Leo, I envy your position, secure atop the wide-wale corduroy trousers your master favors. You great striped melon of a cat, smiling at me, winking your heavy-lidded half-moon eyes.
“And the landlady of the place kept some little mite in the kitchen—a scrubber and fetcher, I suppose. Ragged but clean—I imagined her a gypsy, of course. Not more than eight, I should think, but already wise,” you continue, rubbing your cupped hands along Leo’s jaws, marking him as he marks you.
“Every morning, she—her name was Zylya, I think—have it in a journal for sure—she’d bring a wooden cup to me. Full of something the landlady brewed herself. My Romansch isn’t much, mind you, but it seemed to be called ‘heart in a man’ or some such. And do you know, after I drank it, I could go all day with nothing else till sundown? Remarkable stuff.”
“And Leo’s ‘M,’ Gil?” I prompt you, curious now despite my intention to remain disinterested. You always draw me in, always have. I listen to your stories as often as you share them, resenting the hold they have on me, but greedy for them.
A small brass goddess lives on the fireplace mantel behind you, and I see her smiling down at the top of your head. Like Leo, the goddess has known the whisper of your fingers, touching the secret mark between her eyes. What caste, I wonder, suddenly desperate, must I belong to before you touch me? Which antiquity, which ancient land, which dusty collection would make you see me? Your indifference hangs on me like an albatross.
“So it was my final morning there—my bags waiting by the door—but no sign of little Zylya and her wooden cup.” Your left hand absently smoothes the almost-sleeping cat. A fluid line, unbroken from end to end.
Sometimes I dream that I leave you here, among your notes, looking out of your ivy-crowned tower. Perhaps I’ll lose you in the past; the one place where your rounds of writing and speaking and dazzling the faculty at dull luncheons leaves you no time to be. Pyramids might help me forget you, or the flames of a gypsy fire might burn you from my mind. Most likely, though, I will continue here, in this heavy chair that once knew a Norseman’s backside, watching you and Leo while I toy with the pearl buttons of my new primrose sweater.
I bought it for me, Gil, not you, I remind myself. It was on sale, after all, and the day was gray and cold. The first time I wore it, I put my elbow down on one of your charcoal sketches, erasing the face of the Sphinx more effectively than Napoleon’s soldiers managed to do. But I digress—the only habit of yours that I am able to share.
(to be continued)