What startled her when she considered it, not long after he had driven away, was that he had never mentioned her roundness, never indicated that the plumpness of her belly and thighs, the slackness of her breasts concerned him. He had plunged onto her and into her with the recklessness of a lust-crazed, pimply teenager, which is what he had been, she realized now, when she had last seen him, over thirty years ago. Her face, reflected pale in the windowâ€™s hazy glass, told tales of bad choices and wrong men. But he had cradled it in his hands, stroked it, told her how she was still as beautiful as he remembered. Then she knew that he was not seeing her as she was, but as she had been in high school when she strutted the halls in her pleated cheerleader skirt and tight sweater, white socks and saddle oxfords. Those were her greatest moments, the times when she was an acknowledged force in control of all around her.
Now she controlled nothing, barely survived the lurking fear bred by loneliness and memories of violent men. Yet he had come out of the blue, rooted her somehow out of Facebook, courted her with abandon through words on a screen, caught her up in a cyber-affair that became torrid. Until he begged to come and visit her, told her how he longed to hold her and touch her, seek joy in her presence. She wavered, knowing the photograph he had seen was old, not yet understanding that he was empowered by a long-lingering fantasy of her back-flipping across a gym. Until they swapped new photos, and he proclaimed her as beautiful as he remembered. She actually believed it, at least until the day came for him to arrive.
He had booked a suite at a hotel in which she had never set foot since it was far removed from her solemn conditions. But once there, he had made her feel as if she was its queen, and for three days they made love, talked, ate room service food and watched television. He was kind and funny. He also was bald with a potbelly that pitched downward toward bowed legsâ€”but that made her like him more. They shared age. Then he left.
And she returned to her tiny apartment that now felt dirtier and sadder than usual. Where she sat before the window and imagined him driving south, back to a town in Alabama with a beach, and wondered if he was thinking of her, how hard she had worked to pleasure him, to transform herself into a woman of substance with much to offer. Suddenly, she pitied him for the reality he must now be experiencing, having found in the flesh that she was not the bouncing, giggling girl he held in fantasy, but a mound of aging flab and wrinkles, well-used and bitter. She now could only think of him as not just leaving, a lingering kiss in the doorway, but fleeing from a vision burned to cinders by unrelenting time.
She was startled when her phone vibrated on the table, quivering like a living thing, announcing with a ding that a text message had arrived. She hesitated, but checked to find it was from him. Hesitating again, long experience predicting bad news, she finally opened it:
Driving thinking of u. That I love u.
The first reaction, unexpected, was a warmth that surprised her. But fast on its heels came a coldness bred by life that said bullshit, no real love comes that quick. Just words, digital manipulation. Is he that bad off that he thinks Iâ€™m that bad off, to want him, need him just like that?
She watched her face in the window, looked for a change or a sign. Nothing there but the same bleak eyes huddled in flesh marked by long nights alone. But her fingers with ghostly precision slowly pecked out:
Luv u too. Hurry back.