This story is by Melina Paisio and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Footsteps echoed as the cobblestones reflected the moonlight, illuminating a path toward the bridge that stood shrouded in the wintry fog…silently waiting. Startled, she became aware that these footsteps were her own, as she momentarily left the cocoon of her memories and felt the bitter caress of the icy breeze.
A hush blanketed the city, as it slumbered deeply in this space of timelessness, existing in a realm of its own between the darkness of night and the gentle light of dawn.
As the stone stairs beckoned her forward the mist engulfed her, welcoming her into its embrace…a soft cloud of promise guiding her ever closer to the forgetfulness she so desperately craved.
A sense of being gently lifted to the top of the parapet, as a feeling of freedom slowly washed over her. She balanced, moving her feet ever so slightly as she listened to the soft lapping of the water far below. The gentle innocence of the sound, masking the harsh edges of this crystalline darkness.
Once again she allowed herself to be cocooned by her memories.
It was ‘that’ day in Spring… laughing out loud with delight as she felt the warm sunshine kissing her skin, she skipped along the gently warmed cobblestones towards her favorite café.
As she swung open the ornate door, old French songs were gently playing in the background as they had since forever, a chorus of words and laughter rising from the swarm of university students. Standing at the counter, she drank in the scene unfolding before her, it was as though she was watching a painting coming to life. Animatedly they discussed, debated and casually gave life to the rich philosophical ideas which had been brewing through the long winter. Like the revolutionaries who had sat here decades before, they finally gave voice to their passionate theories, freeing them to join the collective conversation that continued to linger within these walls, flowing between the words, gaining power and travelling far beyond this ‘here and now’.
She felt his eyes on her long before she actually saw him. Of course she could easily turn to discover the source of this sensation, coming to her from beyond this ‘tableau vivant’. However, she wanted this moment to continue and so she rested in the not knowing, imagining a series of possible realities forming and un-forming in a dance of waves and particles.
In the pause before her next breath she slowly turned.
At her favourite table in the corner, a place where she could watch yet somehow remain invisible, he sat quietly leaning back in his chair waiting for her.
As she slowly walked towards him, the sounds surrounding them evaporated. There was only her breathing…his breathing…
His eyes held hers and in that moment, she remembered. Fragments of lifetimes danced through her awareness, each one so different and yet those eyes were always the same. She had loved him forever.
Knowing that if she made a move to sit down the noise would come cascading over them, quietly she stood before him. In one motion he moved toward, her taking her hand in his, just as he had done so many times before and silently they left.
Turning into a hidden laneway they fell into each other, gentle kisses tentative at first, growing deeper with the desperate longing of so many lifetimes of passion, snatched away from them too soon.
In silent agreement, their feet barely touching the stairs, they returned to where their love had never left. The soft apricot of dusk filtered through the sheer curtain, caressing them as they lay there…eternal lovers entwined in an infinite embrace, blended as one.
High above the city of lights, this attic once again became their haven and as Spring turned to Summer, the echoes of their laughter and love gently rippled out into the night sky.
In the cooler evenings they walked hand in hand, invisible to everyone, quietly sharing stories of this life they had been living…awaiting this moment. They wandered the streets far from the tourists, finding hidden cafés where they would whisper quietly to each other, their innermost secrets and desires.
Other times she would lead him to the places that had always called to her, places where she had experienced such intense waves of déjà vu that she’d almost drowned in the tsunami of emotions, that had left her desperately searching for answers. Together they explored the rich and vibrant tapestry of the many lifetimes they had shared, the swirling colors of ancient civilizations blending with the newer threads of their most recent lives together.
Then came the morning that she woke up alone.
As the leaves gently fell in a whisper of Autumn hues, the curtain fluttered in the crisp morning air, chilling her skin where once his warmth had cradled her. His words drifting back through her awareness, fragments of conversation falling like leaves from the trees. “…they’ve found me…we can no longer pretend we’re invisible…meet me at our table the second morning of the new year…wait no longer than four hours…if I don’t make it back…”
She could no longer stay here and so she moved swiftly around the room gathering her belongings, just as she had done so long ago.
Barely breathing, she surveyed the room; the rumpled sheets, the glow of red lingering in the bottom of their abandoned wine glasses, the discarded newspaper that had brought them to this moment and finally, the dusty mirror in the corner. Momentarily she lost herself in the reflection of their love, here the echoes of their passion would always remain.
The sound of the lock closing on her suitcase, snapped her out of her reverie. She wrapped her coat tightly around herself in a desperate attempt not to fall apart and turned towards the door. The scent of his aftershave followed her down the stairs as she draped his scarf around her neck and merged with the throng of city workers, a wave of suits and mobile phones, carrying her past the café towards the train station.
On the second of January, she was the first passenger to abandon the warmth of the train and brave the gelid morning wind as it whipped along the platform, carrying with it discarded tickets and other detritus, carelessly tossed into the air and spun like a vortex, scattering over the newspapers of those sleeping in a huddle against the wall.
Hurrying along the cobblestones, now slippery with ice, she turned toward the café and as she heaved the door open with her gloved hands, she felt a rush of warmth as the perfume of newly baked croissants and freshly brewed coffee enveloped her in a cloud of promise. She felt renewed optimism and barely contained joy, as she settled herself at the table in the corner to continue the wait that had begun so long ago.
The hours passed slowly and daylight began to fade, as did all hope of seeing him again in this lifetime. She stayed until well past the specified time and as the kind owner began to slowly put on his coat and turn off the main lights, she thanked him, avoiding the pity reflected in his eyes as she walked off into the night.
After hours of walking aimlessly through the foggy streets, she sighed and turned toward the bridge…
It was almost time, she raised her arms up to the inky black sky, like a small child asking to be lifted into a welcoming embrace. As she prepared to fly into nothingness she thought she heard him calling her name… she tried to turn toward his voice but in that moment, an incredible weight pushed her deeper and deeper into the icy waters and then there was nothing…
“Pull her out now and get her dry!” the Doctor barked at the orderlies. Turning, he noticed the astounded face of Amy his new trainee nurse, as she bravely attempted to hide the fact that she found this method completely barbaric! “It’s a new type of therapy dear, aimed at bringing them back to a cognitive and highly functioning state.”
Over the next few days, far from being alert and aware, Amy noticed that the young woman seemed to have disappeared even further into a secret place all of her own.
Just this morning, as she went downstairs to buy her desperately needed coffee, she’d almost tripped over the ‘Café Paris’ sign and once again shook her head at the ridiculous name that had been bestowed upon the harshly lit cafeteria. While she waited at the counter, she turned and noticed her most intriguing patient sitting quietly at her corner table.
Recently there had been so many moments where she’d noticed her quietly smiling to herself, as though she were the keeper of such beautiful secrets.
“I wonder what she’s thinking?” asked Bob as he fired up the coffee machine.
“I wonder where she goes?” Amy whispered quietly to herself.