The television mouths in silence something about Spain, something about farthest Russia, about God-knows-where. On most days I would care, but not now. I come here because the coffee is good. The waitresses know how to dress and lean over when you ask them for a coffee with milk and a pack of cigarettes.
Same thing every time—I come here when I’m feeling happy and leave feeling an idiotic sadness. I watch couples pair up then walk out holding hands or all alone. Sophomore blondes, natural blondes, endless legs, and I think how stupid it is that I can’t compare them to anything else but flowers or birds. They are flowers and birds.
I know now that I come here precisely to feel sad and alone. The coffee is really not that good. They use too much milk. I drink my cup alone, smoke my cigarette alone, and I will eventually go home and look into the mirror thinking what a fool I am to feel this way. Some days I can’t stop the tears. On each table there are empty cups and glasses with their lipstick mouths and sweet tobacco breath and all of their stories begin and end here.
I am sad beyond belief. Like a long, unending winter loneliness when all of the windows fog over and the ice is as thick as a palm upon the ledge. The night’s cold petals wilt and disappear by morning. More flowers that come and go. Thank God that it’s a hellish June. At least there are flowers everywhere, on summer dresses, on low-necked blouses, the wallpaper is draped in blue ivy.
The last notes of a love song on the radio are wistful, predictably tragic. I think that I know what they mean. Some of us are forced to die more than once because we have no other choice. We die because one life is not enough, and some of us waste years trying too hard to live it. You might call it ironic or simply naïve.
The couple next to me is making plans because they are in love—her right hand in his left like a rope knotted in the middle and both of them are pulling at it with all of the force they could muster. I leave them like that, the boy who doesn’t know what he has in his palm and her long thighs just like that, her miniskirt just like that, and her hair and her sandals and her…
The heat is done for today, finis, closed. It is bearable again. I walk out and wait by the curb, watch every bus come to the station but the one I need. What do I need? What is it that I want? Where do I have to go now that I’m here?
I get to my apartment, open the window and play a record that I know will leave me sad as it hits the last groove. In this chair, with a glass in my hand, each song comes to an end – as if it were the last and only butterfly in bloom.
Again the weather is too hot to sleep, too hot to even think about making love. I lie in bed drifting in and out of dreams that tear and split into a thousand dead ends. Dinner with Nadia on the Champs Elysee was like that. A summer night loaded with bits of song about our most intimate moments.
But maybe it wasn’t her and it wasn’t exactly then. Women. Women. Erase, start over. We can revise the past lives of old photographs because they are made in each other’s image. In retrospect each relationship is a darkroom of the mind. Voulez vous plus de vin, monsieur? Of course we did, and we had some more wine. Neither of us knew that it would be the last honest love letter to be written on a dirty napkin.
Back then we must have loved as the dead love the dust, tumbled headfirst through the narrow alleys into the scattered leaves of our younger selves. We perfected the honesty of our silence. Just one of those things we like to think we have power over that have power over us, speak our lies more than we can ever know. Nadia, or another more mythical someone, is perched on the branches of memory. I ask you, will it always be this way? Sidewalk tables and cigarettes in foreign countries where the accent makes everything appear romantic in the moonlight?
There are gaps in every love story one can fall through and still be falling. Yes, even here, years later, in these playful gardens trimmed to deceive the passage of time. Dream song, for as long as you can tonight, keep on playing that sweet line about a stranger’s eyes, her waist in the shape of jazz out in the setting sun. We never made headlines, and maybe we never will, but we’ll always have Paris. And that white daisy I found and pinned to your hair, though I can’t recall how, or when. If it was even summer, as it should have been.
All that we have to guide us at times are a few words of convenience and the naked truth of one light shining on its own. All that we have is our loneliness to share for a night, the tap tap of a slow and steady melody that gets down to the skin and bones of it—
and all that we can ever know in such moments is that we are lost, have always been, just listening to the sound of two red heels on cobblestones. Every one of us playing the gentle animal through the end of the wine bottle and whatever might follow—the gold cross glowing under lamplight on a bare chest that simply can’t be ignored. And the question we all want to ask in that hour of our personal god: Can I pray in the name of passion?
Andrei Guruianu was born in 1979 in Bucharest, Romania. He is the author of a collection of short stories, a memoir, and several collections of poetry, including The Museum of Brief Sentiments, a limited edition hand-assembled double volume chapbook. He is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and from 2009 to 2011 served as Broome County, NY’s first poet laureate. Grants from the Broome County Arts Council and the Chenango County Council on the Arts has allowed him over the years to collaborate with other writers and artists on numerous community arts projects. He currently teaches in the Expository Writing Program at New York University.
Teknari is a New York City based artist whose recent photographic works explore the potential of chance and random occurrence to add nuance and depth to personal expression through the use of his own handmade silver gelatin emulsion film. He believes that despite the full presence of the artist in the process, photography is a subconscious effort on the part of both photographer and model, becoming ultimately an act of liberation from the confines of convention.