The two of you will be in love forever. Many other couples have got it wrong, but not you. You are dynamic creatures in a world filled with weakness and uncertainty, and while many things are ambiguous the two of you are not. You have a dream where you build a hutch for the two of you to live in, nothing in it but your young bodies and a soft blanket. Nothing calms you like his scent. Your perfume reminds him of talcum powder after bath time, of childhood joys. You don’t know it yet, but you’re both about to have your hearts broken.
After you graduate you want to live in Paris, a city you’ve never been to. The walls of your little apartment will be a mossy green, and tall, wrought-iron bedposts will guard your limb-entangled sleep. There’s every chance you’ll create an amazing work of art someday. One afternoon you buy an enormous wooden wardrobe, the first piece of furniture you’ve ever owned. It has a key in a wobbly lock and little brass pulls for handles and it costs you all of the money you had saved. You can already see it in that apartment on the Left Bank, where you will live together and burn with brilliance and never surrender. It’s the first piece of your future, the first of so many beautiful things that will be yours.
It takes three men to move the wardrobe into your first house; they complain about the weight and knock it against the doorframe, leaving a sharp dent. Still, your first adult belonging is beautiful to you. The two of you are on your way.
But the house is awful, a sagging wreck on a hill without streetlights. The roof leaks all winter and the walls pour mould all spring. Small items move and doors fly open at will; gravity and slanting floors have you half-believing in ghosts. So you focus harder and harder on Paris, and you polish your wardrobe until the wood glows. You fill your mind with gardens and grand buildings, wealth and sunshine, the life of joy awaiting you both. But sometimes, late at night, you lie alone and imagine your whole bedroom is beginning to slide, that soon it will tumble right out of the house like a drawer and pitch you down the long hill.
The money runs out and soon your hearts are scraped raw with fighting; your bed is small but, as it turns out, still big enough to lose each other in. Months later you move into a new place, a little apartment which in parts looks just like your dreams, but something is broken now, and you don’t have a name for it. The wardrobe looms hugely in your new, smaller bedroom. He begs you to get rid of it; you try to explain why you can’t – that it’s a totem of yourselves in the future, the first step you took toward Paris. But the words don’t come out the way you hoped. So you polish the floorboards in the living room inch by inch while he’s at work. He starts to drink and soon you’re doing it too.
The day before you leave for good he gives you a single white rose, all that’s survived of a bouquet that he bought to persuade you to stay then forgot and left in the car. It’s so perfect, so everything that’s right and wrong between the two of you that you both start crying. You haven’t learned the word synecdoche yet, but eventually you will and you will think of that poor rose, and the rest of the bouquet, which you never saw, which he hid it out of shame at his mistake, then told the story anyway.
Una Cruickshank is a writer, editor and volunteer tutor at the Sydney Story Factory.
Photo used under Creative Commons by Rob Nunn