“Evelyn, I….” The hoarse words caught as his thick tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He cleared his throat. “I… Are you… Evelyn?” He leaned forward, squinting against the light from the window. It threw him off balance and he swayed a bit, then steadied himself with his free hand.
He took a swig from the bottle again and wiped his mouth with a grimy sleeve.
All of this time I had imagined our reunion, playing the possible permutations over and over again in my heart. It always ended the same way: Love. Joy. His embrace.
This was none of those things.
I was too late…
I wanted to retch.
This shadow was no longer the man I loved. I had been duped. I cursed that woman under my breath. I should have known better. So foolish.
I cannot not stay here.
I retied the bonnet quickly, lowered the veil. Snatching up the valise from the dusty floor, I hesitated for a moment.
“No. I am not Evelyn. I am sorry. I have made a very grave mistake.”
He stared intently as I crossed from the window, past the chairs. Recognition crept slowly across his face, then left again.
Another uncertain swig.
Reaching the door, he grabbed my arm, pulling me close up against his body. He struggled to focus the jaundiced eyes, his face inches away from mine. Even filtered through the fabric of the black veil his breath was rancid with decay.
“Let me go!” I hissed as I yanked my arm away.
“Anne?” He moved to stand in front of me, strangely agile for a man who moments before had looked as if he would topple over. “You came back?”
“No.” I shoved him hard.
In slow motion I watched as he fell, crumpling to the floor.
Love was supposed to be unconditional? I felt nothing for this man. No remorse. No hatred. No sadness. No love.
Who am I, now?
My whole identity had been wrapped up in him for so long…
But then, there was the other half of that question:
How did I become so cold, so calculated? So unremorseful?
I stepped across his body, lying motionless across the threshold, and made my way down the stairs.
The arrogance of pursuing what we cannot have. It is blinding, maddening.
Back in the cool morning air, I breathed deeply. My feet carried me several blocks away, weaving in and out among the men on their way to work and the women on their way to market. Walking fast. They were going toward something.
I was running away.
It was some time before I felt my head and heart clear. Tears stung my eyes, thankfully hidden beneath the mourning veil.
It was appropriate, this black.
I stopped at a corner, standing still, letting the world rush on without me. Carts and carriages rattled past, men shouted greetings to each other.
We should honor what was, what had been. Honor the hope of a future now passed.
He was dying. He had killed himself.
“Are you alright, madame?” A young gentleman in a dark grey overcoat stood watching me, concerned. English. Here in Edinburgh. How long had he been there? How long had I been there?
He offered his arm.
“No,” I shook my head. “No thank you.”
The man tipped his tall hat, shrugged, and walked on.
I turned around, walking slowly back to Lauriston Street. He would not die alone but he also would not take me with him, I would make sure of that.