The morning he called on her was full of promises, perfect in every way. It was the kind of morning poets consumed hungrily and romantics doted on; beautiful, crisp, and exuberant. He was wearing his Sunday best. She, the cream one-piece with the embroidered flowers at the waist, the ones his fingertips once loved to flirt with; to trace the curves of the petals as he drew her close and melted in the golden fragrance of her hair.
They were sitting on a park bench under the hovering embrace of an ancient oak, eyes forward, feet tucked neatly together, taking in the peaceful din of noise surrounding them. Staggered sounds of laughter and amusement floated over from the nearby elementary school, playing hide-and-go-seek with the steady, low purring of the city streets hidden behind rows of well-kept trees. A trio of bikers rang merrily past on the path ahead, momentarily drowning the soft, metronomic footfalls of a lone jogger. Above their heads, a ballroom of birds, chirping the tune to their intricately simple waltz.
He was faintly aware of the butterflies in his stomach. And of her left hand, with its thin fingers and neatly shaped fingernails, less than an inch away from his own on the worn wooden surface of the seat. He swallowed drily, made an attempt to lift his fingers over hers, and found them glued to the painted bark.
Her red converses lightly scuffed the newly-green turf beneath their feet, teasingly, as if they knew what he wanted and was urging him on.
Another swallow. It was now or never.
Reaching desperately for his voice, he spoke.
“I have something to tell you. I-”.
She shushed him gently with a light shake of her head.
“Listen,” she implored. Her whole body tensed slightly, eyes pointed upward as she searched for the invisible fragments of sound, as if, if she only tried hard enough, she’ll be able to see the colourful notes floating through the air.
The children were playing double-dutch now, the swish-swash of the cheap plastic ropes keeping time to the speeding lub-dub of his heart. He didn’t need to look at her to know that she was smiling in the cool shade of the oak; this was the fancy of their childhood, too.
Grasping at his courage, which was fast fading into the air around them, he tried again. “I’ve wanted to say this for a long time, but I…”.
“I know.” She shifted slightly in her seat. “I know.”
The butterflies in his stomach took flight with a powerful swoosh, up through his esophagus, and tickled the back of his throat. He let them out with a soft “aah”
So she knew. Of course she knew. She only waited for him to tell her because she knew he would want to be the one to say it. She knew that, too.
“How long have you known?”
He felt better, calmer somehow, as if her knowing justified his feelings, granted him leave to speak them.
The dam burst, spilling the words he had locked in. “We can go, fly, far away from here. I can give you everything, everything you want.” He was gushing now, his words splashing on the asphalt around them. “We can have that cottage you’ve always dreamed of, with the whitewashed fences and flower gardens in the backyard. We can keep the cats you wanted. Please, Lydia. Let’s leave all of this. You’ll be so much happier with me than with hi-”
He stopped, distracted, not yet realizing what was wrong. She was standing now, her back towards him, the murky, turbulent pool of his words lapping at her ankles.
He licked his lips.
They were dry, cracking.
Slowly, she began to walk away from him and his puddle, towards the light. He watched, silently, defeatedly, as she stood with her sneakers toeing the solid boundary that marked the edge of the oak’s shadow on the grass.
The park was silent now. The children must have gone back to their books.
A silent sigh escaped from the ground beneath their feet. Up it flowed, lifting playfully at the hem of her skirt and ruffling the leaves overhead as it passed. Encouraged by this distraction, beams of light jostled each other for the opportunity to dance at her feet.
He held his breath as she stepped into their welcoming embrace.
She turned to face him, her of the light to him of the shadow. As she turned, something on her left hand caught the sunshine, sparkling brilliantly and momentarily reflecting a fragment of her own bright world into his darkness. He blinked and it was gone.
He watched her form as it receded, blended, and was swallowed up by the city landscape beyond the park.
word count: 790