By: Brandy Montilione
I watch from across the street, half of me hidden behind a street lamp preferring to remain a voyeur, the other half highlighted by the mid-day sun yearning to be seen. In between the endless stream of delivery trucks and yellow taxi’s barreling down the roadway, I catch tiny flashes of her. Momentary glimpses, really. She’s leaning against a store window, staring into her phone. Colorful shopping bags dangle heavily from her wrists. Her hair is different; it’s pulled back away from her face, unveiling the wide forehead she usually conceals with bangs. Even from across the street I can see this look ages her.
She drops her phone into her purse, leans forward, and waits. Like a child patiently timing her entry into a game of Double Dutch she searches for an opening, contemplating just the right moment to safely step into the heavy flow of pedestrians mobbing the walkway. Finally she makes her move and merges in with the crowd. I follow her same direction, zigzagging my way through a continuous herd of strangers, past the drycleaners, then the deli, past the Latin grocery store, and the place that pays cash for gold. As I hurry along, I wonder where she’s headed, perhaps a date with her plastic surgeon for another dose of Botox or to get that one pound she’s gained over the holidays sucked out. I take a quick glance to my right and realize our steps have fallen out of sync. She is four storefronts behind. A shift has taken over; my head is no longer in control. The need for confrontation is all consuming. For months I’ve held my tongue and kept my feelings buried, but with one glance, all the hurt and anger has come rushing to the surface and I can’t stop it. I won’t stop it.
Desperate to get through the crosswalk, I hammer the button with my fist; my heart smashing against my chest in unison. I need to make it across before she disappears around the corner and becomes just a smear of color against the congested cities backdrop.
At last the little white walking-man appears on the monitor and I step out onto the street, my eyes locked on her silhouette. My knees shake with excitement as I make my way to the other side. In just a few seconds our paths will collide, and as she apologizes for such clumsiness, a wave of familiarity will wash over her. She’ll smile politely and ask if I’m ok, while secretly tracing the contours of my face, memorizing every detail, the curve of my lips, the bump on my nose, the way only one eyebrow shifts when I talk while the other stays put. Then as the image comes into focus and she finally recognizes me as that woman she saw sitting on her husband’s desk, leaning in to fix his tie while purposely exposing her God-given cleavage that one Wednesday afternoon when she stopped by his office hoping to surprise him, her gentle expression will change, and once I see her smile fade and her eyes harden, that’s when I’ll say the words no wife wants to hear. I’ll watch as the color floods from her skin and tears form and tell her how he once chose me, no matter how brief. I’ll reveal the tiny bump growing inside me, ask if she wants to touch it. And after I’ve said everything I need to say, I will walk away, justified in my actions, while she stands there with her jaw resting on the dirty sidewalk, tears streaming down her face. I will smile, perhaps let out a chuckle before crossing back over to my side of the street leaving her breathless and distraught. But first I need to hurry.
I step up onto the sidewalk and move quickly into the center, directly in her path. The walkway is much too narrow for the amount of people scurrying along. Their shoulders brush past mine, knocking me left then right, but I shift my weight and plant my heels. She is coming my way, her eyes down, she doesn’t see me. I take a step forward, then two. She’s almost here. The spattered conversations and hurried footsteps fade against the pounding of my heart.
Finally her eyes lift and immediately zero in on mine. She stops. Her head tilts, her brows crease. I smile but the pleasantry is wasted. Her questioning glare transforms into something resembling hate. Her head lowers but her eyes stay locked. Heat spills out across her cheeks, her nostrils flare. She’s become an enraged bull and me a red-cape wafting helpless in the wind. My insides twist. I rub my belly trying to sooth it, but I’m not sure if it’s the baby or my nerves.
She marches toward me. I can’t move. My legs too heavy to run, I stay frozen. Somehow I’ve become the prey. She stops right in front of me, so close I feel the heat of her breath as it brushes across my face, a hint of vinegar makes my mouth water. Her lips open but she doesn’t speak, instead she exhales hard and a shrill of pain escapes her throat; her wound still fresh. My chest tightens. She glances down at my swollen tummy, and I instinctively wrap my arms around it, protecting my unborn from her scornful glare. As she wipes away a falling tear, I notice her ring finger is bare, only the imprint of a promise remains.
Suddenly her face smooths, her body straightens. She steps to the side and carries on down the sidewalk, never saying a word. I turn and watch her round the corner, my heart overflowing with ache. Her eyes so filled with pain; a reflection from my own mirror. The same agony painted on my face, the same constant sting. I once blamed her for mine, just as she blames me for hers.
As I stand there alone, in the midst of an endless surge of strangers, I realize that she and I are same woman, suffering the same grief; both believing in the promise, but in the end left with only its imprint.