Posted by in lit

When I do get out and about, I frequent a coffee shop around the corner from my mother’s dollhouse. Since moving to the countryside, I have had no concept of time — no deadlines imposed on me or by me. Shedding my comfortable batik caftan for street clothes is considered a task best left for another day.

Days turn into more days before I am lured out mostly because of necessity: grocery shopping, an unavoidable meeting or irritating medical checkups. Otherwise, I keep the world at bay if only to stay out of trouble.

On occasion I flee the confines of the dollhouse to get away from the fur-ball kitty driving me crazy with her insanely cute antics. The fat cat takes pleasure in constantly nipping and clawing at my ankles, squirming and rolling around on the floor before jumping on my lap. A few doses of cute is fine, but cats tend to be creatures of habit and repetitive behavior can become tiresome.

My horoscope for the day didn’t look good either: Opening doors for other people has become a recent pastime as you advise them how to take advantage of upcoming opportunities. Although they may succeed, it’s becoming more difficult to see potential in your own life because some things seem bleaker than they once were. 

The star-maker machinery syndrome in motion . . . my karma for wanting to be an online magazine editor   . . . ‘stupidity, is all it is’, I remarked to the cat. It was one of those I really feel so sorry for myself days. It was time to abscond for a bit to see what I could see.

I sat in my favorite corner by the window of the coffee shop I frequent. My trusted IPod pounding music in my ears to drown out the noise of people chattering and cups and saucers clanging on tabletops.

Soon the café was empty except for the wait staff and myself. A bit later a man and a woman walked in and instinct made me hit the pause button on my IPod. I kept the earphones plastered to my ears, pretending I was grooving to tunes while perusing something on the laptop.

I gathered from their attire, and clearly they did not possess the typical provincial mannerisms from hereabouts — the stand-out, beautiful couple had outside exposure.

The clothes they wore were definitely not purchased in Manila or from ‘off the rack’ department stores, USA. The couple’s get-up, footwear included, were carefully selected — carelessly worn as if like this old thing — from high-end clothing stores or boutiques where you try not to flinch when you look at the price tag.

They were hip and confident with inquisitive and open stares, unlike the usual averted glances from locals.

Although their arms weren’t wrapped around each other, it was fairly clear their actions and looks they gave one another was reserved exclusively for lovers. They sat at the next table; he was facing me, and she had her back to me. They ordered café latte. She gazed out the window as he tapped his foot nervously.

I glanced at them and they reacted. He stared at me with expressive eyes I could have drowned in, and she turned around and smiled at me as if we knew each other, as if I had an inkling of what it was all about. I smiled back and returned to my pretense of looking absorbed.

A question formed in my mind: secret and forbidden love? The nonchalant interaction between the two was pretense for a prying audience, but oh so deliciously obvious. I wasn’t sure if I should feel joy or sadness for them.

“Why me?” I heard him asked his companion. He seemed confused and looked in my direction as if seeking a reply. With bowed head and playing the part of being busy, I focused on the word ‘google’ on my computer screen.

My mind shifted from first to second gear.

“Don’t hurt me,” he said. Again, there was that look coupled with uncertainty and an aching plea. I felt him stare at my bowed head, daring me to meet his gaze.

I didn’t look up for fear of discovery at eavesdropping on two people having a very private moment. I couldn’t let him leave and ruin the tingling in my fingers, itching to loosen the grip that held them powerless by a blocked mind. My whole being willed him to stay put; I wasn’t worried about her. I felt one with her, as if I knew her.

They stayed.

In a heartbeat, the mind gears quickly shifted from second to third, bypassed fourth, and went into overdrive. I clicked on a new blank document on the desktop and my fingers tapped on the keyboard of the Mac and flew over the letters as if like magic. I forgot the couple and left them to continue their conversation.

I created my scenario.

“Why me?” he asked, as if their being together was an impossibility. They were so alike and in sync in many ways; same thoughts, love of the arts, books, thinking too much, finishing each other’s sentences, apprehensive and skeptical of a good thing, mood swings and the occasional foul temper. 

She thought about his question during the comfortable silence as he was driving her back to her sister’s house after a deliciously illicit afternoon spent in a sleazy drive-in motel at the edge of town — the after glow of lovemaking still coursing through the pores of their beings. 

There were rare moments when they could hide from prying eyes and wagging tongues, and their watchful mothers who strictly adhered to appropriate, non-scandalous behavior in the small town they grew up in.

Precious times spent together were far and few between: The stroll on the beach below the property he bought far away from their town. The treasured few days they spent in a foreign city where they were free to be as one. The time spent alone away from the noise in a hut in the middle of a large span of dazzling spread of sparkling, emerald green rice fields was unforgettable. He read Ayn Rand while she nestled beside him.

“Why not you? I never settle on the looks department. It’s what’s I see inside, and I don’t dwell on a person’s physical attributes. That’s just for show, didn’t you know? What matters is what’s here,” she said, touching his heart. 

“Second to that is this,” she said, touching his head. “But if you let your head rule your heart because logic dictates it, you may find yourself alone one day.”

She wondered why he was insecure, why he even asked her that question. Was he more concerned about his physical flaws, his looks? Was it vanity? She dubbed him db with the three c’s: dear (dense) boy and his convoluted (as in interwoven) collection of complications.

She remembered when he said that a time would come when he may not be able to perform in bed. She said she wasn’t worried about that and was about to add more when ants crawled up his legs while relieving himself on a tree, and the conversation was cut.

What she didn’t tell him to put his mind at ease was what was more important to her is a relationship focused on love, understanding and companionship. Being as one with the person you love didn’t mean having sex all the time. Why were men always so insecure about performance? Didn’t they know that being in each other’s arms is a sincere show of love and just as gratifying?

He parked the car outside the gate of her sister’s house and looked at her with eyes that expressed a raw plea.

“Don’t hurt me,” he said simply. 

She replied with a lingering kiss. A stirring of longing filled them once again. They got out of his truck and ducked in the bushes.

Later, she received her lover’s rejection notice via email. It was over until a couple of years flew by and he decided to pick up where they left off, as if the past was erased and they could start again.

She saw the ‘look’ one more time when she was finally free to be with him, and before everything blew up in her face, once again. They were having dinner with his mother and aunts; she felt like she was being auditioned for a part, as if a right comment from her depended on whether she was going to be accepted as a part of him. 

The imploring look in his eyes was a signal for her to listen to his mother talk about her daughters-in-law, and what she expected of them. But his frustrating and ever-changing personality was eating at her and made her hesitate. That did it. He turned cold and communication between them went from bad to worse.

It all came to a head with her supposed third strike. He made it known — not to her — to others that she hurt him not once, twice, but a third time. He struck her out on the third blow of hurt. She didn’t have a clue what the strikes were and he refused to talk about it — no chance of changing it to a foul call to try and make good on one of the strikes.

Yes, she was a free woman, but the love she could have had vanished in a blink of an eye. It was all too late and there was no sense in dwelling over what ifs. She picked up the pieces of her shattered heart and moved on.

These days they painstakingly — and with precision — avoided one another. Once she saw him drive by and slowed down, but he didn’t stop.

She went through the motions of getting on with everyday life, keeping busy and doing anything and everything to forget. So why, after all this time was he still in her head?  And why, after all this time did she miss him and longed for his companionship?

I returned my attention to the couple sitting in the café, blissfully unaware of what is yet to come, their joy or heartache still ahead of them. For the sake of everything good about love, I hope they don’t allow pride to get in the way of a happy ending.

I switched off the Mac along with my insane imagination, and made ready to return to my world. It felt good to write a short piece albeit in need of proofing and rewriting, but who cares? I was on a high knowing I could return to the dollhouse, ignore the cat and focus on the novel waiting to be finished.

The woman looked up at me, smiled and said, “Take it easy.”

“Thanks, I’ll do that, and ditto to you, too.” I replied.

I wanted to say something to him like, “Open your heart, dear boy. You need to be happy. You have craved it a long time, and I can feel it in my bones. But it seems to me you’re in a turmoil, afraid of taking a risk and placing the burden on her to fulfill your happiness. That’s a tall order if you don’t contribute and you will lose your chance at love sooner than you think.”

I ached to turn around and warn the lovers to avoid the path of no return — forever playing mind games, beating around the bush, missing the point — finally ending up despising one another and hopelessly alone.

But I didn’t.

©  Patricia Laurel