Amaryllis seemed preoccupied. ‘See you in my dreams,’ I said. That got a smile, then she drank about half her whisky and began to cry into the rest of it.
‘What is it?’ I said. ‘What’s the matter?’
She wiped her eyes, blew her nose, finished the whisky, started the beer, and reached for my hand. ‘I always spoil everything,’ she said.
‘What have you spoiled?’
With her free hand she made a wide gesture as if to sweep about half the room out of the way. ‘Everything I’ve touched so far.’
‘Are you going to tell me more?’
‘Not yet. You haven’t got my last name or my address or phone number and I’ve told you almost nothing about me because I’m afraid of what we’re getting into. I’ve tried to find others who could go with me in both lives but it’s never worked out. Maybe it will with you but I’m terribly afraid of failing again if I try to go too fast and I don’t want to get on that bus without you. What scares me is that I think maybe the dream life is the main one and this other one is just what fills in the time in between. Are you with me?’
‘Amaryllis, I love you.’ I hadn’t meant to say that, it just slipped out. I’d been in love with her since I first saw her at the Balsamic bus stop.
‘Oh, Peter,’ she said, and grabbed my hand and kissed it. ‘Don’t love me yet, not so soon – maybe not ever. If it happens too fast it’ll end too soon with a big drop, like walking off the edge of a cliff, when…’
‘When what?’
‘When you see me as I really am.’
‘And how are you really?’
‘Not to be depended on, and maybe you’re not either. Some people need to be in love and I think you’re one of them. So am I, but after a while we’ll both fall out of love, and if I do before you do it’ll be a terrible drop for you.’
‘I’m not going to fall out of love with you, Amaryllis.’
‘You’ll love me for ever, will you?’
Lenore came to mind and I had no immediate answer.
Amaryllis, reading my face, said, ‘Have you ever promised to love anyone for ever?’
‘Yes, but it wasn’t the same.’
‘How was it different?’
‘In too many ways for me to explain. Amaryllis, don’t cross-examine me like this – you can feel how I feel, I know you can.’
‘I think you probably feel the way I do: I love being in love but I don’t know what love is. Is it like fireworks that you see in the sky, then the sky goes dark again and there’s nothing but the smell of gunpowder? I’ve never stuck around long enough to find out what comes next. Have you?’
‘How I’ve been in the past isn’t how I am now.’
‘How are you now?’
‘In love with you. You’re different from anyone I’ve known before and that difference has changed me. Whether you believe that or not I can’t alter the way I feel, so we might as well relax about it and just go on as we’ve been doing. When there’s no more ground under my feet I’ll do the big drop or whatever.’
‘Have you ever given anyone that big drop?’
‘Wasn’t it you that said we should let out histories open little by little like water flowers?’
‘You’ve answered my question. People do it to each other all the time. The frog said he’d turn into a handsome prince if the princess kissed him but the princess said she’d rather have a talking frog.’
‘You have dashed my hops.’