Robert
by Sara Durrett

He felt so much but didn’t know what to do with it. His mind raced in mathematical calculations but his heart longed to create something that hinged on the intangible, something fluid without a calculable base. He didn’t know his own mind because too much was in there, luring him this way then that, into a hodge-podge of emotions and ideas he couldn’t filter onto concrete paths. So he wavered, wafted between one point and then another, listing positives and negatives but never weighing them out to their reconcilable ends.

“If you keep feeding them, they’ll never let you go.”

How long had it been? Four, five years? She looked the same, same black coat, same curled hair maybe a bit longer. Only her eyes shown different; there was a hesitancy, a tension in her play, or was it merely the wrinkle that shown as her left eye closed against the weak February sun.

“Why are you here?” His heart barely moved under his crisp overcoat.

“I work down here.”

How could he have forgotten? It was he who was the newcomer, he who had changed jobs that brought him downtown.

He was a man who saw with the eyes of those around him, rarely seeing for himself until he was pointed out by someone else. That’s how it was with Catherine. He didn’t know he felt anything for her until one of their co-workers hinted at the favorable shape of her legs. After that he noted her legs and then looked upward developing an appreciation for her whole being. With that one comment he was given the approval to go ahead. And he did so wholeheartedly. The fact that she was married only made it easier for him to let go and fall.

“You still with the state then?”

“Yeah. I heard you left Helen’s — I ran into Burton a year or so after I left.”

“I wanted to do more programming.” A chilled wind stirred through the park’s carefully lined trees, their bare branches stretching to touch the others beside them. “Actually, they heard you were pregnant and thought I… Well, we both know that’s not true.”

“Robert, I’m sorry. I didn’t–”

“I know, but men talk.”

His heart found its rhythm again in talking. He found comfort there, putting words together, filling the void with explanations of his job, the commute, and the variety of downtown eateries. A light smile crossed her face as she watched the familiar animated gestures, the glint of his glasses, and the way his eyes carried the expressions of his voice.

“How old is the child?”

“She’ll be four next month. I also have a son; he’s two.”

He braced his shoulders around another surge of wind and pushed his hands deeper into his pockets. “So you’re still married then?”

“No. He never wanted children.”

All this about him she knew. It should have incensed her, riled her against his dithering, but there was a physical attraction for him that nearly drowned her. It began slow and insidiously, creeping up through her until she could barely grapple out of it. It was only in leaving that its hold began to undam, and even then it was a slow undamming where her mind waded towards him most every day, then every other day, later once a week, until only once in a while.

“When?”

“About a year ago. And you? Still you and the cats?”

He chuckled at the old joke of him growing old in a brown sweater and with a pack of cats. The park stood still — the creaking of the trees stopped, the pigeons left for another. Its silence circled him. In his mind he was already holding her, pressing his lips firmly against hers, and making plans to whisk her away to Paris or London or anywhere but here where the skies only covered the earth in a cold blanket of gray.

“No. Married eight months ago.”

“To the one with the brothers?”

He hesitated, “Yeah…with the brothers.”