Solid Moments, A.M. Harte’s second collection, is a tribute to the defining fragments of life – a blind girl rediscovering sight, a scorned lover finding solace in research, a brother meeting the sister he never knew he had…
THE STRANGE FAMILIARITY
The love is gone.
When she looks at him, striding towards her across the busy square, she is looking at a stranger. Even the pigeons disown him, scattering from his footsteps.
It’s been months. His hair is longer than she’s ever seen it before. His face is weather-beaten, his clothes more suited to a beachside than the city. But even though it is he who has travelled the world, she is the one who has changed.
The kiss he drops on her lips is impersonal. How much of that is in her mind and how much of it is him?
“I’ve missed you,” he says.
“I missed you too.” The you she remembers, not this man before her. The strange familiarity of his scent disconcerts her; when his fingertips brush her arm she feels vulnerable.
She lets him take her hand because that’s what they used to do. He leads her through the crowds of tourists and cajoling street vendors. The air is hot and heavy. Perspiration beads on her upper lip.
They turn down a narrow side street lined with canopies. Tucked away at the end of an alley is their usual cafe, too small and grubby to attract tourist attention. It has no AC either; the fans swinging in lazy circles overheard are barely more than decorative.
Months ago they’d agreed this place served the best coffee in town. Now she sits opposite him grimacing through each sip, wondering what else has changed.
She can’t bring herself to speak at first. She sits through a long monologue covering his travels, the things he’s seen, the people he’s met, all the while tearing an empty sugar packet into tiny little squares. His speech is as slow and measured as she remembers, his gestures as grandiose. But their familiarity has passed the threshold of affection. His every character quirk is now another aspect to dislike.
When the sugar packet drifts like snowflakes onto the table, he finally notices her expression.
“I almost forgot,” he says, cutting his story off mid-sentence. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box, sliding it across the table. “For you.”
She stares at it, cannot bring herself to touch it. How many others has he bought? “I… I know.”
“You…?” The creases on his forehead smooth. “Ah.”
Her neck is stiff. “How long…” The question isn’t worth finishing.
“When they offered me the job, I couldn’t turn it down. I’m moving next month, and you know how I feel about long-distance relationships.”
Her fingers still against the tabletop. That isn’t the answer she’s expecting.
“Look,” he says, resting his hand on top of hers, “I should have told you months ago, but… You knew I wouldn’t stay in this town forever. We’ve still got a month left. Why don’t we enjoy it, and worry about the rest later?”
“You’re moving?” The words are flat and hard and not the slightest bit shaky. “I didn’t know that.” Now she can truly see how much his familiarity has blinded her. She pulls her hands out of his reach, folds them in her lap.
Finally she has the strength to say the words that have burned inside for months: “Have you told all the other girls you’re stringing along, or am I the first to know?”
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