flash fiction

What I Lost in September by Autumn Bettinger

What I Lost in September | By Autumn Bettinger

The night was cold and wet. The streetlights blurred, like oil in water, hazy and indistinct against the Seattle rain. The coat I wore was dark purple, the color of queens you said. Underneath was a soft, summer dress, white and pink and fully out of place. 

I wore it because it was my birthday dress from so many years ago. The one you said made me look like a bouquet of unattainable delight. The one that matched the drink you bought me. The one that caught the sunlight just so and caused half the bar to turn and watch us, thick as thieves, fingers close but not touching, eyes connected but not with the film of lovers, with the sparkle of something deeper, untouched by lust but rooted in the dust of souls.

As I stepped into the bar, shed my coat and hung it, I looked around. I didn’t recognize anyone. Funny, isn’t it? When we came here, we knew everyone. We knew which seats creaked and which bar stools always held tourists. We ate late night bruschetta and had one too many martinis in the rosy glow of old lamps. 

I sat myself at the table in a corner, our old table. The one that was just a little deeper in. The one slightly apart from all the others. The one where I laughed so hard, I knocked over my glass of wine and turned your white shirt red. I told you it looked like you had been murdered. 

I order a Gibson, old raj. I order one for you too. I tell the bartender that my friend will be coming, and I’d like to have it ready for him when he arrives. I sit in that pink light, in a dress that doesn’t belong, sipping and staring at the big windows where rain drops bursts apart.

I think about the time I told you I was heartbroken. I think about the time you told me I was worth more than anyone I had ever touched. I watch the rain and order bruschetta and think about the pasta we made and the stories we wrote, the long hikes and the late-night gas station chicken with ketchup. 

I wonder about how it ended. I wonder if things would have been different if we had met up that night. This night, so many years ago. If I hadn’t moved to Portland. If a night cap would have kept you off that street. That street where you were walking with your girlfriend, laughing about something. I like to think you were laughing. 

I wonder if it looked like wine; when it soaked through that linen in little beads like rubies and I was horrified but you just grinned and grabbed your napkin and ordered me another glass. I ran through the details so many times, like a spin cycle in my mind, washing the same old clothes, the blood never quite coming out.

I sipped the cold gin, looking at your untouched drink, wondering about the conversation we would be having now. How I’d talk about my kids instead of new books and new dresses on late summer nights. How despite all the change, we’d fall into old conversations, the best kinds of conversations, the ones that hang like hammocks between people who’ve known each other through lifetimes. 

I leave money on the table, and I leave your drink untouched, your chair untouched, your hand untouched. I don’t try to beat you to the check or check my makeup in the back of the silverware while you pretend not to notice. You don’t offer to get my coat or walk with me to the light rail. I stand outside, looking at the rain, watching it blow sideways and coat the street. 

I miss you more in this moment than in the seven years you’ve been gone. This moment where we say we’ll see each other tomorrow. This moment where we hug and laugh and share a slender cigar. This moment where we say I love you and know it to be true, like tomatoes and basil, like gin and onions, like spilled wine.

About the Author:

Autumn is a stay at home mom who lives in Portland Oregon with her husband and two young children. She graduated from Portland State after moving to Oregon from Seattle. Her parents are both from the midwest, and growing up she spent many summers at Lake Otsego in Michigan. When not parenting, Autumn is squeaking out a little writing here and there amid the laundry and the diaper changes.