A bottle of beer smashed on the pavement. He sat there, light by a lamp-post, acknowledging no before and after; maybe, he secretly wished for another, regretting the spilled drink when he still needed it. Either way, he did not show much emotion; it was like a frozen image, seated on the ground in a pose of a martyr, frozen like ice that is beginning to crack. His hand fell to his lap like the first drip of warmed water.
There was no warmth about him, though, no sign of warming on his drawn face. A frown indicated a closed position. Whatever he was going to say next, he would say it at himself; or perhaps for the shadows, chasing him still, from a childhood scene, he had never told her about. From those shaken convictions he had so often professed in their discussions, from a heart broken before she could get to him. She tried to guess, but remained silent, waiting, wondering, not having an answer for what she suspected underneath; distinctly feeling that she was just a prop in the scene, not even a decorative one.
Did he create his own stage for the night, blame her for an intrusion, forgetting she was invited, forgetting she was the only one listening? Because she would have listened. Nevertheless, it was not the violence of it all that bothered her, because she understood it far better than he imagined, that urge to smash and kick and wither. It was the look he had begun to give her after a certain moment during the evening, perhaps even before they left the packed dim-lit concert hall and its ever thrumming crowd. Like there was an abyss, too distant to cross, between their souls, between their minds, like she could not see him and above all like she burdened him with a need to explain, to justify, to be someone else. The assumption, the projection hurt her. She saw through those screens, yet never said it. Why did she have to?
He could only see indifference in her, a lack of proximity and familiarity with the urges, bursting their way through his veins. He could not imagine it was the opposite that triggered the absence of a response; the need to control a similar eruption. A demand for some balance, in these abandoned streets of their hated city. So, she became an iceberg statue, while he was trying to stand up, calling a taxi, when she would prefer to walk home. Her preferences were unimportant now.
In the taxi, he continued the unrolling of the script, half speaking to her, half turning to the driver, who took a right to ignore a mumbling drunkard. Some phrases hit her, eloquent and truthful. Things he finally said out loud, his observations that he stopped concealing from her and perhaps even himself. The metaphors he created matched the literary quality of the scene she would have preferred to resist in the moment, but would easily use later. The Antarctic-like image of the society in which he was a bear, a predator, not an average man, a fragile penguin who cannot even fly. She laughed, wholeheartedly for once.
”And what am I, then? A penguin, too?!”
”Oh no, you’re a fox, a sleazy little white fox.”
She laughed again. This time there was a new feeling in that echoing sound of her mouth, it burst out of her throat through the teeth.
In the following moments, she changed her tone and became the mother, the lady, the petty girl, conscious of the unbearable situation, clinging to the last remains of cleanliness, running away with the last drops of her drink. She became what he imagined her to be.
”Don’t spill…Don’t spill it!”, she repeated, taking his arm to help him out of the car, holding him tightly to take him home, to his bed where she would lie as a stranger tonight.