And there she was, standing on the porch under the halo of the fading doorbell, trademark leather knapsack slung over her back, her blonde curly hair dancing around her shoulders. She looked darker, bleaker than he remembered.
‘Hi, Sean,’ she said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
‘Mila,’ he smiled, trying to hide his emotion, trying to sound casual, knowing that he was failing, but he was flooded with unexpected emotions, a tidal outpouring of memories and thoughts, the bibliography of which unfurled like vellum into the infinite blackness of a broken history. At the forefront of the attack was the essentially surprising focus of her exquisite body, all purely spun pale silk along architectures of spines, delicate curves and arches, long celestial garden pathways through which he had once long wandered and now found himself uncontrollably wanting to revisit. He wanted to be fiercely reacquainted with the solitude of her in his grasp as the rest of the world fell away in long, curling strips, fading into nothingness; they paired storms shattering each other across bedsheets as wide as oceans in a conspiracy of lusts channeled along furrowed tides that would come crashing down over the whole of existence; the sound of her secret breathing and her carnal rhythm in syncopation with his own; a pact he had believed to be a sacred trust that he now knew to be traded in terrible deceit. This wasn’t what he wanted or expected to feel but he couldn’t help it: he wanted to hold her tightly against him in the doorway of his family’s home, feel her face pressed against his chest, her lithe arms around his waist, knowing her eyes to be tightly closed in calm ecstasy; and he would upturn her delicate face with his fingers and feel again the pressure of her volatile passion against his lips. All of these silver linings bordered the shameful clouds that he hoped remained occluded from his face.
‘Um,’ she said, ducking her head a little bit, ‘may I come in?’
‘Of course, sorry,’ he said and stepped aside. She entered, head still ducked with a mournfully brief smile on her face. He guessed that she did not in any way suffer the same legislation of emotion that he did, that there was no way that she had even thought for one moment the kind of beautifully sordid thoughts about him that he had just had about her and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. On one hand, it was distressing to think that she had not cast him into legend as he had her, that he ended up being, essentially, just another in a long line of failed relationships for her, his name marked in some internal registry that contained no other data to impart anything other than the bare facts: it had begun and ended terribly wrongly and thus he suffered a fate in her heart of absolute neglect. But he was also relieved: if she had given him any sign at all, he would have—dumbly, he knew—leapt at the opportunity which was precisely what he did not need to do. This lexicography of lustful melancholy was brutal: her mere presence, the way she managed to smell like something implacably gorgeous without having to wear any perfume, the way she walked, the way she always seemed to be looking out at the world from beneath the shelter of her hair; and that brown leather knapsack, a universe within forbidden to all except her, a universe which she protected fiercely, a universe full of unknowns other than what she allowed people to see her draw from it: usually a notebook, sometimes a bottle of water, sometimes a bar of candy; but other than that it was a black infinitude, a caricature of her soul.
He closed the door and followed her into the living room. Mila tossed her knapsack, adeptly catching the strap of it over the back of a chair, displaying a casualness that demonstrated her unfaded familiarity with the Kincaid house. She walked along the walls of the room, distracted now by the collision of nostalgias. She touched the frame of a painting, let her fingers run along the spines of books. ‘I’m…sorry about Seamus.’
‘Thanks. I really appreciated your phone call. It was really nice of you.’
She looked back at him and smiled meekly. ‘How have you been? Are you okay?’
‘Yeah. Of course,’ he shrugged the question off. ‘I’m doing all right. It’s been tougher than Mom, you know.’ He paused. ‘This was sudden.’
Sean smiled falsely, ‘Oh, you know. Brian’s Brian.’
She returned the false smile. Nothing really needed to be said there. She lost herself again for a few more moments, lingering at the mantlepiece and the photos aligned along it. Still standing in the doorway, Sean watched her carefully, soaking up her every movement. He couldn’t help but let his eyes wander all over her body; even in an untucked flannel button-down and jeans, she managed to maintain a sexuality, as sloppy as it was entrancing, as accidental as it was unavoidable; maybe not for every man but for Sean she was a gravity in which he desired orbit, a black hole the event horizon of which he chided himself for wanting to cross.
‘I miss this place,’ Mila whispered.
‘Yeah, it’s weird spending so much time here now.’
She started as if she didn’t think she had spoken aloud. Quickly, she asked, ‘Are you thinking of moving in here?’
Sean’s eyes danced. ‘You know, that’s a great question. I haven’t even thought about it. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I have to do something with it, I guess.’
‘What did your father want you to do?’
Sean rolled his eyes. ‘His will was vague. We’re splitting everything evenly between Brian and I but we haven’t even talked about the house. We could sell it I suppose.’
Mila took a step toward him. ‘Oh, no, you can’t. You can’t sell it. This house is beautiful.’
He chuckled. ‘What. Do you want it?’
Her eyes grew fierce and a blackness seemed to swoop over her face. ‘No,’ she said flatly. ‘I could never leave my apartment.’
‘I was only kidding.’
‘I know,’ she said, her voice far away. ‘I know.’
Sean stood there, feeling helpless, unsure of what had just happened. He waited for a few moments but she didn’t move. Finally, he asked, ‘Can I get you something to drink?’
‘A little vodka would be nice,’ she said, her voice still on approach from wherever it had briefly lit off to.
‘Vodka?’ Sean felt an irrational giddiness which he immediately tried to quash. ‘Sure, yeah, good idea. I’m pretty sure there’s some Sprite around.’
‘Doesn’t matter. Whatever will work,’ she said, finally turning away from the window. She still seemed grim, looking as if she were trying to recover from some grave offense. She sat at the end of the sofa and untied her shoes, sliding them as far as they would go beneath the coffee table in front of her. She curled up as tightly as she could on the cushion.
Sean returned with two glasses carefully perched on the palm of one hand and a can of Sprite in the other which he took to the liquor cabinet. As he poured the vodka, she asked, ‘Haven’t heard from Cathleen?’
‘She sent a postcard,’ Sean said.
Mila snorted. ‘A postcard.’
‘It was more than anyone expected.’ He handed Mila her drink from which she took an immediate sip, her eyes slightly closing.
‘This is good,’ she said.
Sean sipped as well, suddenly feeling nervous. ‘How have you been, Mila?’
‘Me?’ She asked, clearing her upper lip of vodka with her lower. ‘Oh, I’ve been good. Things are good.’
‘I miss you, you know,’ he said, suddenly.
‘Oh, Sean,’ Mila replied with a hint of reproachfulness.
‘Not like that,’ he replied quickly. ‘Just in general. You were a good friend.’
She maintained her gaze and said, ‘That’s not why you called me, is it?’
‘No, not at all.’ He took a drink, suddenly wanting to down the whole thing. ‘I just… I don’t know.’
She gazed at him cooly.
He said, ‘I called you here because I wanted to show you something. My father… after Ma died…’
‘Take your time,’ Mila said.
Sean took another sip. He still suffered the poison of her reproach and found it difficult to turn his mind. Did she truly have no sentiment for me at all? He wondered. It was a tough idea to contemplate even though he had assumed that to be the case since they had broken up. Seeing it now in her body language only reinforced what was otherwise a fantasy he had long hoped to be a lie. Now he realized why Brian had told him it was a mistake: Brian knew well enough—and had far more experience in such matters—to know that in spite of being able to handle talking to her twice on the phone, having her physically present would present him with a barrage of feelings that Sean had believed, had earnestly hoped, to be long destroyed but had instead merely laid dormant.
‘When Pop retired,’ Sean said, trying to focus, ‘he always talked about how he was going to write a book. Actually, it was something he talked about even when he was still on the force but when he started talking about retiring, he started talking about writing a book a lot more. I guess he wanted something to occupy his time.’
Mila smiled. ‘Yeah, he talked to me about it, too.’
‘You knew about that?’
‘Of course,’ Mila said and then upon noting Sean’s sudden tension, added: ‘You’re not suddenly surprised that I spent a lot of time with him. I loved your father.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Sean said and looked away, immediately regretful. He took a sip of his drink, trying to find purchase on an encounter that was not playing out at all like he had expected or hoped.
‘Sean,’ Mila warned.
He suddenly went ahead and downed his drink. ‘Should I pour another?’
Mila eyed him for a moment before finishing her drink over several gulps. She then smiled weakly, said, ‘I think we’re going to need it.’
Written earlier today with only minor revisions.