Qualia Literary & Art Journal


I’m sitting alone in the library when the scent hits me. Fragrant, fruity, maybe of tangerine. Certainly citrus. I freeze, immobile as one sense reels. The shadows of the other senses catch up in fragments, my mind’s eye trying to remember if it was light or dark, cold or hot. Wondering how bright a streetlamp could be from the inside of a car whose windows have accumulated a seeming lifetime’s amount of beaded moisture. Everything but that perfume comes strained through half a decade, ears that no longer want to hear, eyes that no longer want to see.

The skin on my back tingles, as youthful sweat congeals between body and car leather. The citrus is so girly, and sweetly feminine. Childhood at 16. We exchange smiles as if sharing secrets. I’m such a virgin. I couldn’t be less innocent of what I’m doing. Eyes locked tight like a rope between us. Nothing exists outside. Our bodies spent, she slides up against me. I can’t help but notice how tiny her wrists are, still rosy with blush. Later, I’ll wonder how we had the nerve to be so obvious. Even in the dead of night, to be so public. Our motivation was not just passion, but pride.

I walk into a store and am shocked to see her again. She’s aged, I think. I’m young enough to be surprised by that. We had spent years apart, and she’s changed, if not inside, then certainly physically. She’s like a sailor’s hands, worn and puffy. I know she’ll never again be able to fit into the gray dress that I remember her for. She knows I know, and our smiles feel so forced. Our pleasantries remain simply pleasant. I hug her goodbye, but I feel no recognition. She no longer has a fragrance around her. The nametag on her retail apron bites into my chest.

Why did I tell her I love her? Utter certainty. She smiles when I say it, and we kiss with the childish ferocity of bumper cars. It doesn’t feel momentous, or even romantic, but completely appropriate. It’s still easy for me to remember every day I have spent with her. Early enough. One day, I’ll have forgotten almost all of them. Almost. Then, the next day, I won’t even know that I did. But then, I won’t be able to go on without her. I just know. I just know.

I feel uncomfortable calling her on her birthday, because I had forgotten it the previous year. When she picks up, I realize it had taken her a few seconds to recognize my voice. I wonder if she’d always recognize my face. I know I don’t recognize the conversation we’re having, because it’s two strangers pretending to be old friends. If anything, we avoid the usual lies. We don’t miss each other, and we don’t care how the other is doing. For the record, college is going great, we couldn’t be happier, and we both know that numbers will be erased the second the call is over. Happy birthday.

There was no place sunnier than her bedroom, even though the afternoon light came in through drawn blinds. A giant window above a giant bed. School is something to laugh about, as we gossip about friends that sit in desks while we lay in each other’s arms. Our one worldly sin is truancy, and there is nothing that can be denied to us. It might as well be bliss, for neither of us has yet experienced anything more, anything better. And, maybe, because of that, we’ll never be able to. When I return home, I’ll be grounded, and I’ll take any punishment with a smile on my face. As she dresses, she turns to me and says that she loves me. I must have said I love her too, or the pain wouldn’t be so great.

I feel hollow inside, waiting for her to call, to explain what had happened. How it had all slipped through our fingers. I’m confident that at least we’re both heart broken. When the phone finally rings, I realize that that is not quite true. I’ll just have to compensate for the both of us. When asked about it, everyone else can only shrug. I shrug along with them. And as I do, I watch her, in that tight gray dress that I like, sit on a curb and smile with a phone against her cheek.

I don’t look up as the scent vanishes into the distance. What a strange coincidence, I think. My hand steady, I pick up my book and leave.


About the Author
“Emily” is a story by Leonid Leonov.