I saw her in the shadows of the bar, peeking out from behind a column, watching us, the friends she’d left a moment earlier, “to freshen up,” she might have said, or was it to go outside for a smoke, or maybe to say hi to someone who’d just entered, someone the rest of us didn’t know? Whatever the excuse, all she did was move off by herself so she could watch us, watch how we all behaved, her good friends, in her absence. Her face half lost in shadow, almost apparitional, fixed on us sadly—or so I imagine now, so many decades later, everyone but me there at that table long since in the grave, she herself the first of us to die. Had she been sick already? And, if so, was the urge to see us there without her a premonition of the cancer, the first sign of its onset? Sadly, wistfully, the way a ghost might, visiting an old haunt, she measured the limits of our love for her by our delight in one another, the laughter and good cheer that went on undiminished in her absence or, worse, perhaps, seemed to her then more robust and intimate once she was gone. From somewhere beyond the farthest galaxy across the bar, forlorn and destitute as Hawthorne’s Wakefield, “outcast of the universe,” she studied her life without her in it until, like Wakefield, she had had enough, returned, sat down, and, as if nothing at all had happened, as if she’d never left, fell back into the conversation.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015