I got accepted.
Silence in response. A letter lies between them on the frigid bistro table, envelope torn frantically open. Despite the chill they sit outside, warmed somewhat by an absurd decorative portable heater in the shape of a heart that emits little puffs of steam gracelessly and noisily. It’s somehow adorable.
I thought you would be happy for me.
I am. Really, I am. She wrings her hands nervously as she says this.
You don’t look it. A dubious raised eyebrow. It almost makes her heart crack. A comical puff of steam from the heart on the table rescues her from the deepest despair, downgrading it to mere misery.
I’m happy for you. But airship pilot! With what’s been happening lately, and with winter coming so soon. She emits a shuddering sigh and pulls off her borrowed lilac gloves that are meant for style and not substance, laying them carefully on the table over the letter, then shoves her hands deep into her pockets; her fingers are freezing and she balls her hands into frustrated fists. He’d told her he had big news. They were meeting out. She wanted to look nice. But the colour lilac seems to have lost its power to cast a spell over him, at least for the moment.
You know I needed more employment. The painting. I can’t live off it, here.
You could in the capital. You go there all the time. She cannot stop the pianissimo note of resentment from creeping in, a dissonance she does not want.
I go there all the time because it is what I have to do to sell any paintings at all, he replies, too reasonably. But travel costs are rising. I’ve already been commissioned by most of the households that can afford to buy, in both cities. Your work is here. She inhales sharply at that.
Look, I’m sorry your transfer got denied, he continues helplessly. I really thought it would go through when I sent this off. He does not look at her when he says this.
The perils of working for this government. My contract’s another three years. Not much I can do, unless I want to indebt myself, she states, too reasonably.
I know that. He touches her elbow, prompting her to draw her left hand out of the deep pocket where it has taken refuge. He takes it and kisses it. I love you.
It’s only one hundred days for the training, and that includes some routes that will allow me to fly here. A much shorter training period than for the others. It’s fortunate my old pilot’s license is still valid.
They look at each other a few minutes longer. Shall we? She asks. They stand. They do not kiss. He pockets the items on the table. She does not ask for the gloves back, even though they are not really hers.
I’ll walk you home, he tells her. And when I’m licensed, I’ll fly you to the capital. He takes her tentatively by the arm. She latches on to him as if she will never let go.
If I ever get a holiday that’s long enough to accommodate that, I’ll take you up on the offer, she half-laughs.
You will. You’re tremendously talented. They have to offer you some sort of perk soon. You work harder than a dozen of your colleagues put together! Besides, you owe me a piano recital when we get there.
She laughs at this. Now that I have the miniature piano from you, I can give you that recital here, instead of in the capital!
His mouth hardens. She backtracks hesitantly. Also I don’t work as hard as you think I do. You just love me.
Well, you work very hard indeed. And I don’t just love you. I love you very much.
I’ll accept that. She sighs, tries to say something, thinks better of it. She cannot help it. I wish you hadn’t done this, too. Given up art for practicality.
Neither of us are giving it up, he says thoughtfully. We’re just filing it away for a little while.
Stowing it in the hold of an airship?
Something like that.
She abruptly draws him to her, kissing him with fire. Be careful. I won’t lose you. Airships are big, like space creatures. You have to treat them gently and follow the currents. Trust your instincts, and don’t take silly risks, please.
Her eyes are too bright. His eyes are bright, too.
Story © 2015 Clio Em.
Read all the other Airships stories here: clio-em.com/airships