A Simple Encounter by Maddie Gwinn
Sweet cheer, that’s what he called custard. I can still hear it in his cute Serbian accent. He wrote it once in a message that I read over and over in that voice.
So there I was today back in his neighborhood. I could see his looming apartment building through the trees of the cemetery. I decided against going to the strudel stand he took me to once, to save the time and nostalgic memory preserved in amber. I still wanted a custard strudel, so I got one at the Pekarna next to the tram stop. A long line, I repeated the order in Czech to myself and managed to say it correctly.
Crossing the street, picking chunks of apple cinnamon sugar with my fingers, I remembered how childish I felt next to him. He had bought me a strudel to cheer me up, and also one for Masha, to smooth things over after she saw us walking together. That was three years ago, and it happened like this: we were deep in conversation walking through Vaclavske Namesti, when I thought I saw him flash a wave at someone. Then his phone started ringing, which he ignored. He said we had just walked right past his girlfriend.
Now, here again, alone, I feel nothing when I see her. It’s completely normal, as if she’d always been standing across from me at the stop. I’d know her from anywhere. Yet, this was the first time I’d actually seen her in person. How small she is. Like a tiny doll. Long black evening coat meant for the opera, a tiny purse that she practically holds with one finger, and a hand woven shopping bag. She coughs politely into her wrist. She is made out of porcelain. I am not at all surprised. She doesn’t see me. I look away, almost bored. What’s the use of analyzing it? I’ve seen everything in one glance: she’s an excuse.
When I look back up, she's stepping quietly on the tram that rolls in front of her, turning away from me. The whole event occurs in silence, like a breeze. She was always there, and when I acknowledged her she was gone. Like the double slit test. A quantum moment. I wonder where she’s going. Out East, past Flora, there is nothing. Some aimless job I imagine, I secretly hope. I don’t care anymore. I knew it would happen, I expected it, and in what way better than this? It was meant to get me thinking.
I always knew he was boring like her. If it had been him on the street instead of Masha, I would've folded into a fit of laughter. He is the kind of person I detest; wasting his parents' money, living in the ugly new high rises of Prague, calls himself a writer. He doesn’t know the first thing about love. Come to think of it, I never knew much about him and he never cared to know me. He thought he knew me. But it wasn’t all a waste. There was a time when I needed him. I’m allowed to wonder what would have happened if he had released me. We both tried, though he was never really mine to keep.
Maddie Gwinn is a filmmaker from Seattle.