Illustration by Arpan Roy

Illustration by Arpan Roy

 

Aleksandra had taken her place alone at the bar. The cool November evening air filtered in innocently through the front door as well as the actors in a drama soon to unfold. The moon hung her lantern as I stepped  beyond the door. She filled my vision first: blonde hair contrasting with subtle black roots like the first snow that dusted the dark streets of her St. Petersburg hometown.

We were friends from work and shared some conversations about our love of running. She was a long distance runner who recently graced her 40th year and I a short distance runner on the sunset side of my late fifties. Another commonality we shared was marriage and not any satisfaction in our career growth   We were simply lost souls in search of better times yet still positive about the future.

Aleksandra only needed a friend to talk to and her invitation via a work email for a drink caught me by surprise. My humility dissipated as my thoughts ran to an evening of flirting and maybe something even more exciting?

“Hi Edwin.” Her eye contact held me for a few seconds in a magical moment.

“Hi, I am so happy you invited me tonight, I know we have so much to talk about.” My eyes drifted down to her long legs, crossed and held warmly in black stockings. I imagined her running across the Russian steppes, a young college girl with dreams of coming to America.

“Edwin what would you like to drink and eat?” Aleksandra asked in a soft voice with a slight smile. “You are always so nice to me at work and this will be my treat—or should I say my husband’s treat, since this is his credit card.”

The word husband elicited in my mind the fact that Aleksandra never really mentioned him or even talked about her marriage. The pure curiosity and maybe a little jealousy prompted my innocent question. “How did you and your husband meet?”

“My husband Jeff broke up with a long-time love of his and basically gave up on American women.” She looked at me for a response, however I remained quiet. “He travels a lot in Europe and Russia and we met at a cocktail party.” Before continuing she sipped her wine in a perfect mirror image of my actions and touched my arm twice. “We dated at least once a month and after six months he asked me to marry him.”

Before I could respond I analyzed her body language thus far. Touching me while talking, her legs relaxed and not crossed, her eyes holding mine for long periods of time and of course she made the same movements I was making. I also know all men read a woman’s thoughts wrong and look for little clues that announces she is into him.

Once again she seemed to be reading my mind when she said “Edwin, I appreciate our friendship so much, every time I have been friends with a man he eventually makes a move on me.”

My ego was crushed in an instant as I weakly responded “I can be your friend and you will never have to worry about me wanting anything more.”

My attitude towards her instantly changed. She seemed to be very into herself and I was secretly bitter there would be no opportunities tonight. My vision was filled with the iconic bar mirror, endless bottles containing the elixir that can transform a man or woman into a new person of confidence and transport them away from their mundane lives. They were neatly stacked on their chromed glass shelves and the taller bottles took on the appearance of Russian Spires, the sealed caps onion domes. Dancing among the cupolas was a reflection of my profile. An older man, drooping eyelids and wrinkles that graced a face no younger woman would ever have an interest in.

“I blame my husband for bringing me to America. I never told you that another man was interested in me, a man who owned some hotels across Europe.”

“Please do not blame your husband, I am sure he loves you very much.” I knew Aleksandra was not pleased with her career and wanted so much more from life. I also suspected she might just be the kind of woman who would love to marry a rich man, travel the world and never have to work again. A beautiful woman most of us could never have and a person we secretly would not want interrupting our life with endless needs. I also thought there was no reason for me to judge her. Her life in Russia might have been harder than she had ever shared and in that might be a vulnerability and humbleness I had not acknowledged. How could I judge her, my own marriage a facade weakening every year with less and less love. A marriage of convenience held together by children and me the husband going through the motions of a tragic play where the final curtain of happiness will never descend from the rafters of hope.

The evening was slipping away and home with all its familiarity would welcome me – hopefully without questions and drama. As my second beer emptied in a last satisfying swirl between dry lips, I had to catch her attention as she was now conversing with the bartender and sharing the same problems we had just talked about.

“I have to be going Aleksandra. I had a fun time talking to you and thank you for picking up the bill.”

“Oh I am happy to: you always do so much for me and I enjoy talking to you. I feel comfortable sharing my feelings with you.  I am ready to go as well.”

Leaving together, she walked with me towards my car. The parking lot closed in with loneliness and opportunities forever lost. Even the tree limbs seemed to become a darker shade of black, outlines that resembled huge dendrites of nerve endings immersed in the darkened sky. We stopped at my car and the blackness swallowed the subtleties until she awakened me with a question.

“Would you like to go with me to another place for just a little while and have one more drink?’

Her vulnerability was evident and another chance was mine to take. She stood silently and took in the vision of a failed man and yet she still seemed interested. The eyes a piercing blue – darkened slightly by the intrusion of night and in a peripheral spectacle had not sensed my movement towards her. My heart raced in anticipation as I was intoxicated with her  perfume and alcohol-infused sweet breath. All I had to do was reach out and gently pull her to me and change the dynamics of our friendship forever. This was my time to take a real chance in life and not be worried about the consequences. I wanted to kiss her lips and with each magic dance of our tongues, feel the excitement of life and all its problems being extinguished in the moment of passion. Grasping out to her, my eyes closed in a romantic sleep and my hands wanted to encircle Aleksandra.

Awakened from a dream, my fingers held tight on the steering wheel and I had just begun to drive home. The reality became an illusion, the illusion a dream and in the end was just emptiness.

 

 

About the Author

the-runner-poet

 

Carl Scharwath, has appeared globally with 80+ magazines selecting his poetry, short stories, essays or art photography. He won the National Poetry Contest award for Writers One Flight Up. His first poetry book is ‘Journey To Become Forgotten’ (Kind of a Hurricane Press). Carl is a dedicated runner and 2nd degree black- belt.