I escape to my favorite used bookstore/cafe before Roi comes home, literally shoving things into a bag, throwing on something easy, raking a brush through my hair. The need to be somewhere else, anywhere else, is overwhelming. The why is unclear. Is it that I won't be able to meet his smile? Or is it that I can't say anything without the hurt coming through, can't stop the way it mutates into anger somewhere between my heart and my teeth?
Traffic is slowed by the farmers driving their tractors between fields and I wonder if that life is a happy one for them. Imagine the annual cycles of growth, harvest, decay and daydream about the lessons the earth and sky must teach them. The world is blooming and I roll down the window to let in the sun-warmed breeze.
At the cafe I'm settled into a corner with my tangerine-ginger iced tea and work, for once, is flowing. It has been weeks since I could focus. I ignore the aging man with a wedding band who doesn't bother with discretion as he hungrily takes me in once, twice, trying to get me to meet his eyes so he can flash his rehearsed smile. I give him nothing. I've heard men say "older" women are too jaded to date. One man's jadedness is another woman's wisdom, I say.
"Love!", the familiar exclamation sends my stomach into my knees. It would be wrong not to raise my eyes, an act of war I'm sure of it. My smile is anemic, I know, but it's the best I can do.
"I thought I might see you here", he says cheerfully. It's a lie.
"How?", I ask.
"Because we know each other", he replies.
"Well...I didn't know you would be here", I retort, retaliating against his play.
He continues the game of make-believe, the good-guy, the pulling the blanket over his head I-can't-see-you-you-can't-see-me trick.
It's a cruel turn the Universe gives me, Roi stopping here on his way home. It is also a loud declaration that even after a week away he is stalling getting home, getting back to me. We are both avoiding, unmistakably, the other, so why must he pretend that it is serendipitous and lovely?
"I have a gift for you", he says.
I walk with him to his motorcycle, him chattering on. He prefaces the gift with, "you probably won't like it" as he always does and is always right about. Two Christmases ago he handed me a box in front of family, assuring me that I probably wouldn't like it but he liked it so he got it anyway. It was a vintage rabbit fur coat, a horrendous patchwork thing that dropped a shocked and awkward silence over the room. A gift not chosen out of carelessness or even ignorance -- to say, "I know you probably won't like it" contradicts ignorance.
I can't look at him. I try to find what I once felt, try to remember when seeing him was a light in my bones instead of lead, dig deep for some reserve of love to tap into, just enough to at least pretend because I'm so practically not ready to leave and the minute the reality hits him that his hold has slipped, he will punish me. I fail and fail and fail.