Ana is laying on my sofa, looking out the window at the gray afternoon outside. The San Francisco fog envelops the city like a cold and damp blanket, and grows thicker as it rises from the ground and into the air, as though gathering in aspiration of becoming clouds.
“We’re building a greenhouse,” she says. “In the back yard.”
Ana shares a house near the airport with a woman from Turkey. She and Elif met two years ago while Ana was traveling through Europe, and somewhere in that trip an invitation was extended and accepted. Elif landed at the airport a few months after that, and she hasn’t gone back to Turkey since.
“Elif wants to grow plants and sell them to the flower shops in town.”
“Is that even a thing?” I ask. “Don’t they just… I don’t know… get them from Amazon or something?”
“Her parents have a shop back home. I have no idea how it works, but she’s got a plan.” She rolls onto her side and rests her head against her arm. “It doesn’t really matter. She’s just trying to find something to keep busy with.”
“That’s what we’re all doing. Keeping busy until we die.”
“You’re always so cheery,” Ana says. “It’s truly endearing.”
It’s taken us a while to become comfortable with one another again, Ana and I. We didn’t speak to one another for years after our split. It was a heavy time, thick with bitterness and mutual distrust. I think the only reason we recovered at all is that we had never married, and so the baggage we carried away from each other was lighter for it. I do miss her sometimes, in a way that the encounters we have now under the heading of “friendship” can never really fulfill. It’s for the best how it is here though. We do not work well as intimate partners. This way is a much easier path to take.
“She wants to grow irises,” Ana continues. “Those are pretty, right?”
“I suppose. I’m not really very much of a flower guy.”
Once Ana and I went to the shore on a stormy late summer day. We walked along the waterline away from other people on the beach, and at the foot of a Pacific cliff, she stripped out of her clothing and walked away from me out into the surf. Her long hair was bound in a braid that fell down to the small of her back, and she kept going deeper into the sea until the braid was floating behind her on the surface of the water. She stayed there a long time, the waves lifting and dropping her, and sometimes I would lose sight of her as the ocean rose and fell around her. At times it was as though she didn’t even exist, that the pile of clothing in the sand was a mystery that would never be solved, that the space that a woman once filled was now hollow, and the shadowed absence rolled in my mind like a stone.
Eventually, she came back to the shore. A month later, we stopped seeing one another.
“If you’d have bought me more flowers,” she says, sitting up on the couch, “we’d probably still be together.”
“There aren’t enough flowers in the world for that,” I say. I’m thinking of her braid, heavy and wet, and hanging between her shoulder blades as she put her clothes back on at the beach. “I miss your hair,” I say. “It was lovely back then.”
“It’s lovely now,” she says, and it is, but it’s not the same.
She kissed me on the beach that day, before we went back to the car, before we completely fell apart. She tasted of salt, and her lips were cold, the Pacific having stolen her heat. I thought about the first time we’d been together, alone in her apartment, and the feel of her skin beneath my hands, and of her weight on my body. I think about it now, while we are in my living room, and not for the first time, I want to touch her again. I am drawn to her as always, and as always I tell myself what a poor ending that would bring.
“You should come have dinner with us,” she says. “Bring Tina. Elif wants to pick her brain about something.”
“About what?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Does she know anything about flowers?”
“I have no idea,” I say. “Probably. Tina knows something about everything.”
Ana checks her watch and stands. “I have to go. I’m late.” She doesn’t say what for, and I don’t ask. She puts her hand on my shoulder and kisses me on the cheek. “Call me about dinner.”
I follow her to the door, opening it for her. She pauses on the landing and turns to look at me. “There might have been enough flowers,” she says. “For us, I mean.”
“They didn’t make greenhouses that big,” I say.
A ghost of a smile crosses her face, barely rising to the surface. “I guess not,” she says. She looks for a moment like she’s going to say something else, but then she just smiles again, and walks down the steps toward the street.
I stand in the doorway after she is lost to sight. Eventually, I shut the door and go back inside.