After twenty-five years, of course, they both
had changed. The problem was that he could see her so much more clearly
than he could see himself.
She still had the same large black eyes, the
same dimpled smile. But the face had widened, the skin had coarsened, the
thick, black, shining hair was now close-cropped and
And from being petite, she had become squat,
thick around the middle, her small breasts just barely protruding beyond
"Not so beautiful anymore," she said, looking
straight into his eyes with an amused smile.
"You were very beautiful."
"You were very handsome."
"I've missed you all these
She blushed under her gray, wrinkled skin.
"Let's not get sentimental," she said. "I'm married, you
"I had hoped that for
"He's a postman." She laughed. "A good man. We
have two boys."
She looked at him skeptically. "And
The waiter came to the table and took their
orders. They were sitting in the garden of a medieval convent, now a
restaurant and inn. It was summer but still cool in the shade of old
"I married again," he said. "Four years . . .
after you came back here. She died a few months ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that," she
They gave the professor's second wife a moment
"So why did you come here?" she asked. "After
all these years."
"I wanted to find out what happened to you. I
wanted to reassure myself that you were OK."
"I'm OK," she said. "I was always
"I was afraid you wouldn't
"You flatter yourself."
The waiter came to pour their wine, and they
"To the two of us twenty-five years ago," he
said, lifting his glass.
"To the two of us now," she countered,
clinking against his.
He nodded, suddenly, palpably, aware of the
chasm between them.
"What I did was wrong," he said. "I know that
now. I knew it then, but not as clearly."
"I was an adult. You didn't owe me
"I wasn't ready to give you what you had a
right to expect. That was the thing. I needed you. My wife had just broken
up our marriage. I needed a beautiful young woman to adore me. But it was
too soon for me to plunge back into marriage."
"Too soon?" she said. "I waited six
"Even so. It was over ten years before I was
ready to get married again."
She laughed. "I should have delayed my
"I'm glad you got your degree," he said
quickly. "For whatever reason."
"I did it just to extend my student visa. For
no other reason. But you knew that, didn't you?"
"Yes," he said. "I knew
"Then why did you use me?"
"I loved you. I really
"You took an innocent student, just the first
young, willing, beautiful body, and used it to prop up your pitifully
smashed little ego."
"I loved you," he insisted. "I cared about
you. You weren't just any willing body. I loved you more than I've loved
anyone, before or since."
"But not enough to marry
"Not then. I wasn't
"After six years?"
"You have to remember," he begged, "that when
we started our affair I was just separated, not even divorced. And I had
children in school -- "
Their food came, suspending the conflict in
"Bon appetit," she said, with what
looked like a friendly smile.
"Bon appetit," he
They ate for a bit in uncomfortable
"Were you hoping I wasn't married?" she
finally asked. "And still beautiful?"
"I always hoped that I hadn't ruined your
"No, I wouldn't have let you do that. But you
put me through a lot of pain."
"I'm sorry. I've always regretted it." He
laughed. "My one indiscretion."
"But this trip, after your second wife just
died. Were you lonely? Were you hoping . . . for something
He stared at her for a moment, wondering
whether, now that it was impossible, he should tell her the
"Yes," he finally said. "I had hopes. But I
realized there wasn't much chance."
"That I would still be
"That you wouldn't be married. That you would
still want me."
"Thank you for being honest about
They finished their meals and ordered coffee,
apparently out of things to say.
Then she said, "I want to tell you what it was
like for me the day you brought me to the airport."
He nodded, knowing that he was in for it
"For six years I had thought of nothing but
marrying you, of having your children, of taking care of you in your old
"I'm sorry I did that to you. I've always been
"Stop saying you're sorry!" she almost hissed.
"You don't regret for a minute that you had six years of love from a
beautiful young woman. You took my innocence, you took my youth, and you
look back on it with pleasure!"
"Yes, I look back on it with pleasure," he
admitted, "but also with guilt." He was glowing red, wondering why he had
come all this way just to subject himself to this.
The coffee came, offering him a brief respite.
But she was not to be put off.
"Even up to the gate I had a bit of hope," she
said. "Do you remember? I asked if you would write to me. You said of
course you would. Come to see me? Of course you would. I could tell from
your voice it was lies. Lies!"
"I meant to -- " he began.
"I could tell you were shoveling me off, glad
to be rid of me! I could tell! It was in your voice, in your eyes. You
were glad I could no longer stay, glad the six years were
"That's not true!" he
"Of course it's true! The problem was you had
never been free. You went straight from your first wife to me. You'd
already become bored with me, you wanted others. But you couldn't be free
to have them until I was gone."
"You've believed that all this
"I knew it the day I
"But it isn't true!" he said weakly, knowing
how weak he sounded, that the weakness condemned him, but unable to muster
up anything more.
"That's why my love for you turned to anger,
pure anger," she continued. "By the time I got here, I wished I had no
memory of you!"
"That was probably good for
She laughed. "Yes, it would have been. It
would have been good for me."
Suddenly she was crying. She held out her hand
for him, and he took it. She pulled it towards her and kissed
The waiter came with the check. They both
straightened up. As the professor paid, she took a handkerchief out of her
pocketbook and daubed her eyes.
"You were my youth," she said when the waiter
had left. "I had put you so far behind me. Why did you have to come
"I'm sorry," was all he could say. "I'm so