This story is by Anand Venigalla and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was a bittersweet October day – the wind was cold yet gentle, and the sun was about to close in a pleasant autumnal radiance.
It was two years since John and Mary last saw each other. The last thing they remembered was when their arms embraced together like smooth swan necks. And they both sat far apart from one another on a wooden bench – as far as could be within that small small bench.
And John turned his head to Mary. But Mary kept her head down. And John saw her blonde hair as the wind gently played with her locks, its fingers with those golden threads. For John first saw that hair three years ago when he was walking by the public garden one day in the evening.
And John wanted to open his mouth, to reveal his heart, and to say to her a word or two. But he did not. And he could not.
And Mary kept her eyes downward, and John wanted to hear her speak, but she was silent. She sat very close to the outer rim of the bench. And so did John. And she sat at the left, he on the right.
John fixed his glance on her. His feet were rested on the fallen autumnal leaves. And Mary gazed at the fallen leaves, and at two leaves in particular that were close to each other – one red, one green. And these two leaves were together, and the wind breathed, and they were blown slowly apart, now here, now there, now up, now down, until they rested on the ground, away from each other, the red next to Mary’s foot and the green next to John.
And John thought back to that last day. It was also an October day. They just came back from work. And it was early evening when they they came to one another, and met with each other, as they usually did. And they proceeded like this for about three years, from the time they bumped into each other and knew that they liked each other.
“I don’t know if it will work, us together, if we’re right for one another.” So Mary said.
And John’s heart stopped for a while. And Mary said again:
“I think things are worse with us – we don’t often have meaningful time for each other. Our jobs are tearing us apart. And lately, I’ve been wondering – have you been feeling the same?”
And John was afraid. And John said:
“What are you talking about? I know our jobs eat into our time with one another – I have long hours beyond the normal nine-to-five, and you do too. But we still get to meet, don’t we? And I am in love with you, and only you. Not to mention that last time my parents said ‘They’re so right for each other, like we were before we put the rings on.’ Our friends are saying the same thing. And not to mention we have loved each other more than we did when we met. In fact, we know each other more deeply, more intimately, more closely than we have known each other then. So — I love you Mary — what’s wrong?”
Now it so happens in every relationship that arguments happen and people start to separate in small ways. Such happened with John and Mary. Around the end of the second year they were together, John and Mary felt that they were getting stuck, and they started to fight over things that would now seem very slight. These things passed. But the relationship wasn’t what it once was.
And Mary had a tear in her left eye, and she said:
“I just don’t feel it anymore. I still like you. I love you, but I don’t think we can love each other forever like we want to.”
And John was silent.
“Is there any time, where you did not feel love, where you decided ‘I want out’?”
Mary could not answer.
“Is there anything I can do to fix it, to make it right so that we can fix things, that we can be together? Is there anything?”
Mary glanced at him with pleading eyes.
And John said:
“I can’t believe that! It can’t be!” And he flung himself on the leafy ground and he thrust out his hands and hugged them around her legs, and he put his face into her knees and he was crying. And Mary started to cry more too. She cried for him.
“I understand,” Mary said, knowing how hard it was for him. “But we just can’t be together, and I don’t entirely know why—”
And John wept. John never wept like this in his entire life.
John continued to look at Mary. But she did not respond to him. So he got up from the bench and circled slowly around it, sifting over his thoughts and waiting for a response. Mary’s hands seemed a little older since last time John held them. Those hands seemed to have been a little worn through the years, since last he saw them.
John reached out his hand to her. He almost touched her hair. But his fingers did not reach those threads. Mary did not look back at him, even when he came near. And he continued circling until he decided to give up and stand next to her. Mary moved herself a little away from him.
And John got up from kneeling, and he walked like a wind that tossed and turned and wouldn’t stop in its restlessness. And he was angry, and sad, and grieving — thus he felt all this all at once. And he glanced at Mary’s face. Mary was like a thin tree unmoved but gently bent by the restless wind’s pressure.
“John, please understand—”
And John wasn’t understanding. And John kept a few steps away from her. He kept his face downward, hiding the tears that rose from the wellspring of his anger and grief. And he did not see Mary’s feelings. And Mary came to him, but John sharply lashed his hand out, and she stepped back. The sight of him bending his head, to hide his face from her, broke her.
And then she reached out her arms and she brought him to her and she hugged him. And she was crying with him.
And John lifted up his head. He seemed to be relieved. He wasn’t crying as much. And he embraced her with his arms. And they sat down on a wooden bench together before they left each other.
John reached out his hand to her again.
I hope she reaches out to me. I hope she’ll hold me. That things will happen again. That they can be what they were before. Or even better, a paradise happier far than our former Eden. And even if I must move on, I just want one touch, one look, one kiss — anything.
And then Mary turned her head to him. She looked at him. He looked at her. She moved closer to where he was. And she got up from the bench, and their eyes met one another.