By James Y. Shih
He looked out his hotel window at the cold Hoboken day. On his way back to the hotel, he passed a lone duck wading in the pond. He wondered why the duck lingered in the cold north.
He met her in Manhattan earlier that day.
She had moved to New York from California years ago and was now working at a big firm downtown. They hadn’t spoken since she left. He was in town for business and it took an agonizingly long time before he reached out to her.
She recommended a dumpling restaurant in New York Chinatown. From the restaurant window, he saw her coming down the street wearing a long beige jacket and black boots. Behind him, he looked past the bathroom door and saw a square window. It was big enough for him to squeeze through and there was time to escape.
He was still attracted to her. That feeling hurt.
In his Hoboken hotel room, he could see clear across the Hudson back to their conversation. L’esprit d’escalier, the spirit of the staircase, the French say. All the things one should’ve said, but thought of too late.
Their conversation was polite.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve been doing well,” she said.
He was better. Before, just going to the supermarket where they shopped or passing by her parents’s house would send a dark blue fog over him and he’d feel overcast all day. Now, when he thought of her it was less intense. He withheld this.
“Thanks. You’ve been doing pretty good yourself,” he said.
She was doing well. She had gotten a bonus recently and had just moved in with her boyfriend. She was still unsure if she wanted to stay with the job and was nervous about how fast things were moving in her relationship.
“You’ll be fine,” he said.
She smiled. He was comforting her again.
It was true though. He knew that she could take care of herself and somewhere inside of him, the strings that bound him to her loosened. She was more confident, more sure of herself than he remembered. He was happy for her.
They hugged and promised to keep in touch.
He knew though that future meetings of this kind would be rare.
Inside his hotel room, the fading sunlight filtered through the window and fell on his bed.
He put on a pair of running shoes and threw on a puffy black North Face jacket. He stepped out of the lobby into the cool late afternoon. Gray-white snow speckled the urban landscape. He ran towards the pond. Naked trees grew in number as he moved away from the hotel, their brown branches reaching to the sky.
As he approached, the lone duck was still wading in the water as if waiting for him. The duck turned his metallic green head towards him. He stopped and watched the duck return his stare.
The duck spun in the water and in a burst of motion, flapped his wings and took to the sky. The duck flew south and he followed his path, running on the ground.
John Jeng, Thao Nguyen, and Nick Louie for their editorial support and suggestions.