The symphony hall rustled expectantly in the few minutes before the eight o’clock premiere. Lise settled herself into the plush of the box seat. Alan had remembered her preference for this side, the box facing the busyness of the percussion section rather than the staid thrumming of the double bass. Happy, she turned to give him a warm smile of thanks. As he lowered his chin in shy acknowledgement, Lise’s eyes rested on him a moment longer. It had been a bumpy road, this marriage, but after so long they were finally content with one another. They could appreciate the rarity of what they had worked so hard to rebuild. Lise smoothed the burnished gold satin of her dress. She felt like a small sun, warm and lustrous.
Through the enthusiastic applause for the conductor and the opening melody of the symphony, Lise continued to bask in a kind of reverie. There was no tension in her shoulders, not from the foibles of children or the illnesses of elderly relatives or personal devils within. As the violins swelled into the high ethereal notes, so did her lungs, with deep breaths of relaxation that were rewarded by light scents of frangipani and cinnamon mixed with Alan’s musk and her own. They would make love tonight.
Only gradually Lise became aware of the small tightening of muscles in her hands, the unconscious furrowing of her brow. She shifted, trying to slough off the discomfort and regain her quietude. Her eyes flicked over the audience and returned to the delicate movements of the harpist’s fingers, flitting across the strings.
Someone was staring at her, Lise realized. She felt a definite awareness of someone staring, an odd and ancient intuition. But not Alan. Not anyone close by.
Lise began to survey the audience again, slowly, gaze drifting over the dimly lit orchestra seating below, then upwards and along the mezzanine. Her skin was crawling now. She scratched lightly below her watch, the tender place behind her ear, her neck — index finger making small circles in the concavity above her breasts.
When her glance arrived at the box directly across from her, she stopped. Her face went rigid and, with a spasmlike movement, the fingers at her neck traveled left as if reacting to a pain in her chest. Her back straightened. There was a man staring. And he did not desist, but held Lise’s eyes, settling just slightly back into his seat, as if his mission had been accomplished.
Neither looked away. In fact, Lise was intent now, anxious to be sure in the dimly lit hall that the man was who she thought he was. She felt the small tense movements in her eyes as they moved over his face and frame, hair and then face again, marking all the features that had once been so familiar to her. So dear to her.
Lise’s mind was a cacophony of thoughts and sensations. It was Will, she was sure now. But why was he here? In this city, at this concert, at this hour. Lise had never expected their paths to cross again, had in fact, counted on it, mourned Will’s loss as if he were dead.
We have to end this, he had said. There had been more, but those were the only words that had mattered.
They continued to hold each other eyes, but more softly. Lise wrapped her arms around herself, feeling the exquisiteness of him undressing her there in public, his caress again at wrist, at neck, behind the ear. She felt twenty-five years younger, in intoxicating, intense love, and in excruciating, aching, cheating pain.
“Are you cold, Lise?” Alan whispered, and still she did not turn away from Will.
“I’m fine,” she answered. It was the second biggest lie she had ever told Alan.
As the music wound towards its final crescendo, Lise’s breath came faster, each intake hardly able to sustain her from fainting.
Lise watched Will clap with the audience and rise to take intermission. His index finger separated, pointed towards the centre of the hall. She nodded, almost imperceptibly, the tsunami of sensations ripping away the ballast that normally held her steady.
“I’m going to the Ladies.” She could not risk Alan’s touch.
“This one is closer.” Alan gestured.
“The other will be less suffocating — crowded, I mean.” She turned away.
Lise dodged and shifted around the audience as it congregated in great clumps at every doorway. It was a full house. There was little room. Lise’s heartbeat ticked away the few minutes of intermission as she groped towards the halfway point between the boxes.
And then he was there. Standing solid, facing her. Waiting for her.
She was six feet away. No one blocked the path between them. Space hovered there, lit and open. More than space.
He took one step forward into it. She did not.
In the language of eyes, he passed these words: desire, regret, invitation.
And through Lise’s consciousness passed her life since Will. The painstaking construction of contentedness in the aftermath of euphoric risk. The concentration on family and the release of long-harbored memories.
In the language of eyes, in rapid movements between two dark pupils, she responded: desire, resolution, fond regret.
Lise placed her right hand on her heart, breathed deeply and exhaled, sending him her breath through kiss-shaped lips.
Then she turned and walked away.
Moments later, Lise slid back into her plush seat. There was already a sense of vacancy in the hall. She knew that when she looked up, Will’s seat would be empty.
She squeezed Alan’s hand hard during the second half of the concert, felt the low drum beat at her heart, the bassoon and the oboe rumble in her gut and vibrate through her pelvis. Her core shook, and then, on the clear notes of the clarinet, settled again.
Jann Everard has lived in Toronto twenty-five years longer than strictly necessary. She thinks bios are harder to write than stories. She has a number of degrees and a number of publications and is still looking for the definitive meaning of ’emerging writer’.