[I'm pleased with myself for actually writing something after a long time. I don't know why I keep writing about love; I just write what comes to me.]
After five years I knocked on her door. The door hadn’t changed; the steps leading to it, the fence guarding it from a distance, everything was the same. About the occupant living behind it I didn’t know and couldn’t say. As I stood there I looked patient but really I felt a bit jagged. I looked around, to the neighbor’s house, across the street, down the street: cars lined its opposite end this month.
I heard a voice from within, “Coming”, and I knew it was her. My heart did something: maybe it skipped a beat or maybe it beat twice where it should have beat only once. A few seconds later, with footsteps proceeding closer, the door unlocked and unlatched (and I heard it all very precisely because I was focused on directing my mind to any place away from the heart). I had already opened the screen door (and held it open), so within a second’s time we would be standing facing one another, each holding open a door. I held another door open, just for her, and I was here to find out if that door (to her heart) was open as well for me.
I hadn’t called in advance, so her lack of knowing within an appropriate (but mathematically inexactly defined) sets of moments what to say was entirely excusable.
“Hi,” I replied, “how are you?”
She stood silent; we both still held both doors open. I waited for her to invite me in while contemplating in my head whether I’ll have to ask her to (like they show in movies in awkward moments like these).
“Won’t you ask me to come in?” I finally spoke.
First one door closed and then the other, and we were both inside where I had last been five years ago. The carpet was familiar; the furniture wasn’t. The walls and dimensions were familiar; the smell of the place wasn’t. The lack of another person there was familiar; the sound of barking wasn’t.
“Who’s this?” I asked as I bent down on my knees to pet (what I presumed to be) her dog.
“This is Arial.” Her reply was terse, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions or premature sentiments. I had come here after much deliberation, so to draw an inference from such a small gesture would be like taking to the sky with a No. 2 pencil.
“Well she’s beautiful,” and with that I stood up to face her. I expected her to ask one of several questions, like “What are you doing here?” or “This is unexpected.” She said nothing; simply stared at me.
“How are you?” I had to break the silence because I was getting the feeling she wouldn’t. I showed up at her door, unexpected, unwarranted, I would have to explain myself without any prodding.
“I’m good. How are you doing?” That surprised me, that she actually asked a question. By this point I had given up on expecting her to carry a conversation, so the fact that she did was a pleasant surprise.
“I’m good too. I just…wanted to see you. It’s been so long.”
“Yeah, it’s been…years” Silence. “You want some tea or something?”
“Sure, tea sounds nice. I hope I’m not disrupting you or anything.” I had always wondered about the likelihood of actually disturbing someone by simply dropping in on them. I took a risk, and not a smart one at that. She could have been at work, out shopping, walking Arial; she could have been having a fight with her husband or lover or friend or family member…she could have been doing one of any number of things.
I sat on the unfamiliar couch facing the street while she worked in the kitchen. I didn’t think it would be appropriate to go in there, so I sat and stared out. The lone tree in my view was bald; seagulls were circling in and out of sight; the rare car or pickup driving by broke the silence of the slumbering-in-mid-afternoon neighborhood. I examined the couch I was sitting in, and the matching loveseat at an angle to it. What had the other (original) one looked like, five years ago? I remembered it being brown leather, finely spotted with dark brown circles. It was comfortable yet clearly worn in, so I could understand why she had it replaced. The current set looked well worn as well so it must not have been bought too recently. The television was different but the cabinet it rested in was the same. Never one for flashy things she replaced the old Sony 24″ CRT with a new one; it looked like it was 27 inches. I admired her for it. The whole world was buying LCD, but here she was, not caring (at least in this aspect) what the world was doing – only buying what she needed and no more. I thought about what she was driving, whether the old beige Civic was still serving her well, but since the car was in the garage I had no idea what she drove these days.
There was a small set of DVDs stacked vertically underneath the television. I spotted The Sixth Sense, The Darjeeling Limited, and Ocean’s Eleven among the titles I recognized. She didn’t have a stereo or any audio equipment in the room. I guessed she was still the same as back then, her primary source of music being whatever found its way to her ears on the car radio.
I didn’t see a computer either. That I knew she had to have: who can live without one these days? Maybe in one of the house’s other rooms she had a desk with a laptop on it, or even a desktop. I didn’t know her computer-usage patterns because back then she had relied solely on the one at work, and only for checking e-mail at that. I wanted in my mind to allow for the possibility that she now at least paid her bills online, but honestly I couldn’t be sure. I wouldn’t be shocked if she still mailed in checks every month.
Where’s Arial, I wondered. She was so quiet I hadn’t even noticed that she had left the room at some point soon after our introduction. She must be resting in another room of the house, most probably reserved just for her, I thought. I wished she would come back; she could serve as go-between between two reacquainted…(What? Friends, lovers, or perhaps just people?)…we could talk about her to delay talking about ourselves. We could even take her for a walk at some point. The bottom line was that her company would make the inevitable moments of human silence more bearable.
Fridge door opening and closing; her shuffling; footsteps approaching. She walked through the hallway with a tray in hand, which held two empty cups (one red, the other yellow) upside down and a simple pot of tea (black). She was coming from behind and to the side of me, so she saw my back as I saw her reflection in the television as we met again. I hoped my dark green wool sweater pleased her visually (we are, after all, more sensitive to green than either red or blue – I had read somewhere).
She walked between the television and coffee table and sat down on the other couch, near the edge closest to me. She prepared the tea silently while I leaned back and pretended to appear calm. I looked at her periodically but her eyes were fixed downward toward the teapot and the now-upturned cups. I remembered how good the tea she made had always been. I was looking forward to this cup more than any other, for more than one reason.