There are hidden messages everywhere. The way we blink, stumble, pause before speaking. The way she carried her purse and the way you forgot to ask for a receipt are all codes for larger things that we all leave undeciphered. It is all in that space and the emptiness of almost hello’s and waking up alone.
He wore designer jeans and an old T-shirt. He stumbled around his apartment as if he were some lost astronaut floating between the couch and the walls. He lived in a constant search to discover messages that would make him happy but never seemed to find the ones that others left for him. Like the five unplayed messages on his cell phone or postcard from some far away unknowable place like Canada.
Canada. He had been there once in the French speaking city of Montreal. It was a work-related trip that did not require the planning or expectation for an eclipse. Montreal, if you have never been there, is a city that has been designed to interpret lost messages and reflect them in its architecture. The people speed by and zap each other with electricity as each of them fill a groove especially designed for them. All the while the buildings cast long shadows that provide shelter and warning. It is a city that lives and dies at the same time.
He left Baltimore and arrived in Montreal on a Sunday. Somewhere over Philadelphia his mind began deconstructing the universe he left behind. He looked down out of his plane window to the mass of farmland that is America. The unknown America of cows and cornfields holds no special meaning for him but he felt for the first time that perhaps it should. He took mental pictures to dream about later. A moment passed and he thumbed The Sun Also Rises. Perhaps he would come to understand the bulls after all.
He would have liked to believe that in his first two nights in Montreal he was being filled with the essence of the city. That spending hours at a bar with Australians have changed him. That watching local girls dance naked or nearly naked on stage he was somehow connecting with the underbelly of a culture. As if he was doing something more than being passively involved with action, with movement, with life. He would like to believe and think many things about many things.
He would also like to remember the exact moment he first saw her. He was sitting in a lecture room at the Palais des congrés listening to the speaker explain the differences between classic “netmon” polling and the newer more sophisticated advanced polling engine of Network Node Manager 7.5. There was a bang, a disturbance in the force, that pulled his attention away from the speaker to look behind him, to find the cause of the noise or maybe just to break the monotony of the lecture. And there she was, legs crossed with notebook on her lap and pen in her hand. A thin scarf ran around her neck and around his mind to a debilitating effect. He turned to face forward again leaving the message of the loud noise unanswered.
The lecture ended and she quickly made her way out the door and he followed without a single idea of a plan. Three or four thoughts occur to him and vanish like dust. She stopped in front of a trashcan, no doubt to let the moment settle itself for a conclusion. Finished her coffee and threw away the empty cup. He adjusted his satchel on his shoulder and sighed. He smiled softly as he watched her and the moment drift away from him into the large crowd at the Palais des congrés.
“Gone,” he thought to himself.
He sought to erase her from his mind rather than to become plagued by the weight of his inactions and her devilish silence. He believed one should always prepare for the future by releasing the present and dreaming the past. The past is nearly always forgotten or will be soon enough so it is better to dream it than anything else. It is the present which nearly always presents the greatest obstacle to moving forward unencumbered, the way astronauts move, the way he moves, in open space; that stumbling unencumbered way of bouncing from one moment to the next unaware of leaving or finding messages, unconcerned about presently presenting himself as anything but himself.
He found her later in the day. Or she found him? They made plans to attend the free dinner gala being put on by Hewlett-Packard for the 1,500 attendees of the conference. She made a comment about the last two nights alone in her hotel room eating salads and drinking berry flavored vodka drinks trying to forget everything she left behind. That she was sad did not register with him right away. She did not seem sad to him, no familiar and obvious clues were seen. She was not crying and her eyes did not drift from him. She did not fidget with her hands or sigh excessively. She seemed alert, sharp, and decisive. Only when she mentioned the present weight of her sadness did he have any sense of it. She peeled an orange and he thought of Tennessee.
That night she drank wine and he drank Gin and Tonic. They talked and laughed and ate politely. The food was cleared and the music began playing. His newfound Australian friends joined them outside and her business friends from Chicago joined them too. The merry party swayed unknowingly to the rhythmic heartbeat of Montreal. The men starred at her breasts and she floated around, a butterfly dangling from a cool jazz note. Each of the men reached as high as they could to catch her, stretching their fingers like experiments. One offered a cigar, another bought her flowers. He shrugged his shoulders and looked out to the clouds.
“You know sometimes I sit on my balcony at home and watch the planes fly by at night. I pretend they are aliens coming to take me away.”
He paused and offered a half smile in attempt to lighten the words but said nothing and squeezed her hand as if he were a ghost.
She kissed him and he instinctively bit her bottom lip. She was a jazz note hanging on the air and he was chalk falling from pool cue. She caught herself by surprise with a sigh. She said she was as relaxed in that moment as she had been in a century. He touched her face and felt the world vanish. They danced close and she laughed at his ridiculous movements. The other boys came to interrupt but he no longer cared. He let go of the present moment and became larger than the room.
He went to her hotel room. She kissed him and he took off her shirt. Her nipples were hard and he rolled his tongue around them. He bit her collarbone and she moaned with her legs wrapped around him. But there was no sex, no lovemaking. He let his fingers glide across her forearm, he let his mind drift off to imagine cricket noises instead of television. She stayed perfectly still except when the light touch became too much and she twitched and shivered. She caught his eyes, beautiful and sad, drifting to some other world.
“What are you thinking about?”
He would tell her nothing and smile.
Was it gravity pulling him close to her? A sense of being telling him that he belonged there, next to her, holding her. Still she stayed, perfectly still. Waiting perhaps for the moment to seize itself. She dared not move, and he wondered if her mind raced and if she heard even one bit of the movement in the clouds. She smiled and made mention of being on a flying couch, spinning about the room, wondering who would light the fuse and when.
His fingers moved her hair behind her ear and then followed her jawbone to her chin. He thought of kissing her then, but waited for the dust to settle. He waited for this moment to seep into memory and fill him with the marrow of the unsaid life. Like fresh snow fall on an empty playground.
She slept on her side and he held her. She said she felt safe and secure and went to sleep quickly. He was soon after falling asleep while tracing poems on her back with his finger.
The next day they spent time together walking the streets of Montreal. The city bathed them in the light of new lovers. They went to Pino’s on Crescent St. and sat at the best table over looking the street. Their stories were told over wine and the foot traffic below.
They walked and held hands. Each made a lifetime of dreams and it all made sense in the streets of Montreal. The city is living and dying at the same moment and so were they. She was flying home to Milwaukee the very next day and he was flying home to Baltimore. They didn’t speak about it or pretend it wasn’t happening. They walked to China Town and stood in the shadows of the buildings.
“Why were you sad earlier in the week?”
She smiled and pulled him closer. She said nothing but he understood. It was a message he could feel beyond words. Sometimes he felt as though there were more beautiful things in what was not said and what was not done.
He said goodbye to her in front of the crosswalk and she walked away and never turned around. Never yelled back “I’ll miss you” or some other sweet nothing to fill the growing space between them. She just walked across the street and on to her future.