, shaking her head said nothing. I threw my latte in the bin and immediately regretted it, cursing to myself and to the river as it flowed passed.
I watched her walk away, melting into the crowd.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Lisa challenged me with a quote from Moliere: “The more we love our friends, the less we flatter them; it is by excusing nothing that pure love shows itself.” And I challenged Kat with “Use the words effete, truncheon and wavering in your story. Also, include an ostrich. Oh, and for bonus virtual high-fives adopt an orphan prompt from IndieInk.”