Leaves fell from their trees as the fast wind gushed through the backyard. Flakes of salmon pink, flame red and sunshine yellow kept the trunks warm. The skies whisper the secrets of winter but I didn’t want Autumn to depart before we did.
The retreat house wasn’t how I pictured it. When the office manager informed us of the Christmas getaway slash office retreat, much wasn’t disclosed. Upon arrival, my eyes adjusted to the plethora of hue. The trees swayed gracefully to the cool winds. Birds chirping and the delicate sounds of the lake could be heard from a distance. Fortunately, the planned activities weren’t mandatory, so I opted to rest in my quarters for most of the day. The smell of scones and hot tea were the only motivation to put my slippers on and exit my room temporarily. Tonight marks our final stay at this paradisal abode before the city takes us back in its soul-sucking embrace. I decided to take a late evening walk.
It was 10:30pm and the strong winds died down. I walked through three flights of stairs to the courtyard and hopped on a bicycle to the lake. It was only a fifteen minute walk from the cabin but I opted to shorten the trip by ten minutes. The lamp posts were dim but perfect enough to view the clear water. The distant, snowy mountains were visible under the subtle rays of the moon. As I got off my bike, a silhouette came into view; LG was sat on a bench. He looked slightly surprised but broke into a smile right away.
“Sssh,” he whispered. His hair gently bobbed to the evening wind, eyes illuminated by the lamp posts. Even in the dark, his skin was perfect and I could smell his zesty cologne from where I stood. His sharp cheekbones and contoured jawline brought Greek gods to shame. Thanks to a quick current and sudden sneeze, I shook off the swoon.
LG tapped the space next to him and I reluctantly took the offer. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt completely small in his presence, like a nymph next to giant. In a way, I felt safe. Despite the considerable distance between us, I felt comforted by his shadow. “Why are we whispering?”, I asked. He pulled his thinking expression and out emerged the dimple that I was dreading to see. “I’m just paying attention to nature. It’s hard to do this in the city,” he sighed. “Also, it makes you listen inward.”
A piano piece was playing somewhere far off and I started to look around to find the source. Was it all in my head? Have I gone completely mental? LG realised he left the music on and quickly pressed the pause button on his phone. “Oops, sorry. That’s me!” Relief washed all over me. Of all the places to go completely cuckoo, here and now couldn’t be it.
“Ave Maria was playing. Do you fancy classical music?”, he asked. He was looking across the water and at the mountains but he clearly wanted to dismiss the silence.
I followed suit and looked ahead. “Yes, it’s Schubert’s piece isn’t it? Ellen’s Third Song.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I could picture how beautiful the evening was even in the dark; the trees reaching out to one another to form one massive embrace, the lake swaying to the hymns of the moon and the hidden sun gently stirring in its slumber. LG was suddenly silent so I broke away from my trance. He was looking right at me.
“I’m impressed. Not everyone knows that about Ave Maria. You’re a pianist, I presume?”
“I used to, until I was 9. It wasn’t my forte.” I shuddered at the flashback of my father looking down at me sternly as I failed to perfect The Entertainer for the seventh time. I did love playing the piano until my parents treated my lessons like military school. Since then, I never touched the piano. The very sight of piano keys was nauseating.
“Do you play too?”
He shook his head, “No. I have the heart to study and listen to the music, but never the prowess. My late mom was disappointed. I guess I’m a perfect match for my name.”
At work, I never got around to knowing his real name. Thanks to my gossping co-workers who tattled about like birds in summer, I finally referred to the fringed stranger as LG. I assumed that since he was using an LG phone, the nickname became a dead giveaway. For convenience and preference. It was a silly conclusion from my part yet completely possible. As much as my heart skipped a bit for a stranger who worked across the hall from my cubicle, I didn’t bother constructing better theories. In my head, we’ve had mutliple dates in libraries, art galleries, and hipster cafés. Yet here we are, talking for the first time. In complete darkness. Talking about odd nicknames.
He chuckled, “I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not named after a Korean corporation.” As he turned to face me, he moved closer and raised his left leg toward the bench. “E-L-E-G-Y. Most people pronounce it as ele-gih, when it’s actually eleh-ji. Elegy means “sad poem”.”
Embarassment washed over me as quick and painful as a stubbed toe. I buried my face in my gloved hands. Why do I even call myself a writer? Why do I even mention my published TIME article on my resume? It’s not like I’ve never read the word “elegy”. There must be a toilet somewhere as I need to be flushed down the sewers right away.
LG laughed as he tried to wrestle my palms away from my face. “My own father hates my name so he went with LG.” My face emerged, revealing flushed cheeks. ” Also,” he added, “It’s not like I go around telling people my real name. You’re the first in a long while.”
There was hurt in his eyes and I wish I had the courage to ask him about them. I never told him this but I often used the word “elegy” in my poems. It is truly beautiful as it is strong. Sadness holds a bottomless pit of inspiration to fuel one’s literary fires. To translate this influence into the written word is both redemption and a sacrifice in itself. Some say Autumn is the season where everything is in the process of death. I think Autumn is just the earth’s brave way of telling us to live the most out of life until our pulses rest. Even in death, there is hue. Even endings get a beginning.
We sat in silence for the next fifteen minutes, paying attention to the gentle harmony of the night. That was our first and last encounter. Upon returning to the city, he took a plane to Europe and never came back. I’d like to think that we both sat next to each other in the bus on the way back and that our third date was an afternoon tea offering at the fanciest restaurant in town. This led to poorer dates in the coming weeks but street food never tasted better until I had them with him. Maybe we even visited the retreat house every year to comemorate our anniversary – during Autumn, of course. Autumn is our season, the time we tied the knot, also the name of our first child. She played the piano beautifully and often mocked LG for his lack of talent. Her second name would be Sonnet because her being is a poem still being written, one that will be forever etched in mine. Just like Ellen’s Third Song, replaying memories is as good as making new ones with better endings.