Has it been five minutes? Ten? The man does not want to look at his phone for fear of accepting that he’s been stood up. He is not a stranger to this uncertainty. Beneath a covered table, his leg bounces, but even this action cannot dispel his nerves. Sitting alone in a crowded restaurant -especially one cast in soft candlelight- makes him uneasy. The wait staff offer their company every time they fill up his empty glass, but it’s not enough. If this continues for much longer, he will be forced to leave with nothing but disappointment.
From across the restaurant, movement catches his eye. She crosses the space with effortless grace; gliding up to the table whilst tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Unclasping clammy hands, the man stands and flattens out his wrinkled shirt.
“Hi, nice to see you.” Though he sounds certain, uncertainty courses through his veins. Should he be chivalrous? Pull the chair out? Offer to take her jacket off? Butterflies aggressively flutter in his stomach, forcing him to remain stationary. She lifts her head and offers a weak smile. In complete synchronicity, they sit down and immediately read the menus set out before them, thus challenging the awkwardness of silence. He’s already read it from back to front -twice over- but he is willing to participate in this dance for a moment.
“What would you like to drink, I’ve heard this place has a fairly extensive wine list.” She nods but does not speak.
“If you’re hungry, the set menu sounds nice.” This time, there’s not even recognition that he’s spoken, just the action of moistening her red lips.
“I understand if that’s too expensive though.”
“Stop” She raises her hand; she is not in the mood to play this game. Immediately the atmosphere in the restaurant shifts and he can’t help but feel the eyes of patrons on him. Taking another sip of still water, he shifts back deeper in the chair. Maybe if he’d remembered that she prefers sparkling, she would have been more receptive to the effort to normalise this situation.
“I’m not here for dinner.” There’s a dash of loathing in the way her words are formed, it takes him aback, but then again, how could he have expected any less. "Why would you even book this place?"
The young waiter with the endless supply of water approaches. He is blissfully unaware.
“Anything to drink Mam?” From the edge of the menu, the man peers at her as she points at a white wine. Ignoring her question, he is fill with questions of his own, does she look different? Have the last three weeks changed her more than the five years together could? She shifts forward with crossed arms. He follows her movements to copy her posture.
“You didn’t get too wet coming here?”
“No, It’s fine. It’s only a drizzle at the moment.” Her voice is as dry and stale as the complimentary bread that sits between them.
“Hey, do you remember the time…” Again, he is stopped by a raised hand.
“Don’t.” She whispers. He does as he is told. Do you remember the small café we took shelter in from the rain in London? The question lingers on his tongue. He so desperately wants her to remember. He wants her to go back to that place and time. They were happy there, she was happy. But now in his presence, he worries he only continues to break her heart. He is completely aware that he did exactly what he promised he wouldn’t do; what others had done before. And he knows that he must now sit across from her, in a poorly chosen restaurant, and face the consequences of his actions. Pretending he hasn’t noticed she rubs the base of her ring finger with her thumb will not work. The action is executed under a complete lack of realisation. She is not aware she’s doing it, or that she misses the weight that used to be there. It’s almost enough for him to change his mind. Almost enough to ask her to take him back. Almost.
“You know what we’re here for.” Whisked away from regret, he is placed back in reality. They are here for business, not for broken feelings and thoughts of a time long ago.
“Maybe we’ll just skip dinner then, shall we?” She nods and takes a large gulp of wine. A sour stomach is required to survive this interaction. In watching her movements, he is possessed once again with questions unanswered. How did their love story become a statistic in a consolidation of failures? Is there any redemption from his transgressions? Or is condemnation to live a life of servitude for his sins all that’s left?
In the silence that surrounds them, she studies his face, as if reading his mind. For a moment, she too softens. Her eyebrows release and turn downwards as her eyes glaze slightly with the promise of tears. Everything said and unsaid sits within these seconds. They both accept and refuse to accept the complete desolation of the life built together. The past five years orbit around them like planets around a dying sun. Though almost as a comfort, he thinks that maybe, just maybe, some things shared will never truly die and maybe she realises that too for a fleeting second. Neither of them comments on it, it will be an unspoken truth for the rest of their lives.
“Let’s just get this over with.” She says, breaking from a trance. The time has come, he must accept that this is the jagged ending to a love experienced in another life.