SHORT FICTION

Aphrodite’s Return

“History doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.” ~ Mark Twain

Photo by Ben Scott on Unsplash

I’d been sitting in a red leather chair by the window, a little tired, wearing my usual face marred by time. It startled me when she walked over and seated herself across from me in the lobby there. I glanced up and noticed her staring at me, straight on, as if waiting for me to emerge from wherever I was hiding within myself.

When our eyes locked I immediately became aware of two things: first, the feeling that I knew this person from somewhere; second, the acute awareness of those sensations that precede a miracle — the fear, and the rising expectation of that heart-quickening awe.

I became mesmerized, not by her external attractiveness, which was considerable, but by something altogether other, a mystical resonance as if we’d met before, long ago in another space of time. Obviously this was not possible, for she wore the sheen of youth and I’m very much an older man. It’s disappointing to see the loose flesh beginning to sag from one’s jowls. And this woman still practically a girl, white skin stretched over her slender frame, high cheekbones, dark gleaming eyes, clothed in black chic embellished with scarlet and gold.

Perhaps there are films you’ve seen that will help me convey what I was experiencing. I’m initially thinking here of Field of Dreams, not because the story is improbable but because it’s impossible.

Our paths had crossed a number of times recently. I’m pretty sure I first noticed her near a fountain in Canal Park this past summer. Another time she was crossing an intersection near Lake and Superior as I was leaving the Tech Center. I imagined her noticing me. It even seemed as if she smiled and acknowledged me with a nod, which at the time seemed terrifically unlikely. The idea of it made me feel younger than I’d been feeling lately.

It was here in the lobby, here at the Zeitgeist that I remembered. “I remember you.”

“Yes?” she said.

My thoughts were quickly becoming a garbled mess.

“It’s not possible,” I said.

“Oh?” she said, feigning ignorance.

For a moment I saw everything clearly, inside the bubble of the now. Was I being given a second chance? My thoughts flew back to our first meeting, forty years ago, if this were she.

At the time, mid-winter 1974, I lived in an efficiency off State Street in downtown Athens, Ohio, cheap rent the appeal, a small sparse space on the third floor. I’d grabbed my bachelors two years before and was dabbling in a Master’s program there.

I can’t recall the hour, but sometime in the evening I’d headed down to the sidewalk. A breezy light snow glistened in the street lamps. Few students were out, but had there been only one or a hundred I would not have noticed anyways. I saw only her, walking a large dog, something on the order of a mastiff, a very large dog.

She walked erect with a simple dignity. It may have been that she used her weight to restrain the beast, but it didn’t seem like this was required, that the animal loped comfortably along with perfect reserve. Even from across the street I could see she had frizzy hair, sparkling as it were with angel dust.

That might have been the end of it, except the following evening as I slipped out to meet friends I once more saw this same sight, and found myself strangely responsive.

It would be easy to say the attraction was simply physical, the typical Pavlovian stimulus response that young women produce in young men. And though susceptible to this inner enticement game, for some reason it felt different to me this time.

When Friday came along I’d planned an evening with my current circle of friends, which included a young woman named Connie and a big fellow whom we called Bear. I forget the others and can’t even recall what they looked like even though we’d spent months together sharing activities and getting to know one another.

What I remember most is the dynamic between us, as undoubtedly Bear and I each imagined one day seeing our relationship with Connie develop into something more exclusive. I could also see that Connie used this to her advantage to create a safety zone of non-committal.

Because my place was downtown we all met there before heading to the club at the end of the block. Including myself there were five of us when we vacated and I turned out the lights.

Igor’s was not one of the places I’d normally frequented, but that’s where the others wanted to go so I went with it. The bar itself was in a cavern-like space down a half flight of stairs from the street. I’d been lagging a few paces when our party began descending. Then I stopped.

There she was, directly before me, coming up from below. I stood frozen on the first step as she approached, looking directly into my face as if she knew me. How, I didn’t know, other than from the previous two nights when I saw her from across the street, though it seemed she never even looked in my direction or acknowledged me.

We stood on the stairs without saying a word. An image flashed through my mind’s eye, a shaft of brilliant moonlight bathing pale skin, and I hovering over her, a living room floor somewhere outside of town.

She said nothing. I may have said hello, or I may not have. I recall no words, no name. I only recall that I drew near, pressed against her as she pulled me to herself and our wet mouths explored with impatient vehemence.

For an instant she paused, tilting her head back to study my face, then invited me home with her.

A moment of rationality briefly distracted me. “I need to tell my friends that I’m not joining them.”

“He who hesitates is lost,” she said.

I disappeared into the cavern, told Connie and Bear something had come up, returned not ten seconds later… and she was gone.

I scanned the street and saw nothing, only the façade of a small town with empty interiors, mine emptiest of all.

“I don’t remember your name.”

“Maybe you never knew it.”

I’d never asked then and I still hadn’t asked. My face felt hot with shame.

She leveled her gaze. “What is it you want? What do you really want?”

I cast about for an answer, nibbling at this thought and that, trying to form a reply.

“You’re hung up on trying to give the right answer. I don’t want right answers here. What is it you want?” she said.

I didn’t know. So much of my life has been a reaction, or worse. Like a sparrow flitting from branch to branch, no stability, no aim, just sitting then flitting. “Are you in my life for a reason?”

“Do you believe things happen for a reason?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I used to.”

All of us have scripts laid out ahead of us. That is, we have a mental image of the next several chapters of our lives. We become good at playing our lines, dressing our parts, living our roles. But what if we could re-write our scripts? What if we could create new scripts with possibilities we’d never imagined before? How does a snake shed its skin?

“Hello? Anybody in there?” she said.

“For an instant there, I was thinking about miracles.”

“What kind of miracles?”

The sensation returned and I became anxious again.

“You’re thinking something. I can tell. Just say it.”

“It seems…I mean, it’s not possible.”

“How do you know what is and isn’t possible till you try?”

“It’s just that it seems like we’ve met before. I was young. And stupid.”

“Older people can be stupid, too,” she said.

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” I said, more as statement than inquiry.

“Yes.”

“Your name is…?”

“Aphrodite.”

I laughed involuntarily. “The goddess of love and beauty.”

“And sexual ecstasy,” she said.

This was now getting very strange for me.

“So, what is it you’re seeking? I keep asking and you just sit there.”

“It feels like something impossible is going to happen. I don’t know.”

“What if we just go with it?” She leaned away from me against the back of her chair. In a voice almost harsh, almost as if berating me, she said, “Your move.”

“What I’m thinking just doesn’t make sense,” I said. Her fierce eyes held my gaze, her expression forcing me to continue. “We met before, when I was young. Now we meet again and I am old, but you are still young. I don’t understand this.”

“I told you who I was. Everything’s possible, but you’re stuck in a way of seeing the world and it’s not making sense to you at this moment.”

I laughed again. “No, this isn’t making sense.”

“What if I said that when you kiss me…we’ll go back in time and continue where we left off? You’ll be young and you can live a new life with all new choices.”

I had no words now. I thought again about a strange party I’d been to up at Hawk’s Ridge. It was the same question being put to me in a different manner, like an echo. Only this time, the possibility seemed within reach.

“Yo,” she said, tapping me on the knee. “What’s your name? You seem like a Tim or a Mike.”

“Actually, it’s Jess. Jesse. Rhymes with messy. My life’s been messy.”

“Well, maybe it’s time to make it right.”

“You can do that?”

“I told you. It’s your move.”

I’ve always liked the idea of impossibility. I’ve always believed reality stretches beyond our normal boundaries of comprehension. Movies like Field of Dreams defy logic, but what if things like that could really happen? I’m not talking about hearing voices. I’m talking about second chances. And miracles.

I closed my eyes and reminisced, my brain stumbling through recollections of failed relationships, room after room of marred scenery, weakness, selfishness and, sometimes, pathetic behavior. My eyes were moist when I opened them again. This wasn’t the first time in my life I was prepared to believe in magic, but to my surprise she had risen and was now moving away from me.

I stood to follow, but felt paralyzed. What I heard next left me even more confused. The young fellow she was moving toward had asked what she was doing and she’d replied, “Just messin’ with that old man’s head.”

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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