by Elodie Rose Barnes
One door. A thousand keys. Each one could take you to a different place, a different time, yet you choose the same one over and over again. The same flick of the hourglass. It brings you back here to the corner of the square, sinks you gently back into the late summer dusk that has not yet been relinquished to autumn, and leaves you there to wait. You’ll watch the trams, the pedestrians, the streaks of pink and gold threading across the sky behind the rooftops. You’ll see yourself. (You’ll sometimes wonder if that’s really what your hair looked like from the back, and how you ever managed to negotiate cobbles in high heels.) You’ll see her. You’ll relive the tripping footsteps and the laughter, the clasped hands and the clandestine kiss that’s mostly hidden by a tram rolling past. You’ll pray for one more moment that’s never granted, but what would you do with it anyway?
After all, it’s only a memory, and so are you.
Time is an abstract. Days mean nothing, although you know the years. Three of them, all spent in this room — top floor, no lift, the bare necessities of furniture and no heating. It’s too dangerous to go out much, and to pass the time your mind traces streets onto the paper below, smoothing the war-torn and rumpled edges of the city you know so well. You mark the ribbon of the Seine, the boulevards, alleyways, squares. It’s all so familiar you could do it in your sleep, and every pencil line always curves around to the same window. Top floor, no lift. Just like yours.
Later, you’ll wonder if that’s how they found her: by following your mind’s map before it disintegrated in the autumn rain.
One word. A thousand meanings. You’ve told her all of them tonight, in a whisper so that no one else in the café could hear. It sends you both giddy. As you stumble out, the lights around the square seem to effervesce just for you; bubbles of joy that glitter and dance in the warm evening air. You take her hand. She kisses you, impulsive and daring. In a lingering haze of smoke and coffee and brandy you promise never to leave, no matter what happens, and she promises never to give in. Yellow doesn’t suit her, she laughs, and stars belong in the sky.
You’ll spend the rest of your life wishing you could give her that promise back, but sand only ever trickles down the hourglass.
Elodie Rose Barnes is an author and photographer. She can usually be found in Paris, daydreaming her way back to the 1920s, while her words live in places such as Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, and Ellipsis Zine. Current projects include a chapbook of poetry and photography, and a novel-in-flash based on the life of modernist writer Djuna Barnes. She can be found online at elodierosebarnes.weebly.com and on Twitter @BarnesElodie.