Issue #19 |

The Apology

boston bridge on a sunny day

I opened my email and there was the apology.

I’d reached out to Thunder several weeks earlier. We hadn’t spoken or even exchanged messages in years, but I’d just read an article that made me think of him. Marcel Marceau, the famous Parisian mime teacher, had died and the article examined his legacy. Did Thunder know the whole story, even the bad parts? When he spent that summer after college in a depressing flat in Paris, in the 19th arrondissement, a moth-eaten curtain separating him from the lone, stinking toilet?

He’d gone to worship at the tapping cane of the master, with those strict, Gallic instructions on how to feel. Now we are sad, Marceau would say, tapping his cane. Now, pleased. Forlorn. Enraged. I’d understood this was what drew Thunder in. Art was always there for those of us who were broken and we were all broken. We just had to find the art that fit.

For Thunder, classical Parisian mime was a brilliant obsession. I tried to be nice about it. By that summer, we were already—not estranged, that’s not the word, and here I’m getting ahead of myself. We had drifted apart, as friends do. We’d moved to different cities, and I was in graduate school, knee deep into a thicket of new anxieties about my future. After his adventure in Paris, we even talked on the phone occasionally—this was in the years before texting. And of course, Thunder wrote terrific letters.

I wanted to ask, what would he do with mime? Would he perform on the street? Was this to be his career now, after Harvard? Shrinking in a box on the sidewalk, shrinking away to nothing, his loose-knit bony angles folding in on themselves like a collapsing umbrella? He’d always had an odd waifish appeal: tall and broad-shouldered but underfed, that blond stubble, those eggshell blue eyes. In fact, it was easy to imagine him posing in the open air, a few coins clinking into the hat. Cheaper than therapy. Assuredly better than opiates, but still, my head was full of theory—I was learning all these difficult things, yet Thunder, I couldn’t understand.

So when I encountered the article on Marceau all these years later, I read it because of Thunder. Mime was his medicine: this much I got, but what I hadn’t been able to swallow then (and still couldn’t) was his persistent belief that it was also his path. His future. We’d been given lots of guff about the future at Harvard. We’d had high tea at our residential houses (and again, just for the ladies, at Radcliffe). I’d been skeptical. Where exactly did they think we were going? There were no small indications that we were meant to get out there, drink some tea, and change the world.

When I thought of Thunder, this brilliant young guy, standing in the street in white makeup and gloves, frozen in place, his very eyeballs locked onto a single target, I wanted to slap him. But we were past that point in our relationship, if we’d ever been there.

At the moment, I was in a precipitous stage. Mid-thirties, married, mother of two young children. After a delayed start, I was nearing tenure: so close I could feel it. When I sent Thunder the article link through Facebook messaging, it was with a fairly pure “thought of you” impulse.

Except it wasn’t. Not totally pure. If I look back—and now I’m looking back at everything—I can see a bit of needling in the impulse. Not in my words, but the article did the work for me. I’d wanted Thunder to read about the damage Marceau had done with his cold medicine, the students Marceau himself had broken.

Thunder replied right away. How good to hear from me! How long it had been! He sounded like such a grown-up: he was an accountant, of all things. He sounded adult; I sounded adult. I felt proud of both of us, how far we’d come.

Very casually, we shifted our correspondence to email.

He was going to our twentieth college reunion. Would I be there in Cambridge, to be fêted and asked for money? I hadn’t been planning to go, but now that he mentioned it? Yes, I wrote, of course, I would consider it.

But I couldn’t go. Could I? The dazzling sunshine on the river, the gentle arc of the Weeks bridge, the places I walked to get away, even from myself. Back then, Thunder had the idea that we should walk the Charles River in silence.


To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of issue #19 or subscribe to the magazine

Genevieve Abravanel has published stories in American Short Fiction, The Missouri Review, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She has published a scholarly book with Oxford University Press (Chinese translation with The Commercial Press of Beijing) and received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Association of University Women. She teaches English in Lancaster, …

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