by María Olaondo
Jack entered the café. Patti Smith’s “25th floor” was playing in the background. He was ahead of schedule. He ordered a beer and as he walked towards the tables he spotted Eileen at one of them. She was wearing her long gray dress that swept the floor; her second-hand waistcoat and her old sneakers. Her lips were painted dark red, almost purple, like the glass of wine that accompanied her on the table. She was reading a book. Her hair seemed slightly more red than usual. She was half smiling.
As Eileen raised her eyes reality opened its door to this unexpected encounter. Her smile disappeared.
‘Hi Leo’, he said shyly.
Eileen extended her arm to reach for the glass in front of her but her eyes were inside Jack’s and she spilled the wine.
‘Shit’, she said in a low voice.
The wooden table with indigo squares and yellow circles was now covered in dark red. The bartender that had been watching them from the beginning was already at the table with a wet cloth cleaning the blood with ether.
‘Sorry Klaus’, she mumbled.
Jack was gazing at her. He missed her sad eyes; her smile, her dreams, her nightmares, her composure, her fragility, her hands.
‘Shit Jack, speak up, say something’, he told himself.
Eileen helped the bartender. The wine vanished. The bartender left. Eileen stared at the table. Jack stared at Eileen. The bartender came back with another glass of wine. Jack quickly took his wallet from his pocket but the bartender looked at him and shook his head.
‘Thank you Klaus’, said Eileen to the bartender.
One year ago Eileen and Jack used to comment how amused they were with Klaus, the mysterious bartender that barely spoke; he just shook his head. Jack smiled at Eileen. She smiled back at him but soon changed her expression and took a sip of wine. She returned to her book hoping Jack would leave. She was startled. A wave of memories had just broken on her and nostalgia was about to pour from her eyes.
‘Fuck Leo, not now’, she told herself.
A hand grabbed Jack’s shoulder from behind.
‘Jack!’ said the voice a girl. Eileen didn’t move her eyes from the book.
‘See you Leo’, said Jack.
The minutes that followed this encounter turned into hours for Leo. Her neck hurt. Klaus was discreetly observing them both from the bar. Every now and then she felt several pairs of eyes on her, but her shyness didn’t let her face them. In her head, buried memories were now walking in circles. Pink Floyd’s “Learning to fly” permeated the room. Eileen looked at the glass of wine and emptied it in a gulp. She got up, put on her coat and picked up the glass.
‘Bye’, she said coldly as she passed by Jack’s side.
‘Bye Klaus, thank you for everything’, she said to the bartender as she left the glass on the counter.
He looked at her and for the first time he smiled, but she was already walking out the door. The girl claimed Jack’s attention.
Over tenements, chimneys and hanging bed sheets looms a leaden sky that casts its shadow over the city. Cracks, silence and dirt. Illuminated by the yellow light of a bulb, Eileen observed the white lights of the street lamps by the river. Inside her upright body her fragile soul shattered before Jack’s image.
Her head said no. Her heart had surrendered. But she missed him. After all this time. Their unspoken language, their animal instinct, their sweetness, their laughter. She could so vividly go back to those nights in which they would go to a gas station, grab a coffee to go and drive for hours talking and choosing each one at a time their own songs until dawn. That was happiness to her. They didn’t need much more. However, all these images had become distant recollections tainted by his sudden cold and rigid body detached from the warm emotions it once sheltered and that she still longed for.
What is it that brings two people together? How can they protect themselves from boredom, exhaustion and change? Can we train our eyes to see beyond the dull surface, deep down into the soul, where the initial magic still lies intact, even if it is in the form of an old dream? Isn’t just that worth fighting for? Maybe they were not ready for the act of giving they had longed for their whole lives. She now understood that old saying: ‘be careful what you wish for’. They passed from being the globe and ring of Saturn, constantly exchanging their roles and orbit to becoming distant galaxies. Lost in space she found herself surrounded by dark energy and her fight or flight instinct advised her to fly away. As she did, her memories of him crystallized. Still today, those forgotten images kept emerging from an unconscious hideout leaving her wrapped in a thin coldness.
Eileen’s thoughts brought her to the final lines of the Woody Allen film “Another Woman”, where Marion wonders if “a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost”. Sometimes love alone is not enough.
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