Rumpus Original Fiction: Of Separation

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Six years later, after spending time on the West Coast and then returning to the city, he found himself surrounded by her ghost. He frequented an Upper West Side bakery, and would notice the bar across the street where he’d first seen her. He picked up antihistamines at a pharmacy, then remembered it had once been the laundromat where they folded their clothes, sharing anecdotes over dryer sheets. A jog in the park became a tour of places visited during walks, excursions often punctuated with shameless expressions of their affection. Once, as they had parted, fingers still interlocked, a middle-aged woman told them they were adorable. They’d nodded in agreement.

A ride down Amsterdam during a sudden, torrential rain took him back to a summer evening when they shared a car to her third floor apartment. He sat behind the driver, touching the empty seat to his right, its cool, sticky leather surprising, as if it should have instead radiated her heat.

During the first months of his return to the city, he reconnected with former mutual friends, all of whom were equally in the dark regarding where life had taken her. “She grew distant after you left,” one said, before quickly adding: “I think she may have moved to Westchester.” A pause, and then, “Or maybe back home?”

He came to the conclusion that they would never cross paths again, and he began to date different women. When the third week of August came, he struggled to remember the exact date they’d met and felt relief. Thus, it was a shock, that day in November—just as he and the rest of the city became accustomed to the sight of their breath, the ferocity of the wind tunnels—when he saw her.

He was at Columbus Circle, only ten blocks and an avenue from his apartment. He went there often, sometimes for no reason other than the fountain and the view which extended down the south side of the park. Somehow they never met, until they did, when he chose to end his run with a walk amongst the tourists and shoppers.

It was her hair, the same brownish-black bob he remembered, that first caused his insides to still and then his chest to lurch. She was pushing a cart as she prepared to get into a cab. With a red sweater dress and a black scarf wrapped loosely around her neck, she looked, as always, put together. He was drenched, his hair askew.

“Remya!” He yelled from somewhere deeper than his diaphragm, a voice found only by the unexpected. Then he waved furiously.

She wasn’t far from him. If they were just points, shooting out from the man statued at the Circle’s center, they would have been separated by just thirty degrees or so. The proximity animated a fervent grin, unabashedly deepening the wrinkles around his mouth and eyes.

But in that same instant, as she turned, his smile froze. Though his eyes lost the joy they’d held a moment earlier and his wrinkles faded back into his face, his mouth still kept its frame, creating the altogether jarring and ugly countenance brought out by conflicting emotion.

With a slight turn of her head, she looked at him, unsurprised. Perhaps she had taken notice earlier and chosen not to approach him, as though he were some inconsequential man from her past. Quickly, she lifted her hand to reciprocate his motion and then turned her eyes down to her cart. He then saw and realized that it was not filled with purchases from any of the nearby shops. It held several blankets, tucked tight around someone.

A stroller.

Remya turned away and glanced toward someone else who rushed to open the door from the taxi’s other side. A face was not visible, but broad shoulders enhanced by a tweed coat were.

This other man helped with the contraption as Remya lifted the child, one with that same black hair. She climbed into the cab without looking back.

He watched the car leave, in its roundabout way, before it turned in the same direction he would walk to go home. But first, he needed to go into a shop, to find a place that could delay the return to his apartment.

He then avoided the Circle for several months, once going so far as to refuse a convenient transfer from its subway station. Even when in other boroughs, he felt his chest tighten anytime someone who shared her silhouette crossed his path.

It was over a year later, when he considered himself happily dating someone else, that Remya finally slipped into the recesses of his mind. Even then, around 59th Street, he would pause for just a moment, in the same spot where he had called out to her. A wave, a shiver of anticipation, would come over him until he saw what was arced thirty degrees from where he stood.

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Rumpus original art by Isis Davis-Marks.


Justin Joseph is a writer from Dallas who now lives in Brooklyn. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The Margins. More from this author →