It tastes of winter; crisp, clear air that burns the nostrils and dries the tongue. He stands before the balustrades, gazing up at the balcony they pen in, possessed by thoughts of what—of who—lies beyond. There aren’t many buildings like it anymore; its aged concrete, smoothly shaped by eager hands generations past and weathered by the attrition of time, terminates in marble reliefs and ionic columns.
Into the entryway. His feet take each step with a full arc, from heel to ball and back up on the toes once more as the next one lands. All but silent, heavy only in his mind, pressure of flesh and bone crushing rubber against stone. The bag weighs down on his shoulder, harder with each step, digging into the flesh beneath the shirt beneath the jacket. He groans—an inward, sinking sensation of a sound—and shifts his weight to ease the burden. Why does it get heavier, sink into him deeper, with each footfall? It’s like there’s an inward pull, something clutching the satchel from within and dragging it toward the tile floor, trying to rip it through his body; rend him in twain. He reaches the foot of the stairs, iron banister paint-flecked and chipped with age.
She stands at the top, lithe fingers just barely pressing the hand-rail, supporting her weight with the dainty allure of the southern genteel. His eyes won’t leave her, can’t leave her, held fast by the solitary syllable of his name that hangs in the air, coils around his neck and draws his throat taut. He should speak—needs to speak—but his voice is caught, snapped off in his larynx. She turns to go; her dress, white and flowing and insubstantial, winds around her and unfurls.
The same trick when she about-faces, looks down at him once again. He avoids her pale eyes, gray-blue, and the shadow-strands that cling to her scalp, loose from the dark curtain of her hair. His own eyes, irises mired in green and brown, find the thin, colorless line of her lips and focus on that, find courage in their unassuming shape, their perceived neutrality.
“I just came to say goodbye,” his voice, so immaterial and uncertain, picks up strength and measure with each passing word. “It’s past time for me to make amends and anything I said on the subject now wouldn’t be genuine. We have to let it go, I guess.”
He’s able to meet her eyes.
“I can’t even apologize for that, though; the inconvenience of bringing these thoughts and emotions to light. They just are, and so they’ll be and so they just have to exist, without mitigation.
“I wanted to come here, though, and talk to you because you have to know, have to understand, that I’m not just ignoring it. I’m not just walking away and hoping you forget. I’m aware and I’m conscious and so are you. Now… Now we’re clear. I’m going.”
They turn in one instant, complementary half-circles that take them away from each other. Was there a a flash of something on her face—widening pupils, the curl of a lip… Anything? He shakes it from his head and takes each step one at a time, feels the weight rush from his body, from his arm and the satchel with every step until he’s a feather, a blank and void shell pacing down the steps out to the road, jerking open the door of the taxi and throwing his bag in, entering, speaking words he can’t hear to the driver. He looks at the headrest in front of him, fixated. He does not look upon the mansion again.