part 5: echo

As the train pulled away from her penultimate stop, her phone buzzed in her bag. He had sent a reply: he hadn’t missed the train — he’d simply caught an earlier one, as there were errands he needed to take care of.

She stared at the message for a moment longer. She reread it. Something inside of her churned. This scenario felt all too familiar. 

Several weeks ago, on a morning much brighter than this one, he had sent her a message to forewarn her that he would not be on her train, as he had been required to head in early. He had then intercepted her, on the street between the station and their office, with a coffee, a small bouquet of camellias, and a proposal that they might go out for dinner one night.

She remembered looking between the coffee and the flowers, meeting his gaze for a second, and then reverting back to the flowers, unsure what to say.

He was too safe, too tranquil, and too perfect. He didn’t ignite anything within her. There was warmth but no spark, no fire. That’s what she had wanted to say. She didn’t remember exactly what she had said, but it wasn’t that. What she did remember was the way his smile wavered, the way his shoulders tensed and then slouched, and the way his pale blue eyes searched hers.

She remembered the whirlpool of emotion that had swelled up inside her. There was a strange ecstasy: her heart softened from the affection and adoration implicit in his proposal. Simultaneously, there was a flicker of unease that grew to irritation, and almost became something of repulsion. And, over all this, loomed the dark shadow of guilt.

Later, he would apologise and say that it was silly and presumptuous of him, and that it was unfair of him to have put her in that position. She would apologise back to him, but she wouldn’t really understand what for. They were too polite, too cordial to each other. It was as if some wall — or perhaps a deep ravine — existed between them, such that they could stand so close to each other but never make true contact.

Afterwards, their relationship waxed and waned, just as the moon fills and empties of light. And just as the moon pulls the waves of the ocean, so, too, was he drawn toward her — inexplicably but undeniably. He advanced and retreated by increments. But she was always just out of his reach.

One day, there were rumours of another woman. She heard whispers from their colleagues. Although she laughed and rolled her eyes along with the rest of them, she couldn’t deny that a part of her felt jealous and even, perhaps, incensed by the news. When she questioned him about it, he was evasive, but he did admit that it was true. He left her with an odd sense of heartbreak at having lost something that was never really hers.

The chasm between them widened. The precipices on which they stood crumbled away slowly but neither turned to walk away. They only edged backward just enough to avoid falling into the ravine. They always kept each other within sight.