“What are you trying to tell me?” Emma demanded. “Don’t you get it? I’m finally happy now, and you’re not going to change that.”
Matt shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said in a low voice.
Emma didn’t seem to hear him, and he began to feel desperate. The train rattled around a bend. There was only one more stop before he had to get off; they were running out of time.
Matt brushed the hair impatiently out of his eyes. “Can you come to my apartment tonight?”
It was stupid, and he knew it. He had been afraid of this. Afraid that she would come alive in his imagination and take over his thoughts. But there she was, perched on the edge of her seat, with her dark hair falling out of a messy braid. In the flickering light, he could just make out the pink streaks, and he smiled, liking how they looked. But Emma turned towards him, her narrow face sharp and accusing.
“I don’t even know where you live,” she whispered harshly. “I’ve known you for six months and you know everything about me, but I know nothing about you!”
Matt bit his lip. “Yeah. Not many people do.”
He scribbled down his address and ripped the page out of his notebook. “Keep this to yourself, would you?” he ordered.
The train stopped and Matt leapt onto the platform, stumbling a little before regaining his balance. Inside the car, Emma was probably laughing at his clumsiness. Matt scowled. He didn’t want to think about her. After tonight, he would never see her again – if she even came. For once, he realized that he couldn’t predict her next move.
The sky was a weird orange colour as Matt emerged from the train station. He suddenly felt weary, and realized he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep. Normally he would insist on walking, but today he took a cab home. Every muscle hurt, and his brain pulsed dizzily, refusing to be quiet.
Later that evening Matt paced the 200 square-foot confines of his apartment, kicking magazines, shoes and CD cases under the couch. He yanked the thin, almost transparent curtains open to let in the blurred, chaotic light from the city below. His eyes were dry from lack of sleep and his nails were jagged from being bitten. His shoulders ached from days hunched over his laptop. Matt sank to the floor, too tired to move. Before he knew it, he had fallen into his first blank, motionless sleep in over three weeks.
Emma came in so softly that Matt didn’t wake up until she was standing right above him. She was wearing a blue dress and her dark eyes looked so beautiful he caught his breath. Then anger stabbed him fully awake.
Why had he let himself fall in love with her? It was not as if he hadn’t gone through these same motions a hundred times before. But it had never felt like murder until now.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked, stalling.
“I don’t drink,” she replied softly.
Silently, Matt cursed. He knew that. He knew every detail about her. She was twenty-one years old. She hated dried apricots and drank NESTEA every single day. She was double-jointed in three fingers, and had a scar on her ankle from where she’d cut her foot on a wire when she was ten. Her parents were both teachers living in Cincinnati. She had one brother who was five years younger, and she was afraid of suffocation and travelling alone. She had been taking biology at Chicago State University when she met a Belgian poet who was studying in the States for a year. The poet was about to return home, and Emma had just quit school to go with him.
The decision had been a declaration of her freedom – an escape from the weight of other’s expectations and her own standards. Matt had been party to her most intimate struggles. He had watched her slowly transform from a wary, unconfiding girl into a daringly vulnerable, adventurous woman. He was about to send her off into the new life she’d chosen for herself. But instead of feeling the pride he usually felt, he was only torn with regret.
Emma would marry her Belgian poet. But he would be left behind, with only the flat, black and white traces of her to console him. She would linger for a while in his mind, but would eventually fade away and disappear altogether. It had happened before. But never had someone so fully captivated him as Emma had during these six months.
“I think I know what you are going to say.” Emma interrupted his stormy thoughts. Matt looked up, surprised.
“It’s time for me to leave, isn’t it?”
She said it matter-of-factly, and he could see the joy buried deep within her eyes. He felt a vague satisfaction, knowing that when he had first met her, there was only blank sadness in those eyes. He had been the one to change that.
“Before I go, can you tell me something about yourself? Anything?” She laid her hand on his arm, her fingers cool and dry.
Matt trembled, knowing there was only one thing to say. But that one thing would suck her breath – her very identity – away.
“I am a writer,” he whispered. “I created you, and your happy ending. But now I…I have to leave you there.”
He choked over the last words, and turned the page.
~ Ilana Reimer