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"I Saw You" by Lori Hahnel
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"I Saw You" by Lori Hahnel




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I Saw You

by Lori Hahnel

The living room glows through black tree silhouettes. The cab pulls
away as I approach the door, smell frost in the still air. I’m glad
George left the light on for me. The pale yellow moon is almost full,
but the front door is in shadow. Plus I’m kind of tipsy. I’d had wine at
book club and then Karen talked me into stopping at the Rose and
Thorn afterward. She needed to talk about her divorce. Although
we’ve been meeting the third Thursday of every month for years, we
don’t talk much about personal stuff at book club. It’s Sharron’s baby,
and she’s a librarian. Bit of a book Nazi. No Dan Brown or Dead
Swedish Guy for us, no sir. She picked
A Good Man is Hard to Find
and Other Stories
by Flannery O’Connor for October.

“Good choice for Hallowe’en,” I’d said, sipping on my Pinot Noir.
“That first story scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t read any more.
Just looking at the book scared me after that.”

Sharron smiled. “Julie. You’re so droll.”

Anyway, Karen’s having a tough time. But I know as soon as the full
moon is over she’ll feel better. The moon’s moving into Taurus, right
opposite her Scorpio. George doesn’t say so, but I know he thinks I’m
a fruitcake, with my astrology and my herbs. We seem to be going
different ways lately. He’s becoming an old crank. And I seem to be
going all hippie. Better that than an old crank.

At the bar I picked up a copy of the free local arts rag. I like Dan
Savage. And the personals. I used to read the personals in the
Bargain Finder every week, then I’d flip over to the Wedding section.
New gown, size 8, ivory satin, full train. Never worn. What heartbreak
behind those few words.

Frodo greets me with his wet nose when I come in, sniffs Sharron’s
cats on my clothes. I slip off my shoes, look in on my sleeping boys.
Go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, close the bedroom door to
muffle George’s snoring, sit on the brown leather couch and open
The
Scenester
. One of the I Saw You ads catches my eye:

You: By the road in the rain, morning, October 4th
Me: Driving through heartbreak
  You stood there, sweet woman, as I passed
  Two lives that intersected once and now diverge
  You’ll never know how I miss you
  Yet we both know it can never be.

Sad. Sweet. I smile a little as I bury the paper in the bottom of the
recycling bin (I don’t need my kids reading Dan Savage).  It reminded
me of that morning Alex drove past me. His grey eyes had locked with
mine as we approached the intersection, Frodo and me on foot and
Alex in his black Subaru. I only saw him for a few seconds. He turned
the corner and drove away and for a minute I couldn’t breathe or think,
his auburn hair and stony face burned on my eyes.

I dig
The Scenester out of the recycling, my hands shake as I read the
ad again. Alex could have written that. He was always writing poems.
I saw him on a Monday. I check the kitchen calendar  – October 4th
had indeed been a Monday. I sit down and read the ad over and over.

It has to be Alex. It all fits. A poem. The date, driving by me at the
side of the road.
I tear the ad out and hold it to my heart.

                                          *******

The air is soft on the third Thursday evening in April. The undersides
of purple clouds glow pink and orange in the west. Our book club
selection this month is
Anna Karenina. I read it when I was young,
when I had acres of time to read. Reading it again was tough. I had
no patience with the subplots, didn’t care about Kitty and Levin. I only
wanted to read the parts with Anna and Vronsky. Finally I ended up
watching the movie with Greta Garbo and Fredric March, although I
knew Sharron wouldn’t be impressed. But it turns out instead of going
to book club tonight, I’m meeting the poet for coffee.

After reading the ad in October I hesitated a while, but finally decided
to respond.
The Scenester personals webpage referred me to a
dating site, where I had to open an account before responding to the
ad. That seemed too skanky. I almost didn’t do it. But then --  Alex.
Maybe we could talk again. I’d give anything to talk to him again.

I took a deep breath and typed:
Could you tell me where you saw this
woman by the road?

Weeks went by. He didn’t answer. I thought I’d go mad. Did he not
get the message? Had he changed his mind? Left town? I sent
another message and he finally replied.

I see her everywhere and nowhere. Tell me your side of the story.

He told me after a few months, after we’d exchanged several
messages, that his name was John.  I didn’t believe him; I thought
Alex was playing mind games with me. How could it be anyone else?
He continued to be cagey, to answer my messages sometimes and
sometimes not.  
Please, I finally said, if I could just see you and we
could talk things over
.

I pull into the lot behind The Cracked Cup, look for Alex’s black
Subaru. It’s not there. My stomach knots. But maybe he parked in
front. Maybe he’s late, or took his bike.

There aren’t many customers inside. A couple. A young girl on her
phone. No Alex anywhere. But a handsome man sits beside the
fireplace: dark-haired, solidly built, blue-eyed. Reading Huxley’s
Eyeless in Gaza. He’s younger than Alex, whom I so desperately
wanted to be here. I feel myself sink a little, feel smaller, older than
before. This is my own fault. When we finally arranged to meet I
asked him how I would know him – as if I wouldn’t, I thought – and he
said he’d be reading
Eyeless in Gaza, and that he was 6’3”. My heart
jumped when I read that. Alex was 6’3”. It had to be him. He’d have a
good explanation for everything, I knew.

Only this wasn’t Alex. I remember, then, that I hadn’t said what I
looked like. I could leave, stand him up, this stranger. What would it
matter? I want to go outside and cry like I’ve never cried before. But
he sits there with his book, looks nervously around. He’s lived up to
his end of the bargain. I sigh, step toward him.

“John? Hi. I’m Julie.”

It’s hard to read his expression at first. A flicker of disappointment, or
surprise? But then he stands up, offers me his hand. He does indeed
appear to be 6’3”.

“Nice to meet you, Julie. Coffee?”

“Sure. Make it a green tea, though.”

I cannot bring myself, for some reason, to take my coat off. Maybe I
still want to leave. Maybe the slinky black sweater Alex liked suddenly
seems sleazy.

John brings our drinks over.

I sigh. “I feel so silly.”

“Don’t feel silly.”

“I guess I wanted so badly for it to be him.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“You first. What happened to you?”

“I thought you were her at first – Dolores. That’s why I took so long to
answer so many times. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start with her again.
She’s hurt me too many times. She’s married, yeah. And she’s had
other men. And I knew she was using me for my money. But I couldn’t
stay away. I’m still crazy about her.”

He tells me more, I relax a little. Does it help to know I’m not alone?
I finally open up. “When Alex and I met, it was there from the start,
and things just happened. We talked a lot, an awful lot. It sounded like
we were both unhappy in our marriages. One day, he asked me out. I
was so happy. Then suddenly he wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t even
look at me. I don’t know if he got scared or what. I don’t know what
happened.”

“You’ll probably never know.”

We talk a long time. It’s dark outside when we leave. John says, “It’s
early. Want a drink?”

“Thanks. I’d better not.”

He hugs me. “Take care of yourself. And if you ever want some
random sex…”

I try to smile in spite of the lump in my throat. “It’s tempting. Goodbye,
John. You take care, too.”

Random sex is the last thing I want. I want Alex. All the way home, I
can’t even cry. I feel too empty. Our house is dark when I pull up, no
lights on. The sky’s cloudy, no moon. And I can’t even see a star to
wish on. Not one.


Next:
"Waiting for Spring" by Hermine Robinson
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