And Yet by Emi Benn
—Do you ever think about me?
—You’re married now.
—You have been married for a long time. You even have a child.
—Are you happy?
—People who are happy never ask that question.
—Sometimes I look for you. I think I might see you at an airport.
—I thought I saw you once on the other side of the road, walking away.
—In a car, at an intersection, with stop signs all four ways. I had to go before I could look again to see if it was really you.
I read that book that you always talked about, the one that you said defined your life and through which everything could be understood. It was long-winded, too caught up in its own cleverness. But you came through on ever page.
My husband flies to Zurich, Hong Kong, London. He calls on Skype at odd hours of the day and brings me presents from Duty Free that are always in good taste.
I never was in good taste with you.
I join the commuters on the train with my take-away coffee, staring at my phone. Real life is happening elsewhere, pixelated, with exclamation marks.
Now and then, I meet people I call my friends, who are really only acquaintances, at trendy bistros or coffee shops. They like me because we look good together, two women still young enough to be called pretty, sitting together and talking animatedly the way friends do. These are not real connections. These people, people now, only care about promoting their brand.
I go to the movies alone—that’s the way I prefer it.
I read self-help books. I would send some of them to you anonymously through the post but I don’t know your address.
—I am different now.
—You wouldn’t recognize me.
—I have tattoos.
—I cut my hair short.
—I exercise. I run marathons!
—You got that from me. You borrow so heavily from other people, you forget what is yours and what you actually like.
—You’re one of those people who think they are different but stay the same, remember everything, begrudge others.
—You don’t know me anymore.
—You wouldn’t know me either. You might not recognize me if we passed each other in the street.
A while ago, I threw out all the letters that you wrote me. In the end, we were thirteen pounds altogether. I thought I would feel something more—all the college-ruled sheets covered with blue ballpoint pen, scrawled idealism and round writing stuffed into a black garbage bag.
The photos, I burnt a long time ago.
I threw out a clipping I’d kept from the newspaper. Your picture isn’t there but your mother’s is. Although I never thought you looked like her, I could see the resemblance when I read the article and saw her again. Underneath was your married name in the list: “She is survived by...” You didn’t hyphenate. You just took his name. That disappointed me.
—But your wife changed her name.
—How do you know?
—I saw it on a computer.
—I didn’t know you were spying on me.
—I wasn’t, it was just that we have mutual friends and your photo flashed across the screen. Forgive me. I clicked without knowing what I did.
—You see I get on fine without you.
—You look married. You turned into a symbol. It was not what I expected.
—What was that?
—I thought you wanted more.
Sometimes I check up on you. I track your progress. I don’t solicit information from our mutual friends but when someone mentions you, I employ a particular silence that makes them want to talk without me having to ask after you. I try to find evidence of myself in what you have done. That I have left an indelible mark though you may be unaware of it.
Your wife looks a little bit like me.
I talk about you. My husband knows your name, smiles indulgently when he hears it. In our relationship, you’re an old friend, the kind where there’s nothing left in common but still I won’t drop you because we have too much history together. It no longer matters whether or not I like you or that you hurt me.
—We were never going to last.
—That’s because you hate me. You like me and yet what you like about me is what makes you hate me.
—You intimidate me.
—Everything worth doing is scary.
—I am not afraid of you anymore.
I drew a thick black line on the ground and you were on the side that didn’t matter. My wife is beautiful and she loves me. In our first years together, I often found myself thinking about the time I spent with you. I favorably compared my wife to you, favorably compared myself to who I was then. Time meant progress and I was proof of that, better than I was before. I was a father. Playing that role, being that—it rendered me different.
I don’t know when it happened but you came back. I’d forgotten about you, and one day you were there again.
—Sometimes, I’m sure that I will see you.
—That we will see each other again.
—It feels unfinished.
—I have followed people a few city blocks.
—When they turn around, it’s like a horror movie. Your hair but someone else’s face.
—Where will you be?
—On TV, on a reality show.
—In the news.
—Where we met.
—I have returned there, expecting to see you.
—In a plane.
—Sitting next to me.
—We are pleasant.
—We pretend to sleep.
—We pretend we didn’t know each other before.
Emi Benn’s fiction is forthcoming in Broken Pencil, has appeared in Descant, and in Farsi translation. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario.