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.