perhaps it was Paris, or Madrid. it was a café, he thinks;
a bistro with no other diners. if there was a crowd, they
were soundless & spectral.
he was sober, for a change, or only slightly drunk. it was
late at night, of course, & there was a moon. or else there
was not. he remembers none of the details. he only
was she a baroness? or a courtesan? surely a woman of
the arts. or simply a girl of the streets. she was herself a
work of art: rare as a Claudel or a Rodin. quietly spectacular
in her ordinary clothes. she seemed pensive, forlorn, yet she
radiated desire. his desire.
he was not the type to approach a lady, his shyness held him
at bay. also his features: he had been scarred in the war, &
considered himself too unremarkable to be regarded by a
woman, even if she was ‘looking.’
but her beauty, her fascination, would not let him refrain. his
feeble courage delivered him to her chair. after some mute,
awkward moments, he explained that he wasn’t a madman.
he only wanted to share a table with her, a drink, gentle words
to pass the time. money, if she needed it.
she told him to sit then, & call for the wine, a meal too. & the
words did not have to be so gentle. & so it was good for him,
comforting. the wine was bracing, & she – she was a dream in
the flesh of a woman.
the evening accelerated, as it does when a man wants time to pause.
they walked along the banks of the river that ran through the city. on
a park bench, he kissed her; kissed her as if she would fade away if
in his room, they engaged in a sexual passion as a man makes when
he loves a woman. when he believes, truly, that she loves him. there
was no song for it, nor symphony, nor moon or stars in the sky. only
his grateful heart, surrendered to her…
…the sun blazing through the window woke him, to find her gone.
there was no note nor any trace of her, but a lingering scent. & so his
quest began, to retrieve her from whatever had drawn her away.
days grew long & dark, & weeks, & the tears grew more blinding. he
did not drink for days, then he drank too much. every door he passed
through was empty, every woman he peered at with pleading eyes
was not her.
when hope had nearly choked on its own wings, he spied her. it was a
distant café, she unescorted at a table, ever as beautiful. but there was
no recognition in her eyes when he confronted her. did she not remember
their first night – their love – their joy & the ache of it?
she chooses her words carefully, to slay a lover, as he stands alone:
‘I meet so many men’ …
(Garbo. The Temptress. 1926.)