Natalia had a peppered white nose. It rested cozily within a freckled face filled with pimples and that tantalizing smile encouraging you to do something just beyond your reach.
“The River” was their song. Back then Springsteen knew what it was like to be young, naked, goose fleshed in the cold, the sweat of first love, sex in the back seat, beneath the fall of a light rain destined to stain your body forever.
She’d wanted the first child. That was first love. Then the others just arrived. They sorted it out. Worked to keep it all moving, keep them from fighting. Five seemed enough so they sought some help and worked out how to put on a condom.
The kids grew up without parents really. Too young to notice at the time. Too old now to relive the struggle of parents working to keep five mouths from chirping too loud in hunger; memories fade into a haze of loneliness and siblings fighting over the TV. Children find it hard to forgive. Parents find it hard to forget. Another perfect childhood. Just what they had all wanted, what they tried to remember.
He’d considered an email, even an SMS or WhatsApp. But he couldn’t quite square the technology with the sound of an old cassette player and Springsteen howling out the car door as they squirmed away on the grass beside a dull, dark lake they pretended was a river.
He’d tell her face to face. Thirty-one years was enough. He was leaving. And maybe in the end she wouldn’t even be angry. Or surprised. Maybe she too had waited thirty-one years for him to say it, or pluck up enough courage to say it herself. Natalia. Goodbye.