She looked like she had a nodding acquaintance with death, somebody who had looked it in the face plenty of times but never too closely and never in the eye. It did not happen to me at first sight, the catch in the breath, the knife in the heart, the words that tumbled out of my long-silent throat gift-wrapped and brand-new at her command.
But even in the beginning I was interested. In her greys and how she had got them, in her eyes and how their gaze had been sketched into face as if within a comic-book frame, never looking out of windows, never eyeing strangers, never sparing second glances. I was interested in the piece of paper that lay crumpled in her fist like a bad lie, in the circle of darkness that followed her steps, a spotlight of black that only I saw.
I knew that she wept under the cover of trees that cast shadows still, even under a neon ceiling of a scalded city sky.
I knew the places rife with our meeting, the playgrounds of the young and where the songs of peddlers rung loud.
I knew that she woke up sometimes at midnight, with the thirst of May hot on her tongue and saw that light still clung to the summer night like traces of rubbed out chalk on a slate. And was awoken by the lament of a dripping tap that seeks the sleepless ear.
I spoke to her slowly, with words that hadn’t yet been used up in prayers for her presence, words yet unuttered in the night when I dreamt of her to the exclusion of every other dream, words that touched her with feverish hands in places seething with old wounds, words that might have propped up may a lie but had slunk to her instead, hungry children waiting to be fed.
But they stiffened like laundry hung out on a line, and she folded them out of sight, the ones that did not flee with the southerly breeze or flap damply, despairingly.