Summary: He loves her. But does she love him? In this short short, the protagonist attempts to cross the divide between himself and his new wife.
I stared at her from across the table. The distance between us was occupied with a wide array of foods, ranging from a full roasted pig resting on an ornate silver platter with an apple placed in his mouth to pieces of cold duck slices and buttered pastries carefully arranged on delicate porcelain dishes.
Silence hung in the air, the only sounds sprinkling the space around us originated from our forks that lightly tapped the plates from which we ate and her golden bangles, which banged against one another each time she lowered her hand to the table.
With a quick glance around the room I noticed that everyone had exited the grand dining hall, leaving us to endure one another in solitude. When she finally lifted her head, her fawn colored eyes glided over my form, only to rest on a wall that exhibited a painting of a young woman offering a rose to a man graced in shadow. The odd pair stood beneath the purple bells of a Wisteria tree, underneath a blue sky marred with imminent grey clouds.
I loathe that painting.
The silence ticked on, her golden bangles tinkling across the way. Her attention became solely focused on the painting, her food long forgotten.
“So,” I said, hoping to capture her attention.
As expected, she lowered her eyes from the portraiture but avoided my gaze still.
“How was your day, sweetheart?”
The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. At times I could make her smile by saying the simplest of things. Other times I could barely capture her eyes to my own. Nevertheless, it was progress.
“Fine,” she muttered. She then sat back in her chair, her gaze lifted upwards toward the curved skylight. The stars winked back at her through the glass dome. Her bangles rested against the armrest, their tinkling song silenced for now.
She was always looking at the stars, her eyes searching. Always searching. I want those beautiful eyes for my own.
“Tomorrow, I was hoping you might accompany me on a ride over the dunes. I hear there’s a bazaar not too far from here that we could possibly visit.”
A few moments passed, the silence returning once again. She moved ever so slightly within her seat, causing the bangles to exude a single note.
“Or we could stay here and find something else to do. Would you like to go swimming, maybe? The water would cool us down in this heat,” I suggested further.
She responded with a slight shake of the head. My heart pounded against my chest. These past three months I have been unable to find the correct words to speak. Tonight, however, I know what I must say.
“I can love you better than he can.”
Surprise flitted across her face. Finally, her eyes found mine. They gleamed in the light. Within moments, surprise shifted to sadness. I wanted to cry out when she stole her eyes away from me once again.
She unconsciously began to caress the golden bangles, her eyes resting on the painting.
I was about to give up when her voice, soft and timid, said to me, “You already do.”
My heart skipped a beat. Had I heard right?
“Is that true?” I asked tentatively.
“Yes,” she answered.
I waited to see if there was more but when she continued to stare at the painting, I sighed and began to eat. Without warning, she spoke again.
“But I don’t know if I can.”
I raised my brow in question. “Don’t know if you can what?”
She tore her gaze away from the painting and stared at me directly, her hands demurely resting on the table, the golden bangles tapping the mahogany wood.
“Love you better,” she said.
Fear seized my voice, causing my words to sound strained as I spoke. “Why not?”
“Because I am empty.”
Slowly, I rose to my feet and walked across the room to stand in front of her, blocking her view of the painting. I captured her gaze once again.
“Nharissa, I know that we barely know each other. I only remember one image of you when we were young. You were wearing a gown of pure white the day I met you.”
“I don’t wear white anymore,” she voiced as she absently toyed with the golden bangles.
“No, you don’t,” I said, sadness coloring my voice. “All I ask is that you give me a chance. I know this can work out, for the sake of our families and for our sake as well. It is our duty. Not only that, it is our future.”
She nodded, her gaze dropping from my face. I waited, hoping she would say something. Anything. Only a few moments passed when she looked me directly in the eye and gifted me with a small, bright smile. “Okay.”
I smiled, cradled her head in my hands, and brought my forehead to hers. “Okay,” I whispered.
She pulled away, reached for the golden bangles and removed them from her wrist, leaving behind circular indents in her flesh. Placing them on the table, she faced away from them and stood, urging me to stand as well.
“We’ll go to the market tomorrow and go for a swim when we come back,” she said, her eyes alight.
I smiled and massaged her wrist, attempting to erase the indentations. “And when night comes, I’ll take you to a place where you can see the stars clearly, almost as if you could reach up and grab them from the heavens.”
She linked her arm into mine as we exited the dining room, speaking of our plans for tomorrow and the next day and the next, leaving the golden bangles near the painting, forever silent and forgotten.