My weak heart leapt — a bird, winnowed by hunger, discovering the cage door suddenly open: confused, overwhelmed, excited beyond its capacity for joy. I felt it shudder within me, and then fly free.
In those seconds, as they stretched long and my field of vision shimmered and bloomed rich with warm colors they'd never beheld before, I stopped myself mid-breath. Pausing, tasting the weight of the air on my tongue, sensing the slow and careless pulse of blood across my skin, willing the moment to stasis. Knowing even in the moment that I could not succeed, that my will would fail me and that - in pulling a great draft of new and sweeter airs deep into these folded chambers in my chest - the press of time would press beyond me, pulling away this now, this forever instant, this first blush of wonderstruck awe as you brushed that thin wave of dark hair from your face and your eyes flashed up and open and the entire room filled with light.
You were angry. I felt an intruder, a fascinated witness: that such rare beauty might be seized in such fine outrage. Your cheeks flushed bright in warning, a bouquet of ripe strawberries spilling across the snow, and even from a distance I imagined the heat radiating down the slope of your cheekbones like an avalanche of tender-scented molecules thrown into sudden frenzy, crazed and alive with the kinetics of you.
I envied them.
You spoke aloud a woman's name, and your eyes scanned the room as if seeking a target — as if some great switch had thrown into a brilliance a pair of incandescent kliegs of the softest blues, the subtlest greens, the sweet hazy grays of wind-shifted mist in those last seconds before sunrise, before dissipation, before vanishing, lost and gone forever 'neath the flood of visible light. Walls softened and warped under your gaze. Shadows fled. Motes of dust combusted in spontaneous ecstasy. Other visitors (there were others) shifted uncomfortably, as though trying to escape judgment. And for that fraction of a second that I felt them sweep over me - immobile, immaterial, a shade of a man draped over furniture - something shifted and swelled within me, pressing against my cage of ribs, suddenly desperate for escape and for the chance (the sliver, the dream, the hint of what might have been a wish) to recapture that glow, that first moment I saw the moon fill the sky.
And the name. Not the name you spoke, but the voice that gave it shape, form and function. The crisp, clipped syllables that tumbled from the cool, pomegranate crescents of your lips like lemmings seeking the sea. The something slight and throaty and low buried in the intonation — the suggestion of a laugh buried within the anger, a riddle wrapped in an enigma hidden in a cadence that would, could, should sculpt stanzas and sonnets and stories. Or inspire them.
And my skin tingled and rose from my bones, as though in the presence of strong magnets or electricity — subject to forces of strange nature that would defy the solemn weight of substance and lift me, in whole or in part, toward the near shores of heaven. I felt a stranger from the familiar trappings of flesh, and suddenly realized: This is the shock of recognition. This is what I was meant for. And the tumblers clicked into place and the lock tumbled free and I looked up, my lips drawing wide into an unfamiliar smile, and watched the gate swing wide and all I could think was: such a beautiful day.
It was such a beautiful day.
We watched you, standing there at the edge of the room, long and regal and commanding - the fabric of light wrapping around you, bending to your will, pulsing in and out in time with each bright and radiant throb of your pulse - and as you drew a deep breath we heard a sound like water ceasing to flow. And we waited, enraptured, incapable of any action but reaction, four triggers trembling in anticipation of your next razored glance, your next sharp word, your next subtle exertion of pressure and influence that might set us into motion and spinning into wild and unanticipated tangents at velocities just shy of the speed of sound. It felt terrifying, and exhilarating, pregnant with the weight of a new life eager to take form and grow large, then larger than any life we'd known before. That I'd known before, at least.
(I could only presume I was not alone in this, in knowing myself a tumbling, jagged blade of stone suddenly captured in orbit and bound unexpectedly within the tender confines of gravity. I could not have been the only one to feel this way.)
And your lips parted, and I saw the ghost of your tongue rest - only for the briefest instant - along a glacial ridgeline of teeth, as if preparing to speak some great and unknowable secret bound in the sinewy vines of L's: love and life, loss and Leviathans, lessons and lessenings and limbos we feared to leave behind.
In my chest, folded wings quivered, almost imperceptibly. Stirring with the promise of warmth, and oxygen.
And then the entire world shifted on its axis, and your eyes met mine. Unbidden, without thought, within the space of that single heartbeat, the cage fell behind.
Leaping, not looking. Lighter than air. Lifted, as if by joy.
This is beginning, is what I felt.
And your eyes stayed with mine, finding something unknown but knowable.
This is beginning.
And then you turned away. Turned, and walked away.
I watched, the space where you had been. In the periphery of my vision, I saw the door. It was open. I did not follow.
This is what I remember.
I almost spoke your name.
• • •
This post originally appeared on Polite Fictions as part of a series entitled "The Alphabet of Regret."