I wake up after the first dream of my life, a once-familiar dent in the bedsheets next to me. My breath catches in my throat. I wish I could go back to when I was standing on that summit with you on my left and the sun on my right. Everything after that still seems surreal, like it’s possible to go back and change. Could you smell the guilt on me then? Does it still stick to my skin? I roll over and feel the Saturday heat on my half-open eyelids—low, harsh.
But I can’t escape the foreboding, navy and purple-smudged mountains from my dream; when in reality they were a pale, frosty lilac under the early morning sun. Our breath shards of abstract art, our boots crunching the dry leaves, the trees attempting a reassuring canopy over our heads despite their bareness. “Just a bit further,” you’d said for the fourth time in two hours. The same voice that said “I’m yours” yesterday. That quiet but self-assured way, no room for doubt to sneak in through the hinges of the closed door behind you.
I’ve often wondered if you thought about me like I did you, whether you believed I was waiting just like I said I would. Do you know that I suffer the thoughts that haunt you because that’s the only way I can ever completely be a part of you? But I’ve always been the practical one; you’re the dreamer.
Maybe this would’ve happened anyway. I drink a glass of lemonade before scrubbing the bathroom, not stopping even when my hands turn red from the soap and hot water.
That morning on the mountain you’d asked me to follow you. Quiet water trickled out of the uneven gaps in the rocks. The thought that you might be proposing flitted through my mind before I dismissed it as stupid. We had known each other for only a few months.
“I read that this used to be a place of worship. They say that the couples who drink from this spring stay together forever.”
I wanted to tell you that I didn’t believe. But I couldn’t do that to a face radiating an eagerness to prove that a little magic still exists. Instead, I held your hand and kissed you with all the heady intensity I’d always felt around you. I’ve never told you that I only pretended to drink.
Later, you wanted to take some water back in an empty bottle someone had carelessly thrown away. By then I felt that my action had already changed everything. We could never go back. You looked up as if seeing me for the first time, and I spotted the longing behind your intelligent, expressive green eyes that had nothing to do with me. It’s what has driven you all your life, a hunger for the unknown.
I looked back at you, at your brown hair so much lighter now from the sun, feeling a sharp pain at the thought of having to let you go. And yet I knew it was our best chance at survival. Even as you told me that the University was sending you to Egypt for an important dig. Would I come and share an adventure with you among the sands and stories of a land overflowing with them?
I empty the suitcase with the squeaky wheel you still haven’t done anything about.
“I apologise for all the sand, it gets everywhere.” The longest sentence you’ve spoken since your return.
I return to the bedroom. The empty building from across the street has been patiently waiting to be demolished for more than a year now. My eye catches a glimpse of bright blue with flecks of parrot green. A scarf stuck on its wrought-iron balcony. I feel the ripples on its surface rather than see them. Like when you traced the side of my face yesterday as if to make sure I was really there, your eyes telling me you’d missed me as much as I had you. Maybe even more. Could you feel my heart stop and restart the moment I saw you again? I blink. Assigning deeper meaning to seemingly trivial things has always been your domain. But will I be able to resist when it comes to the sharp scar that defines the right side of your chest? The puckered skin you have had time to get used to feels foreign to my fingers.
What else hasn’t happened at all for me these last three years?
I don’t realise I’ve drifted off until I’m jolted awake by the shifting shadows. I look at my watch. You will be back soon. My heart gives something between a happy skip and a lurch. “I’m yours.” I steal an unconscious glance across the street. Then a longer look to confirm that it’s not there. I fancy that I spot a tiny piece of it clinging to the rail, but I can’t be sure. I wonder where it is now; that I’ll never know makes me unexpectedly sad. The feeling overwhelms me, out of control, until I’m nothing but separate molecules, then atoms, floating away.
Across the street from an empty building, I finally allow myself to accept the fear I’d felt that day on the mountain. The suffocating guilt that followed at my pretense, and my decision to let you go.
What if it was all a mistake and I was to blame? Do you know how often I couldn’t breathe thinking I’d never see you again? I had really wanted to believe for your sake, for ours.
I close the light and walk to the kitchen, imagining the hug I will give you when you come through that door again, pressing myself closer to you until nothing matters anymore. Until I’m not afraid to ask you if you found what you wanted halfway across the world.
Until I’m sure that we never needed magic water.