Six years had passed, yet having heard of Catherine’s return, Leo stopped in the doorway of her studio, his approach along the cobbled street masked by the ancient whir of her potter’s wheel. He could feel her like a phantom in his palms. She remained robust with deep contours, sensual swells, as she spread wet clay with her index and thumb, her thumb so unlike a baboon’s yet she had backed against him as fierce as a baboon.
He lit a match and watched her kohl-lined eyes dart in his direction. Holding her gaze, he drew the flame’s heat through his parted lips as if inhaling her, her thick graying hair loosely piled on her head as if she could contain the untamable.
“Leo,” she said as if they had seen each other yesterday, as if she had been expecting him, then returned to her piece, indenting shallow prints beneath the vessel’s wide ridge.
He had no words. Too many years between good-bye and hello. Good-bye, a note he could not read. He had to hear its words from a man he hardly knew as this neighbor translated the dark scratches along the pale perfumed paper that told Leo his Catherine was gone, would not return, could no longer live with their cruelty. He ripped the letter from this intruder’s hand, spit at his feet, and slammed the door, knocking one of her vases to the floor, its crackling chased him before it abandoned him to the emptiness of his hurried steps
“Hello, Catherine,” he said like a prayer. “You are back.”
“Yes,” she replied, eyes trained on the vase whirling between her palms.
“What do you want?” she said, looking up.
Leo noticed the ravens still perched in her eyes. Smoke filled his lungs as he drank in the soft lines around her mouth that had held him with the passion of a boa swallowing prey yet had also stung him with a wasp’s fury.
He wanted to strike her, hear her plead for forgiveness, beg him to allow her to return. Instead she returned to her clay, fingers scraping the hollow of the swirling vase as she swept the sides wider apart. Leo flicked his cigarette in the trench between cobblestone and whitewashed building, pulled a red silk scarf from his jacket pocket, flashed it in the air then snapped it open. Catherine’s head flicked toward him. Clasping the scarf, Leo shoved it in his loose fist. Her eyes widened.
“Leo, don’t ”
“Still deaf and blind.”
Her mouth opened but before her words touched the air, Leo’s hand turned, rotated back, arced forward and opened. A white, one-eyed dove flew from his palm to her shoulder.
Before the bird’s wings settled against its side, Leo turned from the earth-scented room and continued along the maze of cobblestones that wound through a town that would never be hers.
Thank you to the editors of riverbabble for first publishing this story.