The first time I met her, she told me her dream. It was a simple dream, one that — in the past, when real estate prices were still somewhat reasonable — could have been realized with ease. It wasn’t a lofty dream like my own. For my ideal future involved becoming a New York Times bestselling author. The kind of person remembered centuries after they pass. The writer who can write the next Great American Novel — a phrase coined during simpler times, when dreams like those of the woman sitting across from me didn’t seem as lofty as my own.
I just want a little house with a pomegranate tree out back.
That’s all she said she wanted in life. A little house with a pomegranate tree out back. It was an image I had never considered before. A small, adobe house with a terracotta roof; behind it an arid landscape like that in southern Spain or California, with a lone pomegranate tree at the left of the frame, leaves a dry yellow-green as vibrant red fruit dripped from the branches. It was a cozy image, an image that filled the marrow of my bones with fictional memories of fresh-pressed juice and chirping birds.
A little house with a pomegranate tree out back?
Yes. Little and made of white adobe. A pure white that glistens in the strong sun. And with crimson-colored roof tiles on top.
Intrigued, I tilted my head forward, savoring the undulating cadence of her words as I leaned closer in.
I may not understand your dream. But when you mentioned a little house with a pomegranate tree out back, that is exactly the image I imagined.
From across the table, the woman returned my pleased expression. She had a wide, spirited smile — with the tips of her red gums glistening above the ivory of her teeth. On the left front tooth was a line of crimson lipstick. Tacitly, I lifted my left pointer finger and brushed it gently across my corresponding front tooth. The woman gave an endearing chuckle as she covered her mouth with a used napkin and hunched her shoulders inwards. When she brought the napkin to the table, I watched as she covered the blot of lipstick with a neatly creased half-fold. Once the lipstick stain was removed and hidden, she thanked me. Just not with such simple words.
It may be a trite thing to say, but I do appreciate someone who can tell me when I have something in or on my teeth.
Most do say that.
But do they mean it?
I folded my arms as I considered the question.
In my opinion, most people would prefer to skip the embarrassment. They would rather look in the mirror later and tell themselves that no one noticed.
The woman nodded her head in assent.
So you would want to know if you had food stuck in your teeth?
I would, personally. And you? Were you genuinely happy that I told you about the lipstick stain on your front tooth?
Truly, genuinely so.
As if she were about to tell me a secret, she leaned across the table and gave a narrow, sly smile. From our close position, I could taste a sweet maple flavor emanating from her breath.
You have a piece of food stuck between your front teeth.
Instinctively, I leaned away from her and covered my mouth — an action that caused her to emit a smooth, low-pitched giggle.
I’m only teasing you.
Uncertain of what to believe, I rubbed my pointer finger across my top teeth before dragging the nail down the front three crevices — all the while keeping my actions concealed with the palm of my opposing hand.
You don’t believe me?
I don’t know what to believe.
Let me see your teeth.
Reluctantly, I lowered my hands, folded them onto my lap, and gave the woman a rigid smile.
I brought my lips back together, but felt compelled to check one last time, in the same manner as before.
I’ve lost your trust I see.
I shrugged my shoulders before giving a curt and unconvincing reply.
Stealthily — as if she were handling an illicit substance — she removed a round, silver object from her clutch. She pressed down at a protruding edge, revealing a compact, two-sided mirror. I leaned into the mirror and checked my teeth in the reflection. They were as white and clear as a freshly bleached shower grout.
She gave a nod and slid the silver compact back into her clutch.
The next day, during my lunch hour, I went out and bought myself a round, silver compact. It wasn’t the exact compact as hers, but it was similar, with two protruding notches placed at an indeterminate point on the circle’s circumference. After the purchase, I stood to the left of the shops entrance and checked my reflection within the shiny glass surface. As before, my teeth were as clear as a freshly cleaned grout. Satisfied, I slid the compact into my left front pocket and returned to the office, where I had an afternoon meeting to prepare for. But when I sat down at my desk, I couldn’t focus, for I was compelled to find out more about the woman who had a dream of one day owning a little house with a pomegranate tree out back. I searched both her first and last name — which, like her dream, weren’t far from conventional — and narrowed the parameters down to my current city. I clicked on all the profiles with potential, along with every backshot and one drawing of a maple tree. But it was clear that none of the profiles shown belonged to her. Something about the construct of the facial features, or the tilt and build of the person in the image, revealed that I was staring at the photographic representation of a notably disparate individual. I spent over thirty minutes scouring the internet, with no luck in finding the woman. But just as I was about to direct my focus to the stack of notes at my left, I received a notification at the top of my screen. When I clicked on the assertive red circle, the woman’s image appeared — as clear and bright as a calm summer day. I accepted her request and immediately responded with a short and unassuming message.
Fourteen years later, to the exact month and date, and I am still waiting on the woman’s response. I never sent her another message, as I am under the impression that double messaging is a galling imposition. At least, that is what it feels like for me — both when someone double messages me and when I double message someone else. So I let that message stand alone in the inbox, like a lone cloud adrift in an arid sky.
And yet, despite the silence, I still check up on the woman four times a year — invariably at the start of a season, when the weather turns from warm to hot or cool to cold, or from wet to dry or temperate to intemperate. Something about the ephemeral demonstration of time and space would make me recall the brief encounter I had with that woman. There wasn’t any particular reason for this, for I did meet her in the dead of summer, when the air was muggy and the sun’s rays fell in an oppressively endless stream — making it seem as if the sweltering heat of summer was an eternal imposition, and that the barren chill of winter was simply the figment of an active imagination. Perhaps it is the introspective nature that seasonal change brings, the tendency for one to evaluate the now from a year’s past. Or maybe the midsummer heat bore into me with such burning vigor, and for such an extended period of time, that her memory became charred into one or both of my amygdalae so that, even twelve years later, our shared snippet of conversation stayed lit within me, regardless of its inconsequence towards the grand scheme of my life.
In any case, I enjoy checking up on the woman in a seasonal manner. The past four years, however, her profile has remained starkly vacant, with a mere few well wishes for her birthday; which happened to be two days after we met. That, of course, could have been — and still could be — a reasonable excuse to reach out. And yet, after all these years, I’ve never managed to send her another message.
And I likely won’t message her tomorrow — or ever. For she did get that little house with a pomegranate tree out back, exactly four years ago, on her forty-fourth birthday. It took her over a decade, but she managed to fulfill her dream. And as for my own, well, I’m still working on the next Great American Novel.
It seems that the scope of our dreams just didn’t match.
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