Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS January in Montreal, and the coldest day of the year so far. We left our hotel and stumbled entwined along Bishop Street. We were looking for a wine bar to escape from the wind and the chill for the afternoon. We passed a homeless woman who was keeping warm on a Metro grate. I had nothing, but he gave her a few toonies. She gave him a chess piece in return. “My lady,” he had said, presenting it to me with a mock bow. I put it in my pocket, where I traced its cold outlines with my thumb.
The wine bar was dim and warm. There was a fire flickering in the corner. The nearly empty room felt like our own secret hideaway.
While he was in the washroom, I pulled the chess piece out and examined it more closely. It was a white queen. I wrote our initials on the green-felt bottom with a Sharpie. I never told him that. He would have thought it was a stupid gesture, a risk, and he would fall just a little less in love with me.
I didn’t want the afternoon to end. With one Champagne bottle drained and another one on the way, the waiter delighted us by bending the wire muselet from the cork into the shape of a chair. A dainty throne for a bite-sized sovereign.
A queen and a wire chair. A hangover from day-drinking. An awareness of being on borrowed time. And the next day, blurred memories of our final night.
I had lashed out, physically, vocally. Pre-empting the emotional whirlwind I knew would come later when we had both returned to our separate lives. He quelled me with one hand on my throat. With his other hand, and with his mouth, he made my wildness consume me, and I was finally still.
It would have to be enough.
He left me at the Montreal airport with bruises singing beneath my paleness, echoing the purple thumbprints under my eyes. Because how could I sleep, afterwards, when I could watch him instead?
I locked the memories of him away. How his hair felt brushing against my thigh. How his feet never got cold. How entranced he was as he watched the waiter in the wine bar coax an empty throne out of something meant to trap fugitive bubbles.
I wonder if he still has that wire chair somewhere. The white queen is a cheap plastic knick-knack, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it away.