Sitting there, on the other side of the table, Tomaz’s right eye, with that distinct light-blue hue of his, was disturbingly larger than his left, which he now held firmly closed. The eyelids were pressed shut firmly, just like you do when looking through a telescope at the sky. He leaned on the table in front of him as if he was hanging on to the quarter board of a large sailing barge while peering into the distance. At this particular moment, however, Tomaz did not exactly feel like he was the captain of his own body. The floorboards were careening as if they were pushed around by the rough waves originating in his stomach. His head was barely held stable by his calloused left hand, his palms dirty, his elbow supported by the rocky beer-stained wooden table which had not seen soap in a long time. Tomaz slowly swayed from side to side while he looked through the sides of the almost empty pint glass he was holding in his hand. The small changes in his moving body weight were causing the table to tap the floorboards in a steady rhythm, like the clapping of the sails above the deck of a ship.
He had not spoken in quite a while, and whatever he was doing now, he seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. His head and the glass slowly turned around, looking around the edges of the room as if it was the horizon edging an open sea, all the while mumbled words occasionally escaped from his inattentive lips, their meaning lost in slurs and unfinished thoughts. He was watching a dark, distorted and barren world from the other side of that glass, colored by the uncomfortable feelings inside of him. There was no joy, and his usually charming character was hidden by the stupor of alcohol while he listened to the melody of The Who’s ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’, which had started playing in the background. Mr. Oglesby, the bar’s owner always had a soft spot for those daft English rock bands, demonstrated by his inaudible singing and head bobbing while cleaning the glassware behind the counter.
Tomaz closed his other eye with the glass remained pressed to his face. It was still cool to the touch and provided a relief from the expectation of the headaches he was bound to have soon. At the edges of his mind, he could already feel the beat of the drums preceding them. A low rumble repeating again and again in a steady rhythm, hurrying the pouncing along towards his brain. Not again, not now, he thought as he heard the bar’s patrons moving around between tables, drunken conversation behind him, someone slowly stumbling towards the restroom, and two youngsters playing pool with the sound of their balls impacting each other like cannon fire, accompanied by the laughing and verbal jousting between the two of them. However, his thoughts always returned to the bar on the other side of the room, dimly lit, and the silent, empty space behind it, where she once stood. From the speakers near the wooden ceiling, Peter Townsend’s voice had started singing about a woman whose man was nowhere to be found.
After opening his eyes, he looked through the glass once more, what he saw was clouded by the smudges of foam of the beer that had, at one time, filled this now almost empty glass. It was not his first one tonight, and maybe not even his last. Evidence of which was provided by the many other empty drinks which stood around the table in front of him. No one had come to collect the empty bottles and glasses, but then again, why would they want to be around me? Tomaz thought to himself while squinting at his watch. A quarter to eleven, the dials read. She should have been here by now.
With a heavy sigh he removed the glass from his face, once again returning to the world he desperately wanted to shy away from, to keep at a distance, to forget. Looking at his empty pint, he still remembers standing in front of his ladder that day, the bucket of water at his side, his jacket covered with the remnants of a rain shower which had just passed over the town. It had been one of many that spring. He looked up at the face of the building he was about to climb, all the while routinely checking with both hands that his squeegee and mop were safely secured in his belt. Satisfied with their presence, he started climbing his ladder, each step slightly shuddering the wooden construct, until he reached the second floor of the townhouse and readied himself to start cleaning the windows like he had for every other week in the past few months. Usually, he just focused on the dirt on the windows, the spots left behind by dried up rain, but today his eyes were like a wrongly focused camera. His eyes did not remain on the glass, so close to him, but they immediately saw through it, through that barrier between him and the room beyond.
There, he saw a woman in her nightgown. He had seen her before. On the phone while walking on Main street in town, in the supermarket on Thursday night, or behind the bar in that one pub. Always from a distance, never up close. Now, there she sat on the bed, as beautiful as she ever was. Her face showed smudges of mascara and trails of tears, it was apparent she had been crying. A picture frame lay next to her, the handset of a phone held in her hands, pointing downwards. She sat there as if defeated.
Tomaz felt like he was intruding in a very personal moment and immediately tried to climb back down without being noticed. However, he had no such luck. With a clumsy move, and trying to keep his balance five meters up in the air the metal bucket, filled to the brim with soapy water, became dislodged and, in slow motion, it dropped slowly towards the ground. It hit the pavement with a loud BANG, spilling its contents everywhere. A woman walking her dog jumped away with a yelp, the dog pulled to the side, almost strangled by his leash. It felt like the world was holding its breath while bubbles of soap slowly popped all around the ladder, water slowly making it ways towards the street. With eyes wide open Tomaz stared down at the scene and then slowly returned his gaze back towards the window and gasped in surprise.
The woman now stood right in front of him, on the other side of the glass panes, between the green curtains. Seeing her like this, every comparison with the distant shimmer of before failed miserably. Oh, she was so beautiful, even in her sorrow. Her eyes were dark deep wells from which buckets of tears had sprung. He just wanted to reach out to her, to comfort her, but Tomaz remained breathless as he stood on his ladder with their eyes locked. In her hand she had the picture frame that had been on the bed, it showed a handsome man and woman standing near a tree on what must have been a most delightful summer’s day. Both of them smiling at the camera as if tomorrow was far away.
The voice of a singer pulled Tomaz back from this memory. The words of a man forgiving his wife repeated slowly as the singer started his last verse. Still leaning on his hand, Tomaz glanced at the person in front of him. The man’s eyes and frown showed pity as his hand pushed forth an envelope between the glasses on the table. “I’m sorry,” he said slowly. “She is not coming. She asked me to give you this,”, nodding at the envelope. After waiting momentarily as if confirming it was going to stay put he pulled back his hand and returned it to the pocket of his coat. Moving uncomfortably in place it was not long before he scooched towards the end of the bench he had been sitting. He got up with a groan. “Maybe I’ll see you around?” The question lingered in the air for a while, but Tomaz did not respond as he looked at the white paper slowly soaking up some of the moisture on the table.
As the man walked away Tomaz reached for the envelope and opened it with trembling fingers. He recognized her favorite stationery. It was not the first time he had received letters from her, her paper white as snow. The handwriting was done with her favorite black pen, and it was as elegant as ever. His mind was yelling at him to stop, to put the letter back in the envelope and to walk away. Yet, he could not listen as he started reading her words: