There's a coffee fresh out of the pot on the table.
It simmers softly in the old cup, and little curls of silver smoke rise from the surface. It's just at the right temperature to be drunk, but the old man doesn't seem to have any intention of drinking it. He's too busy doing nothing, his empty eyes staring in to the fire as if he sees ghosts in the flames. There's sadness, in his glance. Something pitiful, something broken. Something tossed to one side and never picked up again.
He's still got dark hair, despite his age, but it's streaked grey at the sides like a clouded night sky. There's deep set wrinkles furrowing into the sides of his face: across the plane of his forehead, down his cheeks, a groove gauged into the flick of his chin. His eyes are rimmed pale red, like perhaps he was just crying, or like perhaps he's been silently crying for a very long time.
There's two books on his lap. A diary is one of them, and the other is a thick novel, full to the brim and bursting with brilliant ideas. It tells of mountains and seas and foreign beauty, tells of all the wonderful, bright things. It's set far away, where the sun touches the grass and stains it gold. He's visited it, a long while ago: he's touched that gold and walked those roads and come all the way back to tell the tale. Perhaps he shouldn't have come back.
This old house has nothing but bookcases and coffee cups and memories from such a long time ago that they hardly seem relevant. It's got a childhood hiding in the nooks and crannies, and it's got a family cooking in the kitchen over the stove as the night gets colder. It's got games, puzzles, jigsaw pieces spread eagled over the floor and it's got laughter clambering up the stairs and memories clustering in the ceiling cobwebs and now-
What's it got? What's it got but an old man and his memories? What are they to anyone, anymore?
The man traces the corners of his books. They fray and wither beneath his touch, and he thinks how fragile his memories have gotten so quickly. They're falling away to dust, right beneath his fingers, and he can't save them. He can't save them, however much he tries.
He opens up the diary, runs his long, trembling fingers over the pages, feels the way - hears the way - they crinkle and crumple and whisper their secrets to him. They feel leathery, dusty, feather light, so delicate and brittle and so very, very old. It's his writing that he reads, now. He was always embarrassed with the ungainly way his letters scrawled across the pages, the way he couldn't seem to keep the letters under control, keep the tails of the 'g's and 'y's from looping too long and the 'b's and the 'k's from sweeping sky high. He feels the little bumps inside the paper where the ink blotted and dotted black-blue, blurry round the edges.
He remembers where he wrote every line. Remembers what the words felt like as they flowed from his head to his fingertips. Remembers what inspired each little feeling, each memory etched into each page. He remembers hot skies raining auburn tears, remembers huge lakes that gasped at the stars like black holes, remembers pine forests that pricked the stars, remembers picnics right on the shore watching bird skim and ripple over the sea, remembers strung up lights around the towns and little hot chocolates in paper cups by the ice rinks and bitter schoolmasters rumbling over the school gates with canes flicking the iron bars and he remembers the little ballet school and the old cafes by the side roads that sung with life, remembers all the people that were always there, always, always there and never, ever left.
In a certain swirl of letters tangled together, he sees her lovely hair tangled in the wind, sweeps of brown twined together. He sees the dip of her red lips, the curve at the base of her throat, the etchings of frown marks scattered over her forehead, the fluttering crimson of her scarf, coiling around her neck and stark against the pale of her skin.
He sees the snide twist of her mouth, the cruel sparkle in her eyes that couldn't be dimmed. Not by anything. The way she could slowly pick apart your breaking heart and you'd never even know until she was done with you. The way she'd push people aside like toy soldiers, the way her laugh sounded like she'd stitched diamonds into it, the way she was terrible and perfect as a storm.
He feels her kisses through the paper like maybe she's real. Her scowl pressing against his smile. Her words scribbled in invisible ink all over his skin. Her eyes, so deep and dark and hostile, so against everything and everyone and all but what felt right in the very second. The way she'd sneer through her lipstick, the way she could stare a man to his knees, the way she could turn all the heads in her direction with a flick of her thin wrist.
Her name was Eline.
He met her when he was just sixteen. She was the cold of a monsoon that lasts years, the heat of a midday sun in the desert, the greatest and the darkest and the wildest and the nastiest and the only thing worth all the love in the world. The only thing colourful enough, the only thing that was too much and not enough.
The old man folds himself into the pages. He loves her so much.