Short story selected for the 2011 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
Marcus and Sabine
The room is silent. They sit opposite each other now. Sabine in the soft burgundy chair. Legs crossed. Arms folded. Across the coffee table, Marcus is petulantly in the love seat. Alone. There is no music. No television humming in the background. There is just this palpable air between the two. Sabine and Marcus.
Sabine looks at a photograph of the two from years before. It was on their trip to Stockholm. She studied there years ago in college and returned with her boyfriend, Marcus, who dazzled her old Swedish friends. She remembers the water of the city as clear and brilliant. You could see the fish swimming to and fro. Their little gulping mouths pecking at the surface. The water so clear and apparent. It was easier then.
Sabine looks at Marcus. He reeks of misery. His despair born from her actions. He still holds the letter. As if holding the letter will give him some physical reality. These things happened. He didn’t see them. He wasn’t here. But this is evidence that these events did, indeed, occur.
Sabine will not explain herself because she cannot explain to herself what happened. It just happened.
Marcus looks down at the letter again. He reads a few words, coughs nervously, and shifts in the love seat. This is the truth.
Marcus left for Haiti on a disaster medical deployment. As an emergency physician, he spent two months away helping the victims of the earthquake. It was an abrupt trip. No one, of course, knew the earthquake was coming. Just as well, Marcus did not foresee that his absence would be much significance to his life with Sabine.
And maybe it wouldn’t have been. Marcus could have easily side stepped this situation. But he saw the letter there tucked under the door mat. The writing on the envelope was written in careful strokes, “Sabine.” He thought it odd at first. Who leaves letters at the door? Aren’t e-mails sufficient means of correspondence these days? It must be the landlord.
He opened the envelope without much thought.
Sabine met Shane at open poetry night at the Gas Light Coffee House. She read a poem about her summers as a child playing in the swimming pool with her brother. After her reading, Shane strode across the room to her. Sabine stood with her back turned at the counter, ordering her wine. Something took hold of her and she turned around. This man walked to her with purpose and authority.
She was polite but distant at first. Stand offish. But Shane kept coming every Monday night to hear her poetry. Even though Sabine could have easily avoided these interactions, she came every Monday night to read. She began to look forward to it.
Soon, Shane and Sabine became friends, talking over a bottle of wine long after the poetry readings were done for the night. The first few Mondays, Sabine felt a twinge of guilt, but repetition erases remorse.
Sabine was fascinated with Shane and his stories from around the world. He told her stories about his travels to Havana, Johannesburg, Tokyo, and Barcelona. Sabine had traveled, but not nearly as much as Shane. In his stories, Barcelona was her favorite city to dream about.
Marcus holds the letter carefully and examines the words again. He is beside himself. There is no denying it.
He remembers the morning he left for Haiti. He had an early flight. He nudged Sabine gently awake to say good-bye. She roused and sat up with her soft blonde hair tousled about. She kissed him so gently and so genuinely. Said she would miss him. They knew that communication in Haiti would be difficult and had prepared themselves for two months of sparse correspondence. She clung to him as he moved to stand. She had tears in her eyes.
My dear Sabine, I love you.
He pulled himself away from her and stroked her face. It’s only two months. Only two months.
Sabine was lonely. She couldn’t even talk to Marcus. E-mail. Nothing. He was in Haiti doing a great and righteous deed. That’s what Marcus does.
But Sabine missed him so much. Missed having someone to eat dinner with, watch movies with, and lie in bed with. She missed her Marcus.
Shane was also a poet and writer. Sabine and Shane traded each other’s pieces and critiqued them. They were their own private writing group. They began to spend time together outside of open poetry night on Mondays. They ate dinner together, went to see films together at the artsy theater house on Concord, and in time, lay in bed together.
Sabine was reluctant at first. Hesitant. Pushed away the thoughts.
Shane is just a friend. Shane and I have nothing between us. I love Marcus. I love Marcus.
One night, after a poetry reading, Sabine could not refuse him. She wanted Shane. He bore into her and she was on fire.
Afterwards, her lips were raw from kissing. Her hips ached with shame. Her belly still burned with desire.
But in her heart, there was still Marcus.
A few days later, Sabine received a letter in the mail. She opened the mailbox and immediately knew the handwriting on the envelope.
She held the letter and cried before she even opened it.
There was no running water. Supplies were scarce. No electricity. There were dead bodies in the street. Marcus was beside himself. He worked non-stop only resting for a few hours a night. The makeshift hospital was a nightmare. So many patients. Moaning. Screams.
Right before he would drift to sleep, Marcus would think of Sabine. How she looked the morning he left her. Angelic. Beautiful. Peaceful. Strands of hair in her face.
He wrote a quick letter to her. A physician flying back to the States promised to mail the letter when he landed in Miami.
My dear Sabine, I love you. I’ll see you soon.
Four days before Marcus came home. Sabine broke it off with Shane.
“Marcus is coming home. I can’t see you anymore.” It was abrupt. They were still in bed.
Shane stuttered, “What about Barcelona?”
“There is no Barcelona.”
Sabine would not take any of Shane’s calls. He tried desperately to talk to her. She refused him. Sabine was once here and now she is gone.
Steeped in grief, he wrote a letter pleading for her return to his life.
Marcus and Sabine
Now, this is where they sit in their living room, with the soft burgundy chair and the aubergine love seat. And all the photos documenting their life and love for each other. They sit across from each other with the letter between them.
Marcus looks down at the writing.
My dear Sabine, I love you.
But this isn’t his handwriting. This isn’t his letter. These are the words of another man.
He blinks and takes a long slow breath.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t love you,” Sabine whispers. She’s holding her knees to her chest in the soft burgundy chair where they used to sit watching the news. Sabine on the arm chair and Marcus stroking her legs.
Marcus says with pained expression, “No. It means you don’t respect me.”
There is no arguing to that. There is nothing to say. Marcus, righteous and good, was right.
Sabine retreated inside herself. At odds. Torn. Pathetic. Marcus lays the letter down on the coffee table and stands.
“I’m tired. I’m going to sleep out here.”
Sabine leaves Marcus out in the living room crunched into the love seat, much too small for his body and his grief. She closes the door of their bedroom quietly and takes refuge.
Marcus now sits in the soft burgundy chair. He came home from the hospital and found Sabine gone. He stood in their bedroom and stared at the empty hangers in the closet. She had left in a hurry. Some of her things were still there. The Poisonwood Bible. The Red Tent. Fall on Your Knees. Her favorite books. Some of her clothes were in the dresser. A dress hung by itself in the closet.
Sabine was gone.
She left a letter on their bed.
My dear Marcus, I love you.
Marcus, Sabine, and Shane
Sabine left for Barcelona with Shane that morning. Now Marcus sits alone without his Sabine. Only the letters from the three of them in his hands.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
About the Author
Imee Cuison is a thirty-two year old Filipino American freelance writer in Charleston, SC. Her work has appeared in Maganda Magazine, Quiet Mountain Essays, and Phati’tude Literary Magazine.
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