If only…

We lived on Market Street. We lived among the remains of society who slept in its doorways and covered the sidewalks nightly with pools of misery smothered in silence.  We were one of them.

I remember a time when I could breathe.  I remember a time when the sun danced with green leaves and glinted orange on a fresh spring river.  I remember the cobalt blue engulfing snow-capped peaks, the places of a dream when I was young and everything was possible.

The infinite yearning of what might be drifted away the first time I saw her gray eyes, because then everything became more.  Dreams fell to the wet softness of her kiss.  Life became more than that infinite yearning, now a promise of breathing that no dream could dare comprehend.

She held my hand and together we leapt into the void of life, daring to conquer all.  They have a saying for it: happily ever after…  And we soared, two as one on the wings of Icarus close to a sun that didn’t warn us about flying too high.  Between the wet kisses and the steam curling up from coffee cups to shroud love-struck eyes staring into one another, we didn’t think to look.  Or listen.  We didn’t know.

Because dreams are sprawled on an infinite canvas, a shadow of reality commanded by hope.  Because for us, life had become that perfect moment just before the sun sets over a blue horizon dappled with the white crests of waves rolling in to lap at our feet. We had found that place where time could stand still and forever was a place where the universe should have stopped and let us be.

But life is its own infinite canvas, commanded by random ignorance that doesn’t know that some moments should be left alone to stand quietly.

I remember the house, the neatly clipped grass of spring.  I remember the late nights struggling to quiet the fickle consternation of those who came to us for things that don’t seem to matter any more.  I remember when the work was done and the bills were paid, the kisses remained and the gray eyes looked back at me the same as they had that first day.  I remember her holding my hand, telling me she would never leave, no matter what.  And I thought that would be enough.

The consternation ebbed.  The dull buzzing of demands slipped away to be replaced by silence.  The world moved on.  The bills still came.  Men with guns and hats and badges came to take the rest.  And then, for the last time, we walked across the neatly clipped grass of spring.

Still, she held my hand.  We shivered under plastic bags, clutching at each other, our lips still groping for wet kisses.  And we remembered together what it was like to stare at each other through curls of steam rising from cups of coffee.

I don’t remember when the letter arrived.  Perhaps the last time we had an address where such things could be sent.  I don’t know why I kept it.  From its mindless scrawl of ink, the only part that mattered was this:

If only you would leave that woman.  Then we could help you.  But our family cannot be associated with her kind.  It is time to move on.  Please come home.

Home.  Gray eyes.  Wet kisses.  A hand that would never let go, no matter what.

Then the world caught up with us and I finally learned that dreams are better because they can’t be taken away.

The fog always rolls in north of Sneath Lane.  Wet and cold, infesting her lungs until I heard them rasping as she half-slept leaning against a smudged glass door.  Plastic bags and tatters of cloth weren’t enough.  My arms wrapped tight around her until they went numb weren’t enough.

They came then.  People I had never seen before.  Official and wrestling with their own indifference behind half-closed eyes.  They came and they took her away because she was allowed to shiver in the night.  She was allowed to force a smile at me even though she knew we were at the end of the world.  She was allowed to still hold my hand and tell me she would never leave, no matter what.  But the rule was this: she had to keep breathing.  So when she stopped, they came and took her away.

But I’m still breathing.  So they let me stay on Market Street.  I am still among the remains of society that camp in its doorways and cover nightly the sidewalks with pools of misery smothered in silence.

The canvas of dreams is slick with a black pall, forever unchanging.

I’ve read the letter for the last time.  Letting it slip from my fingers to tumble along the sidewalk anonymously with the rest of the debris pushed along by a wet wind, I walk towards the hills.  I walk towards the thick gray fingers of fog rolling over them, waiting.  Waiting for me.

Walking towards the slick gray mist, I still hope to find a tattered bit of canvas on the other side.  Wet kisses.  Gray eyes.  Steam curling up from a coffee cup as they stare back at me.  A hand pressed against mine that tells me she will never leave me, no matter what.

If only…


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