Ana didn’t know what attitude to adopt towards her own emotions. On the one hand, she hoped that, magically, their relationship would become one of those platonic romances of the heart and soul that famous poets wrote about during the nineteenth-century. On the other hand, every time the phone rang she jumped to answer it, hoping it was he. She’d have liked their friendship to deepen without gaining momentum, returning to a level of ambiguity that would excite them without troubling her conscience or unsettling her life.
“Have you been out jogging?” she heard Michael’s friendly voice.
“No, I just ran to the phone hoping it was you,” she confessed.
For a second, Michael was caught off balance by her frankness. “You might be disappointed. I didn’t call to buy another painting,” he quickly recovered.
“Oh, I don’t care about that.”
“Good,” he approved. “Because I was calling to see if you might be interested in meeting me somewhere for lunch tomorrow.” A little ambiguity of location never hurts. Who knows? She might even agree to come by my place, he speculated.
“I’d love to. I know this really good restaurant on State Street. It’s called Zanzibar. Have you heard of it?”
All right, I guess it will have to be somewhere else, Michael conceded. But there’s no reason why a little action couldn’t follow lunch. “Sure. I’ve eaten there a couple of times. How does noonish sound? We could meet in front of the restaurant.”
“Sounds good.” After she hung up the phone, Ana’s emotions oscillated between anticipation and apprehension. She was glad that she’d get to see Michael again. But she feared that the dangerous course their relationship had taken could not be easily reversed. I can stop this now, she nevertheless told herself. I could call him back and tell him that I can’t make it to our lunch date. Or I could go out to lunch with him and act friendly, without crossing any boundaries. I’ve done this so many times with men before. Why am I behaving so differently with him? Am I ready for more? Ana wondered, not really sure yet what “more” meant, yet not able to calm the restlessness within.
Her thoughts turned to her husband, in search of an external restraint once again. Rob was loyal, hardworking, responsible and faithful. More importantly, he was a great father to their kids. What more could I want from a man? Ana asked herself, surprised by her own lack of fulfillment. When did our love dissipate? she tried to recall. No point of origin came to mind, but she had a distinct impression of how long it had been absent. For years now, when Rob asked her about her day, he didn’t even look into her eyes. It’s as if, to him, “How are you?” were a routine greeting between strangers, not a genuine question between partners. She had long given up trying to engage him. She recognized the look of a cornered animal upon his face whenever she talked to him about anything that interested her. “I’m tired of your egocentrism,” Rob burst out on a number of occasions when she tried to talk to him about her dreams and struggles as an artist.
Only once she had given up hope in their love did Rob finally notice its absence. He proposed getting a babysitter and establishing a date night once a week, to reinvigorate their marriage. During those supposedly romantic dinners, they struggled to find subjects of conversation. The recent elections. Universal healthcare. The war in the Middle East. Yet none of that seemed to matter. Real conversation is like a pebble thrown into a sea of ideas, Ana mused. It doesn’t matter which topic you choose, nothing makes any waves if it doesn’t begin from a center—a fascination with one another--which expands like a wave into a concentric pattern of interest in other aspects of the world. Their conversations, she recalled, landed nowhere. It was as if the pebbles were thrown randomly on a beach and sank into the warm sand without making a sound. Each one came and went unnoticed, forgettable and forgotten.
Even the guilty feelings she tried to summon by thinking of her husband only left her with the impression of a void bridged, but never quite filled, by the common love for their kids. Which is what counts most, Ana reminded herself. Yet at the same time, she felt that just about any man who was currently in love with her would be better than a man who used to be in love with her. She couldn’t help but wonder if all romantic relationships begin with the heat of mutual interest, only to dissolve into the coolness of a detachment that becomes noticeable once it’s much too late to revive a dying love.
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