Max and I were having a picnic in a meadow. The wicker basket was emptied of it contents. So peaceful, only the song of birds overshadowed the sound of the breeze in the branches above our head. Max had worn his tan linen suit, he’d taken off his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. I wore a cotton dress with a full skirt; a white background with a pattern of bright red cherries that matched the red buttons that ran up the front of the dress. My hair pulled back from my face, the way Max liked it, and tied with a scarf. I’d taken off my shoes and stockings so I could enjoy the feel of the grass and the warm sun against my skin.
Max raised a glass of champagne and toasted our anniversary. “You are more beautiful now,” he said.
“I am so tired.”
He took a sliver of cheese and held it up to my lips. I took it into my mouth and held it until it melted against my tongue and I swallowed its buttery acid tang. His fingers rested against my cheek and then traced a line down my neck, following the lines to my collarbone and down over my breast.
“I’m sorry that we never had children,” he said. “You are a wonderful mother.”
“Mila is an ideal child,” I said leaning my head against his chest. “I wish she were ours.”
“She is yours isn’t she?”
“I am her caretaker, but her heart still belongs to Ilona.”
“But she loves you,” he said.
“Of course, but not the way she loves her mother. Strange, we always long for the one who doesn’t love us. Like Anna and Deszo.”
“Or are incapable of loving us, like Deszo and you.”
I picked up one of the figs I’d cut and lifted it to his lips. His bite spilled its juice onto my fingers.
“You left me too soon,” I said finishing the sweet remnant he’d left. “This would be so much easier if you were here.”
Max nodded and then took my hand in his. “You are becoming a woman I never saw. I am so proud of you.”
I raised his hand to my lips and kissed the soft furrow of skin between his knuckles. “I hope you won’t waste your life waiting for these moments.”
“But they’re all I have!”
“Dreams?” Max shook his head. “I would never have asked that of you.”
“They are enough.”
“No,” he sighed. “Dreams are not meant to supplant life.”
“I don’t want you to leave me, not ever.”
Max leaned forward and kissed me in a soft lingering kiss, the pressure of his lips against mine warmed me and my body ached forward in return. “Deszo is a good man.”
“I’m not so sure anymore.”
“He loves you.”
“I don’t love him.” I pushed myself up and brushed the crumbs off my lap. “You are all I want.”
“Before me, you loved Deszo,” Max said, running his hand down my spine. “I was an interruption. A detour.”
“No!” I pulled away and buried my face in my hands. “You are the only one I wanted.”
“It’s time to move on,” Max whispered.
“No! I won’t!”
“I will always be with you, Natalie.” He moved to my side and took me in his arms, leaning me back against his body. He nuzzled his face against my neck and kissed me again. “Will you spend the rest of your life like Anna, pining for a love that has left?”
“I have Mila now,” I said. I looked out across the meadow and watched five sparrows dive and swoop heavenward again.
“For how long?” Max replied stroking my hair. “And is giving your love to her, while she waits for her mother to return, enough?”
“Will it turn out badly, Max?” I asked, putting his hand in my lap.
His fingers stretched against my thigh and warmed my skin. His eyes drank in my face and he smiled and then looked away.
The woodpecker above our head rattled against the tree.