A Chance Encounter

It was a chance encounter, all the more unnerving for that. I was at a mall shopping for some replacement items for my wardrobe. Since returning from Colorado I had been feeling an urge to make a change in my daily attire and I finally decided to indulge it. As it was well past dinnertime I decided that I could stop for a bite at one of the restaurants just off the food court. I am not terribly fond mass-produced food, but this mall is rather upscale and the dining options were fairly attractive. I took a small table looking out upon the mall that allowed me to engage in my favorite hobby: watching people.

I was waiting for my meal, sipping at my tea, casually looking over the passers-by while avoiding any direct eye contact. It actually works better if I have a magazine or a book, but I can put forth an expression of bored indifference well enough to convince anyone that my gaze in his or her direction must be nothing more than coincidental.

I spotted him as he left the food court, and he instantly made eye contact. His reaction was so startling that I nearly reacted myself, but I let my eyes slide off of him as if he had not come to my attention. Still, in my peripheral vision, I saw him stagger over to a bench and carefully take a seat. Alarm bells began ringing in the back of my head after another pass revealed him to be sitting, staring at me intently. Then I recognized him: William Travis.

William and I had shared one very short, exquisite year of hedonistic pleasure together in Southern California on the cusp of the 1960’s before I had ended our relationship for his own good. He had promise, and he wanted children, eventually. It helped that I only liked him, I was still too deep in the grip of my last true love to be foolish enough to let it go any further, but he had felt otherwise. Or at least he thought he had. How could he love me when he knew only what little I had been willing to show him of myself?

Our eyes locked. I gave him a “confused, why you are staring at me?” expression I hoped would convince him to move on, but as he rose to his feet again he made straight for the entrance to the restaurant. For a brief moment I considered fleeing, but I knew that might make matters far worse. I pretended not to notice as he came in, waving off the hostess who addressed him by name, saying he was here to meet somebody and, oh, there she is right over there, thank you very much.

He came to my table and I looked up in to his earnest, questioning face.

“I’m so sorry to bother you like this, miss, but… you wouldn’t be related to Claire Simon by any chance?”

Lie? Or deny?


“Claire Simon is my mother,” I replied, smiling, “and you are?”

“Will, Will Travis. I knew your mother many years ago- I would have guessed you to be her granddaughter, rather than her daughter, but the resemblance is… striking.” He gestured to the empty chair, “May I?”

“Please, yes,” I smiled at him. This had the potential to be very, very painful for him, but once begun there was no way to stop it. “My mother was forty when I was born. It came as quite a shock to her, or so she said.”

“I’m sure it was. Your mother and I… Claire was very important to me. We were very close…”

He seemed at a loss for words, trying to put it in to some sort of context he thought I might understand. I had to help him out, so I offered, “Mom always thought she was sterile. She said she had ended more than one relationship because she couldn’t have children…” His eyes were still so very blue, and the way he looked down at the table, the set of his jaw, was the pain still so sharp? How deeply had I wounded this man? And I was about to multiply it, for there could only be one answer to the obvious question he was about to ask.

“How is your mother? I would love to see her again.”

I let my face tell him before I uttered any word, waited for him to see, and to draw the obvious conclusion. “My mother died several years ago. She was doing medical missionary work in South America at the time…”

We had dinner together and talked about Claire as I tried my best to ease his pain, but there were problems. He kept coming back to how uncannily like my mother I seemed to be.

“I noticed you in the window here, but it wasn’t so much your appearance at first, as what you were doing. You were people-watching, weren’t you?”

“Well, yes, ” I smiled, letting a little blush show.

“That’s what startled me so- Claire used to do the same thing, sometimes she would be very dramatic about it, telling stories about people who passed by, stories that you always had a feeling just might be true. When I saw you, the way you were sitting and looking over the people walking past… it was such a shock of recognition… though Claire usually had a newspaper or a magazine in her hand when she did it. At first I was sure you were her, then I realized how young you were…” but he was looking in to my eyes. Always in to my eyes.

I could see the wheels turning inside him and I knew this was becoming more dangerous by the moment. William was never stupid, nor was he given to flights of fancy, but at such close proximity, the two of us talking about my “mother”, his senses were picking up all sorts of signals from me, unmistakable signals that kept drawing him towards a conclusion that his rational mind had to deny. Suddenly he inhaled deeply.

“You wear your mother’s perfume,” he commented.

Oh, Dear Lord, if you exist, please, you have to help us both! Right now!

The check arrived and he insisted on picking it up. He wanted to continue our conversation, but I pleaded other commitments. I tried to make it clear that I had enjoyed meeting him, but that there really was no reason for us to make plans to meet again. He became insistent almost to the point of rudeness. I could see the turmoil inside him, the certainty that there was something more he needed from me, the inner shock at his own behavior and the irrationality it bred. Every attempt I made to circumvent, to handle and direct him, was overwhelmed.

It was becoming a scene; people in the restaurant were turning to see what was going on. The hostess and a man who had to be the manager were approaching, discreetly, but deliberately. William was known to them- the hostess had greeted him by name. It was time to leave.

“Mr. Travis, I’m certain that your memories of my mother, and the news of her death have upset you, and I am very sorry for that, but I must be going.”

I snatched up my bags and rose to leave, but the manager was in the way and as I tried to brush past him he caught me by my arm.

?Just a moment, miss…” he stopped in mid-sentence because I had his wrist in my free hand and had twisted it from my arm, turning it just enough so that he knew another inch would make it quite painful.

“Jack! No!” William cried out, “Let her go… let her go.”

I released the manager, and the tableau froze- William’s eyes and mine locked for the second time that night. And he knew. The manager made no move to stop me as I sped out the door and made for the nearest exit, fleeing in to the rain-soaked night.

3 Responses to “A Chance Encounter”

  1. Have you inadvertantly ran into other people from your past other than “William”?

  2. This is the first time I have had this particular problem, where I was recognized. In the past, even fairly recently (by my standards), one could relocate some good distance and have some relative assurance that you would not encounter anyone you knew for some time. Modern society, particularly in North America, and to a slightly lesser degree in Western Europe, has become highly mobile. Given that I suspect this could be more common.

    For reasons I shall expound on later this particular episode was more problematic.

  3. The above comments were first posted on 08/09/2003 until being re-posted here today.