Serge tells you he is going to learn how to build things. Picture it, a house in the suburbs, a wrap-around porch, a deck. A friend has promised him a job in construction. He will start off small, learning how to use hammers and nails, put up walls, then doors, then roofs. Then he will make things to fill every room: cabinets, furniture. Eventually there will be an entire house built by his own two hands. It will embody everything that has and will exist between the two of you, the good times, the strength, the tenderness, the misery even, the mistakes. But what will overcome the errs of both your humanness, he writes, what will hold that house up high, is love. “And I have so much of it to build with, moya lyubov, it will hold us both forever.”
It is 75 degrees and you are seated in the sunlight at a little table at the corner cafe. You sip black coffee slowly. Add some sugar. Drink cream straight from a separate cup, lick your lips, remember. You fold his letter, bring one of the corners up to your mouth, finger the edges of the paper foreboding of steel against your skin. You take another look at his photograph still in the envelope, take it out. He is looking better than before, smiling even, seated in the prison courtyard. You pretend not to notice how strong and solid his arms are or how tightly his shirt hugs his shoulders, drapes over his lean, narrow waist. You pretend the flush on your face isn’t from wanting to be the first fruit he tastes after all those years locked away.
You could have visited, could have given him that touch he said would have made all the difference. But you won’t. Instead, every time you miss him, you call his brother or his best friend. You invite them over to your place to talk about him, recite some of your favorite stories, speaking only in past tense, as if he no longer existed, as if there were no chance of him getting out.
Weekday evenings are the worst. You feel every minute of every day. It never gets easier. When it is most unbearable you count the seconds and sometimes the moments between each second. When you can no longer stand it, you call one of them over, beg them to come by though it takes little convincing. You spray Serge’s favorite perfume on your bed sheets, put up your hair, wear tops that show off your neck and shoulders, revealing the invisible spots where he last left his mark on you, silently beg the others to erase them with fresh mistakes.
The doorbell rings and you take one step forward and an infinite number back into the memory of Serge’s frame within that doorway, his long legs and lashes taking you in, saying hello, saying letting go was not something he was going to allow. But he did didn’t he, standing before the judge, following a future that didn’t have room for you, that you weren’t going to wait for.
7 years going on 8 but you wake up and it’s like day one. If one of them spent the night, you’ll make him breakfast then send him on his way. Then you get in a few good tears before work. Coming home, you pull out a picture from the box you keep in that narrow closet, full of the things you care little for but aren’t quite ready to throw out. While Serge lies in his 6x8, you stare into that 4”x6,” arrested with his memory. You sit with his old picture at the dining table, tape it to the mirror as you get ready for bed, place it on the pillow next to yours. You reminisce about all his promises when there was still life and hope in them. Now you have the toxic taste of his broken potential. The reminders of how he never listened to you. How he said a man has to stand by his own convictions, even as the jury was ready to put him away, he, taking a bullet and a prison sentence for someone else who walked free.
You sit at the cafe, waiting for the sun to go down, wait for one of the boys to show up. It never matters which. You like it better when it’s black outside. It’s easier to remember Serge’s face, feel his hard, hungry touch when the world can’t be seen and the only sound is a shared longing sitting next to you, bringing you back to him.