The windows of his apartment faced west, out onto the river and only ten blocks down from the bridge. Once, they'd had a picnic by the windows, watching rainbow-coloured sailboats drift lazily around in the sunlit waters. She'd made vegetable quiche and cheesecake with strawberries (from a mix, but it didn't taste that way) and he'd brought a bottle of red wine that he'd practiced pronouncing the name of the night before. They spent the afternoon watching the boats and talking and laughing, relaxed and just a little bit drunk, and by the end of the day he knew he would ask her to marry him.
He remembers the sunlit days; she remembers the moonlight. They would sit by the river, watching the headlights on the bridge of the distant cars, and he would read her poetry. She loved his poetry, loved the way he would describe in such detail all the little things she never noticed. He understood the world differently, and through him, she saw one she'd never known. In the moonlight, when his blond hair glowed and his steady voice transported them to a place far from the surrounding city, she wished she could love him the way she loved his poems.
He was standing by the window on a foggy night waiting to turn to a rainy one when the time came and he decided to ask. He'd known for years, but kept waiting ... if someone had questioned it, he would have said he was waiting for "the right moment," but he couldn't have described what that moment should be. He waited because it felt like he should, and tonight, by the window, it came.
She was sitting on the back of the couch, a glass of red wine in hand, a 1992 Burgundy from René Engel that went well with the roast chicken she'd made. He was always good with wines. It was one of those small details that made her sure she should love him, that not loving him was a serious character flaw. Or perhaps she did: maybe 'love' was simply an overcharged word for deep affection. Maybe, she mused, staring into the wine, she should stop waiting for something that might not be real. Beyond the window, the moonlit river twisted and turned into the fog.
By the window, he held out a ring afire with the light of sunlit days. By the window, she held the ring and imagined a life here with him.
In his new apartment, the windows face north, onto a street always crowded with honking cars and neon lights. Sometimes, the lights remind him of her. Of the way she would watch the headlights of the cars on the bridge, wondering at the lives so briefly skating across the edges of their own. Sometimes, when the letters come and he hears her voice reading them, he wonders about a life where she stayed. By the window, by the river.
He writes her letters too, and in them she finds the poetry of their river. After she left, they fled, both of them, from place to place to place. The letters come from California, from Texas, from Miami and Mariners Point and Columbus. She writes back, about Paris and Chicago and Austin. The letters are light, tossed-off, never too long or too deep. He changed jobs. She got a dog. He went hiking in the Adirondaks and rediscovered the stars; she spent a month painting in the streets of Bologna and learned some Italian. One summer, he wrote that he was getting married: she lived by Lake Michigan, her name was Karen, she was a teacher and a writer and had long black hair and a tattoo of a grasshopper. The week of their wedding she flew into town, without really knowing why. She never told him she was coming. She stayed in an old inn with peeling paint and shutters that banged against the walls in the wind, and took long walks across the empty roads and through a nearby forest.
She never went to their wedding, she never told him she was there, but in the woods she was finally able to let go of the river. He remembers the sunlight; she remembers the moonlight, and that is all they remember. The pain is duller. The running has stopped. He rarely hears her voice reading the letters, now, and she writes them less often. They are both in love. For him, it is a softer kind of love, dimmed by experience and age. For her, it is the fireworks she had dreamed of. That summer, she too found a girl by Lake Michigan.