Oct/Nov 2008  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature

Paper Bird

by Nancy Saunders

Harry turns and looks for a moment in the glass. The shop window reflects back her thinned out, light-blown face. Golden and hopeful. This is the way she likes to see herself, with the sun refracted, angles enhanced by shadow. It is nearly half past ten. She is always this late. Paddy will be pretending to read the paper, the same sentence over and over. She loves this about him. How he tries so hard to be nonchalant.

Paddy watches Harry crossing the road outside. She is all earrings and hair and long limbs, gracefully dancing. Oh, how his heart aches. She called up to meet him here at the White Rose café. "What café?" he'd even said.

It is exactly the same place, same time, one year on. Tuesday, late morning. It was a glorious, hot August morning then (and now it's pouring down!). Paddy, sitting at a small, two-person table, reading the same sentence, bending his thoughts away from the desolation of unrequited things. He did not want to wear the look of a desperado. Then Harry came and sat in his spare seat, his very own empty space. There she was, filling it up.

And now this. It was always going to come to this. Here she comes, splashing through the puddles. Paddy thinks how much he cannot bear to lose her, of all the different ways he needs to say, "I don't want you to go."

He frowns over the paper, assuming the air of a man assuming the air of someone who does not give a shit. Harry drops into the opposite chair, wafting fresh air all mixed up with the scent of her. She makes that sweet face. How can she be so calm! Paddy feels something inside him collapse. He is a man looking across the table from the wrong end.

There is a mean symmetry about it all: 12 months on, same table nudged in to a quiet corner.

"I'm sorry, Pad."

Her sorrow makes it so much worse. If she could just come out with it, lay down the facts. He's an idiot. She is beautiful. These two facts: they are totally opposed to one another; they will never work. Why can't she spit it out straight? You're a fuck. I have things going for me, you know. EVERYthing. And you? What... so you can ride a bike. Look! No hands?

Harry reaches for Paddy's hand. She takes it up towards her lips.

"Baby. I'm so sorry I'm late. You do remember this place, don't you?" Then she turns his hand, places something feather-light on his palm. Folded from immaculate nips and tucks is a tiny, white paper bird—so delicate even the rainy day lights it up.