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It was just another Friday evening. The sky clear, the street bustling with people. I walked into a new pizzeria and ordered my usual: a regular ham and cheese, light on the tomato sauce.
Twenty-two minutes in and still no pie, I asked them to check up on my order or get me a refund. I had to be on my way.
A minute and ten seconds later they handed me an outsized box. It was so huge, I had to hold it with both hands. The bottom burned my fingers, so I grabbed some paper towels for padding and stepped outside. The zing of the pomodoro and the savouriness of the roasted ham wafted up from inside the carton. My mouth ran sweet with anticipation and my stomach roared. I couldn’t wait to get home and dig in.
I was turning a corner when someone called my name.
A woman holding a pizza box came running.
She stood staring at me for a moment, gathering her breath.
They’d given me the wrong pie, she explained.
I checked mine and made a face.
She smiled and said, ‘I love mushroom and olives.’
We went to the park nearby. It was a mild summer evening, the temperature just right. The sky in the west glowed faintly with sunken daylight. We sat on the lawn and got comfortable under the trees. She scratched her ear before she bit into her dinner, and I couldn’t help noticing how unselfconscious her movements were.
Her name was Artemis. She was from the coast, now based in the city for the past three years, and a sophomore at the Urban Metropolitan University. My name – Edwyn – intrigued her, she said. I laughed at the way she said ‘intrigued.’ She conveyed innocent authority, if that was a thing.
She offered me a slice of her pizza and I offered her some of mine. She admitted she wasn’t a fan of ham and cheese, but said she’d reconsider her options after this. I thought the same about her mushroom and olives.
We stayed there for hours, talking and laughing like two people lost in the moment, much like the previous generation did, back when people were not haunted by themselves. We gazed at the stars in silence. We touched hands and kissed. Her fingers were delicate and her lips salty. Her eyes shone with curiosity and kindness, but also with a hint of adventure.
We started dating and got married a year later. And moved into a small flat. And had two children.
After that, we relocated to the Channel where the air was filled with vitality and the landscape gorgeous. The city had been good to us, but it was time to enjoy nature. No construction work, traffic, emissions, or crowds. Our nearest neighbour was a quarter mile away. Our porch faced the rumbling sea, the waves topped with roiling clouds. The beach was deserted and wild, the sunsets out of a painting, and every day a treat.
Those were truly happy, magical years.
Then, just like that, our children were all grown up. And, just like that, they left home to start a life of their own in the city, as grown-up children tend to. And we grew apart – from them, but also from each other. Artemis and I. Our beautiful marriage, once the stuff of serendipity and chance, frayed. All those years of living together had turned into so much weight. The pull of predictability, routine, and repeated disappointment – our bonds strained and buckled under the pressure.
Sometime later, when the other woman touched me, it was magic.
It happened out of the blue, on a trip to a neighbouring town. She was having coffee in a random cafe on a random, grey day, where I sometimes went to read. We introduced ourselves, and our relationship grew from there.
Her name was Vera, and she had no grand demands or expectations. Just the wish to be with me and I with her. Just like Artemis and I had started off, before our attraction grew into a map along which we got lost, overwhelmed by the torrent of shared history, our souls flooded with discontent.
Then again, that very discontent has led me where I am. I’ve found love again, and it’s real. I’m grateful. Vera is a wonderful, caring person. She’s been hurt deeply over the years by people she trusted, but she carries herself gracefully, her pain a source of wisdom. She makes me want to be a better person, and I strive to do the same for her. We laugh a lot, and it rejuvenates us.
I feel sorry for Artemis, and how things turned out for her.
But I’m not sure I should. Pity is a condescending emotion, and regret is a self-serving one.
What Artemis deserves is love.
We all do.
Inspired by the film HOPE GAP (2019)