By Prospero Dae
She was a little kooky. To give an example, we’d go into a convenience store and lickety-split she’d walk out of there having nimbly swiped a raspberry yogurt. Once outside the white plastic cup was cold in her hand, and I’d ache for her. Then, loitering by the bicycle stand, a cloud of reason would descend upon me, swirling about my head like a nimbus, and I’d see ash-blonde wisps of hair and long eyelashes sentinel her mysterious orbs—blue when I was in this state, otherwise green. “Are you crazy?” I’d ask. But people who are crazy rarely answer in the affirmative to this line of questioning.”No!” she’d say.
Then the tender lambkin would select from among a row of bicycles the one with the best, most glittery banana seat, and perch herself upon it. She would then preen her feathers, her calculating skirt hem making prominent the shapeliest of knees, and ask me for a spoon. Her stealth exit from the store was so all-encompassing she forgot to snatch a spoon! Typical femme fatale.
Finding myself on the horns of a dilemma, I went back into the store, where the delicate tintinnabulation of a bell, inconspicuously affixed to the door jam, nearly made me jump out of my skin. Guilt is such a whore.
Next to the Slurpee machine was a little island with coffee cream and stir sticks, silvery napkin holders that looked like coffins, and an array of lily-white utensils made of thin plastic—very utilitarian.
A fat cheeked boy had commandeered the station and was eating a footlong dog. Mustard and relish seeped from his jowls. He had the face of a putto from one of those Renaissance paintings, and he was chewing to the sound of a silent song, nipple-like ear buds wired to his head.
“Can I grab a spoon?” Naturally he couldn’t hear, but my manners were not dictated by logic, only habit.
As I was preparing to leave, the shopkeeper, a burly man in a sweat-smudged T-shirt, with the inflated arms of an oarsman, sought to get my attention by clearing his throat loudly. I froze—a half freeze, something akin to the frostlike state of the dewy yogurt container, which was by now the star attraction in the theatre of my mind. Oh, guilt! You persistent jezebel. And I knew what would happen next: the garish lights of a police cruiser, a persnickety officer peppering me with questions surely to be deemed irreverent by my esurient friend—should she chance to earwitness certain scurrilous accusations while lazing on that bicycle. And to avoid an ugly scene—oh, how I could see it all!—I quickly sketched a plan to signal Anita. Maybe she’d get away—evidence and all. Like a pro. But would she understand my semaphore? No. It was hopeless.
“Your shoelace is undone,” said the shopkeeper with a hoary voice.
“Oh, yes, so it is.” My heart raced. I had dodged a bullet. No sirens or flashing lights to elicit an epileptic fit. Lucky me.
When I returned to the bicycle stand the sun was bright and my face must have been hoar-white—like the plastic utensil in my hand. I held the spoon tight, the way a squirrel covets an acorn. Anita laughed uproariously. “There’s nothing to worry about. Sunlight cleanses all.” She paused, adding, “You worry too much.”
I half-smiled and then had a frightening thought: By the time the light from her face reached my eyes, she’d be older. The notion of irretrievable loss was a visceral truth, and it was unbearable.
We were so different, so maddeningly different. Nevertheless, I’d rather play solitaire with her looking over my shoulder than be watched by a galaxy of throbbing stars snickering in the granite sky. Often, I’d miss a card, and she’d mockingly blow a raspberry. Later we’d trot off to the convenience store. Like bandits. Again.
But I was in love (as if it wasn’t already obvious). Yet, regretfully, as a pale white parachute lands balloonlike in the welcoming arms of an aspen, and a liberated paratrooper lies bedazed upon its gnarly roots—all rarely goes according to plan. I traveled to Germany on business. For nearly nine months I designed collapsible umbrellas for some Kaiser. Anita and I were friends, but I hoped a separation would serve to strengthen our fledgling bond.
I wrote to her several times, but received no reply, except for a postcard she had defaced and mailed from somewhere in Spain. I’m touring with a troupe of flamenco dancers. We perform non-stop, as it rarely rains in Spain—no umbrellas required: tell that to the Kaiser! And a little lower, slipping off the bottom edge, as if her signature dropped into an auroral abyss, she signed Love Anita. Actually it read ‘Anit.’ The missing ‘a’ was irretrievably lost, ruining the dainty bookend effect of having one’s name begin and end with the same letter, but the word love (customary in salutations, though never fully understood in any other context) seemed to shine valorously.
Several months later, I learned through a mutual friend that Anita was cavorting with an Arab business man. I was happy for her, naturally, and that was the last I heard of her till…
I debated for days whether to send you this letter as we have never met. I tore up the first dozen attempts because they were incomprehensible. The image of wet pavement and pulsating lights descending upon the scene like vultures has so revolted me. Was alcohol involved? Was the Audi racing for thrills? It matters not. In every pulsation of the heart there is a dark shadow; from within there is a promise of cessation. Unable to bear this, we love—our vain attempt to steal a flight-feather from the pinion of death.
Mrs. Thule, your daughter was all brightness. I was a shadow having once stood in her path. Life begins and ends with darkness. And as the sun dims, shadows recede—this being my imprescriptible cue to bid you and my fair Anita farewell.