Me, Cinderella?

By: Aubrey Rose

The snow fell, and he had forgotten his gloves. He sat down on the bench in front of the library. It was cold outside, colder than he had ever known it to be in California. The soft, drifting snowflakes reminded him of his home, of Hungary. Of walking by the Danube in the springtime as the surface of the water crystallized at the edges, the delicate floes of ice breaking off from the riverbank and floating down slowly in the current.

He had come to America to escape, but there was no escaping his memories. As his eyes glazed over, the sounds of the Budapest streets filled his ears. He clasped his hands between his legs and felt her hand in his as they walked alongside the river. And as the snowflakes tumbled one by one at his feet, he heard her laughing next to him.

Clare, my Clare.

His heart rewound the years and played them back. Every memory ached with painful longing alongside the beauty. The summer picnics, the winters by the fireplace, all tinted red and dark and lonely.

A snowflake landed on his nose, and he was back on his estate with her, playing in the bright cold morning. She had made him a snow angel, and the back of her coat was dusted white with snow, her hair tinged with the drops of it that had already melted. He heard her voice ringing from far away.

“Eliot! Come make angels with me!”

He turned to see her falling backwards, her arms spread out to either side, her face beaming, reflecting the sunshine. She fell into the snowdrift, her arms and legs already sweeping the ground into the winged shape. He walked over and she smiled up at him from the ground.

“You try now,” she said.

He turned and closed his eyes, letting himself fall backwards, but as he fell he felt his stomach rise in his throat, and a cloud moved over the sun. His breath emptied from his chest as he hit the ground, and for a moment he felt as though he would die from suffocation—there was no air in the world.

“Eliot!” He heard the cry again, the piercing echo of her voice turned frightened. He opened his eyes and turned to reach out to her, but she was gone. The only trace of her left was the thin marking of the angel she had made, already filling with soft drifts of snow.

Eliot shook his head and came back to the present. This was California. A chill ran down his spine, but it was not due to the cold.

Ten years ago. Ten years to the day.

Not for the first time, he thought of what would happen if his life were to end right now. He had nothing to show for the past decade but an endless muddle of pages of mathematical work in the wastebasket. Useless, really. The ghost of his wife haunted him in dreams and reality both. No matter where he looked, Clare was there. Hiding in the crowds, in the face of the women he passed on the sidewalk. He shut himself up and hid, because it was easier than seeing her face everywhere.

He felt numb. Always there had been something to sustain him, a new problem in mathematics or the touch of his lovely Clare’s hand. Now… he had shut himself up in his work and produced nothing. He had closed off his heart and loved nothing. A veil had fallen over his world, had crept over his vision slowly, until he could not see at all except through a haze. Bit by bit, obligations had replaced his desires and he had ceased, finally, to want anything. Air went in and out of his lungs, but he did not breathe.

Eliot did not know how long he had been sitting on that bench when he looked up and saw a woman standing in front of him, a coffee in her outstretched hand.

Valentina? That wasn’t my name. Why had I lied? I rushed up the stairs to the second floor, the magic of the past few minutes evaporating quickly in the warm crowded air of the library. Everything felt too strange for words, and I couldn’t get Eliot’s face out of my mind. That scar, and those eyes…

My study group sat at a long oak table near the back side of the room, by the windows. I could spot Quentin’s bright red hair a mile away, and he gestured wildly all around him as he talked. Mark sat across from him, the calm bespectacled geek. Together, we made up the nerdiest group of math majors on campus, but Mark and I took solace that no matter how bad it got, we could never outnerd Quentin. Outside, the snow fell against the glass, the only indication that this night was anything but normal.

“Brynn!” Mark waved at me, shaking his black hair out of his eyes. “You’re late!”

What’s up, Brynn?” Quentin gave a half-nod my way.

“Sorry,” I said, dumping my backpack onto the table. Pages of notebook paper scattered across the hard polished surface and one of them fluttered against the candle in the middle of the table. I grabbed the paper quickly before remembering that the flicker of light was electric. Silly me. “I… um, I was practicing down at the music hall.”

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