with those we can no longer love

Falling by Nokyoung Xayasane

The golden leaves fell softly, gently oscillating in their descent. She sat there silently, looking out into the field from the tiny chapel window. Her breath quickened, and she wished that for one split second — everything would just stop. If only the present time could be hushed and imbued with reassuring stillness, but life wasn’t like that; it moves as if propelled towards something greater.

Sophia sat immobile. Her long white wedding dress enveloped her slight frame as she watched the leaves falling slowly to the ground; their golden descent matching her tears. Her arm moved upwards, struggling out of a dense mud, caked with lethargy. She wiped her tears away.

And then it happened — as it always did: She saw him, youthful and optimistic, under that tree, smiling at her quizzically, and she could almost touch him, as one who is able to touch the past. But he wasn’t there. He was somewhere that she could never reach. Even years later when she saw him at the theatre, he remained someone untouchable, unalterable. His hair had become sparser at the sides, but she could have recognized that energy anywhere; it calmed her and energized her simultaneously.

“Sophia, my God, it’s been so long. How are you?” He had asked her that numerous times in the past and it had always thrown her off guard, as if she were realizing for the first time that she existed and felt things as person.

“I’m well. How have you been, Owen?” The distance between them minimized. They stood there alone, except for the flakes that began to descend. Their intimacy — short in distance, but heavy with things left unsaid. She smiled; the light never reaching her eyes. He smiled back at her genuinely, but always curiously. In that one shared look she felt the impossibility of them sharing any space together for more than a few minutes, and the conversation meandered, never settling in one place, never standing still, and eventually they moved away from each other as their words lost any semblance of meaning. The distance between them expanded, and the crowd of people materialized around them.

“Well, it was nice to see you again.” As he said this he moved his hand to touch her shoulder, reminding her of the ever-present awkwardness between them. Two people who were too joined in mental space to exist properly in physical space.

“Yes, it was nice. I hope you continue… to be well.”

“You too.”

“Well, see you when I see you.”

“Who knows, maybe it’ll be less than five years before we run into each other again,” he joked, his eyes smiling.

“Yeah,” Sophia laughed softly. She wanted to reach out and touch him gently. She wanted to strangle him.

“Well, only time will tell,” he trailed off, lost somewhere. “Okay, bye then,” abruptly spoken.

“Bye.”

They moved away from each other into their own realities, but those moments stood still for her. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her face flushed, pulsating. She stood up and the train of white material rustled after her. The cool flow of air entered the room as she quickly opened the chapel window. Autumn air rushed in and the sound of the leaves rustled in tune with her dress as she fanned herself with her now feverish hands.

“This is not how I imagined it would happen.” Her youthful voice came to her from somewhere far off.

“What did you think was going to happen?” They were at the tree again. A light mist of rain fell, barely perceptible under the canopy. Sophia sat next to him with her legs folded into her body; her arms encircling herself, clutching at an unattainable comfort. He stretched his legs outward, looking at her with unbearable rationality. “That we could just get up and go?”

“If you asked me to go, I’d go.” Her intensity surprised even herself. She didn’t really want to go anywhere with him; she just wanted to sit still with him, to be with him, but this plan made things seem less real: running away together to somewhere far off instead of being here, in this space.

“Sophia, you’d hate me. The farther I took you away from Jacob, from your family, the more you’d regret it. By the time we reached the 401 you’d wished you had never decided to go.” Owen looked at her and she felt as if she were falling from a precipice, from somewhere she had been standing without realizing it. “You don’t even know me. We don’t even know each other,” he reasoned.

“But I want to know you.” Her naivety rang sharply in her ears. If only he would see it her way. If only he could.

“I’m someone that you’ve created in your mind. I’m not this person that you think I am,” he countered.

A deep sigh escaped from her lips. “I wish you existed.”

“I wish you existed.”

“Who?” asked her mother.

“Mom, what are you doing in here?”

“Well, honey, we’re waiting for you. Everyone’s waiting for you. Jacob’s waiting for you.”

“Okay Mom, I just need one more minute.”

“Is everything okay, Sophia?”

“Yeah, of course. I just need more time.” Only time will tell, Owen had said.

“Okay, sweetheart. I’ll be waiting for you outside.” Her mother softly closed the door behind her and Sophia was back at the tree.

“What if we came back to this spot in five years?” She looked at Owen helplessly.

“No, Sophia, I can’t do that. I won’t do that. If you leave Jacob it has to be because of what he’s done or what he isn’t. It can’t be for me. It has to be for you.”

“Sophia, it’s all been for you,” argued Jacob as they faced each other in the kitchen, a year before their wedding day.

“What has?”

“What do you mean? Everything has been for you: the ring, the house, everything!”

She wished she could feel something more. A part of her yearned to stay with him, but she was already gone. Her mind wandered past sandy terrains, past the cloak that had shielded her for all these years. I know you want to keep me here, but I cannot stay.

“Why do you want to be with me?”

“Because I’m only happy when you’re around. I need you.”

She could feel the cloak begin to tighten. A warm pain festered within her chest and she struggled to breathe. He held her then and the pain subsided, placated by his touch. His mouth moved above her, inside her, around her, and she fell into him. The ceramic tiles were cold against her back. He moved above her, looking down at her. He loves me, she thought, and her tears fell.

The autumn wind blew in through the chapel window. The leaves called out to her, called out for her to run. She clamoured up the windowsill and fell the short distance to the ground. The leaves crunched beneath her feet. Her heels pounded against the grass. More leaves fell around her — falling past her.  She ran, ran, ran. Never stopping.

A soft knock sounded at the door. “Are you ready? The music is about to start.” Sophia looked away from the window.

“Yes Mom, I’m coming.” For one moment, she stood still. She could feel the hard jut of the baseboard, the stickiness of skin on tile, the gasping breaths between two warm bodies.

She could feel the snow falling, melting on her face, the way snow surprises you with its first touch. And the rain. The drops of rain that made their way through the overhanging canopy; the drops that had fallen lightly between two youthful figures.

I wish you existed. Words reverberating from a past that moved forward without heed. I wish you didn’t need me so much.

Once the leaves outside were green, but they had changed to a golden hue, something altogether different, she thought. They perched on the tips of branches but eventually they must fall, softly floating down in their fragility to meet with the hard ground. She moved away from the window and the falling leaves.

The door opened and artificial light entered the room. She turned to face the light. Her mother’s face fell.

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