There were no witty rejoinder
s that night, no clever bons mots, not even a smartass comeback. I simply said, "oh". It was a soft sound, like the subtle susurrations
of the falling snow outside the cafe window where Rena and I sat the night she told me the truth about Matthew. Oh, I said, Oh. There was nothing more articulate
I could utter in that moment, so instead I stared at the purple of Rena's nail polish. I watched it reflect the incandescent light and glitter and gleam as Rena rhythmically tapped her fingers on a cheap coffee spoon
Oh, I had said as plumes of white steam wafted upwards from my still-untasted cafe au lait. I think she said something then, or made vague concillatory noises. I think she grabbed my hand and held it in hers, but I am not quite sure. That solitary, singular "oh" had grown to immense proportions and I crawled deep inside the softness of its sound. I can recall precisely the thin network of cracks on the blue and white china saucer my cooling cafe au lait rested on, but I do not know what expression Rena had on her face.
Sometime after, I made it home. Although I cannot remember a walk through the snowy streets with the skeletons of trees silhouetted black against the smoke-colored skies, I know this must have happened. I do not remember pulling back the sheets or removing my clothes or crawling into bed to wait for Matthew. But I remember distinctly finding the feather.
In the bed was a feather that I might not have noticed on another day, it was, even so, a remarkable feather. I had felt its softness against my skin and reached down to find the source of this sensation. On another day, I would have paid no attention to a solitary feather, chalking its strange appearance in a bed on the fourteenth floor to Matthew's down comforter or debris from one of the birds who stubbornly inhabit the naked trees of the city, ignoring the chill air. Instead, I reached over and turned on the light on the nightstand and really looked.
In the gloom, I had taken the feather to be a dull gray, but as the feather was illuminated by the glow of a 40 watt bulb, I saw how it reflected every color I'd ever seen. One moment it seemed to be the blue of a robin's egg, the next the yellow of buttercups or the oranges and purples of a beach sunset. There were colors that I had no name for, and colors that reminded me of things that I had forgotten and taken for granted. The feather was both light and dark, shadow and luminescence and I began to stare at the patterns that revealed themselves as I turned and twisted the feather in the ordinary light. It was beautiful, and for a moment I believed in hope and laughter and rainy days indoors with soup and puzzles and the kind of love that lasts forever. In that moment I felt like I understood without knowing the mysteries of life.
Then I heard the bedroom door creak open and saw Matthew standing just beyond the threshold.
In my surprise and consternation I dropped the feather, which turned lazy circles in the air before floating gently down into darkness.
Matthew was always handsome. Even knowing that he'd been lying to me for months, perhaps as long as a year, I had to stop to admire him. I loved the elegant lines of his body and his sleek symmetry. Even standing still he gave the impression of grace and fluidity. His face was half in shadow but I could still make out his generous, sensual mouth. His full lips were now twisted in a self-possessed smirk which only made him more handsome. His eyes, normally the color of rosewood, glittered darkly as he parted his lips to reveal teeth that were entirely too white, "Rena said she told you what she saw. I'm a little surprised to see you here, but I'm glad you've decided to be sensible and not let emotion rule you."
Matthew had always been self-possessed and he knew I hated confrontation. He had figured I would dissappear silently into the night and was slightly taken aback by my presense there. For the first time since before the moment of "oh", I smiled. Perhaps I too had secrets. With one hand I smoothed my eyebrows and said to Matthew in an uncharacteristically calm voice, "Why wouldn't I be here? I live here."
Whatever Matthew had been expecting, it was not my newfound calm. This confused him, and as always, confusion made him angry. His face became truculent as he reddened and he no longer seemed impossibly beautiful, but rather comically distorted; like a petulant child stretched out into the form of a six-foot-one man. Matthew licked his lips and said,"I hope you're not planning on making a scene. Just because you're upset doesn't give you the right to behave poorly," slightly more snappishly than he intended.
I laughed at this, and as Matthew's face contorted with puzzlement and then fury, I laughed again. Poor, sensible Matthew, he always became so perplexed and angry when things weren't predictable and neat. I was no longer predictable and would no longer fit into his life of tailored suits and italian tile. His eyes narrowed at me, and something snarky was taking shape on his tongue when I motioned for him to be silent and said, "I did not come here to make a scene. I came here because I loved you," I paused, watching to see if Matthew noticed the past tense then continued, "but I realize now that everything in your life is an ornament. Your career, your german car, the delft plates that we eat our dinners off of, even me. I'm a liberal arts college educated, fashionable without being garish pretty boy who can cook well and mention Sartre at an appropriate place in a charming, but not quite intellectually challenging, dinner conversation."
Matthew chafed visibly at this, his lips grew thin as he cleared his throat to make it known that he wanted to reply, but I ignored this and pressed on, "and I have realized that I am more than that -- I am not your must-have objet d'art, I am not an accessory that you can wear. I am more than the sum of your mundane fantasies about yearly vacations to the Virgin Islands or Greece, and I feel sorry for you for failing to see that."
Matthew was dumbfounded, that I, of all people, dared to feel sorry for him, especially when he was planning, ever so discreetly to cast me out like a slightly unfashionable winter coat. I paused then to look at our reflections in the mirror, he in his immaculate Armani, I barefoot and naked to the waist, wearing wrinkled and faded pajama bottoms. I smiled, knowing life was not seamless and walked over to draw back the curtains that covered the french doors that I loved and Matthew hated. I looked out across the city from the fourteenth floor. I wrenched my gaze away from the skyline and casually strode over to the still astonished and increasingly angry Matthew who was now standing silently by the cherrywood chest-of-drawers. I kissed him once, softly on the cheek. I slowly walked across the room again and flung the french doors wide open. Matthew made some sort of noise and I said dreamily, "When I was a little boy, my mother told me stories about people who were more than they seemed. These people looked ordinary, but deep inside they had magic".
I stepped out onto the balcony, snow crunched under my bare feet. The wind rose suddenly and I raised my voice so that I could be heard, "Everyone in my mother's land had this inside of them and even shoemakers were able to do the miraculous when the need arose. And everyone was wise and beautiful".
I walked toward the railing and turned to face Matthew, "Well darling, my mother's stories were real and everyone has the potential for the magical, but you'll never find it in your world of numbered lithographs and antique end tables."
I mounted the railing and balanced on my toes, for a moment I was as graceful as a dancer. Matthew ran towards me, thinking I was going to do something rash, fearing the scandal of me ending my life in such a spectacular and public manner. As he reached the balcony I yelled over the suddenly howling winds, "Faberge eggs are beautiful, but Matthew, they're empty!" and I fell backwards into the sky.
Briefly, I enjoyed the rush of plummeting downwards, but I remembered that I had so much more to see. I spread my wings, the wings I had dreamt of in my boyhood but forgotten, my wings with brilliant feathers that were not any color, but all colors, some that could not be named by anyone living. I let out a joyful whoop and soared into the unknown leaving Matthew on the balcony to say, "oh".