We will meet again…
How to begin? Perhaps, from the fact that today, the sunset is especially beautiful. A magnificent riot of heavenly colors, from pale blue to glowing pink-red. And feathered with white fluffy strokes of clouds slowly floating in the unscalable heights of the evening sky. We can see how, with only a few movements of the invisible brush in the hands of celestial wind-artist, these foggy white strokes assemble and lo, what do we have? … Look! A face… The fathomless eyes slowly open and look down just for a moment – a blue dot on a white backdrop, surrounded by the fiery tongues of the sunset flames. Another moment – and they disappear to be opened in another place, to look again and again.
Why not? We can begin with the cloudy eyes having looked at – what? What did they manage to see in their short moments of ephemeral existence? The vast city sprawling on the banks of the majestically flowing river? No, not that. The magnificent royal palace illuminated by multi-colored searchlights? No. The eyes slide farther, to where it is quiet, where the sea of lights gradually dies away. There, where darkness is interspersed with islands of soft, homey light. Yellow, warm. The majestic walls of the palace dissolve into the twilight of the coming evening. One small town, another. But a gust of cool April wind comes and the little cloud disappears under its pressure. The wind flies, flies … Still skimming the buildings and the ground, below … Here are the pointed roofs, narrow ancient streets, pavements and pavements of old uneven stone. Windows, wooden shutters, massive carved doors with cast bronze handles, polished for hundreds of years by the thousands of hands that have touched them. A small church at the intersection of two streets. A round square, the path to the closed doorway with the high lancet arch. In the rays of the setting sun, stained glass windows, its dark gray lead frame gleams in the reflecting rays. The faces of the saints majestically gazing at the worldly vanity. Wide-eyed, stern eyes, prostrate, hands stretched out in blessing. Thus, it was and so it will be. Stone lips whisper quietly – we remember. We remember how … Long, long ago … A modest wedding in the silence of an almost empty room, where the soft voices resounded against the walls. The bride and groom, a few friends. The low voice of the priest, the eternal question. And the eternal answer. She pronounced it in French – “oui”. The groom’s hand, no, already her husband, squeezed her hot fingers, gently, encouraging and confirming – “oui…”. From now and forever. Till death do them part.
She smiles with pale lips. Runs her tongue over them. Dry. How thirsty she is … Yesterday’s thirst, a constant thirst burns her from the inside. Her son said that she must not drink a lot. He is a doctor and his words should be listened to. She tried. But … Today she feels that it is already possible. Possible to drink plenty. A hand reaches for the button, stops – and lies back down onto the light blanket. No. She doesn’t want to call anyone, doesn’t want to see anyone. Not now. She wants to be by herself. Alone only with herself. Her son ordered the decanter with water to be removed from the bedside table and allows her to drink according to a personalized schedule. The doctor. A bitter smile twists her lips. It would be better if he was just a son now. He is shackled by the chains of his profession, and by filial duty, not realizing that this simply suffocates her, does not allow her … Does not allow her to finally free herself. Today … Well, she was always diligent and punctual. Perhaps that’s enough. She lifts herself with an effort in the dim light of the room, squinting at the closed door. She turns her eyes to the medical equipment console, standing lonely in the corner – a device for drip infusion, a heart monitor with a telemetry attachment, an apparatus for measuring pressure, an oximeter. Is it really that important how much oxygen is in her blood now? Something else gleaming with metal, plastic, glass. Buttons, screens, tubes, wires. All this is dead, disabled. Three days ago, she demanded it. The son refused at first. He argued, insisted, tried to convince. Chided. No. Oh, how well he knows her “no”. Everyone knows. For fifty years she learned to pronounce it well. And those to whom it was addressed, remember even better – it’s useless to argue. It will be as she wants. And what she does not want – will not be. So, the multicolored rainbow of lights in the room went out, the hum of the oxygen apparatus fell silent. All this she no longer needs. And there is a silence in which she hears the world outside the window, which she ordered to be opened wide. The world came to her – a gust of wind, singing birds in dense crowns of trees, the smell of lilac and jasmine. The world called her and she whispered – soon…
The walls of the bed come up to guard her and hold her in after she tries to get up and cannot hold herself on her weak legs. The hip shoots pain through her body when she sits down, leaning on the tubular barrier. How dizzy she is, her fingers tighten on the cold smooth metal, gripping with all their might. Hold on! A thought flashes for a moment – why? Why try to get up? What for? She can lie back on a soft pillow, press a button. A nurse will come and help. She will persuade her to bring water, a lot of cool water … And they will not say anything to her son, it will be their secret. In response, the fingers tighten even more. No! Not today, not now. Just not now. She looks at the door again, it didn’t open … Everything is quiet. So, now she can gently press here, at the head. A small smooth ledge, she found it herself a few days ago. A small click – and the wall smoothly went down, gliding silently into its slots. Now, she must lower her legs, find the floor … How dizzy, the thin ringing growing in the ears has darkened her eyesight. Or not… Maybe it is only the evening shade gathering in the corners of the room. The mattress bends slightly under her palms. She shudders, feeling the soft roundness of air trapped under the thin sheet. Her hands jerk away and fall onto her knees. She grits her teeth in an effort to keep straight, not to stagger, not to fall. She does not want to touch this. Air mattress against bedsores, another manifestation of filial care, the latest model. Against the bedsores … She must get up. A gust of cool wind from an open window touches her face. She inhales, filling her lungs with it, as it was once… Many, many years ago, when she first crossed the threshold of this ancient house. Dry, cracked lips smile. She remembers her childhood delight on that first day. Like a little girl, she ran around all the rooms, opening the doors one by one, filling everything with a cheerful laugh. Her husband followed her without saying anything and there was happiness on his face.
In the silence of the room, in the silence of the hushed house, a small greenish night light came on, illuminating her, sitting on the edge of the bed, with a dim light. The soft glow lit up the face gently, highlighting traces of the beauty that was once there, which had delighted everyone. Only traces … Thin parchment skin, red streaks on cheekbones and cheeks, lips that have lost their cheerful brightness and freshness. How dry they are. She runs her tongue around them again, gathers strength. For a moment, her eyes covered by pale wrinkly eyelids, she sighs softly. Eyelids rise and from under them flash a blue flame. She will rise! She will do what she decided. Fingers clench into fists.
When she straightens, stepping bare feet on the cool parquet floor, she swayed dangerously. And she did not dare to bend down to look for slippers. Barefoot? So be it! How nice to feel the homey touch of the old polished wood. And that no one is near. Neither the nanny nor the nurse, nor… She shakes her head, chasing away unsolicited thoughts. Let her finally be left alone, she does not want to call anyone, does not want to see anyone. Her hand rests on the table. She takes a first timid step. Just don’t fall like that time. Her thigh reminds her of it again, responding with a sharp pain in the bruised place. The son was afraid of a fracture, but she refused to go to the hospital for an x-ray – Why? What then, even if a fracture? Nothing. Just so, she said, looking him straight in the eyes. Emphasizing the word’s syllables, as in childhood, when teaching him to speak. Teaching him to understand what was said. He opened his mouth, intending to insist and … He said nothing, turned his eyes away. She felt remorse, because he wanted to do better … She softened her tone, put a narrow palm on his hand, stroked it. It’s really not necessary, my son. This will not change anything and only bring an unwanted spotlight onto me. It will be unpleasant for me. And this is not really a fracture, and it does not really hurt. As proof, she lifted her leg and bent her knee, trying with all her might to smile and not grimace. Only the corners of her lips trembled. The son preferred not to notice.
Five steps. Nightstand, table, wall – milestones on the way to the goal, to the huge window. She leans on a wide window sill and carefully looks out. The garden was empty, no one would notice. She slowly opens the shutters all the way, giving entry to the sounds and smells, colors and hues of the evening sunset. Today, it is great. She always loved this room and the space outside the window. The endlessly rolling fields stretching to the horizon. The house calm, her children sleeping peacefully in their beds. Her husband soon to be home.
Then and now, she sits, with her feet on the window sill, and dreams, thinks. Sometimes she would sing softly. Now too. Her lips parted, a whisper suddenly breaks off. She leans back, presses her hand to her mouth trying to silence the coughing. No one must hear her now. Breathing too fast, she tries to calm her breathing with half-forgotten exercises she used to do before going on stage. Several painful minutes later the attack has subsided. She tries again, stubbornly tries. No, her lungs do not obey, her lips are trembling, her parched throat cannot cope. Suddenly her eyes open wide and she understands – she is just afraid. After all, everything is simple. She just needs to drink a glass of water, to soften the burning thirst, and then … then she will finally be able. That’s the solution. But after the first glass will be the next ones, she will not stop. Why? What will it give? Nothing. She slowly whispers this word to herself. Frowning, she turns to the bedside table, a wrinkle cutting through her forehead. She has decided and will do as she has decided. A soft sound of flowing water is heard, and a minute later, she turns back to the window, to the fiery red-silver sunset glowing outside…
I’ll be loving you always
With a love that’s true always
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand always…
A quiet tune. She is transported again to that church, to that sad story, where the only time … the only time she tried to become someone she had never been before. And from there – farther, farther … She wants to be back there, in that time, in those short quick minutes, until sunset, until darkness falls, until … The distant past rises in front of her flashing sight. It starts like a foggy film strip. Places and sounds appear here and there. Pictures of the far past. Faces. Names. Events. She remembers someone and she only recognizes someone by sight. The years have not spared her memory, but a solution was found. She gives everyone a nickname, simple, naive, and sometimes even funny. In fact, the name is just an image, and if the memory weakens, it can disappear forever, pulling her with it. But now it’s easy for her: here’s the Master, here’s Teddy. Bird. Just a Friend. There are a lot of them. Everybody left a long time ago, but now, when she stands near the window, when she calls — they return, even for a brief moment, they come to her. And only herself she doesn’t call by any name. Not by a nickname, although there were a lot of them, not by a real name. She does not seem to want to see herself, either in the mirror or in memory. She does not want … Just as she wants to leave behind all the past years, to relinquish her past as far as possible. Too vain, bright, brilliant. The past that betrayed her and she did not forgive. Once she even said that she despised herself – the oldself.
Here the family, the children, the house – a long, quiet life, years and years of quiet happiness. This she decided; this she wanted. So it was. But why now, why has a strange power suddenly lifted her out of bed, led her to the window? She is restless, she sees what she once forbade herself to see. She does not know. She grins and whispers: I am just drifting. This she once told with youthful naivety one of the journalists who besieged her. I am drifting. Let be. Now, she can. Now, all bars are off. In the silence of the room, the sound of pouring water was heard again. The hand that brought the second glass to her mouth almost did not tremble. How good … cool water is like a spring that has irrigated a dry, cracked ground. Here a timid narrow stream ran along it, so it gained strength and depth, spreading, stubbornly making its way into the unyielding dense soil. Perhaps it seems that it is about to dry up, give up and disappear without a trace, into the barren sand. No. The blazing disk of the sun touched the line of the distant horizon. The colors of sunset flashed scarlet, silver, pink, hitting her wide-open eyes. She wanted to shut them down for a moment — too bright, as if she had been spotlighted again.
Quiet music is heard. An orchestra begins to play somewhere. She listens involuntarily to a familiar tune. Mozart. How strange. Orchestras have never played on our street. Listen fully, listen with all your soul, it’s so beautiful! For how long has she not heard these magical modulations? More, more! The music was like a trickle of water, gathering strength, burgeoning into a wave rushing to shore, which bridled and rode. The tight gust of wind hit in the face scattering her hair. In front of the window appeared a huge white slowly swaying cloth. Her heart sank with a dull pain. It is a projection screen … It is as if she were the only observer in an invisible movie theater, visible to none, standing frozen in expectation. Now … Now … She didn’t want to remember. Wanted to move away from the past. Yet an unknown force brought it to her, right here. Look! She heard the name, her name, pronounced by a chorus of thousands of voices, male, female, children. She raised her withered hand in protest, no, no! It’s not me! My name is … Her whisper was drowned out by music, a familiar splash screen appeared. And…
Pictures, scenes, moments … She remembered a lot, she did not want to remember much, and she simply forgot a lot. Her life, a long, very long life, compressed to quick seconds, as if caught by a hidden camera, rushed in front of her.
Here she is, still a girl, standing shyly in front of a microphone, squeezing the stand with both hands, and next to … She wrinkled her forehead, trying to remember his name. She was entranced by his magical act. What’s his name? He left a long time ago, like the rest. She is the last one. Name … Do not remember, but … Nickname. Suddenly she smiled – it’s Teddy! On the first Christmas of their collaboration, he brought a bunch of plush toys, a wooden horse. She was … Fourteen, fifteen? Or ten? Mom goggled at these gifts, and he held out a huge bear and laughed, shrugging his shoulders.
– I still do not know how to behave with her. But she is a child? Hold on!
– And what should I do with the horse?
– Put your daughter on her someday!
They laughed; he knew how to amuse the whole country … And then … What then? Teddy has disappeared. A series of fast pictures, sometimes merging into a foggy strip. Someone looks out of it and then disappears. How rapidly everything changed then. Time began to gallop by, leaving, leaving … And childhood went with it, then youth. Glory, recognition, money. The first million at eighteen, nine-room mansion, cars. And she loved to sing, read, run a race with a barking Tippy, to walk unrecognized on the boulevard, eating spaghetti and fried potatoes with ketchup, going to the movies. Yes, go to the cinema. Strange? Perhaps … Time passed. Her face, lit by the flashing, trembling light of the ghostly cloth, lit up with a quick smile that immediately disappeared. It’s him. His name was … No, she does not want to call this name. Let him be just ‘the First’. She loves and is loved, so it seemed. Not for long. No one is to blame. They were just too, too inexperienced. She just flew headlong… Someone said: You’ll destroy your image with a divorce. Her answer: How can I be with someone I don’t love for the sake of an “image”? The movement of the pictures has accelerated even more, as if an unknown operator is in a hurry to get rid of this visitor bringing painful memories as soon as possible. Now, now … Her lips tightened; her eyes narrowed. He is ‘the Second’. For a moment, a smile again – a daughter was born. Indifferent face. Near her in the beginning and soon – disappeared, forever. He did not even try to be a father, to be a real husband. She was told later – this is how the Second related to all his children, from other women. Did that comfort her? No. She quickly learned not to forgive. The booming courtroom, her voice. Strong, clear, her pride. He suddenly weakened, became barely audible, almost a whisper. She stood and could not help it. The judge again and again asked her to speak louder … She does not want to see it. Time moves on and on … And another shadow came – she would call him ‘Doctor’, although he had never been any doctor. There was a war and she so wanted to contribute to the fight, she even donated blood then, although it was not required. And after the needle went in, she felt unwell, dizzy, he supported. Conversation, a look, a grip of a hand. A spark. No, don’t! She remembers, do not show it! Damn night highway, damn car … A moment of weakness. A silhouette of a woman with a huge frilly hat on her head. Her name is Snake. Many things then happened because of her, and she doesn’t want to remember any of them. She does not want. Will not want. Never. Her eyelids trembled. A slow lonely tear rolled down her cheek.
Then she realized that it was time to change something. It was time to change herself. The time has come to state that I am different, I am no longer a “sweet universal sister”. I don’t want to be her anymore. Probably, I never really was.
The book in her hand. She had spent the day reading, without stopping. Here it is! How convincing she was, persistent, just like her recent heroines. And that church, a quiet song. She just sang it, standing by the window… She did not sleep at nights, was tormented by insomnia – let the fatigue be real! No glycerin tears. It should, should have happened! Then for a moment, it seemed that she had broken free of the fetters of the imposed image. She is a goddess again! Oh, really? There are no gods without believing in them. The love of the crowd is cruel and selfish. It is quick to worship. And to sentence to oblivion. A sad smile on a pale haggard face… She closed her eyes, not wanting to see.
Now the letter will appear. Oh, yes… She remembers a few of his short lines perfectly. As she remembers that endless evening and herself sitting alone in the twilight of the living room. Only one thought was monotonously repeated: that’s it… That’s it. Phone call. It was him, ‘the Friend’.
– I’ll be right there. I have the contract with me. You will enter the amount yourself. They will regret it.
– Come. Without papers. Sit with me…
Silence, black shadows thrown on the walls and ceiling. The crackle of the flames in the fireplace. Golden brittle reflections on two crystal glasses. She didn’t pour herself a drink.
– Thank you for everything. For all.
– Where will you go now? What will you do? Maybe…
– No. Sorry.
Gone. Of course, she was not alone – her parents, sister, daughter … And soon … She squeezed her fingers on the old polished wood of the window sill. How dizzy she is again … Just like when He suddenly offered to leave with her, to go far away over the ocean. Leave everything. Forever and ever. Here is his face, these funny glasses … He did not know where to put his hands, having lost his European charm. At first, she didn’t even have anything to say. Sure, before it happened, she had guessed and there were rumors about… All the same, it was unexpected and… Near him was warmth, calmness and joy. She had never experienced anything like this before, and he felt it, with the eternal flair of a loving and beloved man. His eyes opened, still not fully believing … Yes! And after a short time, pronounced in a ringing voice, ‘oui’, already here, in this small town, in a church nearby.
– But you’ll have to always protect me from …
Look into his eyes, smile.
– From spiders, mosquitoes and reporters, dear. Do you agree?
He smiled back and squinted.
– From spiders and mosquitoes – no problem. You yourself do not want to communicate with them. But the reporters… Are you sure you won’t go to them yourself? They will call you, time after time. And not only reporters.
Her face hardened, her look became serious. She put her hand on his arm, squeezed her fingers.
– I will not return there. Ever.
Not everything was smooth at the beginning. They were very careful. Sometimes even too careful and this often led to suspicions and quarrels. Even to parting. Did she again make a mistake? No. The separation was short. They overcame everything together. They were meant for each other. Nothing could separate them. Both went down this long and difficult path together. The birth of a son, home routines, family. She looks greedily. Her past life unfolds before her in broad strokes. How much happiness and joy she had, simple joy. Traveling, meeting with a few relatives and friends. Sometimes ‘the Friend’ called from across the ocean. He did not forget her, even all these years.
– Are you still happy, dear?
– I will try another time.
But the next time the answer remained the same. And the next, and again, and more… He backed down and remained just a Friend, to the bitter end.
No, she was not forgotten. Letters came often. It is impossible to read each one and answer everyone, it was a kind of lottery for two – for her and the lucky one. What is there in the envelope? If it was decorated with a flower, a heart, or something similar, she sent the letter to the basket. She was attracted by simple outlines, firmly and simply written lines spelling out the address and name. Then – reading them. And again, everything was decided by the very first words. The handwriting could say a lot, the color of the ink. This she felt. Wishes of happiness, good luck, hopes for her return, questions about family and health. Even requests. There was one letter. She does not remember where it came from and who sent it. Fingers touched hair. It is still long and thick, just gray now… Then she was proud of her mane of hair and the fan asked for a lock. Of course, she did not answer. But remembered. And the moment came when this memory was useful. But more about that later, if there is time. How fast it goes. And how much more she wants to see again, feel again, because… After all, everything passes in front of her for the last time. Then, eternal darkness.
She took a deep breath to get enough of it, to feel the coolness and freshness of this magic evening. Who gave her this? Who did not want her to leave, diminishing helplessly in her bed? No answer. Another breath… How much water has she already drunk? She carefully glanced at the decanter out of the corner of her eye, dreading to see the truth – a little lake on the very bottom. Let be. But she could stand here and watch, hear. To live again! Not for a long time. Let be. Deep breathing has awakened familiar chest pain – a trace of the road accident and broken ribs. The pain, however, reminded her of something else, something that still sometimes causes a secret forbidden melancholy. How many years have passed? She does not remember exactly.
It was a bright summer day, busy with people. He suddenly froze in the middle of the street, with his head up, staring at the church spire. She did not have time to brake and knocked him down, hitting him strongly in the side. Lord… He flew off to the sidewalk, rolled a few yards and froze. The surrounding people screamed in fright and she had already opened the door and jumped out, bent and took his hand. Then she was still fast, impetuous, slim, no one thought her more than thirty-five or forty, and she already was… She grinned, looking at the screen still hanging in front of the window, no matter how old she was. And it is important that the poor fellow turned out to be ok, nothing broken. They were surrounded by excitedly speaking people. She bent toward him, close… Quite young, long hair fell in disorder on his shoulders, his glasses slipped down onto the tip of his nose. The sight would have been frivolous if not for firmly compressed lips and not a gaze. She was surprised. There was no anger or annoyance in him. Only participation, empathy and desire to help. Help her? Yes.
“How are you, monsieur? Are you okay?”
He shook his head, do not understand French. I switched to English. The man smiled, nodded, wincing a little. He tried to sit down. The crowd milling around worried, demanding that he lie down and wait for the doctor, he was already called. The man frowned and raised his hand, asking everyone to fall silent. He looked at me and realized how uncomfortable I was here. Did he recognize me? No? I do not think so. He is too young. Even local residents have long ceased to associate the once-famous name with the humble madame. I always introduce myself using my husband’s name. So, as a rule, I enjoy my anonymity. But I need to take the man to the hospital, I cannot leave him on the street. And there … It will be necessary to fill out documents, to explain to the police. Publicity and a small scandal for the joy of the press. A newspaper headline appeared before my eyes. Oh, how I don’t want to. Maybe, I will wait for the promised doctor and then quietly disappear? No. That is dishonorable.
– Miss, I’m fine, do not worry and sorry. This is my fault, staring and not noticing your car.
I shuddered when I heard this heavy accent. How did he get here? And this old-fashioned “Miss”… But thoughts of ‘if he’s all right, then …’
– Are you sure? Maybe we should still wait for a doctor or do you want me to take you to the hospital? Not far from here. You never know, it may be a serious injury or fracture. Expenses, of course, I …
He did not let me continue and quickly sat down. Yes, it hurts him, I can see that. For many years I studied various facial expressions. And a great idea came to my mind … I lowered my voice and said in the tone of conspirator…
– I guess we can disappear from here?
So, he came to my home. It was the best way out. I did not leave him and at the same time avoided publicity. And then…
I laid him on the couch in the living room of the first floor. He was very embarrassed, but I insisted. He needs a little rest. I brought coffee, some sweets. Soon he was sitting, finding it impolite to lie in my presence. Easy conversation… He introduced himself, talked a little about himself… I gave him my name with some unease. Yes, as usual I used my husband’s name, but… if my guest finds out? If so, what to do? Ask him not to tell anyone anything? What an absurdity… No, no reaction. The man nodded politely, asked what I am doing and so on. Suddenly I was hurt by this insult. I looked at him and thought: thousands of people would dream to be in your place. And you sit, drink coffee, eat my homemade cookies – and you do not even know who you are talking to, in whose house you are. And you will not know. I can even make a movie on this story. I couldn’t stand it and laughed. The insult was gone. I hadn’t thought about making a movie for a very long time. I can call my husband. He is a director. I will call my Friend; how surprised he will be. He can be my producer again. I can even write the script myself. Laughter has made the imaginary situation even funnier. The man looked at me wonderingly, put his cup down on the table. I hurried to calm him down.
– Do not pay attention, I just …
– I just thought that we are like characters in an old movie. I hit you with my car. Here we are now, in my home… Good beginning, don’t you think? Just imagine.
He smiled back and lifted the cup up again, took a small sip. Looked around the living room. I froze. There are pictures on the walls. Some are signed.
– So, you are an actress? But you said that you are work in dress design.
Yes, so I said. And out of habit, I did something out of naughtiness. I do not know why … Apparently, the atmosphere of what was happening has so affected me. And, he is just a boy, he will not understand the hint. He certainly has not watched that old film. I showed him crossed fingers. He laughed.
– You lied to me!
– Yes! But when you cross your fingers, it’s not so serious!
Our loud laughter filled the room, burst into the garden, into the free air and up to the bright sun. Laughing, he pointed to the wall. I shrugged in response and sighed.
– Yes, I am an actress. Was.
He appreciated the pause, his face turned serious. He quietly asked.
– Can I see? Is it ok?
He watched, I stood nearby silently and waited. After all, he will read the signatures, there are names. My name is there. I will never forget his wide-open eyes. My God… No, there was not the usual admiration, delight or something like that. Huge confusion, almost fear. I could not resist and asked when we sat down again. I asked for an honest answer. Why? He answered honestly, looking into my eyes.
– I thought you are no longer alive. Please, sorry, I…
– You felt like you saw a ghost, yes?
He hesitated, looked away and shrugged. For a moment, it seemed that he wanted to get up and leave. I suddenly wanted to put a palm on his hand, calm him down. I could see how he felt uneasy here. Of course, I did not do that. He understood that I was waiting. What he said probably should have hurt me intensely. Just like articles about how I gained two hundred pounds and I do not appear anywhere because I can no longer get into my evening dresses.
– I know nothing about you except the name. I have not seen your movies, ever. Well, we were told at school…
I was curious, I leaned forward.
– What were you told?
He suddenly smiled at the corners of his mouth mischievously and squinted. We both felt that the involuntary tension between us was gone. And I did not experience any resentment, quite the contrary. It was all good. Because it would be banal, if a fan accidentally came to me. The standard delight in the eyes, boring compliments and questions. Would he eventually ask for an autograph? I would not like that. Remain as you are. We do not need this Hollywood tinsel! Do not disappoint me. Let it be a little unexpected adventure for both of us, as if we really are in one of the old naive movies.
– So, what did they tell you about me? Come clean!
Suddenly I spoke to him like a friend. Why not? Will he take a step forward? Involuntarily I glanced at the wall clock, I wanted to know how much time was left before my husband returned. I hoped the man did not notice. What am I doing? Not good. He noticed my quick glance. In his eyes I saw a doubt for a moment, and …
– No, not really about you.
I did not manage to hide the disappointment. It came out funny, we laughed again. I am feeling better and happier. I do not understand why. As if sparkles flickered in the air, merrily gleaming.
– What about?
– About how in one movie you sang romances. This movie was called…
And then… I stopped him, raising my hand. Slowly I got up. It emerged from me on its own. The words of a foreign language poured into the thinly ringing silence of the living room. He froze. It was as if he was afraid to breathe while I was singing. Very quietly, softly, so that it would not carry far. That would be unnecessary. This is just for him. For me. For both of us. The words of the song subsided. I approached him, closely. Eyes, his eyes. Warm, deep, dark brown, attractive. The magic of two people in a quiet room. I know that my gaze that I fixed on him then is still the same. Deep brown and clear blue. It’s very easy to succumb. In my pictures at such moments, the camera slowly ran down, and… He slightly, very slightly, hinted at the movement, moved back, barely perceptible. He doesn’t want to hurt me. This is not a movie.
No. There was nothing, could not be. Cannot. For a moment, there was a regret, if you would have been a little older. Or me, a little younger. And all overshadowed by the face of my husband. No. Never. We will not destroy the intangible thing that has united us for these moments. We will save it, together. I am sure that the same thoughts and doubts are in my guest’s soul. They were there and then disappeared. And we stayed. But what unexpectedly connected us must be made manifest. How, in what? And I…
I told him everything. Because I wanted to. How many times they asked me about it, those famous journalists… What amounts of money were offered just for an interview, just for a conversation. The answer has always been – no. But now… I wanted to finally speak. I wanted an eye looking at me, an attentive gaze, understanding, sympathy. I need sympathy. Why? After all, I’m happy. I have everything I dreamed of. But… But…
How good it is that in the dimness and quiet of the room, which only the small lamp lights up, you can just sit next to him – and talk, talk… I didn’t even ask to keep everything secret, just between us. I know that he will keep silent. An interview, which for decades was sought from me – here and now. Sitting next to me is not a journalist, not a historian of cinema. He is an unknown person, almost a young man. He knows only my name. He will know more. I want it. We both want, I see it in his eyes.
My long, very long story… I got carried away. Soon I pulled out thick heavy photo albums. We didn’t have enough space on the sofa and the table. We sat right on the carpet, on the floor. Little light got down here. A large chandelier flashed from the ceiling, illuminating the living room with a festive light. I asked if he was hungry. Without waiting for an answer, I jumped up and swept into the kitchen, as if in an instant I became younger by… By a lot. I quickly made sandwiches and tea. So funny, he was very embarrassed, but he followed and tried to help. Of course, a living legend – and this is how it looks after him, in such a simple way. Smears butter on bread and asks if he want fried eggs with ham… No, honey, sit down. I am the hostess, and you are my guest. The story continued. Page after page of thick cardboard. Faces, events. Rows of photos, my finger sliding over them. Sometimes he froze for a moment, as if hesitating to ask. What’s on the next page… And what is hidden between the neatly pasted pictures. At some moments, the voice of reason timidly tried to intervene: be silent, do not. If he wants, he will earn a fortune by simply telling the press… This is a big temptation. Will he be able to withstand it? But I am writing an autobiography… This will be published; everyone will read it anyway. But you also tell what you will never write! Do you believe him so much? I believe. I want to. During the whole time he did not try to ask anything more. He didn’t show any surprise or emotion. Someone, looking from the side, could think that my guest is indifferent. But I saw what was going on in his soul, saw the fingers clench on the upholstery of the sofa. I saw everything and let him see everything, told the most intimate details. Why? I do not know. But I am grateful to Providence for sending me this meeting, so unexpected, wonderful. Magic…
– Thank you for this evening …
– Thank you, this is … This is magic… I do not know how to say …
– Do not say. And…
– You have to leave.
– Yes … It’s time.
We were delaying the inevitable moment of farewell. He asked me to show him something. I thought for a moment, then the screen flashed. I chose two small scenes. I don’t want to waste time on a full-length film. So short a time remaining to us… If he wants, he will find everything himself, later. So, we stood side by side, illuminated by a trembling silvery luster, looked on. We listened. If someone saw us now, he would have thought that we were about to join hands. He would be right. But… Do not.
We must say goodbye. We both know that we will never meet again. How sad… And yet not. Why? Because subsequent meetings would destroy what was lit between us. Routine… This is a terrible force. Both of us do not want the spark to be put out by everyday life. We will keep it. But I want so much to give him something … Something that sometimes he will look at and remember. I grinned: Will it be an autograph written on a photo? I have dozens of them for fans. “As a keepsake, with best wishes, always…” A few simple words, a signature. That will make the charm disappear. What can I give him? I slowly walked over to the mirror, saw my reflection in it. He got up next. He is going to leave… What will I give him? Well, ask yourself, I do not know what to do… Wait a moment, just one moment before you just disappear, I will give you… What? Flash. I remembered that old letter with a curious request. I did not answer then. And well, because not then, not him. You.
He even retreated a step when, in one motion, I freed my hair, letting my tresses fall onto my shoulders, shook my head so that they would scatter… They are still beautiful, right? Like before. Where is… Where did I put it? Here it is. He looked distractedly at what I handed to him, shook his head and whispered.
– Do not.
The silence thickened even more around us, involuntarily catching the sounds of the street, of a car driving up? My husband, wait … Just wait a bit, give us a few more minutes. I took a step forward without giving up.
– You want this and I want it. Do it yourself, – I smiled and winked, – just be careful, don’t take too much. Here it will be unnoticeable.
He tried to smile back and carefully picked up the small scissors. Our fingers flinched as they touched. I bowed my head, felt a timid touch, God… We seemed to be performing some ancient ritual. I bit my lip. It was a good thing that he could not see my face. How nice that I did not see his face now. Scissor blades clicked faintly. I lifted my head. A curl of my hair in his hand.
– Give it to me.
A light blue narrow ribbon wrapped a curl, slowly tied it with a butterfly knot. He silently watched, biting his lip in the same way as I had a moment ago.
He looked at it for several long moments, I handed a small envelope… Goodbye, my Guest… Goodbye, my…
– Can I take them?
– No, leave them for me. I want to remember too.
I held out my hand. He put the scissors on my palm. Our fingers touched once again. Last time.
I did not offer a ride, did not ask where he was staying. Did not ask for a mailing address. I only know the name. He disappeared around the bend of the street. Never looked back. Goodbye. I touched the spot where he cut the curl. When he held it in his hand, I saw that he was struggling with the desire to bring it up to his face, to inhale the smell. I know that he will do it later. Tears filled my eyes, and I wiped them away with a quick movement. We will remember each other. Forever.
Tears sprang to my eyes… Here it is, a turn, behind which my unexpected guest disappeared. How unusual and strange it was to see everything from the side, as if a mischievous thought came true and someone made a picture of that story. But where is the inscription “The end”? Is this not to be the end? What else will be shown? My subsequent life? My daughter leaving and her marriage … Then my son made his own life, away from me. The death of my husband… She was with him and held his hand when he left. Long, long fourteen years in a quiet, empty house. Does she want to see it? No. And it seems that the unknown force that has unfolded a whole life in front of her agrees.
Fingers squeezed the glass. She drank the rest of the water in it in one gulp, looked around. The carafe is empty. Scorching thirst receded. It was replaced by an ever-increasing subtle ringing in her ears. Her heart suddenly gave an erratic beat, then another one… Her son had warned her. Let it be! She’s killed herself now, but it was worth it! If she hadn’t got up, if she hadn’t gone to the window, if she hadn’t found the strength, she wouldn’t have been given her life again. She wouldn’t have been able to see, hear, feel… Trade it for some more days or even weeks on an air mattress? A quiet stubborn whisper – no. No! Her heartbeat is getting stronger, faster. The drumming is louder in her ears, her breathing has gone. She staggered, squeezed her fingers on the sill with all her might. Go back to the bed, press a button, call for help… No! No. It seemed to her that she had shouted these words directly into the black sky, which was covered with the twinkling patterns of the constellations. The sun had set behind the fields and night covered the garden. How hard it is to breathe, how scary… So, this moment has come. She is ready now.
But what is this?
Suddenly everything around was lit up with a bright festive light. Everything disappeared behind or within this invincible radiance, the house, the room… Where is it? What is happening to her? The pain disappeared, her breathing calmed down, her heart… It is still pounding, but – precisely, strongly, quickly. She is just worried. Very worried, because now…
“What about singing, Patsy?”
Lord… She shuddered when she heard this romping cry from above, from the gallery. Patsy? Her name is different. This is not her name; she is not called this. Is the sound from the gallery? Where did it come from? Who is this tall, broad-shouldered man leaning toward her, leaning heavily on the railing with his large, workworn hands? He is dressed in a tuxedo, a snow-white shirt is visible, but… It is evident that the man usually wears completely different clothes, simple, workingman’s clothes. Understanding came. He borrowed them all somewhere or rented them to come here. He came to listen to her, look at her. Support and encourage her. She is scared… Why? At her age, is there something left to be afraid of? How old is she? The thought stumbled, reality and memories all mixed up. She looked around… The bright light of searchlights, a lot of people, the glitter of jewels and glasses of theatrical binoculars. She needs to say something… Oh… She forgot her cue, forgot the role. What to do? How bad…
– This is no longer a movie. You aren’t playing a role. Everything now is for real. Do not be afraid… You’re among friends, forever.
What? Who said this? She turned sharply. And she pressed her hand to her mouth. It isn’t happening! She called him the Bird because of his thin tall figure, the flying gait, the rebellious head of hair and pair of hands. When he worked, they looked like wings and she thought he about to take off. She admired him. But he died. A long time ago. How can he be talking to her now? A calm thought has come – now, of course, he can. What a kind, encouraging smile he has… So, she is also dead? No. Here she stands in front of everyone, young, strong, joyful again. The old lady’s nightgown has disappeared. She is wearing a white glittering dress and she even wants to spin around. Almighty Lord… There in the front row – dad, mom. A sister waving her hand. Teddy. And here is the Friend. She froze for a moment, her eyes darting around, searching. He is not here. So, his time has not yet come. But they will meet, they will surely meet, now she knows! And now…
He approaches her, a little ungainly, just like on the first meeting, like on the first date. He is here – and it could not be otherwise. They will not part. Ever.
– I’m here, darling.
And everything disappeared, remaining behind the veil of silver gloss. As if a curtain had fallen. The screen outside went out. Silence.
How slowly the glass sparkling in the light of a nightlamp falls. The sound of the glass shattering into fragments. A knock on the door. It opens wide. A shadow on the threshold.
** On April 30, 2013, her son’s notice was published, according to which the actress died a few days ago. No other details of death and burial were available. According to rumors, the body was cremated, the ashes scattered.
The autobiography of the actress was never published. Told on that magical evening, it still remains between her and the Guest. He is alive, he remembers everything and guards the trust placed in him in silence. The time will come – they will meet again.