With the musician you talk a lot at the table in your apartment. You talk over the over-boiled pasta he made about appreciating music, about how being transformed by art can be just as satisfying as making it. A day or two later he tells you that he hasn’t given up music, just the idea of becoming a musician. You are proud of him at first, for being honest and realistic in a way more self-absorbed people cannot. Then you think, now who is going to write a song about me?
For thanksgiving you are walking around the city where he was born. It’s colder here. All afternoon he has pointed out to you the places to used to go. Like the middle school he went to, but mostly just describes the architecture, mostly the changes made to the building since he left. And it seems a useless knowledge, or an incomplete one to think about an object or a place continuing without you.
Maybe in part because of your conversation during lunch, about children and parenting styles, or because of the book you are reading, it would seem that behind all those windows and all the buildings in this city are just empty rooms no human has ever been in.
A couple of days after you get back you make an unannounced appearance at his place, where you have been to only once. There, in his crowded, small room, behind a mostly closed door, you tell him all the ways he is good, then all the reasons why you can’t see him anymore. He tells you that he wants you to go. You are relieved, not that he has started to cry, but that he is calm and definitive. You go and no one follows you out.
The next week will be bright and unseasonably warm. Walking around with the sun loose on your face, everything will feel unusually new. After a week of sleeping alone you wake up to find a piece of glass in the streaked sheets. That morning the cold starts leaking through the windows.
On your way to meet the film critic you pass by a lingerie store where a red headed woman is dressing a red headed mannequin in the window. You want to be touched with that kind of care and knowing. At the café he’ll order an iced coffee despite the mid-winter freeze. When he’s done he pours a packet of sugar over the left over ice and sucks the sweet out of them.
He loves film and is convinced that it’s closer to a language then a visual art. He especially loves Bresson especially the discipline he takes towards his emotional content, which he says induces a spiritual balance for the viewer. He is obsessed with the possibility of perfection and for this reason always wears a suit and takes special attention on his appearance.
Somewhere in those first months you write a story about an illustrator who works as a sketch artist for the police. Playfully he decides to use his obsessive talent for detail to stitch together all the most beautiful features and draw the perfect woman. Finally his labor produces a face and he falls, dangerously into feeling that he takes to spending whole days walking around the city for a glimpse of her. The closest he can come to finding her is her lips on one woman, her cheek bones on another and then deranged by this searching, reaches a kind of madness when suddenly all he can see are their flaws. Instead of the sleek curve of a laughing neck he notices a pimple on a back, an under-plucked eyebrow, a greasy nose.
You show it to the film critic just before finishing it and he says he likes it. What he really says is that it could have been a new wave film and that the illustrator reminds him of Godard. Like him, all his characters are trying to get to the end of an idea. He is careful and routinized and the sex is terrible. Eventually you cheat on him. You keep cheating on him and decide it’s better to be alone.
You meet another writer who is over critical. He is distant, withdrawn, but undemanding. Walks through life emanating his own self inspired reason, doing things like turning off the TV without asking if you were still watching. The fact that you weren’t really, means nothing. He will leave to teach English in China for six months. He tells you a week before he leaves, in the morning at the table between coffee cups and glasses for water. After that, more empty, unguided time, which I guess is called waiting.
For fun with a friend you visit a fortune teller who tells you that she sees a tall handsome blond man in your future. At a party that weekend with the same friend you meet a tall, blond, not so handsome man who you sleep with that night. Then taking the train back, sobered and starving early that morning all you can think is how you will never make this trip again. Your friend calls late that afternoon with a newly confirmed belief in destiny and you realize that you fulfilled a prophecy for amusement, but probably not even your own. You think about what the weather must be like in China. Another year passes.
On an unremarkable day, you run into the musician on the long way back home. He is wearing a jacket you recognize. On closer look the only thing that seems changed is his hair, which is only slightly more grey and rearranged. He tells you that he is doing ok, that he is living somewhere new, closer to where you still are. You ask what he did for thanksgiving this year and he tells you.
When you get home you remember a story you wrote before breaking up. It was about a young, but not so young anymore girl who visits her boyfriend’s family for the first time. Being shaken by the confining thought of their togetherness, or really the too clear view of their future rolling out before her like a short carpet, she leaves him.
After rereading it you feel a weakness that draws out of you like a low tide until there are only raised boats in the mud and incredible want. Why didn’t the character in the story predict that? What did she know that you don’t?
OLIVIA MARDWIG is a writer born and living in NYC.