– linger

Linger
by Susan Pogorzelski

“I made a mistake. And I don’t know how to take it back.”

His dark eyes held my gaze, but I couldn’t read his face, and as much as I wanted to turn away, I knew I couldn’t. I had started this, interrupted a night of casual conversation and old friendship, and I knew that I would be the one to end it.

I ended everything.

I could feel the December air wrapping around my legs, clinging to my stockings like the layer of frost that settled on the park lawn this late evening. Other couples strolled the pathway of the park, laughing, talking, walking, a woman huddling in the man’s dress coat as a shallow mist began to fall.

He wouldn’t be giving me his jacket this evening. We were too far past that.

I shook my head, reached into my handbag for my cigarettes, fetched around for a lighter, then gave up and slipped my gloves on over my shaking hands instead.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” His voice was low, even. I shivered, but whether it was from the night cold or my confession, I couldn’t know.

“I don’t want anything to change,” my voice faltered with doubt, and I suddenly longed to take it all back, this whole night, wishing that we could return to who we were before the sun set.

“Too late.” His stare had an edge, but there was only a soft honesty in his voice as he stood there, hands in his overcoat pockets, waiting. Waiting. As he always did. That was the part that infuriated me, how he always stood so calm and sure of himself, so patient with me. That’s why this had happened. That’s why he was to blame.

I looked at him, meeting his eyes, then focused my gaze on the couple in the distance as they moved further down along the path, only the tail end of a memory now.

The man put his arm around her as they turned a corner. I turned away.

I saw him pull his hand out of his pocket and glance at his watch, saw the subtle shift in his posture out of the corner of my eye as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Don’t go. Don’t go, not yet.” There was a plea in my voice, and I hated myself for it.

“I have to leave for London in the morning. I’m only in New York a few days, for the new year. You knew that.”

The new year. This new year that was supposed to bring so much promise, that now seemed so fragile, slipping away from me as every other year before it, deteriorating by the second.

“Don’t go.”

We were suspended in a moment, and that moment was about to be broken. I wanted to remember it, wanted to remember him, us, just as we were. But words were about to be spoken that, even in a whisper, would uproot our past, transform our future, and once, just this once, I wanted something to last.

He shifted his stance and sighed; in the lamplight, I could see the fog from his breath swirl into the air and then evaporate, and I thought that’s what it would be like, once these words were said. I wouldn’t be able to hold onto it any more than I could capture the small space between us.

“It’s cold,” he said, his voice still patient, still kind. “What are we doing here?”

“I’m afraid that this will change everything,” I whispered in reply.

I couldn’t look at him, but only past him, towards the lights of the city, where everything seemed safe and alive and loved.

“I’m afraid.” I said quietly, and I noticed he leaned forward, his body so close to mine, and I knew he was listening. “It’s not something you can fix, not something you can protect me from; I know you want to.”

And suddenly the city seemed so far away, the honking horns and late-night crowd a distant medley, the lights illuminating places I wouldn’t ever be able to reach.

It was over. The moment was over, and I knew it, and now there was no turning back.

“I made a mistake; I chose the wrong man. I chose the wrong man and now I’m afraid that I’ll spend my life wondering what happiness I could have known if I had, just once in my life, admitted that I loved you.”

It was done. Words that couldn’t be unspoken; a moment gone forever. I dared to look at him, but there was no expression on his face; he was looking past me, away from the city, away from us.

The words lingered on the cold air, and I wondered if I would feel his hand reaching for my own, his arms forgiving my confession as they encircled my chilled body. I wondered if I dared hope to hear those whispered words in reply.

He looked at me; I waited.

Then the moment passed, and I watched him walk away.

3 Comments

  1. Rebecca said,

    This went in a different direction than I expected and I love that. You have great imagery.

  2. sea said,

    I enjoyed this.

    I felt it was real, not fiction and I hung on every word.

  3. twentyorsomething said,

    Rebecca: Thanks once again for your replies! I actually started with just that first line, not really expecting where it would lead, either. As it turns out, it’s just as much a surprise for me… 😉

    Sea: Thanks so much for reading and for your reply; I’m so thrilled that you liked it and appreciate your words.

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