Grey slush is smeared along the bottom of the floor-to-ceiling window that forms the wall of the hotel bar. My coat smells of wet wool, and its silk lining feels icy against my bare arms. My hair dripping onto the wooden counter, I sit watching you from the murk of the bar, perched on a stool like a predator. The candle-lit restaurant section, where you are sitting, reminds me of a bright glade in a thick forest; the only spot reached by the sun. You have cut your hair short and got a tan, but behind that thin skin of yours, your face is the same. You look good, sitting there by the round table. You look warm and safe, lightheartedly joining in the laughter of your group. You fit in, like you’ve always done. I’m devouring the details of the scene, getting quite familiar with the view, when the picture is disrupted; you’ve got up from your chair and now you’re heading out from your sunny spot, towards the shadows of the bar.
My teeth are digging into my lower lip, and my hands are growing sweaty. I drop my eyes down to the bottom of my drink. The awareness of you getting closer makes me feel as though un-decorumly close to some rare creature of delicacy. Never have I felt more like an intruder. Now your voice is right here, right by my side. I hear you asking the bartender for a drink, and I cannot help but look up; I cannot help but face you.
”Hey,” you say, not giving anything away.
”Hey,” I say, not daring to say more, yet so eager for one of us to do so.
However, you don’t, so I say ”It’s good to see you,” desperation leaking out of my voice.
Then, as I am left waiting for you to speak, I look at your profile, my gluttonous eyes taking in your high cheekbones and slightly open mouth. Your skin looks serene as always, although underneath it, maybe your face is trembling. I look down in my drink again, thinking about speaking again, about the possibility of asking you if you are well, or simply telling you that you look good. Damp cashmere is itching my neck, and my thighs are starting to tremble from being in the same position for too long, but I’m afraid to stir, afraid to break twigs or rattle leaves.
Then, just as the bartender returns and places your drink before you, a herd of men enters the bar from the street, their baritone voices filling up the air. Through the noise I see you search and find a bill in your clutch and put it on the counter. When I see you are about to speak, my eyes cling to your face in anticipation, letting go of whatever dignity they had. Your voice is drowning though, in air too busy carrying the cacophony of the thirsty herd. For a moment I feel the cold of panic, but I can see now that it doesn’t matter; I see your lips forming the words ”thank you,” and I understand that it is the bartender, not me, that you’re addressing. You’re simply exchanging courtesies, still not giving anything away. Thus surrounded by grey bodies stomping around their waterhole, I down my drink while I watch you pick yours up and withdraw back to your candle-lit nook.
Someone offers to take my coat for the second time, but my body is melded with the chair. It has started to rain heavily, and the glass wall looks like it could shatter any moment now.
Jenny Karlsson grew up in northern Sweden. She previously studied psychology and spent some time working in factories in Leicester, England. She currently lives in Malmö and studies English at Malmö University. Her first published piece appeared in the spring 09 issue of Shipwrights magazine.