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You See Her When You Close Your Eyes

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  You thought you saw Her last night, riding in a carriage on Tottenham Court Road.

  You didn’t give chase. You’ve seen Her grave; you dug Her cold, half-decomposed body up; you put Her back into the ground yourself.

  Poetic, isn’t it? Consumption and poverty claimed Her life, but you, you are the one to send Her to Her grave, twice.

  You couldn’t stay in Paris, where every brick and street lamp seems to whisper Her name. You couldn’t go to the countryside, either. You are afraid of remembering what the two of you could have had, if it hadn’t been for you, you, you.

  It doesn’t get easier with the traveling. You saw Her mischief in the eyes of a Spanish girl; in Brussels, a young woman threw her head back in laughter, and you thought of the way She teased.

  You gave all the change you had to a prostitute in London. She was not dressed for the weather, and she was coughing, spitting scarlet blood into the snow beneath your feet. When you suggested that she go see a doctor, she looked at you with such pity in her eyes that you wanted to weep into her small, frost-bitten hands.

  You wander if this is how Des Grieux feels, after he returns to France.

  You wander if he ever hates Manon for dying.

  Your father tried to offer you consolation. “She died for a noble cause,” he wrote in his letter, “her soul was pure in the end, in death.”

  You want to scream at him, crumple up the paper and throw it in his face.

  There is nothing in death except the ending of life. There is nothing romantic about the rotting flesh and bones. Strip away the poetry, the wishful thinking, and it’s just dead things, cold and lifeless.

  Right below your apartment is a small flower shop that sells all kinds of fresh flowers. Every day, the scent of camellias creeps through the floorboards and invades your bedroom. Somehow, it always finds a way of clinging to your books; your clothes; your pillows.

  Some days, it’s the closest thing you get to embrace Her.