by Lucy E.M. Black
Using my phone, I scroll through suggested friends, people I might know, and friend requests. I’m always looking. It seems inevitable that in this vast universe connected by complex algorithms, that at some point, I will see you.
From time to time, I type your name into my search bar, but the list of potential matches is so vast that I despair. Occasionally, I pick one at random and click on the photos, scanning for the vestiges of characteristics that I might still recognize. But the men look old, complacent, softened. The angles in their once carved jaws are weighted, padded, and tempered by age. They do not resemble the face that my young fingers caressed or that eagerly rubbed against my cheek. I do not recognize any of these comfortable men, with their thinning hair and cushioned middles.
I am curious to see your friends, where you have travelled, what your wife looks like. You might be a grandfather by now. Or you may already be dying, cancer-ridden, shrivelled up, frail in a colourless room. I want closure— to see a happy wedding picture, a family in the backyard barbequing together, little ones rushing with water guns, an aproned man wielding a stainless-steel spatula in front of an impressive grill. Maybe a peek at the house, patio doors open and beckoning, or expensive garden furniture dotting the lawn, perhaps a swimming pool. Trappings of success.
I want to know: were you finally published? Did you share those poems you wrote for me, the words of youth searing the page? The tender images and exquisite language that made me blush. I ripped your declarations into many pieces when we fought, filling the garbage with fragments, a promise on one, a phrase on another. How I wish I could summon those tiny scraps and have them come flying back to me like birds after a long winter, so that I could piece together the messages of first love.
Long muscular legs, blond hairs standing out against the deep tan of your skin, white pressed tennis shorts, a racket always close. The first man I knew who wore a terry sweat band. Worn on your right wrist as you were left-handed, I remember. Because it wasn’t a trifle if water dripped into your eyes when you ran across the court. But such things were new to me then, and like anything new when we were young, it struck as me as novel. In those days before “breathable fabrics,” your shirt would be sodden after a match, the moisture soaking deep trails down front and back. And you smelled of sweet musk and expensive cologne when we met afterwards, your hair still sopping.
I remember nights lying on our backs, looking up at the stars while we listened to Lightfoot on your tape recorder. “Pussywillows Cat-tails.” I am swept back to you every time I hear the music playing on an old soundtrack loop. But it was your rage that made me afraid. How you’d throw the racket if you lost a game, even though losing was rare. It shattered more than you knew. What I couldn’t articulate then was a vision of me crumpled in a corner of the court, being hit repeatedly. I learned to stay away, to meet you only after a victory. Then there would be only ebullience, followed by gentle words. Poems half written and softly murmured.
And now, after a lifetime, I want to say to you only, “Look, look at what I have made. My books. My child. My home. I made these.”
I pushed you away. The darkness I glimpsed in you made me wary. I already knew what it was to be injured by someone. To hide, quaking, while whispering entreaties. Eyes closed until the screaming stopped. Silent and motionless during the smashing. Broken plates, pots, anything small. Me. A wooden hanger striking repeatedly. I knew that love could break.
I was frightened by your need, and unable to quiet your unrest. Was it the mother who gave you away that so wounded you, or the clash of wills with your father? Together the two of you built a room filled with trains, and you named a miniature lake after me. I was moved by this, the mirrored water an artful imitation of life and energy and beauty. The tiny machines whirring along miniature tracks, past mountains and trees and small villages, while my lake shimmered with the light you had engineered. But the blackness was always there. Lurking. And I destroyed your verses because of it.
Years later, standing on the concrete terrace, under the shadow of a looming building, you came, and I thought, “At last, finally, he is here. He is at peace, and he has come for me.” And I moved towards you, to fit myself into your familiar curve. It was then, with your arms holding me too close, the familiar feel and smell so soothing, that you told me you had met someone sweet, and her name was Lara.
I pulled away from you, amazed that such words were possible. “You are my missing self,” you said. “But you left me.” I stood accused. I knew if I moved closer that we would each of us tremble. I stepped back further, thinking of the girl who was sweet. “I will always hold you in a piece of my heart,” you said.
And I am struck by this now, still feeling shamed by your youthful generosity. It embarrasses me. Remorse rising like bile for those actions undertaken and so long forgotten. Such careless handling of untested hearts.
And so now, while searching my phone, I wish to know . . .
Are you happy?
Photo credit by Priscilla Du Preez (Alberta Canada) @priscilladupreez
Lucy EM Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket (Inanna Publications), Eleanor Courtown (Seraphim Editions), and Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing). Her award-winning short stories have been published in a number of literary journals and magazines in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer, and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. The Brickworks (Now or Never Publishing) will be released in the Fall of 2023.