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26 June 2006

Fiction: No Closer Than This

She must have loved him all of her life, she thought, it was a sure truth, as sure as wind as sure as the breath in her lungs. They sat, the two of them, at a table by the window in the cafe that looked out on Clement street. The lowering sky was gray streaked with colored lights as unseen, the sun set over San Francisco. She had seen it all before; this street, this sky, from this seat. She had even sat with him a few times like this. Always like this. Her eyes on the street, knowing his eyes were on her.

Just like this. Today would be the last time. They were close. The tables in these places are always so small. She had to angle her knees to keep them from brushing his, draw her hands close to keep their fingers from touching on the table. But still they were close, even settled back in her chair she could still feel the heat of his body, leaning toward her. Very close. But a million wintry miles apart, separated as if a sheet of thick cold glass formed the barrier between them and not the ice in her own heart.

A month ago, she had been warmed by his regard, charmed by his school boy smile and gentle manner. He was everything he should be; exactly right. And she was more than prepared to love him until the end of her days. Or so she'd thought. He wanted to see her, to talk to her, to be with her and this was good, right? So why could she not move beyond this? This . . . sitting in this chair, overlooking this street, watching the sky? At first meeting, he'd found it interesting, stimulating, that she wouldn't give him her address, or phone number. That she refused to `date? him, challenged him, brought all of his masculine mating instincts online and she could see he was prepared to enjoy wooing her. During that first meeting, she'd even thought she was prepared to enjoy his wooing.

That was when she'd still had hope. By their third meeting, she began preparing herself to end it. As afternoon faded into evening they talked for hours, as coffee drinks and scones gave way to the dubious pleasures of pear ale and a shared dinner of pizza with artichokes. It was lovely, but she could see the occasional flashes of uncertainty that grew in frequency as their time together drew to a close. He felt her withdrawal from him and anger made his movements jerky as he waved off her money and paid their tab. She saw his confusion and frustration when he realized she would allow him to come no closer, gently refusing him a `date?, her address, her phone number. She saw the pain he tried to hide. And that somehow he still believed her reticence would fade or could be overcome. She knew differently.

And now the future she had always feared stared at her in her ephemeral reflection on the window. As much as she loved him. And she did -- love him. As certainly as she'd kept him secretly in her heart all her life; she knew that she could not bear to let him love her. The idea of being so, close of his needing so much of her felt like suffocation, like death. She could not bear the claustrophobia of the two of them, together forever, building a life. Would there be any room for her, herself as she was now in this new life of theirs? Would that essence which made her herself be eroded over the years or would she abandon it willingly right from the start? She feared intimacy with someone so wholly apart from herself, feared his unknown, alien agendas, reactions and needs. And though she could feel her love for him as relentlessly as an oncoming tide, she was much too cold, her heart too frozen to be loved . . . and to love in return. She would be alone, loving him for the rest of her life. A whisper of pain in her heart, she allowed her fingers to brush his; no closer than this.