Hello there, I say, and you’re stunned, so stunned you don’t say anything back, you just stare, stare open-mouthed and silent like I’m a ghost. And okay, all right: that’s what I am. People eventually stop calling when calls are not returned. The reflection in the mirror starts to look like someone else—or no one at all.
The afternoon had been stumbling right along. Running errands. Coffee. Other muted distractions. I leaned into the city wind and continued walking. Then you: in line at the same corner store, getting change for a parking meter. Me: entering through the door in a practiced rush, head trained downward by habit, remembering milk, toilet paper, eggs, then looking up, seeing you, and stopping, equally stunned, immediately thinking back, as our eyes met and then parted, to one of our last conversations, the time you said, You don’t even know yourself. How can you possibly know me?
I could have missed you, turned right instead of left, chosen a different store at a different time, slept in, had lunch late instead of early, anything. But everything went the way it was supposed to. Every decision of the day led me to this moment, led me to you. Don’t these things usually happen for a reason?
Now you’re putting your change in your purse, the coins finding solace in there. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the store. We don’t know what to do with our hands.
I say: It’s been a while. A really long while. I can’t remember when.
You ask: How long? How long do you think, exactly?
True, you always did like precision, the euphoria of the finite. Living in the same city I thought it would’ve happened sooner. But no. Not until now. And you are the same but different. You look more fully revealed. You look more … you. I, on the other hand, look less and less like me, becoming someone else in the slow, semi-tragic fade of the years.
A long time, I say. Ten, twelve years?
Longer, you say. Longer.
Andrew Roe lives in Oceanside, California. His fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review and other publications. He keeps a sporadic blog at andrewroe.blogspot.com.