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Carbon Links

By Leo Mottron-Belleville 

“Today is the day”, she thought.

Sitting at the dinner table that saw her grow up, she was watching her mom coming back from the kitchen with two cups of coffee. Mathilda could see her mother in the reflection of the marble countertop, adding a slew of milk to her own cup. In the late afternoon of mid-November, light always seems to be shining diagonally. A continuous golden hour softening everything it touches, especially her mother’s face as she came back with two steaming mugs.

“What is it that you needed to tell me?”

Never one to mince words.

“I’m going to propose tonight”.

Her mother’s face deepened in the glow, sharp lines making their way across her face. Mathilda already expected them, as she always did when she had to tell her mom something that displeased her.

“Look, I know how you feel about him. But he’s the person I chose. I just wanted to let you know beforehand.”

Her mom took her mug into her hands and peered silently at her reflection in the dark liquid. Sometimes, she would glance over the small frame of Mathilda’s late father on the counter before going back to her silent observation. Mathilda could do nothing but nervously tap her foot.

“Your father would want someone better for you, and so do I,” she said after sipping her cup.

“What do you mean by that?”

“He doesn’t have a proper job; he mostly relies on you for money. But my main concern is that you two don’t fit.”

Mathilda knew this. Her friends told her this before, her colleagues too, and she always brushed it aside. Robert’s financials were never a problem to her since he always made her smile. They met in college, and she fell in love knowing that he possibly didn’t share the same feelings for her. She worked hard to make him hers, and even harder to provide for the two of them after he decided to quit his major. This, on the other hand, stung, especially because she had to mention her dad. Both stayed silent, barely looking at each other, Mathilda’s cup burning her cold fingers.

“I know that you haven’t changed your opinion of him in the past 5 years, but I swear that he’s better now”, she said looking down at her feet so that her mother couldn’t see her tears forming.

“He just found a new job, and it’s looking like he’s going to move up, and we talked about getting a car, and… and he makes me happy”.

The last words were almost whispered in her attempt to keep herself from crying.

Mathilda’s mother looked at her with something approaching pity. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to dissuade her only daughter from marrying him. She saw Mathilda’s ephemeral joy lasting perhaps a year before the cracks in their marriage would appear. There was no reason for Robert to say no, guaranteeing himself a life of leisure while his wife would do anything for him.

The evening grew on and now the sun was only slightly peering over the horizon. Mathilda’s coffee laid untouched, she never liked coffee anyway. Her mother was not someone to budge when her mind was made up, there was no point in trying anymore. Mathilda then left to get ready for her dinner at the Italian restaurant at the other end of the city, the one where you needed to make a reservation multiple weeks in advance. She thought of everything, from the date, the same as when they had their first date, to the time she would bring up the question.

At the restaurant, she sat at the table closest to the window, Mathilda could only wait for him to arrive. The dining room was large, an imposing glass chandelier overlooking the room. The tables around her were occupied with people dressed as if they were going to a wedding and Mathilda blushed while looking at her own dress, she could still see a small crimson stain where Robert spilt wine some months ago. A tall wine room stood in the middle, all encased in glass, with bottles reaching the ceiling, and the servers all had their uniforms with slick haircuts. She then took the small squared box in black velvet from her purse, and slowly opened it in front of her. The white crystal, resting on its silvery support, shone brightly in the dim light of the dining room. Each side refracting a small rainbow on the white cloth of the table. 2 months of savings for an eternity with him, a small price for happiness. She thought of him, how witty and smart he was back in college. He disliked conformism and that’s what attracted her the most, and he liked her for her strange romanticism, perhaps reconciling him with the world. So what if his job didn’t provide as much as hers? Isn’t happiness the most important thing? she concluded right as Robert stepped into the restaurant, and she quickly put the box back into her purse.

Taking his seat in front of her, he was wearing a simple blazer and jeans, from which the server raised an eyebrow. Tonight, was her treat so they wouldn’t have to worry about the bill too much. Robert thought of it as a nice gift for their anniversary.

“5 years today, we’ve been through a lot of time together” she said after the small talk over the appetizers.

“You’re reminding me how much older I am” he said.

“Sure, but think about how much you’ve grown in all that time. You’ve just recently managed to snatch a place at your uncle’s car wash, who knows where you’ll be in 5 years.”

“I suppose that’s true, hopefully we’ll still be together, eh?”

“I’m sure we will” she answered with a bright smile, the one she knew he liked.

Mathilda’s plan was almost complete. She wanted to wait for the moment, after the main course and before the desserts, before tackling her request; a moment that always allows for more serious conversations.

“What do you think represents the perfect symbol for love?” she tentatively asked.

Robert stared aimlessly at his third glass of wine, playing with his dessert spoon.

“I’d say, the perfect symbol for me would be a cat.”

“A cat?”

“Yeah, you know, cats are mostly independent, but you can tell they care about you. Like my brother’s cat, Brownie, he’s always acting like he’s tough and doesn’t care about you, but as soon as you take a hold of him, he starts purring like there’s no tomorrow. I think the idea of independence and always having someone to rely on is perfect.”

A server refilled their water glasses, and Mathilda could only stare at Robert’s spoon.

“But, you know, diamonds are the most obvious symbols for love.”

“Oh, that’s all bullshit” he answered, “diamonds don’t mean anything, they’re just hard carbon links.”

“They’re more than that!” she exclaimed, “they’re strong carbon links, just like a strong relationship.”

“Sure, but there’s stronger stuff in the world, and they’re all artificial too. All made in labs under microscopes and machines. And besides, diamonds are mostly created artificially too.”

She stared at her wine glass for a while, a ball in her stomach, before their waiter politely asked her if she wanted a third one.

“No, I’m fine thank you.”

She looked up again at her partner.

“What about them being a symbol for marriage?”

“Yeah right, and I can tell you that this was all a ploy from a company to boost their diamond selling figures by associating it with a dumb practice. It’s all fabricated.”

She looked down at the floor, her left high heel has some of its colour chipped. She could hear Robert’s methodical tap on his index finger on the table.

“Doesn’t it mean anything to you?” glancing over her little box at the bottom of her purse.

“Are you asking if African children dying in mines for ‘precious’ minerals mean anything to me?”

To this, a small tear shed itself against her will across her cheek. She wiped it off before giving him one last smile.


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