These days, half the time you feel disjointed and tired, and half the time you will smile at strangers. Eighty-eight per cent of the time, you are curious, about everything. One hundred per cent of the time you will stop for birds – you have always been drawn to things that fly. You like it that sparrows stay in your city through the winter – they are delicate and robust. Perhaps only ninety-eight per cent of the time you will pet a stray cat. Most of the time, you care deeply about trees – worry about them. Lately, you have been moving through life with zero per cent interest in women – you look at them as featureless, flat humans – and to be honest, you find it freeing to move through your days with no desire. But yesterday, you smiled at a woman as if she were a stranger, and after you had moved beyond her, you think you may have known her, once, a long time ago. You’re pretty sure you lived with her in northern Spain, in a place called San Sebastián, in the Basque country, and you had cats. Her name was Sheila and she worked at a tapas & wine bar overlooking the ocean. Your flat was basically one room with a separate bathroom and a small veranda. The faucet in the bathtub leaked – it dripped continually. You were writing then, on a small, deeply flawed typewriter – short stories about love – about which you knew nothing. You still know nothing about love, which is why you still write – you are still looking for the answers to the questions of love. Inside those few idyllic months with Sheila was the foundational haunting ghosts of everything that was to come. The luxurious texture of her skin in semi-darkness. The sound of her need after too much cheap wine. The temerity of her eyes in candle light (sometimes her eyes scared you). The smell of her at midnight. The smell of the ocean at 3 a.m. as it washed through the room. Watching her get on her bike and ride off to work each morning – her dark curly hair, and flowing dress, and black pumps, flying on her bicycle, recklessly careening down the curvy road to town. You would sit on the veranda with the cats and drink coffee as the morning cool burned into mid-day heat. Señora Pilon would walk by each morning, on her way to the market, and nod at you – her face a study in seriousness and regret. She looked at you as if there was something honourable about writing, or dishonourable but nonetheless revered. You always wanted to chase after her, and walk beside her, and ask her about that nod – or her life, what she loved, who she loved.
But then again, this is a ridiculous fantasy – the result of your own foolish experiment in constraint. You’ve never been to Spain. You’ve never had a lover named Sheila. You were smiling at a stranger in line a Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon. A woman with whom you share no history of intimacy.
Listen, if Sheila were real, she would have sat with you on a stifling hot night in August and shared icy bottles of beer on the veranda. She would be wearing one of your long-sleeved cotton shirts and that is all. You would have noticed the way her body was framed in the shirt – the contrast of skin and fabric. And when you were distracted by some part of her body – perhaps the tan lines on her feet, there would be a lull in your conversation. At this point she would have taught you the way of describing an unexpected, unexplained silence as ‘un ange passe’ – an angel is passing through. And that would have just about ruined you. For the rest of your life, every time there was the awkward surprise of a clumsy silence you would have remembered her, and you might have turned inward, ever-so-slightly, and nodded.