This story of unfulfilled love was first published in Across the Margin magazine and put on their Best Fiction of 2017 list.
I slip out of bed with slow, considerate gestures my sturdy body is not accustomed to. The darkness enveloping her bedroom recedes until the dark shape of a chair emerges. I lift my shirt and trousers from it, and carefully dress, leaving the silence of daybreak undisturbed, so as not to wake her. She rests on her side, the cotton sheet hugging the lines of her body. My eyes follow them up to the delicate curve of her neck that calls me for a kiss, but I resist its siren song.
The affair only lasted three days, but she will never know how much it all meant to me. How much she means to me. That’s why I don’t wake her. If I do my courage will leave and I will stay, and the train is waiting for me and after that a plane. The Pacific — my final destination — awaits. And there, a war. My time with her resembled the promise of a life I’ll never have, but to her I was just a passing adventure.
I take in her beauty one last time and remember my body in her arms. I trap the memory in my skin, an invisible tattoo of our encounter, so if I die on a field or in a trench I can do so with her arms around me once again, one last time. How long before another soldier lies within her embrace, before she replaces my body with that of another? I don’t blame her. Life goes on. She may not miss me, but I will her, and the purr in my ear when she called me “sugar.” I’ll miss never kissing her mouth again, that ripe cherry that tasted so sweet. I’ll never have the chance to properly love or disappoint her. The army may have my body but she has my heart.
Boots in hand, I quietly close the door on her and our story. Goodbye, my darling. I will forever remember her as the girl at the fair, eating candies with lips the color of her name, with a body under her dress that would make any grown man fall to their knees. Outside, down on the street, the air is stiff like a cheap drink. Dawn is starting to stain the sky with hues of yellows and oranges that reminds me of the warmth of her skin, of her arms around me. My heart swells and breaks within the same stride.
There’s a slight shift in the mattress as the weight of his body leaves the bed. A rustle of fabric spoils the silence, as he gingerly lifts his clothes off the chair. It’s clear he doesn’t want to wake me, but I’ve been awake for some time. Still I pretend with my eyes closed and my back to him. Blind, my ears stalk him, from the subtle rise and fall of his chest, to the graze of his strong limbs diving into sleeves and trousers, ready to leave me. It was only a three-day affair but he will never know how much it meant to me and how much I’ve fallen for him already. To him, I was only was a distraction of curvaceous warmth, something to forget the impeding coldness of the front. I will miss him and his kisses. They tasted like a one-way ticket out of my world, yet only hinted at the promise of a life we would never have.
My hand held against my chest and I close it into a fist, strengthening my resolve not to turn around. If I do, I will pull him to me. I will plead and beg until he is back in my bed, making him a deserter. I won’t let him break his promise for me. He will forever be the burly man with the slick backed hair and the worn-out leather jacket with a half-smoked cigarette jammed in the corner of his mouth. With those wounded eyes that looked at me as if I were a real respectable lady. I will never have the chance to fully love or fail him. Other men may have my body but he will have my heart. I pray war will spare his life, but I may never know.
The click of the lock as he closes the door behind him slices through me. The feeling of loss swells under my eyelids before rolling down my cheeks, trapped inside the delicate slivers of my tears. I have nothing left of him to hold onto, just the fading warmth of his body and the memories in my head — the brush of his whiskey and tobacco breath on my skin, the echoes of raspy “my darlings” in his smoky voice. I count his steps and when I place him turning around the street corner I finally open my eyes. The sunrise filtering through the window casts a rectangle of fiery light on my bedroom wall and reminds me of the warmth of his arms around me. My heart swells and breaks within the same stride.
Laure Van Rensburg is a native of France currently living in the UK. She studies creative writing at Ink Academy in London and is working on her first novel.