It’s dark, too dark.
I should be doing something, I know. Anything to make it seem as though I haven’t been waiting for hours in the dark. Do something to stop me from leaving or walking, no, running away. At least turn on a light. A bell chimes and I think it’s the door but it’s still shut.
My book is on the counter, and I can make out all the pies that haven’t been sold which I’m obliged to put away.
Ding. I look up. And there she is. I feel wrong and big and too old and too pathetic.
“Hey.” She says. I register her lips but I can’t make out the sound until it hits me. She won’t look at me. Seeming fascinated by the old pot plant that fell from the roof weeks ago and stayed there, it’s dying taken away from the spot by the window.
“Marie.” It’s too loud, too dark.
“No one calls me that but you.” Her voice is quiet and lilting.
I should say something. Anything. She does first and I wish I were more in control, not so unsure, so messy.
“You’re here.” She says.
I nearly scoff. “You can’t be surprised.”
She needs to leave. I know I should tell her to leave, I never asked for her to come, why did I even consider accepting the note she left to ‘reunite.’ I should’ve known it could only cause me harm.
“Marie I think -” she should let me speak but she knows what I’ll say. Why won’t she leave me be.
“Abi don’t please.” Her dress is long, her hair curly and framing her face in a perfect circle. I can hardly see her in the uncertain light of the café. My apron is too white, and my face feels hot and pale.
She has to go and she knows it as well as I. I should ask why she came. No, I should ask her to leave. Instead I say, “how are they all, the kids?”
She says my name like I shouldn’t be asking. It’s childish I know but I think I do care about them a little bit. “How many are there now?” I ask. I’ve never met them. I never wanted to. I was afraid that I would see them and lay into them, I don’t think I’ve hated anything more, apart from perhaps Marie-Rose.
“Three of mine, two of my brothers.” Her tone is clipped. I feel immature for pushing it.
“You love them.” Statement or question I don’t know. She looks at me, right at me. We haven’t made eye contact and it hurts so much. A sunset flashes outside and then it’s the cold rain again. It’s all in my head. Again.
“No.” It hangs in the air. It’s not cold anymore, it’s hot and stifled and I have to get out of here right now. I stand up from the counter where I’ve been leaning and deliberately push past her. It feels strange that I pass so close to her when there’s so much room in the empty café. All the chairs and tables I stacked on the walls create a walkway to the door. Marie stares at the point where I was standing for too long, then turns to the door as I leave the dejected cafe. Ding.
I grab a loose cigarette out of the shirt pocket under my apron. It pulls the strings and I get tangled. I feel embarrassed like a teenager trying to impress a crush. I yank it off over my head and throw it to the floor. It’s wet and the rain beats down harder. My cigarette won’t light, of course. I hear the door again, Marie coming outside. Ding.
She stands next to me. We stare at the sheets of rain and wonder what’s behind them. I can see the lights from the other side of the road, one purple and one flashing. All the other dim and golden white, blurred by the sky’s tears.
I try again to light my cigarette. Marie doesn’t look at me. It catches and I inhale. The smoke blows into the rain and disappears, leaving only the smell of tobacco in the rain to remind us that it was ever there. Marie turns to me. I feel her eyes and ask, quietly, “What?” She says something but her voice is washed away by the rain. I shrug and she holds out her hand for the cigarette. I stare at it. Her long dark fingers are adorned with two rings, one which I recognise. I wonder if she’d notice if I cried. How dare she wear that ring on the same hands on which she wears mine.
Marie never smoked.
I give it to her, wet and nearly out.
Why must I step closer to her, I shouldn’t have said yes to this. I’m nearly talking into her ear, but I don’t want to repeat myself and draw this out any further. I try not to shout; I try to sound controlled. “Why did you come, Marie.”
She turns and looks at me and I take a step back. She looks betrayed. We were both waiting for someone to ask that, and she always wanted to explain before anyone could question it, to keep her perfect story. That thought is wrong, I know it is. She is still looking at me. She opens her mouth and it hangs there.
“Are you alone?” She speaks, so quiet that I barely hear her. I would have asked her what she said if I hadn’t known she was going to say it.
Whether I should tell her or not I am unsure. She left me, she left us. She won’t look me in the eyes, her smiles for the street and the lights. She left. She had ‘them,’ the kids, and she left me to the broken plants and old pastries and myself.
And now she stands there, perfectly happy asking for my permission with that question to let her ruin me. I turn to her.
“Of course I am.”
She smiles, turns around towards the door, taking a last drag of the cigarette and dropping it to the ground, letting the punishing drops of rain quell its smoke, turning it to ash.
She steps inside and I follow.
We’re sitting across from each other, drenched from the rain, the scratched table with its tea marks seems like too feeble a thing to hold back our overflowing silence.
Marie-Rose sits with her legs folded, and her hands shaking on the table, the only indicator of any uncomfortable sensation on her part. Time feels so fragile and unfinished, and the clock is cast into shadow so I don’t know how long we’ve been sitting here. I open my mouth for the second time. I try to compliment her but my words were tugged away and I sat there like a fish while Marie stares determinedly over the top of my head. I look like an overfed gaping fish in an invisible cage of its own creation.
As always she speaks first, just to make sure it’s her leading and me following. I wish I didn’t like that I’m always following her, even when she’s out of sight.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
That caught me off guard, not that I would’ve been prepared for anything she said. I wonder if she knew that I pictured asking those exact words of her over and over again for the past twenty odd years.
I look at her in silence. “Marie, I’m not the only one in this ‘relationship’ with a phone.” Sometimes when I’m talking to her I feel like a little kid scared of what will happen if I speak back to a grownup.
She looks at me with this odd conflicted smile that doesn’t seem to transfer past her lips. I stare at her face. Her makeup is too light for her dark skin and lathered evenly but so thickly it looks like it could crack any second. I want to reach over and wipe it all off, to see her face. I would if I had any idea what she was thinking. I could never tell if she would slap me or kiss me, I still can’t read her.
“How’s your father?” I wish I could just say what I was thinking to her, tell her if I was upset or angry but I never could, I probably never will. Although I think using the future tense, even mentally, would shatter the possibility of the future even existing. I hate him. I never know how I feel about much, but that man is to blame for everything that happened.
“Fine, living with my mother.” Sometimes I think Marie would be a better poker player than a writer, she never lets an expression be shown other than the one she wants to be seen. Not to say that she isn’t an incredible writer, she’s better than I ever was anyway. I wish she had said he was doing horribly, he doesn’t deserve the peace that she describes.
“So how’s your mother then.” I sound curt, I realise I can’t only ask after one of them. The only way to describe Catherine, Marie’s mother, is vague, or empty.
“She’s just fantastic Abi, in the prime of her time, living life to the fullest. You didn’t answer my question.”
“You sound like a child. What question?” Sometimes I wonder if when I am rude to Marie it’s because I am trying to get her to walk away from me, so that I don’t have to walk away from her.
“Why didn’t you call?”
I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I should have. I didn’t know where to reach you, I was too scared to write to the house or call there.”
“You should’ve tried something.”
That’s just not true. Even if it is, she’s being cruel.
“Marie, can you hear yourself? You let your father ruin my entire life, and your entire life, without a word of objection. And now you’re asking me why I didn’t call.”
“He didn’t ruin my entire life. He ruined yours Abi.” I don’t know what to say to that so I say nothing. Her face cracks so I keep going. There are so many things I want to say to her. “What would I have said, ‘hey how are you, miss you, long time no see?”
“Actually saying you miss me would’ve been nice to hear.”
“And you saying you’re sorry for smashing everything I had would be nice to hear. I couldn’t say I miss you. Because I knew you wouldn’t say it back. I refuse to hurt myself like that, for all I knew you would pick up and tell me to get away from you. And I knew you wouldn’t say you miss me. For Christ’s sake Marie, I don’t know if you even have the capacity to feel something someone else didn’t tell you to feel, and I doubt anyone told you to miss me.”
I’m up and pacing, trying to make all my thoughts into sentences that make sense to someone other than myself. Maybe myself a bit too.
“Of course I missed you.”
“I can’t hear you.” I can.
“Of course I missed you Abi.”
“So why didn’t you say it? I don’t understand why you couldn’t have just said that, you froze me out completely because you were scared of your dad, your reputation, your family’s reputation. I don’t know but you left me sitting here wondering what happened.” I want her face to crumple with shame, her dark eyes to drop to the floor as the guilt overwhelms her. I want her to feel a fraction of what I felt, what I’ve felt for twenty years.
“And actually Marie, I take it back. I’m not sorry. You should’ve called. You were one hundred percent responsible and you should be embarrassed.” I’m stepping on eggshells hoping they’ll explode, yolk, slimy whites and all. I hate when she’s quiet. I’d rather she raged.
“I don’t know what to say.” Her head is still up and she holds her bag perched on top of her knees, ready to leave into the rain and the cold. I don’t know what to say. I have too much to say and suddenly looking at her makes me sick.
I lower my voice. I read once that if you have to shout then you’re not saying enough. I sit back down, and say in as level a voice as I can manage. “Say that you’re sorry.”
The air is so brittle I could snap it. I realise when I say it, that’s what I want too. I want her to say, ‘I’m sorry for ruining everything, I’m sorry for ruining your career, I’m sorry for ruining your future, and I’m sorry for ignoring you.”
She raises her eyes to mine. The air snaps and shatters into spikes on the floor.
“It wasn’t my fault. The college should apologise or maybe even my father but it’s not my fault.” I stand again.
“It never fucking is, is it Marie.”