L’ANIMA MIA È CON TE
It was on a quiet morning of May that Ruggero saw Magda again. It was a little less than a year after she had left him and taken his heart with her. He had business in Paris and had decided to take a walk on the embankment. When he saw her there, serenely sitting in that elegant way of hers on a bench, looking out at the soft waves on the Seine, his wound, which was not yet healed, began to throb. From his view some paces away from her, she had not changed; her hair was longer, but it was still that ebony perfection that had felt like silk running through his fingers. He was not dreaming, it was her and he felt his heart break all over again at the sight.
She must have sensed his stare because she turned her head in his direction and he heard her gasp as their eyes met and her own widened. Her dark eyes both felt like the only home he would ever know and a dagger that twisted itself into his heart. There was a flash of a smile in their depth before reality came back to her and it made way for panic and guilt. He saw his name form on her lips, those lips that had smiled at him on many a honeyed morning, those lips that he had kissed once for the last time without knowing it. “Ruggero…”
He had no choice now but to walk up to her, removing his hat as he bowed his head in greeting. “Magda. That is your name, is it not, Paulette?”
She nodded, red in the face as she stared at him in wild abandon, her own anguish and guilt clear on her face. “It is.”
As Ruggero saw her from closer up, suddenly she seemed somewhat different to him. She was slightly paler, he could see a new darkness under her eyes, and her cheeks had a hollow aspect to them that he hadn’t known before. In his dreams these past months, he had always seen her as when he had first met her, smiling and laughing with abandon while surrounded by countless men, her happiness tormenting him. It had been necessary to think of her as happy and carefree in her old life far away from him, because it had been the only thing that had kept him from running to her in Paris and begging for her to come back to him. However, now, she was here again and he saw that she had suffered too.
The silence stretched as they kept their eyes fixed on each other and he sat down next to her, flinching slightly as their thighs touched for a moment before he shifted to a more appropriate distance. It felt strange to have her next to him like this after all these months alone and he desperately wanted to talk to her, to hear her voice, to ask her why…
Before he could articulate a thought, he heard her hesitant voice.
“How have you been?” The question felt so mundane, but it fitted the peaceful morning air, a melody of faint bird songs, gentle waves and discreet footsteps filling the silence as Ruggero turned to look at Magda, the tenderness and pain in his eyes answering her question before he swallowed hard and found his voice.
“I have missed you.”
Her eyes widened and filled with tears before she blinked them away, breathing deeply as she lowered her gaze to her hands. “Me too.”
She heard his sharp intake of breath and felt his eyes bore into her, resolutely keeping her gaze to her hands, which had started to shake. It felt entirely overwhelming to have him be this close after all this time and yet she wanted to cry because of the relief of it all. She no longer felt like she was running from herself and her memories… He was here. The wild beating of her heart reminded her that she was still alive after all those months of feeling separate from herself, as if she had been a ghost looking at life through a cold mask, unfeeling, lifeless.
Even though she couldn’t see his face, she heard the low strain in his voice as he asked the one question she dreaded. “Why did you leave then?”
She raised her watery eyes to his and he hated the guilt and self-loathing he saw in them. How was it that he had never noticed the weight she had carried with her during the short time they were together. He had thought her blissfully happy, but it seemed that that was only because he himself had been blinded by his own happiness, his own naïveté. She had never been carefree and his heart tightened at the thought of her suffering all this time.
Her sweet voice faltered as she answered him, shaking her head. “You already know, Ruggero…”
“You never gave me any choice… any chance…” His voice simmered with a deep anger whose raw edges exposed an all-consuming grief and sense of betrayal.
His words were met with silence as Magda let out a shaky breath and swallowed, raising her eyes to look at the water and the city in front of her to repress the urge to turn to him and cry in his arms. She looked at the undulating water cascading on the bank, the water polishing the dark scattering of rocks that shined in the sunlight and she felt the heavy knot in her loosen slightly.
There was a timid resignation in her voice when she finally broke the stillness. “Do you hate me?”
Though she didn’t see it as her gaze was still fixed on the peaceful waves of the Seine, he shook his head and he spoke in a voice filled with the warmth that had made her fall in love with him that night. “I could never hate you, not really…”
Turning her face to him in surprise, her eyes snapped to his and tears stained her cheeks as she saw the sad smile on his tired face. She had always loved his smile, the way it transformed his entire face and radiated warmth and sincerity. She had dreamt of that smile in her lowest moments and now, seeing that small echo of it coupled with the knowledge that he didn’t resent her for what she had done was enough to make her sob in relief. Her entire body shook as all of the pent up grief and guilt bled out of her through hot tears.
Seeing Magda crying next to him was too much for Ruggero to bear and he threw all of his judgment aside as he took her into his arms and pressed her to him in a comforting hold, resting his cheek against her hair as her tears stained his jacket. She still felt so right in his arms, like she belonged there, and he had to quiet the treacherous hope that made its way into his chest.
After a while, when the shock of his embrace had dissipated, her arms went around his back, her fingers clawing at the woolen fabric of his jacket, and she nuzzled her face deeper into the crook of his shoulder as she cried harder. She had missed him so much , and to be held by him in that warm, reassuring way of his felt like coming home. She knew it could not last, but for a moment she didn’t care.
He didn’t let go of her until all of her tears had stopped and when they separated, Magda felt a terrible sense of cold and emptiness. She gave him an apologetic smile, but he only stared at her with a tenderness that made her heart tighten and almost made her cry again. She turned her eyes again to her hands, but he didn’t speak, still not trusting his voice.
Instead, slowly, he extended his arm and took her hand in his own like he had wanted to earlier, marvelling at how perfect it looked in his, how right. He traced the delicate familiar lines of her palm with his thumb and breathed deeply as a warmth spread through his chest…
He still loved her.