On the People You Meet

By - Liam Mckinnon

I need you to picture the room. It is paramount. An integral part of the memory. Not because the room affected the conversation in any way; the two of us could have been anywhere, speaking about the great nothings. But because the room was in many ways a mirror of her, and to see her clearly, it will be helpful to see the room clearly.

You see, there were strands of lavender in a row of glasses along the windowsill. A big square window, opened in halves pulled to either side, that revealed a narrow street in a city where it often rained. It does not matter where it was, it mattered what it felt like to be there. So imagine a radio broadcasting in a foreign language from its allocated spot in the bookshelf, where the works of Camus, Voltaire, Rilke, and Nabokov are familiar but sparse among stacks of names you’ve never heard of. As you leaf through the pages and run fingers along the cover art and embossed titles, she prepares honey tea and a plate of raisin bread.

Even in late October, she keeps the window open because she paints better to the sound of rain, she says. An easel stands in the corner of the room, to the side of the window, where she’s outlined the face of a boy with large, sad eyes. “A face I saw in a dream,” she replies when you ask, “a face I try to see again, but this boy…he come only once.” She speaks solemnly, as if he were real. As if those walking in our dreams were people we could wait for.

When she notices you are cold, she fetches you a sweater. Oversized; it belonged to a man she used to know. He’d bring one back from every one of his trips to Ireland, a place they’d planned to see together. She is wearing a similar one, sleeves rolled into thick puffs around her elbows. Do you see her, yet?

She brings the tea and bread to the couch piled with linen pillows, where you sit at a comfortable distance, the way kind strangers do. She asks you about home, and what it’s like to be alive there. She asks you if you miss it, then apologizes for her accent and mismatched grammar. You notice that compared to the girls where you’re from, she doesn’t smile much. Not so much because she is sad or gloomy, but because all of her concentration is used up in finding the proper words, and on watching your mouth when you speak. And when she does smile, it feels like the moment in a film you didn’t expect to move you.

As daylight sinks away outside, and shadows creep into the room, you engage in a conversation about art, and debate whether an artist could ever be happy, if they managed to get their craft right, just once. She likes that you are a writer, and asks to read something, but you pretend your travel bag had no room for manuscripts or journals. “Then you must mail to me, when you get back to your home.” That’s when you hear piano music coming from the street below, and she brings you to the window to show you the Italian restaurant down and across the street that only opens for dinner. To show you the candle light spilling out over the cobblestones, and the faces of people intertwining their lives together in one room, over food and conversation. She mentions it gets lonely sometimes, living so close to all those different stories.

Yes, she has a name, but I abstain to mention it for two reasons. Mainly, because her name does not illustrate her the way that apartment does, perched in a building down an anonymous street in a rainy city. And also, because I feel I would be suddenly giving her away, in a way that writers are not entitled to.

Do you see, how beautiful a memory is? Tucked away in a small drawer of my mind lives a girl, whose features do not matter. Nor her birthplace or her name,  her age, or  her language. What matters, what sticks to the memory, what allows her to be brought back to life every time, is the way she was reflected in everything around her. In the sound of rain and the purple lavender and the honey tea and those large, emotional eyes on her canvas looking out onto a restaurant filled with romantics. She was a part of her world the way the blossom is the most beautiful part of the tree; both lovingly belonging to it, yet longing to be free.

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