Simon Jones is a Swiss/Australian writer living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is currently completing a Master of Studies in Creative Writing at Cambridge University in the UK. You can find him at his website and on Instagram (@89simonjones).
‘I was scared you’d left.’
He smiles. Her dark eyes are warm and caring. They make him feel wanted. Her expression, though, is hunting. There is a distance between them. He pours himself another drink before allowing himself to fold back into the comfort of the bed.
‘Do you want one?’
She doesn’t answer but slides up to rest her head on his ribcage, just below the heart. It makes it difficult for him to drink.
‘I was scared you’d left.’
His breathes in and then out; big steady breaths. As his chest rises and falls, he feels the pressure of her on his body.
‘No way I could.’
He means it. He is not there out of any sense of requirement but because of what she has given him. He finishes his drink before turning to kiss her. She kisses him back.
Afterwards he stands naked at the window. From a small crack between the pane and the painted-white wood of the frame he smells fresh, crisp air. He pushes the window out and breaths in fully.
‘Don’t you want to come back to bed?’ she says.
He nods but doesn’t turn around. Down below in the cobbled street a couple walk by. The man, who can’t be more than twenty-five, is dressed in a long black coat, a scarf thrown precisely around his shoulders. His companion, around the same age, is wearing jeans and a thick sweater. Her long hair flutters from underneath a woollen bonnet. They walk together but separately; each looking in different directions, noticing different things.
Above, he imagines what it would be like to know her; the way she talks, her moods, how a smile from her would make him feel. He longs to wake up beside her, to feel her gaze meet his and to hold that moment in. If he could, he tells himself, he would shake the man and say: ‘Look, look what you have here. Don’t ignore it.’
He lets his fingers run across the cold glass of the window, wiping lines in the thin film of condensation there.
‘It’s a beautiful city. We should go out and see more of it today.’
He nods and throws himself back into the bed beside to her. She looks surprised but happy and for the second time that morning they enjoy the feel of each other. Her skin is smooth to his touch, her breath warm against his neck.
‘You drink too much.’
‘I don’t know.’
He fixes himself another drink. They look at each another.
‘I don’t really know you,” she says. It’s not a question.
He shakes his head. They’re sitting facing one another on the wooden floor. From down below come the sound of voices arguing in a language he doesn’t understand.
‘Still…that’s okay. Just as long as you’re here.’
He nods. There isn’t much else to say.
‘Wait there,’ she says, getting to her feet. She heads to the other side of the bed and hunts around behind it. He can’t see what she is doing.
‘There,’ she says, straitening up. ‘Hold still.’
She aims a camera at him as he sits in his underwear, glass halfway to his lips. He looks up. Click. She squints at the little screen in her hands.
‘It doesn’t look like you.’
She walks around bed towards him. She is naked, illuminated dimly by the grey light filtering in from the windows. The camera is still clutched in her hands.
‘You know, last time I was in this city the person I was with went missing. You know, missing. I couldn’t find her.
‘We were going to meet at the airport, to fly out together, but she doesn’t turn up. I look everywhere for her. I look and I look. I find the man, the man she had been staying with, and he doesn’t know where she is either. I convince him to help me and we spend the day looking, searching. We go to all the places we think she might have gone; all the cafés, all the bars; everywhere. Then we search the hospitals. We see some policemen on the street in their big, comforting uniforms and we ask them for help, but since she has only been missing for, well, a day, there is nothing they can do. They tell us to file a report once three days have passed. But that isn’t good enough, you see?
‘Of course, she had gotten onto the plane we were meant to take. She was running late and thought that I had already got on. I guess I should have thought that too. I just didn’t think it.
‘Anyway, the thing is, she was gone. And I didn’t know where she was. She was gone and I didn’t know why. It just was, you know?’
She is standing directly above him, staring down. After a moment she sits and shows him the little screen on the camera. He takes it in his hands. It’s true, the picture doesn’t look like him. He looks a little older, a little leaner, a little more worn than he ever imagined himself to be. She had shot him in monochrome. It captures something of him, just what it is, he doesn’t know.
Neither speak for a while. She pours a whisky and takes a drink before handing it to him. He holds out the camera to her. It’s heavy in his hand.
‘This is where you tell me a story.’
‘I don’t have any stories to tell,’ he says.
He sits back, resting his head against the wall. It feels cool and comforting against the back of his head.
‘What about you and your wife?’
‘You know,’ he says.
‘No I don’t know, that’s why I asked.’
It isn’t hostile, the way that she asks. He takes a deep breath.
‘It just stopped, that’s all. All of it. It stopped. Everyone thinks that there’s always a reason why two people go in different directions, why they stop loving each other. But sometimes there isn’t. It just happens. The way I look at it, the way we are…we’re just barely sentient animals, you know? On a great big rock, hurtling through space and, well, how can you know what to hold onto? And what to let go? So I just let it all go.’
They sit, the two of them, their backs against the wall. She raises the camera and takes a picture of her feet. She wiggles her toes.
‘What type of animals?’ she asks.
‘You said we’re animals. What type?’
‘Oh. It was just… It doesn’t matter.’
‘I picture you as a bear. Or a puppy.’
He places his arm around her shoulders and pulls her towards him. Then he gets up. It’s a long way to go. He starts to get dressed, finding pieces of clothing that have been strewn across the room.
She shakes her head. She is staring at the screen of her camera.
They’re still in the room the next afternoon. He watches as she packs her clothes away in a small traveling case. Her movements are deft and practiced. He hands her a white cotton shirt that she’s left lying on his side of the bed. Then he walks over to the small white fridge and pulls out a beer. He has tried to drink less that day but now it doesn’t matter.
‘So when is it?’
‘Right,’ he says.
He sits down. She continues to pack. After a while she stops. She gets herself a beer and sits on the bed next to him. He notices the way her feet arch, with only the balls of her feet and her toes touching the floor.
‘I’ll be leaving soon,’ she says.
‘We won’t see each other again.’
‘It doesn’t have to happen like that,’ he says.
‘Yes it does.’
‘I guess. There’s always a chance though. There’s always a chance if you look for it.’
‘No there isn’t.’
‘Yeah sure, but couldn’t we just?’
‘It’ll be okay.’
‘It was good, with you.’
‘Yeah. For me too,’ he says.
He gets up and begins throwing his clothes into a pile. There isn’t much else to do. He looks over at her. She hasn’t moved. She continues to drink her beer, her long hair hanging over her face. He pours himself a drink and lies down next to her.
She isn’t there when he wakes. Her suitcase is set tidily next to the bed. He can hear the sound of water running in the bathroom. With a grunt he swings himself up and begins putting on his clothes. Through the window he sees that the buildings have turned into shadows of themselves, their thin projections creeping into the darkened room. He wants to do something, to knock on the bathroom door and beg her to stay but he knows that he won’t, that he can’t. He thinks about his wife and the way that things were at the end. He wonders if it will be the same when she is gone. He thinks about what it is to be alone and then he begins to pack. It doesn’t take long. There is notepaper and a pen next to the bed and he begins to write something, something that he wants her to know, but then he tears off the paper and throws it at the wastepaper basket. The water has stopped running.
She steps out of the bathroom a little still wet from the shower, wrapped in a plush white towel. She looks around the empty room and sighs. Her clothes are on the bed and as she steps forward to retrieve them she sees a crumpled piece of paper balled up on the carpet next to the dustbin. She bends over to pick it up, sees what is written on it and smiles. Then she gets slowly dressed surveying the room one final time. It is silent except for the rustling of leaves against the panes of glass of the window. There is nothing there to mark the time that they spent except for an unmade bed, a few empty bottles of beer on one bedside table and on the bed a note that reads: It was nice while it lasted. She wants to sit down on the bed, to lose herself in a moment of solitude, but instead she steadies herself to the reality of her world; to the necessity of returning to her life and to her husband. She takes the handle of her case and walks from the room. The door closes heavily behind her.
Marg Nelson says
Good story; rather Hemingway-esque. I’m reminded of Hills Like White Elephants. I wonder, though, why the two lovers have such difficulty communicating. Is it to show how little they know each other? Maybe a a reflection of their emptiness as human beings? A comment on the soul-lessness of modern relationships? Likely all three. I’m also reminded of the movie “Up in the Air”, in which two lovers meet for meaningless sex in vaious places. Thanks for the read!
Godiva P says
Atmospheric and poignant. I enjoyed the read, although I am hardly qualified to judge on style or grammar. I think you may have made a small mistake in the first paragraph: “hunting” instead of “haunting”, all in all though thoroughly enjoyable – thank you.
Bryant Rowe says
I believe it “hunting” was meant, as if the women was looking for something in him. Some sign of feeling.
This feels like a first draft. There are threads to lead the reader on, but a few jarring missteps, such as the word hunting rather than haunting in the first paragraph and the change of tense in the paragraph about the woman’s friend who went missing.
Perhaps my reaction, looking for minor errors, is due to the discomfort I felt in reading this and my total lack of connection with the characters. For me, reading this was like visiting a foreign country and only understanding snippets of what is happening around me. In this case its a rather melancholy country – not at all “full of light.”
Mari Hill says
Reading this story made me feel very sad and lonely, remembering those feelings of separation. I didn’t notice the grammar or the spelling, I was moved along with the story. I did however, get lost on the missing friend part, I couldn’t figure out where that was leading. I loved the ending, very sad as well, short and sweet with a final ending of an affair that couldn’t continue.
Joanna Samson says
This was a terrific read for me. I liked the spare, economic prose, the clipped dialogue, which was perfectly suited for a story of such stark startling loneliness. There were some very strong descriptions of the man’s observations (I liked the fact they had no names in the story), like “He notices the way her feet arch, with only the balls of her feet and her toes touching the floor.” Very powerful.
I was a little perplexed about the camera, why she took a photo, why she wanted him to tell her a story, although it was brilliant that he looks at the photo and sees someone older, a little leaner and a little more worn.
The story was spare and lean, a perfect complement to the thin and tentative nature of the relationship. The characters developed to make the strictness of the ending complete.
I liked it.
This story was a little bit sad and empty for me..
I thought the people were ships that pass in the night and therefore they were over thinking the situation hence the poor communication…