untitled (aka work in progress)

I notice that I have blue hands the first day that I meet Xavier.

A row of jasmine growing in the park of our initial encounter blooms behind him when he says ‘Hello,’ without smiling. Watching the white flowers of the deep spearmint shaded bush open before my eyes, a song comes to mind that I know I have never heard before.

I start humming lowly. I slide my blue hands in my back pockets.

Xavier nods at the motion that I hoped might stay unnoticed. His attention feels like something you spend time craving and wish away once it’s received. When he instructs me to follow, his lips don’t move. All I hear is music.

‘How long have you been here?’ he asks with wavy crescent moon lips. It’s like his complexion reflects from his voice. I don’t remember replying, his hazel eyes capture a ray of sun off the sapphire stream we now stand beside.

‘Your memory gets better, it’s the practice.’

My hands are claustrophobic in my pockets. I try rubbing my fingers together but the black cotton of my three-quarter pants proves just too snugly fit. He notices me fidgeting and starts telling his story.

‘It must have been about three weeks ago when I realized this is where I’m supposed to be,’ he says. ‘Like you probably know, that isn’t always an easy thing to figure out. Finding your place. I spent a long time searching.’

Xavier’s jet black hair rests comfortably on his thin shoulders. He’s wearing dark denim and a white t-shirt. The same sort of way my father used to dress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my father lately. He drank too much and poisoned himself. Xavier pulls out a pack of cigarettes and offers me one. He does it hesitantly. He already knows I’m going to decline.

He’s about to place one between his lips when the atmosphere erupts with the scent of white fleshed nectarines. ‘You’re hungry?’ he asks seeming relieved at the distraction from smoking. ‘Over here…’

Around the corner is an orchard. It must have been in the back of my mind. Surely I passed it on my way here. A mushroom trail guides us and Xavier is kicking tops off toadstools as we silently progress. I notice his bare feel for the first time and unknowingly remove my blue hands from stretched pockets, suddenly capable of holding more.

I know that I want to reach for him. He continues telling, ‘The fruit trees seemed surprising at first. I guess I had assumed I’d be some sort of mechanic, pilot even. I can’t tell you how nice it is not wearing shoes.’

Shoes used to be a big deal in my house. My mother’s placed in her closet rack, mine and my father’s next to the door. A dusty pair of Doc Marten sandals, a dirty set of steel capped boots.

When my mother left, the drinking increased. Nothing really changed. I was thirteen then. Appreciative of consistency.

Xavier picks a piece of fruit and runs his fingers along the smooth skin. Dad used to tease me about being a vegetarian. He would call me a hippy and tell all of his drunk friends I was out to save the whales.

‘Tell me what you remember,’ says Xavier licking a gushing stream of thick juice from his bottom lip. ‘Tell me why we’re here.’

One of my favourite childhood memories is apple picking upstate. Every October my parents brought me on a mission of Macintosh and maple sugar candy. My memories from childhood are scarce, the happy ones – a delicacy.

Xavier bites into his second nectarine and is staring into the direction of the sunset. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one this beautiful. It doesn’t leave the feeling of a day ending, it echoes reminder of time cycling – new days ahead.

My mother couldn’t look me in the eye at the funeral. In hindsight, at 35, I respect her choice of leaving my father to manage his own self-induced sickness. I’ll just never understand how she left me behind.

Xavier seems suddenly unwell, ‘Are you ok?’

‘I feel sick,’ he tells me. His eyes are railroad tracks worn from the weight of too many travellers.

I can’t sense his direction. He reaches for his cigarettes again like a reluctant first reach to a teenage crush.

‘Do you really want those?’ I ask.

‘Not at all,’ he says. ‘They make me sick.’

The empathy of Xavier’s eyes affects me. I don’t now how to react. Instinctively, I reach for him and expose my blue hands.

He gently wraps his strong fingers around my thin wrists. The familiarity and comfort of his hands’ sandpaper texture relaxes me to an extent of forgetting about the sky-ish tint of my naked palms.

‘I don’t want to change you,’ I tell the familiar stranger. I suspect he’s near me in age. Maybe 37… perhaps 38…

‘I wish I could have changed for you,’ he says. ‘I would have been different.’

The music returns. I recognize it now. It’s the hymn they played when we buried my father.

I zoom in on my mother’s black veil and don’t believe she’s grieving anyone’s death. It’s her own way of expressing what she wishes could have been different. Before I can stop him, Xavier is walking away.

I’m sitting at my desk surrounded by empty coffee cups and half finished manuscripts. My father’s been buried a mere two hours. I realize for the first time in my life – I’m finally aware.

I wouldn’t change a thing about him.