It would have been easy to tell her that she hadn’t changed, but she had. And not for the better.
The eagerness to experience life that had shone in her face had been replaced by a slight dullness, as if she’d experienced the best and worst that life had to offer, and had decided to settle for something in-between.
She was older.
The way she walked, the way she talked, the way she moved. All were signs of a woman her age, rather than of the person I remembered from the last time we met, someone who had been alive with the joy of experiencing newness every day.
I hadn’t seen her for more than a few years, but as I ordered another drink each for us, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her.
Oh, there were changes that as a man of a similar age, I could only approve of. Her hair had lightened over the long years, and it suited how her face had altered. Her eyes, which I remembered as being large behind enormous spectacles, were now smaller and softer behind contact lenses. However, whereas with some women, that might have indicated a sultry seductiveness, with her, it just betokened a resigned subjection to the fashion of the day.
Her beverage of choice had changed over the years, as had mine of course. And my irrational prejudice against women who drank neat bourbon in three short swallows was in full force. Bourbon’s a drink that should be savoured, in my opinion, each swallow giving the drinker the opportunity to solve the problems of the world, including a few the world doesn’t know it’s got.
It shouldn’t be tossed back with an experienced air, drinking for the sake of it, just to finish the drink quicker.
She did neither, but drunk it with experience of alcohol. Too much? I couldn’t say.
When the next round of drinks arrived, we’d pretty much exhausted the small talk, including the polite surprise that she was in the burlesque show at the hotel at which I happened to be staying.
What a coincidence, we agreed, for the tenth time. She was too polite to ask about the newly white circle of flesh on my ring finger. And I was too polite to mention her manners. If either of us had mentioned something, the evening might have ended differently.
Might have, but I doubt it.
It surprised me how easy the conversation flowed, to be honest. We’d never been that close, after all, when we’d last known each other three decades back. And the distance when she’d moved had killed any friendship we’d been close to developing.
Five rows of seats apart is a long distance when you’re nine years old, after all.