Lux Aeterna by Melissa Goode

Lux Aeterna

Saturday afternoon, the American Wing Cafe at the Met. I sit by a massive window and the grand elms in Central Park wave slow. The cafe is crowded, loud, Handel’s Water Music is drowned.

A man, carrying a laden tray, surveys the cafe. He approaches my table. It has the only available seats. He stops opposite and looms.

Before he can speak, I say, “Please, sit.”

It is me who is beseeching.

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His name is Jeremy. He ordered the orange poppyseed cake too. He takes a bite, and when he drags the cake from the fork into his mouth, he closes his eyes. It’s what my husband would do and my eyes smart.

“How good is that cake?” Jeremy says.

I finish my mouthful, steady my voice, and say, “Delicious.”

“You’re British,” he says.

I don’t correct him. My jaw aches. The sugary gritty cream cheese icing sets my teeth on edge.

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A woman could bustle over and say to Jeremy, here you are! You couldn’t wait for me? I know there’s no woman or man for him. He has a raw edge, I do too. Exposed, serrated, bloody, amputee.

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The tea will not darken. I dunk the teabag over and over, but the water does not change colour. I take a sip, it’s wishy-washy. They must not have boiled the water and the tea cannot steep.

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Afternoon sun hits the mirror on the far wall behind Jeremy and casts a glare. Orange-coppery light sets everything aglow, sepia already, evoking nostalgia, melancholy, the dead.

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Three years ago, I visited Manhattan with my husband. This city. He is everywhere.

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I take another sip of tea, but it’s undrinkable.

“Americans can’t make a cup of tea, right?” Jeremy says. “That’s what my British friends say.”

“Today, I would have to agree,” I say.

“Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Thank you,” I say, rather than criticise American coffee.

He queues for me and all I see is my husband in his blue hoodie, his arms crossed high over his chest.

*

Jeremy says, “Have you finished with the Met? Or were you planning to see more?”

“I’d like to see more.”

“Do you feel like company?” he says.

“Yes.”

I said it too quickly. He smiles.

*

A folio from a Qur’an Manuscript, dated late Thirteenth Century, made in Spain. Laid under glass, the creamy parchment is embossed with dark ink and gleaming gold.

The English translation provides: “He wraps the night over the day and wraps the day over the night and has subjected the sun and moon, each running its course until an appointed time.”

Jeremy reads beside me, his heavy silver watch reflected in the glass. Night enwraps day, day enwraps night, then lux aeterna, they say, and his hands are not like my husband’s. 

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Downstairs, in the Great Hall, a choir sing Mozart’s Requiem, by turns funereal and ecstatic.

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Photo: A Corner of Mondrian’s Studio with Bed, Stool, Curtain and Mirrors, Paris, dated 1926. Silvery light spills from an unseen window. On the shelves stand a coffeepot, sugar bowl, creamer, domesticity, quietude.

In the sparsity, Mondrian may have first drawn the world as intersecting black lines. He escaped to this city in 1939 and the lines turned bright yellow, Broadway Boogie-Woogie.

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We emerge from the Met into the day, stunned, dazed. People rush across the forecourt and others sit on the front steps in the last of the sun. Children run, shriek and laugh. A truck sells ice-cream to tourists. The fountain goes on.

Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in The Penn Review, The Masters Review, CRAFT Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, CutBank and Paper Darts, among others. Her work has been chosen for Best Small Fictions (“It Falls”, Jellyfish Review), also Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf Top 50. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter

More by Melissa Goode It falls / No one is home / One more time / The Winged Lion

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Next: In which I ask my husband if we should migrate by Clare Chai

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Image: Wally Gobetz Piet Mondrian CC2.0

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