The compass of the heart that spins crazy in the tropics, holds fast and rigid when it finally leads us to true north, where age does not thaw easily into the passions of youth, and the heart pumps with slow deliberation: a lost love, an impossible chance encounter. Is it frozen, or just hibernating?
We have had an assortment of approaches to this contest; here is one that remains true to the spirit of our guidelines. A chance encounter in the most remote circumstances. You found each other once; so why does it come as a surprise you find each other again?
It wasn’t innocence or the uncovering that inflamed us. At eighteen, we seemed to know what to do and where to go. The trick of doing it to each other—there laid the revelations froth with libertine senses and revolutionary freedoms—but when our fast, indiscriminate bodies abandoned us filthy, we betrayed the pleasure dome, and each other, to go our separate ways.
Forty-two years later, standing in the middle of a blizzard waiting for the cross light to change in a city a million miles away from childhood, I smelled her close at my shoulder and whirled to catch a wisp of Nordic air disappear behind a corner building. Two days later, smug behind café windows, shot up on espresso cut with Russian chicory and sugar, the ghost came again.
This time, she had something to say.
She sat across from me and ordered something white, pulling a wool scarf loose and pushing a ski hat from the back of her head. I half expected her to talk about the weather but as always (As always? Forty-two years in absence is “as always?”), she shook her once jet-red hair and got straight to the point.
“Impossible, Ami,” her eyes finally met mine. “You haven’t changed a bit.” I pretended to follow her behind the joke.
“Nothing is impossible.” I tried to look like I knew more about this than anyone, but old age exposed my rotting teeth, and my hands shook. “Did you ever marry?”
“No, not for me.” She flourished as if deciding this for the first time. “But you have.”
“And others?” Her impish smile reminded me of nights so violent we bled.
“A baker’s dozen—What are you doing here?” Her upper lip mustached with foam. She was slow to use the napkin.
“I live here, how about you?”
“Business. I leave for the States in the morning.”
“So what do we do, Ami, are we too old for one last fuck?” She laughed at the horror her language turned my face.
“Never! Although I expected the years would have brought temperance to that mouth … your eyes.” She laughed again. A hollow sound, something she is used to.
“You never loved me, did you, Ami?” she screamed and spilled the drink on her hand. “All those years we spent in each others’ pits, for what? For what?”
I pull my hands down my face weary of a life lived so long, every day remembering. “Of course I loved you how can you say that?”
“Of course? Of course, you fell in love with my body and what you did to it. Of course, you ran away. Of course, you bastard, even now you ignore how you left me.”
“As I recall it takes two.” Her deceit was suffocating.
“Speaking of which, she withered her cap in her hands and looked towards the door. “Take your business, Ami, and leave … there is a daughter you will never know.”
And here is fire by another name.