Teodora is a bilingual writer and translator. She is the author of two books, a poetry volume and a collection of short stories.
Two knocks followed by a thump. She flinched in her chair. Bedazzled, as if woken from a deep slumber, she tiptoed her way to the door. She opened it, half trembling. There they were – decrepit yet slender-looking, like ghosts pretending to have a body. She peered at them in awe.
They were so many, much more than she had ever imagined: worn-out syllables, withered compliments, unfinished sentences stacked with loose adjectives and haughty epithets, naïve similes brimming with secret excitement, heavy pauses, and soppy lyrics; verbs depicting actions that were never taken, soliloquies unwinding after years of being stifled, questions wrapped in a smooth layer of melancholy.
They were back. Why? She didn’t know. Maybe because it was mid-April and the weather was unusually cold. Everything seemed to be recreated from bits of memories pinned against the canvas of reality in a childish attempt at truthfulness.
There wasn’t any other choice. She let them in, her heart shrinking to the size of a walnut. She felt her whole being becoming suddenly stifled between her ribs. The words gathered around her, eager, pleading.
‘What do you want?’ she asked despondently.
She closed all windows for fear that someone might see. She sighed and gazed at the crowd of words filling up her living room. They appeared to be quite oblivious of her struggle.
‘How long has it been?’
She sank into the softness of the sofa and pondered. She remembered all those times she’d known the answer to the teacher’s question, but chose to keep quiet (being the teacher’s pet was something she shied away from); and then there were the times she swallowed her words because her father did the same and what about that spring when... Her jaws clenched like two hooks squeezing the straps of a silky dress.
She saw him in her mind’s eye – obsidian-dark hair, sensual lips, focused eyes ever-piercing the crust of life rather unapologetically, and a camera dangling from his neck. That day she had seen him for the first time although they had known each other for two years. Pen pals, some would say. Mirage-chasers, she thought now. They sat on the bench in the park, talking for hours. Chatting about everything except for... He took many photos, none of her. They parted without the promise of a future encounter.
A slithering movement caught her attention. She got up and went to the bedroom. There, flickering on her pillow, the most precious four words she’d never uttered were materializing: ‘I love you, D.’
Their fragile letters smelled like cinnamon and cotton candy. She took them in her arms in a motherly embrace. She pressed her cheek against his name and heard a hissing sound, like that of a far-away train. ‘What if...?’ She stayed like that for endless minutes, breathing in the scent of his memory.
Upon opening her eyes, she notices that the words had dozed off, nestled at her chest. She gently placed them in a carton box on a clean blanket, after which she hurried to her laptop and searched for him. She found him. He had become a somewhat successful photographer and had his own business. Her fingers produced a few awkward sentences that popped up in his inbox. He replied almost instantly saying that it would be nice to catch up. ‘I have something for you...’ she told him, animated by the courage that only a keyboard can provide. ‘Cool! Can’t wait to see it!’ he wrote. No emojis.
She wrapped the box and tied it with a ribbon. The four words had woken up and were fidgeting inside. “I hope no one will notice”, she mused while nervously combing her hair. The others had vanished in different parts of the house. She didn’t care about them anymore. She put on her best dress and headed out, holding the gift arduously.
They had agreed to meet at a rather sheltered teahouse. He was even more handsome than she remembered. He talked a lot about himself and his business. She listened to him like she did that day, ten years ago, her heart pounding, her lips slightly parted as if ready to swallow his every word. Inside the box, her long-overdue confession had started to squirm and bounce. Embarrassed, she hid the box under the table, guarding it with her ankles. But after a short while, he inquired with a disheartening lack of curiosity:
‘You said you had something for me?’
Flustered, she handed him the gift, which he opened like one opens a can of soda.
‘I don’t understand...’ he said. ‘Is this a joke of some sort?’
She felt her stomach curling up. She rose to her feet and peeked over the box. Nothing! Nothing but wilted leaves softly quivering in the April wind.
‘I... I’m sorry!’ she mumbled and darted out of the teahouse.
‘Wait!’ he shouted, but it could just as well have been a father calling for his son on an alley nearby.
She felt so cold and ridiculous in her flimsy dress. The sky turned a strange hue, a jumble of pale violet and sick turquoise. A sliver of light illuminated a couple of greyish clouds. It would rain soon.
‘Do you know where the bus station is, miss?’ an old man asked her, but all she could say was: ‘It’s too late...’
© 2021 Teodora Gheorghe