the perfect winter table

Her face tilts upward, as the sun fully reclaims the summer sky on this particularly warm day in July. She is wearing a red dress that hangs off her shoulder blades, melts to her midline, and billows out like the mouth of a tulip. Her hair is neatly tied back into a low bun and rests on the base of her neck, because he liked it like that. Three years ago, when they lived here, they only stayed long enough to see the dreary winter months of grey. Yet, it all feels wildly familiar, even now.

The sidewalk is full of life outside of Salut Salon. Mothers with their babies and couples with their feet tied and eyes locked and old men with their hand-rolled cigarettes. She has never seen it quite like this. And though tempted by the cascading summer light and the innocent laughter of children and the open table on the corner of Werdstrasse and Weststrasse, she opts for the table inside. The one by the floor to ceiling window in front of the fireplace and tall shelves of German literature. The perfect winter table. The one they’d occupy every Thursday and Sunday afternoon, sometimes Wednesday when he didn’t have to work so hard. He worked so hard, always writing things down and keeping the folded notes in the back pocket of his favorite blue jeans, the pair she’d always check before throwing in the laundry. It was an obsession really, the way he’d pause in the middle of conversation to announce a new idea or roll over in the middle of the night to send an e-mail or pull her in so close she could taste the hint of lavender soap on his hands, whispering “you’re going to be so proud of me one day.”

Beautiful day, she thinks, and orders a cappuccino and tries to remember what it’s like here when it rains. The empty chair on the other side of the table is heavy with grief; the feeling of loss as raw as it was the day of that unthinkable accident last September.

The stranger behind her cracks his knuckles in sweet succession, all eight fingers, four on each hand, like a bad habit turned ritual of necessity. She closes her eyes and does not turn around because it’s not him, but it might be the closest she’s been in what feels like the most debilitating eternity of all time.

She stays there well into the evening, and watches the envious summer afternoon turn into a brilliant thunderstorm symphony, knowing if he were here with her now she would cup her hands around his gentle, angular face and say, “I am always proud of you.”

a short story someday

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