You will not need to look for him. He will come to you. He will come to you on a warm night, the last night of September, and you will see him, smell him, feel him, even with your eyes and your mind and your heart closed. Like joy, like pain, he will demand to be felt. And you will feel him.
On your front stoop you are sitting with your knees together and your feet apart and you are smoking a second cigarette. You never smoke more than one before bed. But it is the last night of September, and tomorrow is October and autumn and cold and emptiness, and tonight the rain is pleasant. Still empty, but warm, and therefore a little comforting. So you are smoking a second cigarette with your eyes closed, imagining the smoke as it curls and presses against the walls of your lungs, seeing its dim meandering path in the dark like the negative of a forgotten photo, allowing yourself a rare moment to feel nothing.
And then him.
Hello, you hear him say. Mind if I have a smoke?
Your eyes open. His smile is something to behold. If you could touch it, it would feel like suede.
You will ask no questions. Sometimes you see him; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes he calls you three times in a day; sometimes you call him and he does not answer you for a week. But even as you touch his warm lips and embrace the heat of his body and feel his fire inside you, and wonder who holds his heart, still you ask no questions.
At night when you lie in your bed with his back to you and the fragrance of him swimming in your lungs, you will consider waking him to ask: Who is she? Maybe the simple act of asking will slow your fall. Maybe you will fall anyway but it will not hurt as deeply. But when he wakes and reaches for you, you will tell yourself that nothing could hurt as deeply as going back to sleeping in your empty bed and smoking alone in the cold on your front stoop, not when you know what it is like to have someone to sleep with and to smoke with again, someone you can almost pretend cares for you.
Who is she?
Does it matter?
Maybe it’s his wife. The mother of his children. A fiancée. Someone he met before you, or perhaps after you. Someone older. Someone younger. Someone who died and comes back to life every time he tries to love again.
The answer changes, depending on the woman who asks. But in the end they all mean the same thing.
You know your answer. So why ask? Does it matter?
In the morning, you will watch his still, distant face and imagine yourself smiling at him as he wakes and asking: Do you like me? Are you happy with me? If I love you enough, will you stay?
And the one question that so many other women like you will not ask:
Do you love me?
So many answers. Too many answers. All different, but in the end they mean the same thing.
Without opening your mouth to speak, you have your answers. So why ask?
You will not need to tell him to leave. He will leave you on the first morning of December, on the cusp of winter. How shameful your feet will look as they follow his out the door. How shameful, and how sad.
Have a smoke before you go, you say. And you hold out a cigarette in unabashed desperation.
He says over his shoulder: No.
You miss him already. Watching him stand on your front stoop, not quite next to you and not quite in front of you, with his back to you and his face turned to a morning darker than night, you miss him. You miss him as though he walked away years ago and left you bleeding ever since.
Give me a smile, then, you say. Just a smile.
And he turns halfway to look at you askance and gives you what you asked for. Not the smile you fell for, that smile like suede, but the smile of a man who feels nothing.
He steps lightly onto the street and strides boldly into the dark, straight and deliberate, while you stay behind shivering, your feet together, your eyes wide open, your empty lungs crumpling inward on themselves like the discarded remains of a roll of negatives. And in your hand, an unsmoked cigarette.
© J. Grace, 2015