Barbara Black and Jonathan Ottke

Jonathan Ottke
Inspiration piece

If I Leave a Space
By Barbara Black

He opened the sliding door to his balcony. Standing in the night air soothed him, made  simple inhalation and exhalation his focus. Down on the waterfront a heavy chain was  being unspooled from a winch. The moon spilled its light across the bay. Each night  alone he felt the drag of possible abandonment. And now, looking across the water, the  bright interrogating light on a crane was an eye watching to see if he’d break. This love  couldn’t break him, he was sure. He still felt full of her, as if she had infiltrated every  corner of his insides. He lit his second cigarette under the watchful eye. Something in the  air passed by that put his neck hairs on edge—a swirling air current caught on the corners  of the building, spinning like the pieces of a Van Gogh sky. How could he see it like that,  the crazy painter? Did turbulence live in the tissues of his eyes? The feel of her breath  was like that air. If only he could capture it, carry it with him in his pocket for the crueler  days.

Night offered a kind of solace, a slowed sense of time. Down below, a tiny boat with  coloured lights moved out from the dock. It looked like a glowing caterpillar sliding on a  sheet of black. What was it she had said? “If I leave a space, it means I’m not coming  back.” If I leave a space. He didn’t know what it meant, but she had said it forcefully. She  had rearranged the room before she left and now he stumbled in it, like his body had  forgotten its own parameters. He stood under the yellow wash of his balcony light hoping  to expand into the blackening yawn of the city’s sleep. Ash dropped off the end of his  cigarette and fell 20 stories below. Random pinprick lights in buildings in the business  district, a dot here, a dot there, glowed from the inside. That was her touch, him being lit  up like a light board, her skill in igniting sectors of his body previously unknown to him.  One here, one there, and that was the glory of it, that they weren’t connected. The neon  water caterpillar glided slowly, imperceptibly into the middle of the bay. He smoked his  cigarette down to the filter.

With his third cigarette he was beginning to feel he was wrong about the night. Or at least  this particular night. It wasn’t a solace. It had no beauty. It swallowed the stars and  spread its black haunches over everything. All nostalgia dissolved inside him. The small  dots of light now looked to him like the burning points of his anger and resolve. As night  came to an end, more of them would come on in the offices and rooms, form a larger grid  of illumination—the lights of day and industry, the unmysterious and necessary light. The  world coming back to itself. Yes. The one thing everyone liked about her best—reckless  spontaneity—he now realized irked him the most. It undermined his sense of order in his  life. Constantly she rearranged the furniture of their relation, until negotiation was  impossible. He butted out his cigarette on the railing, went back inside, and moved the  furniture back to the way it was before. All the possibilities of the day were contained in  the thin strip of dawn now leaking over the skyline.


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