til' then, love


When love woke up that Tuesday, she had that heavy-headed feeling you get from having slept too much. Stretched and sleep dented, she yawns into the bathroom to survey the damage in the mirror. Tousled, she brushes the sweaters off her teeth and moves into the kitchen, absentmindedly pouring herself a glass of orange juice. Making a face after the disagreeable first sip, she shakes her head, the lessons you never learn.

Love returns to the bedroom to pull on some clothes, black pants, red shirt, shoes, jacket, and puts on the glasses that she doesn't need - they've got plain glass lenses, she thinks they make her look smarter. She slips her list into her back pocket and heads to her front door.

Marie, her cat, meets her at the door and reminds her of a neglected duty, so love doubles back to the kitchen to pour the food. Marie meows a thank you. Love found Marie in the alley out back and named her in honor of the queen who lost her head. She makes mental note to water her plants, never been a strong suit, they tend to die a slow death, with and without her.

Responsibility satisfied, love closes the door behind her, locking all three locks, onetwothree, you can never be too sure. Her apartment building is old and really quite safe, but she's heard stories, you know, and this is the city. She takes the stairs down, never uses the elevator (except for when her furniture was delivered, and that was only once). She smiles at her doorman on her way out, Hello, Alex, and he smiles back, Hello, love, and he looks after her as she walks down the street, thinking as he always does, that she reminds him of someone he cannot quite remember.

Love walks west, the way of the sun, studying the architecture of the buildings as she passes by. Rosettes, egg-and-dart detailing, and gold-leafed arches, passed by most, yet her eyes linger on the beautiful, forgotten peculiarities and she smiles. It's things like this, these city flowers that blossom over people's heads, that conjoin to make a canvas for love's lifted eyes.

When she walks into the coffee bar where I work, it's the same as a hundred times before. Maybe it's the time of day, or the eastern exposure our building enjoys, but she's back-lit, like an angel. I don't know, that's always what I think of when I see her. Hi love, I say and I like to hear her voice say, Good Morning, John. Is my table waiting, she asks, making our daily joke in a first come, first served café. Of course, I answer and funny thing is, it always is.

Whenever she looks at me, I feel like I've got a question on the tip of my tongue. Not for her, really, but a bigger question, a life or death question that I can't quite form that no one could answer anyway. It's that unsettled feeling that marks my mornings with her, the days when she comes here, the reason why I work the morning shift. Her look makes me believe in past lives and the importance of keeping promises. I can't really explain it to you, except to say that you'd understand if she looked at you.

Love reaches out to take the cup of coffee and I see the tattoo on the inside of her left wrist, a delicate hourglass. I asked her what it meant once and she told me a story about man she met, a dying man. He said to her, we always speak in terms of eternity when we speak of love, your gift, your namesake. It may in fact last for eternity, but we only have a limited time to experience it. I never really knew what she meant by that, but she looked so sad when she told me that I never asked again.

It's part of her morning ritual, coming here, I think. She gets her usual decaf, room for cream and sugar, and sits in the window. She always has a notebook and a list, and she sits for hours and hours, allowing me to heat her cup from time to time with fresh coffee. She watches the people as they pass by the window, and I watch her watch them. I sometimes think she's a student, but a student of what? I watch people react subtly as they pass through love's gaze, turning to their companion with a revived light in their eyes, or slowing down and sighing, perhaps, to an inner contemplation.

Sometimes she stays all day. Sometime she doesn't come at all. But when she is here, time moves languidly, deliberately. I catch myself watching her as she catalogues her day. Sometimes we talk: she asks me questions like how do bodies know how to breathe and what does the color blue taste like. I answer her keenly, as best I can, and so the dialogue continues. My questions to love are old and clever, and I ask her because somehow I know she'll have the answers.

Today, though, love is quiet. She consults her list from time to time, and scribbles in her notebook, looking out the window all the while. When I go to fill her coffee cup, she smiles at me but does not speak. I respect her privacy and do not peek at what she's written. She's lost in what she's doing and comes up for air only when she's leaving. She reaches for her jacket that she's hooked on the back of her chair, slowly drawing her arms to herself, like folded up wings. She passes my counter and puts her money down, invariably too much. 'Til then, John, she says, 'til then, love, I say. Her words of leaving are always the same and we say them now together.

As she goes through the door, I notice the slip of paper folded under where she was sitting. Picked up, I realize the list that she so assiduously carries and references is in my hand and my fingers begin to unfold it. No. Her privacy is sweet to me, and I feel that to read love's cloistered words would be a betrayal of a familiarity that we share. I go to the door to catch her and glance right and left.

I see her stopped at a vendor down the street. She's looking at a flower so intently I realize I've never seen one before. I lift my hand to beckon her attention, but stop. Her focus is so thorough, so clean that I cannot bear to break it. I will be seeing her soon enough, as soon as tomorrow and I believe that the return of the list can wait until then. Love breaks her communion with the flower, turns and walks away.

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