It was a warm spring afternoon and Joe was in the garden, chipping at a life-sized block of wood. Already one could see the long flowing robes and hair, and the wings sprouting out of her back. Although her form and features were still crude, it was clear she was looking down and off to one side, an arm extended outward as if in guidance. Joe was carefully freeing the tip of her nose from the surrounding wood when a voice called to him from the house.

A young woman with long dark curls emerged from the kitchen door and walked over carrying a glass of lemonade. "Don't you want to come in for lunch? It's after one o'clock."

Joe took the glass. "I hadn't noticed. I'm kind of on a roll here."

"So was I, but even I had to come to a stopping point."

"How's the book coming along, by the way?"

"Pretty well. I think my agent will be pleased." She turned her attention to Joe's work. "This will look good with the one of the little boy you did last fall."

Joe nodded. "They're companion pieces."

"They're for St. John's, right?"

"I don't think so."

"I thought you had a commission."

Joe shrugged. "I have a warehouse full of stuff I'm sure will work just as well."

"Any particular reason not to give them these?"

"I don't want to." Joe sucked down the rest of the lemonade and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

The young woman was silent for a moment, examining the statue again. Even in its crude state, the future shape of its delicate nose, cupid's mouth and pointed chin were clear. She took back the empty glass. "I don't suppose your attachment would have anything to do with your model."

"I didn't use a model."

"Just the one in your memory." Her lips cured into a forgiving smile. "If you're hungry, come on in. I'm making lunch for myself and if you're lucky, I might make enough for two."

"I'll be along in a minute," Joe said.

For an instant she looked like she might hug him, but gave him a quick kiss on the cheek instead. "I love you."

Joe tugged a curl playfully, but said nothing. After she went back into the house, Joe picked up his tools and went back to carving Elise's face onto the mahogany angel.

* * *

Brent got off the plane and pushed his way through the crowds. He tried to hurry, only to be slowed down by the women in front of him, ambling slowly and chattering about nothing, their enormous bags blocking the aisle. Now that his own steps had slowed, his ankles fell victim to the stroller behind him.

As soon as they were out of the disembarking area, Brent ducked through the crowd and opened up his stride, scanning the walls ahead for flight monitors. He read down the list of arrivals and departures until he found the one he was looking for. "Dammit." He slung his laptop and carry-on over his shoulder and went to the nearest gate. "Excuse me," he said, placing his tickets on the counter. "Can you tell me how long flight 304 is delayed?"

The woman tapped a few keys. "Two hours."

"You've got to be kidding."

"I'm sorry." She tapped a few more keys. "It looks like your plane was coming from O'Hare, and they've been having thunderstorms."

"Well, at least the conference doesn't start until tomorrow. Thanks." He glanced at his watch, then headed into the milling crowds, stopping at the men's room to splash water on his face and run a comb through his hair. He peered into the mirror and was surprised as always by the number of lines that had sprouted around his eyes over the last few years. He rubbed them, but they didn't go away. He went to dry his hands under the blow drier, noting how bare they were, even though he hadn't worn a wedding ring in a long time. He rubbed the finger of his left hand. "Pavlov was right." He picked up his bags again and headed back into the hall, stopping at a kiosk to pick up a Wall Street Journal. Catching a headline that interested him, he looked for an empty seat.

Suddenly something of even greater interest caught his eye. He folded his paper and shoved it carelessly into his bag, then he looked around and made his way across the room to where the dark-haired woman sat reading a magazine while a little boy of five played on the chair next to her. Since he couldn't see the woman's face, Brent stared intently at the boy, blonde and gray-eyed, with features so similar to his own that Brent could scarcely breathe. Shaking now, Brent took a few tentative steps closer, trying to see the slender woman's face, but now she was bending over a bag, looking for something. She must have spoken because the boy looked at her, and Brent strained to hear her voice, but could hear nothing over the din of the crowds and the security reminders on the intercom. Finally the woman sat up and looked around. Brent turned away in disappointment.

"Stupid mistake," he said to himself as he walked down the hall, oblivious to the crowds. "As if I'd run into her here, of all places. Or anywhere at all."

He hurried through the gate into the main part of the airport and wandered aimlessly until the neon sign of a bar caught his eye. He went inside and ordered a double Absolut on the rocks. He sucked down the vodka quickly, not even wincing as it burned his throat and his stomach. He stared at the television without seeing it, ate a few peanuts, but remained locked in his own private thoughts.

After finishing his first drink, he ordered a second and took this one to the window. Outside the sky was gray and overcast and from this vantage point Brent could see the planes taking off and landing. Over and over, the pattern repeated; one plane picking up speed and vaulting itself into the air while another came in, small at first, then larger and larger, lowering its wing flaps and tilting its nose up like a bird as it landed gracefully on the tarmac.

Brent sipped his drink then ordered another, absorbed in the comings and goings. Nothing else mattered, not even the flight he had missed. The world closed in around him, leaving only people who came and went while he sat alone.


  1. oh how sad even after all this time they are obsessed with Elise they need closure.

  2. Brent is so sad. It would have been better if Joe hadn't burnt the slip of paper so Brent could keep chasing after Elise. Then he might have achieved some kind of closure. Joe's attitude is much healthier, though I feel for his new love. I still wonder what it was about Elise that made her so special.

  3. @Sheilagh and Alice: How much of what we think is love is really just fantasy and ego? This is a theme that comes up over and over in my writing, maybe because it comes up over and over in my life. My perception of people's willingness to draw the right lessons from their experiences isn't much different than it was when I wrote this story 12+ years ago, but I don't know if I would write anything this cynical today.

  4. I am glad you wrote this piece. I suppose we are all obsessed with love. However possessiveness is not love as it denies the other person to be their own self which maybe why they were loved in the first place. The fact that for a short while Elise belonged to each of them alone should be reason to say goodbye and start again, thankful they had part of her. If only they could say "I have lived, I have loved".

  5. the first half had me captivated, I could hardly breathe while reading it

  6. The epilogue is like an angel in itself..i thought for a moment Elise was handing out the lemonade..i guess she is there..always there..how differently we deal with loss..maybe it's not even all about love..we all need a focal point to move from one moment to the next..

  7. Sorry I've been away for so long, after saying I'd be with you to the end. Life happens, and sometimes it aint easy. I just read the last several chapters all at once.

    There's a depth to this, but it's elusive. A bit like Elise, maybe.

    It's not so much about closure, I guess, as it is that each of these guys has an Elise-shaped hole in his life that can't be filled in any other way. Joe is trying to move on; Brent isn't even doing that.

    It's an interesting question you ask about love in your comment. I've been thinking for some time now that when somebody says, "I love you," there is a second message: "I need you to love me."

    And the answer to your question, perhaps different for each person, lies in the balance between those two messages. It can be all about possessiveness [more generally relevant than fantasy, IMHO] and ego, or hardly at all. Now that I say that, I think by the end of the story Joe made a transition along that axis [and for him it really was, at least in part, a fantasy concept of Elise that he still can't quite let go of.] Maybe now he can learn to live in a giving rather than a taking way.

    The contrast with Brent makes him a good foil.


    1. I meant to say --

      Maybe now he can learn to LOVE in a giving rather than a taking way.