Monday 13 December 2021

on returning (for all that was, for all that will be)


by Tony Rauch


"Kev, . . . telephone!" Libby calls as she peers through the doorway into the large room. "Kev, . . ." She leans farther, hanging on the wood molding of the doorway. "You gotta call." She appears to float as she leans so far. ". . . You gotta call." She stretches parallel to the floor in her lean. Her long hair swings down like a pendulum and then disappears, snapping back into the lobby as her voice rings circling in echoes to loop around the tall ceiling as if chasing itself. She slips back to the reception area, "Kevin, Kevin, Kevin!"

I slide my chair back and stand, still concentrating on the roll of paper stretching out below like an unfinished country. I stand above the drafting table, a pencil in my mouth, another in my hand, and one tucked up behind my ear. I’m standing in a large, dimly lit room trying to design a medieval city as I take a break from my actual work. I’m surrounded in the quiet dimness by the other empty tables. The bright sun is shining outside the tall, deep windows. “Why don’t they design medieval cities anymore?!” I cry out to no one in particular, my voice echoing around the room. “Why am I the only one?!”

"I surely don’t know. But maybe whoever is on the phone will!" she yells from the lobby. “That’s for you, stupid!”

I spit the pencil from my mouth. It bounces across the old wood floor. I flip the one in my hand back over my shoulder without a blink as I start through the drafting tables to the lobby. “Why don’t they design medieval cities anymore?! Why am I the only one left?!” I call out to no one as I navigate the winding hall.

Somewhere in the old building Libby shouts back, “I surely don’t know!” Her voice is vague, lost and hollow in the distance.

I settle on the corner of the grand oak desk, pluck the receiver from its center, rest the receiver on my shoulder, fold my arms and lean back. The lobby has dark wood floors and wainscoting; deep, rich burgundy walls and rugs; high backed leather chairs; and a large oak coffee table. The tall coffered ceiling rises, the grandfather clock looms, the shadows recede as if falling away to slip into the dusty corners of memory.

Libby is nowhere in sight. Her computer screen blinks silently with a soft green. Her desk is solid and immaculate, like a mountain in a field of room – with the grandfather clock as a creek, the plush chairs a forest, the meadow of rug and me. Grainy light falls as four lazy waterfalls through the tall windows in the rough, creamy brick. Four fuzzy beams of light stretch to grow like sleeping angels on the dark floor.

The furniture and I sit in shadows, as if forever in that room, as if forever shadows, forever empty in time, fading in and out, roaming into the background, seeping into distance, leaking into the misty corners of memory as time passes us by.

A serious man begins to speak on the other end of the line. It sounds like an insurance lecture. I find myself looking out the window, out into the bright yellow day. Often I find myself dreaming on these endless sunny summer days. I drift back a handful of years to that one summer. I remember it so clearly, the best time of my life. Nothing could top it, no amount of money or anything. I could live forever in the simplicity and freedom of those springs and summers, as though I really belonged back there, as if a mistake has been made in time and I am stuck here, in the tangled complexities of business, but was always meant to be there.

Sometimes I picture myself back there, several springs ago standing in the sun on campus. Suddenly I discover myself there and I find myself running to try and find her. I run to her dorm, up the four flights of stairs to room 409. I run and find her there, jump on her bed and throw my arms around her. I gather her tightly and hold her. She wonders what has gotten into me. A cool stream of breeze blows in from the open window beside her, and I tell her that I'm so happy to see her and that I miss her more than she’d ever know, and we fall through her blankets, sink into her bed and fall through time together.

I think of her often, from this great distance. I think of her on these long empty sunny afternoons. Finding her out in the world was like discovering a new color no one had ever seen before. If I ever had my way, I would be there, with her in my arms, holding that spring and summer of ours, squeezing her as if to not be taken away on that rushing stream of wind this time.

I turn to the window and blink in the sun. It’s terribly bright out. So bright it’s hard to see. Several leaves turn over and over in the air. They fall like these feelings falling all around me. And thinking back, I sort of feel her here around me – the blowing window of her eyes, frozen as sunshine in this large empty space. Looking out on it all I see the leaves blowing around, the shadows growing longer, the sunlight dimming, the summer just starting to slip away.

Sometimes I find myself driving up her driveway in that summer, after I haven't seen her in weeks. I imagine her standing gently on her porch, barefoot in a long flowing skirt and T-shirt. I calmly walk to her through the gravel. I walk slowly, to take it all in, trying to make it last as long as I can. And when I reach her, I just hug her tremendously. I hold her, breathe her in, her skin and neck and hair and shirt. I hold on to her so I won’t slip away again into that rushing stream of wind.

I wish we could live there forever, where everything burned orange and yellow in a haze of sun and wind, running through the clear rain and into the clean grass and shadows of night – in a place where we could fall in all the deep shadows of all the summers, falling to a place where we were meant to be together, frozen forever hugging on her driveway.

But somehow I think things would change again. Things would come along to pull us away. The fall would come, resting its dried leaves beneath our feet, and there would be no time to wade into them, no time to keep them together as school and work and family and friends and my blind stupidity and the world would need more attention and I would just end up watching it all drift past from windows high above, from large open rooms – from work, class, the library, the dorm – like I do now in rooms like this, so many rooms without her, so many sunny summer days outside, rooms with incomplete pieces of paper, anxious paper, and the big old desks and clocks and chairs and me – that meadow, that forest, that creek, those shadows, receding into a smoky distance, sucked under the shadows of time, maybe fading off to search for a place where we could be together again.

I fear if we had a second chance things would grow more serious again. Maybe I’d get scared off and have to get away for a while again – me so young, so inexperienced, so stupid. And one day, studying in the wind of leaves under a great tree by the river, one day she just wouldn't be there anymore. She'd slowly slide away, drift off to Europe again. And I'd make that mistake of not trying to hold on. I'd just let go again, figuring that everything would work out, that we'd find one another again – that she‘d be back, right back in my arms where she belonged. Or maybe I figured I'd meet another girl who made everything comfortable and calm, someone who made everything slow down, someone who could make everything make sense.

And then I think over time I would grow sad to miss her again, like I do now in these big open rooms. And that sadness would only sink deeper. So sad I would just hurt in that emptiness – that empty shadow numbing me with its growing weight, that emptiness growing like an empty room. And I would think of her often, on these long empty sunny days, more and more days without her. Until tomorrow just becomes another day without her, just another day inside, contained, in the shadows. Just another day with rooms filling with all the things I've missed out on since.

Sometimes I get mad at myself, mad that I'm not able to mail that tomorrow back to me back there. Mad that I'm not able to send a warning back through time. Mad that I'm not smart enough to figure these things out, to see these things sooner.


She left to go see Europe and decided to stay as long as she could. But she told me she would be back. The last thing she ever said to me through her joking laugh was: "If I die, I want you to find someone else. I want you to go on with your life."

She left and the closest I would ever get to her again would be a few faint glimpses of her little smile and warm eyes from a distance, scattered through time with those leaves. We'd end up catching one another here and there, but never again would we spend more than a moment together in the same room.

I'd hear about her from friends, and look for her at parties and in crowds and try to find her in other people, but she'd always be tucked away out there. And I'd grow to think of her like the spring, as if somehow she would come back around and we'd be together again like we should be, as if we always belonged together in time.

Maybe people only get one chance together. Maybe good things aren’t meant to last. Maybe she left me. Maybe it’s not all my fault – too much moving about, so much time wasted on restless wandering. Maybe you only get so much time with anything.

But I still feel her through these years of looking, her warmth glowing around me like a season, my time with her when everything sparkled with her deep night eyes and slight flower smile and gentle heartbeat, the smell of the night in her soft breath, the wind of her bright hair, the long swaying grass of her dresses, the standing under a tree in the rain of her eyes, and something telling me that the best of me was forever tangled up within her, that I was a part of her more than she a part of me, exhaled in a breeze when she left to find the world . . . and I’m just left to wander the rest of this world, this lost world without her, to watch it all flow pass, my time with her when the world was bright and fresh and alive and new.


Libby appears in the fuzzy light. She walks toward me out of the hazy shadows that drift from the sunshine. She quietly puts her hand on my shoulder as she senses my stillness, then seeing the tears slowly rolling from my cheeks. Tears forming like sudden pianos of clouds tumbling in the sky.

"S'that Marcy or Kara?" she whispers quietly.

I sit staring out the window, gazing down to the leaves swirling in the deep grass and unbelievably bright sun below, holding the phone in my lap.

Libby stands looking down with me, rubbing my back in circles, then runs her long arm around my shoulder and brings me in close to her. "What's wrong . . .?"

I write “I miss you” on a piece of paper and slide it under the crack at the bottom of the tall window. The warm late summer wind takes it up. I watch it flip over and over and mix with several leaves in the air, spinning around the building and out of sight, but still rising in the air, still rising.

I open my mouth, but I can't say anything, until I finally blink and swallow and whisper, "My girlfriend just died."

About the author

Tony Rauch has four books of short stories published – I’m right here (spout press), Laredo (Eraserhead Press), Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again (Eraserhead Press), and What if I got down on my knees? (Whistling Shade Press).
He can be found at:  






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