A letter. A boat. He thought he could reach her that way. A paper boat. A page torn out of his memory and folded and sent across time. Could it possibly find her? He didn't know, didn't think, but did it anyway. He wrote a book, a letter to her, too long to hold what he yearned to say, too heavy to float between them. It sunk. What they have built, what they have breathed to life, the tissue flowers and the wings of hopes, it all got poisoned. Not once but many times. There was nothing left but shreds of touch, gestures of extended hands, to caress, to hide in the nook of an elbow. Was it foolish? He thought so. Still, he dared. What could words describe? How could they paint what was too many colors?
It's been years. He wrote it. He forgot about it. He moved on. His stories floated and drifted who knows where. He learned to ignore the nagging pain, the pulling at bottom of his sorrow. And then a call. A call from a distant friend.
"She read it." His friend said.
He had to hear it. He had to believe. He pressed the phone into his ear. "When?" There was no other word. When?
"About three days ago. I think. Why?"
"I didn't," he faltered. "I didn't know. Are you sure?"
"What did she think?" The questions were too many, and he had to swallow them down. Did she like it? How did she find out? Did she read his other books? Did she understand? Will she ever...was it conceivable to hope for...if only once. Only once to hear her voice?
"I don't know, mate. You'll have to ask her yourself."
"Yes. Yes, of course. How do you know?" He asked and didn't hear the answer. It didn't matter how. It mattered that she did. It happened.
Could there be a bridge? Could paper hold their past, would it crumble? If he stepped on it, would it collapse?
"Huh? Sorry. Yes, I'm here."
"I gotta run. Talk later, okay?"
He wasn't aware of this footing for the rest of day. His hands didn't feel like his. His ears heard music, music in the wind. It bloomed in his face, it made him weightless. "Sonia." That one word, he hasn't said it for years. "Sonia." Oh, how beautiful it rang, how it rolled off his tongue. "Sonia, Sonia." He couldn't stop.
Their park, that bench where they met. She read a book. What was it? He couldn't remember. His feet carried him there, or maybe they didn't. He didn't know how he stood in front of it. Green peeling paint. One board missing. The iron handles still intact. And footsteps. Her footsteps. Dare he look?
It took years. Year for him to lift his head. Years to turn. Years to see.
A simple white dress. Hands clasped, holding his book. THE BENCH stamped on the cover in green letters, that same shade. THE BENCH by David Brooks. Her smile, the sunlight of her face.
They stood without words. There was a bridge to cross. Neither dared. She shifted, perhaps from standing too long, and the book escaped her hands. It dropped. The sound startled them, they rushed to recover it, reached for it, brushing hands. Just like that first time. Over a book. The gaze that was impossible to wrench away.
"I didn't know." She said.
He shook his head, wanting to say, "No, it's okay, it's fine. It's not your fault." But the words wouldn't come, stuck in his throat.
"I..." She began.
He pressed a finger to her lips. He was afraid for it to crumble. So fragile, so new.
"It was for you." He said. "A letter for you."
He watched her fingers, the nails cut so short it looked painful, the cuticles in disarray, the fleshy soft parts, the wrinkles on them, the blemishes. So warm. Dare he hold it?
Will it stay?