From Aura's first day in our Brooklyn apartment to nearly her last, I walked her to the subway stop every morning - except on those mornings when she rode her bicycle to Borough Hall and left it locked there, though that routine didn't last long because the homeless drunks and junkies of downtown Brooklyn kept stealing her bike seat, or when it was raining or when she was just running so behind that she took a taxi to Borough Hall, or on the rare occasion when she flew out the door like a furious little tornado because it was getting late and I was still stuck on the can yelling for her to wait, and the two or three times when she was just so pissed off at me about something or other that she absolutely didn't want me to walk with her.
Usually though, I walked her to the F train stop on Bergen, or I walked her to Borough Hall, though eventually we agreed that when she was headed to Borough Hall I would go only as far as the French guy's deli on Verandah Place - I had work to do and couldn't just lose nearly an hour every day going to the station and back - though she would try to coax me farther, to Atlantic Avenue, or to Borough Hall after all, or even up to Columbia. Then I'd spend the day in Butler Library - a few semesters previous I'd taught a writing workshop at Columbia and I still had my ID card - reading or writing or trying to write in a notebook, or I'd sit at one of the library computers checking e-mail or killing time with online newspapers, routinely starting with the Boston Globe sports section (I grew up in Boston). Usually we'd have lunch at Ollie's, then go and blow money on DVDs and CDs at Kim's, or browse in Labyrinth Books, coming out carrying heavy bags of books neither of us had the extra time to read. On days when she hadn't convinced me to accompany her to Columbia in the morning, she'd sometimes phone and ask me to come all the way up there just to have lunch with her, and as often as not, I'd go. Aura would say:
Francisco, I didn't get married to eat lunch by myself. I didn't get married to spend time by myself.
On those morning walks to the subway, Aura always did most or even all of the talking, about her classes, professors, other students, about some new idea for a short story or novel, or about her mother. Even when she was being especially neuras, going on about her regular anxieties, I'd try to come up with new encouragements or else rephrase or repeat prior ones. But I especially loved it when she was in the mood to stop every few steps and kiss and nip at my lips like a baby tiger, and her mimed silent laughter after my ouch, and the way she'd complain, ¿Ya no me quieres, verdad? if I wasn't holding her hand or didn't have my arm around her the instant she wanted me to. I loved our ritual except when I didn't really love it, when I'd worry, How am I ever going to get another damned book written with this woman who makes me walk her to the subway every morning and cajoles me into coming up to Columbia to have lunch with her?
I still regularly imagine that Aura is beside me on the sidewalk. Sometimes I imagine I'm holding her hand, and walk with my arm held out by my side a little. Nobody is surprised to see people talking to themselves in the street anymore, assuming that they must be speaking into some Bluetooth device. But people do stare when they notice that your eyes are red and wet, your lips twisted into a sobbing grimace. I wonder what they think they are seeing and what they imagine has caused the weeping. On the surface, a window has briefly, alarmingly, opened.
One day that first fall after Aura's death, in Brooklyn, on the corner of Smith and Union, I noticed an old lady standing on the opposite corner, waiting to cross the street, a normal-looking old lady from the neighborhood, neat gray hair, a little hunched, a sweet jowly expression on her pale face, looking as if she were enjoying the sunlight and October weather as she waited patiently for the light to change. The thought was like a silent bomb: Aura will never find out about being old, she'll never get to look back on her own long life. That was all it took, thinking about the unfairness of that and about the lovely and accomplished old lady Aura had surely been destined to become.
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