“You’re a writer,” she said.
I interrupted my reading to check out the person who dared to butt into my time. Normally, I wouldn’t bother but she had that kind of voice in that kind of tone that pulled me up, in spite of myself.
“Sometimes,” I said. My head hadn’t moved an inch, only my eyes did, roving over her from behind my sunglasses to compare the way she looked against her picture in the newspaper spread open on my knee. If I didn’t know better I’d think she was wearing the same outfit from last night, but I’m a writer not a fashion editor so I really shouldn’t know any better.
“What kind of stuff do you write, and why only sometimes?” She tapped out a cigarette from my packet. I always laid it on the nearest flat surface as a sign on occupancy; no one had dared help themselves to it, ever, till now.
I leaned forward and flicked my lighter. She stole my flame without acknowledgement. I might’ve been one of her servants paid to serve her for all the notice she took. If she hadn’t spoken we would be mere strangers sharing a table.
I knew who she was - the whole world did. Mika Saulsbery, million-heiress to a Prussian/English dynasty that stretched across Europe. An enfant terrible burning up the scene and giving the paparazzi fodder for their trash mags, the kind of people I wrote for.
“I write whatever I want, sell a few articles to stay legit, and clean up other people’s books.” She wasn’t even looking at me. We were talking to air, like undercover agents speaking into hidden microphones, or loonies who talked to themselves.
She stayed silent till the end of her cigarette, sucking on it and blowing long streams of smoke straight out before crushing the stub in the ashtray.
I couldn’t help myself. What could I do while waiting for an answer? I checked her out.
Mika was beautiful; short blond hair, flawless skin, a model’s twiggy body if not the height, and eyes the colour of Midori - peridot green.
In the continuing silence, I felt foolish for thinking that a beautiful woman had fallen into my lap, making my dreams come true. Eager to move on, I folded the newspaper so that the next person wouldn’t mind reading it after me. It’s a strange world when people won’t buy a wrinkled newspaper that they will discard the same day. It was the same news whoever read it first. I hadn’t paid for my copy this time but I would recycle it to the next reader.
The dregs of my coffee were cold and bitter, almost the same flavour as my cigarettes. I wondered if I liked my coffee black to remind me of my smokes or the other way round – one long combination of burnt tastes - or because it fit my image; black on black on black. Monotone clothing, single shade hair. I even wore impenetrable sunglasses to hide my blue eyes. At least I was consistent.
Okay, Ms in Lala-land, I had better things to do than accompany a rude woman. I pocketed my fags, hooked my jacket and walked off.
Winter had left us, soon it would be hot skies and longer days. I hated that. Here I was, forced to join the masses in their ritual of greeting the indecisive spring sun along with every newborn or bloom. Give me a little more time to mourn the passing season. If I wanted cheeriness, I would buy a fucking Hallmark card.
She appeared abreast, effortlessly keeping pace with my longer stride or did I slow down? She was wearing an expensive dress, something like Chanel meets hip-hop, that ended well above her knees to show her slim legs in strappy heels on dainty feet.
She marched briskly, blond hair breeze-lifted to expose her sharp features. Her expression was set like she was headed somewhere important. Me, I’ve got all day.
We walked in silence. It’s a big park, with ever changing sections designed according to plans drawn up a year ago. We passed the herb garden, the rose garden, a couple of ponds … as we progressed deeper into the enchanted forest that was sustained inside our concrete city, it became darker. The large leaved trees were packed close; rising victors from the dense undergrowth. Our brick path was slick with moss, the damp air richly smelling of loam and decay.
I’m glad I had my jacket as I feel the cold too easily. Mika didn’t seem to mind the drop in temperature in her sleeveless dress. She may be small but she’s no weakling.
That could explain how she was still up and about after last night, but that doesn’t explain why she came after me.
I’ve seen her at events that I’ve been invited to, through my connections or my press card. I rarely attend for business; only the best interests of a friend might lure me out of my house. Mika is everywhere – she’s rich and pretty, and she’s used to media attention. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want her to notice me.
“Why do you do it? Just write a bit, I mean,” she asked softly. It seemed perfectly natural for us to have short conversations inside long silences. For some reason, I thought she would be chatty and irritating. Instead, she seemed to appreciate the solitude as much as I did.
“I said I sold a few, I write all the time.”
We separated around a fallen branch and rejoined closer to each other.
“Do you like what you do?”
“Yes,” I said. “For the most part.”
“And the part that you don’t?”
I watched her stoop to pick a large red hibiscus that she cleaned and carefully tucked behind her ear. A maiden seeking a spouse.
“It pays the rent.” I wanted to touch her face, the way a sculptor owns his creation.
A forked path ahead told me I could go two ways, end our walk or take her to one of my favourite spots. I veer left, surprising her, to my favourite seafood stall. The proprietor was attending. Stefano’s a generous man and it showed in his prices. I don’t know why I brought Mika here – she dines in restaurants costing ten times more – it’s my pathetic attempt to impress her.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
She shook her head as she eyed the casual seating. She chose a table, one that had a good view of me as I poked in the display.
“Buon Giorno, Stefano. What’s good today?”
“Hey, hallo!” I know he doesn’t know my name. “How are you? You are looking beautiful today.” I doubt his words. Beautiful is not a word I would use to describe myself, but he says that to every woman.
I picked a couple of local lobsters but declined the expensive entrée. Lunch would set me back a bit, but that’s what credit cards are for; they make it easy to buy the good life. Stefano would bring us his mama’s fabulous desserts and all the coffee we could drink.
Despite her earlier denial, Mika quickly finished her food and moved on to more. The waiter replenished our antipasto plate for her while I savoured my lobster. Good food and a beautiful woman are to be enjoyed at leisure.
My cigarettes, and endless coffee served in demitasse cups that were dwarfed by my large hands, completed our meal. Long hours typing have toughened my fingers and nicotined my nails.
Mika’s hands were fair, soft and manicured. She wore a jeweled watch on one wrist and bracelets on the other. The only adornments I owned and wore were the earrings my grandmother bequeathed to me.
We tromped over a zigzag bridge that crossed a section of the largest lake, then onto an ugly bicycle path that lead into a tunnel where the public washrooms were cleverly housed. The coffee was having an effect.
Mika followed me into the loo, watching while I did what I had to do. There’s no one else around, luckily. As I searched for a dryer, she pulled me in by my belt-loops and kissed me.
Surprise and dripping hands kept me still. She didn’t like that. She moved closer to cup my ass, making me gasp. Without my sunglasses, my reaction to her was unshielded. She took advantage of my open arms and open mouth, kissing me with little nips on my lips and a lively tongue in my mouth as her hands rhythmically squeezed my ass, forcing my crotch into hers.
Our kiss ended only when the cleaner returned. I don’t know how long we were together but my hands were dry and my panties soaked.
We stepped out into lavender surroundings that was dusk descending. It was eerie, seeing the only thing moving were leaves on the ground. It was so quiet we might’ve been the only two people left in the world. We held hands, a warm contact point that repelled the cold dark night swallowing the rest of my precious day. I enfolded her in my jacket to keep her warm.
It was she who led the final leg of our journey, drawing us towards Tchaikovsky’s composition being performed in the amphitheatre, which was lit aflurry with dancers; the surrounding trees aglow benevolently overhead. It was a fairy scene of music, magic and movement.
We watched from behind a pillar, my hands spread in the small of her back as she leaned into me. It was dark enough in the shadows for us to stand close.
The drama of Swan Lake played out before us - lovers divided by a curse, destined only to snatch moments of a day together. That’s how I saw it.
“I wish I was dancing out there.” I heard her say.
“Why aren’t you?” I knew she had talent and training locked in her slender body.
“Because I liked it.” She pressed back, forcing my hands to encircle her waist. “I wanted to so much I couldn’t have it.”
“Don’t try to understand. It’s an illogic that only rich people do.”
Stung, I withdrew. I might not be rich but I understood clearly the meaning beneath her words.
Last night, she had seen me. Just like she had seen me at every event I had attended the past year as I followed her, for our sake. She had seen me darkly naked in my red chamber. I had seen her pale flower spread on my scarlet sheets.
Last night, she gripped me fiercely, vowing that she would never let me go. She took me desperately, not knowing that I gave myself freely. Her slight form trembled in my arms when we made love, her light scent filled my lungs and seized my brain when I breathed. She was in me – in my thoughts, in my longings, in my heart.
It is I who cannot let her go.
The ballet ended with thunderous applause, a showering of flowers and more lights. I saw her friends gathered in the VIP section; they waved and she waved back, then a wall of people rose to block us from their view.
She kissed me brief and hard, her eyes full of solemn promise. It was our curse to lead separate lives, with few full nights and rarer days together. One final squeeze of my hand and she melded into the crowd towards her friends.
She was still wearing my jacket.