The questions were as stale as their faces. Is it an art or a craft? How much does your fiction draw on your own life? Questions everyone knows answers to, if only vaguely, and all one hopes for, really, is a lucid confirmation from someone older and wiser. When he was younger, there was the charm but in its place had slipped in something far more sinister—a throbbing, almost proud, reverberation of age in his old eroded self.
Each time she met his eyes, she felt a tectonic shift in her being. It lent her movement the grace of a French actress and to her insides, a twisted frustration of a deep sea eel. Every tissue in her body softened, loosened and baked in his warm corporeal presence. The room, dense with perfume and hushed evening breaths, she was sure, was essentially empty but for the two of them. Him and her.
His gaze slid smoothly from eye to eye. His words assumed a life of their own, gurgling without effort, much as his legs would assume a life of their own sometimes, when he’d walk through the city, but that, he remembered now, was when his hair still sported a slate black. When his legs couldn’t fail him, his words did. It was as if he was always on the lookout for the right word, the right turn of phrase; always a moment too slow. The crest of a wild, romantic upheaval marched ahead of him while he staggered along in its wake, holding momentarily onto women he never truly loved and streeling onward and farther from a place of quiet longing.
She walked out of the room as she imagined she’d walk out of a theatre while the credits were still being rolled. She wondered if he’d notice.
He did—mid-sentence, his words warbled, and he said—’Where was I again?’
She walked out of the building before walking in again, appearing to the receptionist curiously flustered who initiated a gesture of help but she was down the ‘Business’ aisle long before he found the words that he then morphed into a low clearing of throat. Amidst books that dished out business advice, she picked up a book titled Tax Tutor. How she wished to be engulfed by these books—books on how to raise the perfect children, how to be charming, successful, smart—by the insufferable minutiae of a modern bourgeois life. She thought of her husband who stared at the TV sometimes, to avoid having to talk to her—about what? She looked at her feet that had been nibbled on by docile fish only yesterday. Yesterday, on the tenth anniversary of their arranged marriage, her husband had arranged for a day out at a resort where young women dressed as mermaids blew bubble kisses in a small glass water tank. He’d said something about ‘investing’ in experiences rather than objects, she imagined a hundred books in the shelves around her aquiver with an impatience to dispatch this very same platitude.
He recited his story, one that tread a fine line between his life as they imagined it and his fiction as he lived it, a cheesy undying tale of love laced with the tragedy of petty human foibles—jealousy, lies and lust. When he was done, he cracked his knuckles, looked around, waited as the applause died, walked out to the foyer where they’d arranged tea in the setting sun.
She hadn’t planned on meeting him, in fact, she hadn’t planned on coming to the event either but by what she’d now reduce to a happenstance, a mere happenstance, she happened to be here, she happened to be someone else. She watched him from a distance. In the red dying sun, his shadow fell all the way out to the doorway.
He regarded her with some curiosity. Was she the woman who’d walked out? Sun shone so brightly behind her that she was but a silhouette—until, perhaps, after sunset.