I woke with a start this morning. I climbed out of bed and walked to my study where I saw Yvette sitting on the settee. She was leaning back into the backrest and she was listening to soft music. I surmised that she had slept on the settee. She saw me standing at the door, as I leaned against the door frame, she smiled and wished me a good morning. She asked me if I had slept well. I replied that I had. I walked to her and sat next to her. The blinds on the windows were drawn and i could see a storm raging outside. She changed the track on my laptop and picked up Marija’s letter. She handed it to me and resumed her seat.
“Haven’t opened it, yet I see”, her voice has an inflection of amusement. I often hear this mild amusement in her voice when I am being, in her words “dreamy”. She looked at me questioningly and I found that I had no answer. Why hadn’t I opened this letter? I remembered the desire for preservation that had filled me when I received it and my resolve began to falter. I got my knife from the drawer and cut open the envelope. The letter was neatly folded and in Marija’s delicate handwriting, I could see words that, in my juvenile thrill, raced across my eyes. She asked after my health and if I was happy. She missed this country, she wrote, and she wanted to return. It was her promise, that one day, we would both discuss F Scott Fitzgerald’s This side of paradise, over a cup of coffee which she would make herself. She hoped that I had read it, but she hoped to hear me read it aloud. She missed my silent voice, the muffled way I sometimes spoke. I found that she had included her address at the bottom of the letter. I felt a stab of mixed feelings when I read that it was a rehabilitation centre in Estonia.
I was glad for her, she would get assistance when she needed it most. I must admit that professional help would be most effective. I understood my own problems with alcohol and it took me effort to overcome them. I didn’t have a broken heart to add to its heavy burden. I didn’t need a crutch, but she did and I was glad that she had found it. Sometimes, all of us need a light in the tunnel to help us to emerge from it.
Yvette looked glorious in the grey morning light and I could see that she was, in her own way, intrigued about Marija. I told her all I knew of her, but it was surprisingly little. The two of us went to the kitchen and we made breakfast together. Yvette was in her element. She put on “The twist” by Chubby Checker, (a song I remembered from Spiderman 3) and the two of us cooked eggs and bacon, without the mess. As the two of us sat for breakfast at the only table that could be called a dining table, she poured me some coffee. We raised a glass to each other’s good health and I saw her framed in the diffused light of lightbulb, the soft light fell across her lips and her eyes. I couldn’t help but stop and stare at her because everything about her was so existential and surreal that I was reminded of a Van Gogh painting.
We went out in the evening. She and I spent the day at my apartment, with her arranging my books and photographs. She laughed when she saw me as an adolescent. I was standing with my friends for a group photograph of the Audio-Visual department. I was dressed in my school blazer and she found my likeness to Harry Potter very amusing. She thought that I still had the eyes of a dreamy romantic. I am an older man now, and years have passed since that photograph. I remember my friends and I played hockey in our formals on the Top Field ( a strict no-no then) and we had the look of youthful boys attempting a somber look and failing.
Yvette bought me a tape recorder. She disappeared into a electronics store and I stood outside in the cold, wondering if I could find a taxi back home. Around us, the lights of the evening began to turn on. Neon lights from storefronts turned on in a burst of color. Couples walk hand in hand, even the night itself has turned into a twilight with a sky that is a pleasantly subdued vermillion. I hail a taxi as Yvette emerges. She and I step into the taxi and she directs the driver to her apartment. She wants me to have dinner with her at her place. She digs into her coat and takes out the tape recorder.
“Promise her that you will read This side of Paradise with her”, in Yvette’s eyes is a spark that I often saw in Marija. I promise both of them as I pocket the tape recorder. I think of the letter on my desk again as the taxi winds through the streets of the city that I now call home.