She glittered like gold, and I was the magpie. It could have been love, but gold changes hands, and birds are born to fly. She was gone by morning.
I kept the delicate silver charm bracelet she left on my nightstand. Its chain shone in the light, a dove charm with jeweled eyes hanging from a link. I used the excuse that I didn’t have a way to contact her. I didn’t even know if that was her real name. The chain was too big for my thin wrist, but I wore it anyway.
In my memories I see her as a peacock, tail feathers dazzling in the light as she danced. But then I berated myself for my callousness. Peacock’s are beautiful, but dumb as hell. We hadn’t spoken enough for me to gauge her wit, but I don’t want to let my bitterness shadow who she could have been.
But the bitterness caught on my tongue when we met eyes at the next soiree (or so the invitation called it.) Her blue jay eyes offered no recognition to my own longing gaze, and the moment passed without the promise of a second one. I lose myself in the liminal space between the time where my heart beat with hope and the disappointment when hands that weren’t my own guided her on the tiled ballroom floor.
I’m no fool. I can rationalize that a one night stand isn’t the best foundation for a love story. But it wasn’t the memories of the room with a view that replayed in a loop in my mind.
We’d talked. Thrown together by happenstance, bumping into each other in a crowd too large and too loud for someone who spends their days in the quiet of the forest, cataloging bird populations and mating habits of chickadees. She saw something in my eyes, pulled me away from the dizzyingly glamorous lights. We spoke in hushed tones— first the weather, then our careers, an avalanche that dragged me down into conversations about our childhoods and our greatest fears. When there was finally a moment of silence between us, the room was quieter, the lights softer, the room emptier.
It seemed natural to spend the night with her but now I wonder if that had turned what could have been a love sonnet into a haiku of wit and impermanence. I was familiar with loneliness. The longing was a new agony.
I sat down my empty champagne glass at an open spot of a table lining the ballroom, adjusted my sequined and tasseled dress, black with geometric patterns in gold. My fingers itched to pull my hair free from my feathered headpiece, but it could wait until I reached the cool of the autumn air and the sparsely lighted cobbled street.
After I offered the host my thanks for the party—that more than likely cost more than my research budget for the year—I got my black fur coat from the doorman and made my way into the biting cold of the night.
I’m at the corner, turning my head to watch for passing cars, when I heard the voice. “Anya!”
I inhaled frigid air as I debated whether to ignore her approach or turn, but I am the hummingbird to her flower. I turned.
She was alone, walked towards me at a pace that had me worried about the height of her heels. In concern, I met her halfway. I found I couldn’t school my expression, and I feared that my annoyance and hurt were betrayed on my face. She smiled though, perfect white teeth and flawlessly red painted lips.
“I was hoping I’d see you tonight,” she said. There’s hurt transparent in her next question. “Why didn’t you come?”
I froze in confusion, caught in her brightness, and confused by words that don’t match my perception. “Come where?”
She pouted, and I wondered that she made it seem like a flirtation. “To my gallery opening. I waited for you, but you never came.”
I clenched my eyes, eyebrows furrowing. “You never told me about that. Or at least, you never told me when or where it was.”
She clicked her tongue in annoyance, and the noise is so like a birds twitter that I find myself falling already. Again. “I left the invitation on the nightstand. I had to leave for an interview with the press and I didn’t want to wake you.”
My chest constricted, and it felt like there’s ice in my veins. “That was yours?” I ask, and I suddenly feel like the biggest fool.
She laughed then, and the sound is like a songbird. “It was under my stage name, goodness me I forgot to tell you.” She leaned forward into me, the fur in our coats mingling, her hands guided mine to her waist. “Aren’t we the most awkward dame’s in the city?”
I gave her a lazy smile, held her close. “The most awkward peacock’s is more like it.”