He wasn't supposed to go snooping on her things, nor did he mean to. They barely knew each other, being publicly together for less than three months. Seeing each other for less than a year. For a long time, she refused to let anyone know. One day, she acquiesced and held his hand while they were out with friends. He never knew what happened, never asked.
It was raining, as was the custom for a Dublin autumn. He needed pen and paper to teach her a game, and she said he would find it in the white box on top of the closet, where her stationery was. She had stationery. He found a wall calendar in there. In all fairness, it was the first thing on the box, blocking access to anything else, so it could not be considered snooping. And it had a huge picture of her and another guy in the front. A short, dark type, so different from him. Was that the type of man she went for before they met? How did he compare? He opened the calendar and forgot about pen and paper.
They smiled a lot and took pictures of themselves in various locations around the country, with captions he couldn't read. They were in her native language.
She was at the door, he was standing with the box nestled in one arm and the calendar opened on top of it, leafing through the pages with the other hand. He didn't realize she was behind him.
"That's my ex."
He was startled by her voice. Nearly dropped the box and whatever remains of past love might still be in there. There was no specific emotion he could recognize, no anger for the intrusion, no fear of him finding out things that she could still have inside her. He sat on the bed and put the box to the side. The calendar still in his hand, their eyes met.
"Oh, ok. Was it serious?"
The pictures spoke for themselves. He wanted to hear it from her.
"Very serious. Until we broke up."
"Do you miss him?"
"Do you... think about him?", don't ask questions you don't want to hear to answer to, he thought.
"Sometimes. But I wasn't happy with him."
She went to the hamper and started separating whites. She played it cool.
He turned a page. There they were, in the cliffs of Moher, smiling in the freezing wind. She was probably being held by his hands while kissing the Blarney stone. She did have the gift of the gab, way more than he ever would.
Another page, dining by candlelight somewhere fancy, and she was very dressed up. A proposal, maybe?
Putting a padlock in Ha'penny Bridge. Would it still be there if he looked for it?
Toasting with Guinness in a nondescript pub. All the mandatory tourist pictures.
Did they live together in Ireland? He didn't look Irish, and he knew she wasn't. Maybe they decided to move there together. Was he still in Dublin? Had he seen this guy while grocery shopping?
His mind wandered back to places and times he never knew. Thirty one years of her life that were a big blank quilt to him, with only a few patches sewn here and there. Blank. She studied Economy. Blank. She had one brother, one sister. Blank. Her dad divorced her mom ten years ago. Blank, blank, blank. She came to Ireland three years ago, as soon as her German citizenship process was finished. She liked music just as much as he did, and that was one of the few things they had in common. She liked paintings from Italian guys he had never heard of and books by a Portuguese guy who loathed punctuation. But she never disclosed her love life prior to meeting him. And he never asked.
He wasn't one for talking about his own life either, never was. "Always silent, but a good student", as described by the school counselor in his last year. It was hard to meet women this way. As young boys, his friends would always mess with passing girls and be noisy around ladies, stuffing their chests and ruffling feathers like pigeons would. He was not too concerned. If a girl was taken by his lonesome ways, all the better. If not, the right ones would eventually make her way into his life. Maybe she was one of the right ones, but he didn't know yet and didn't care. They were too young for that whole living together forever. Thirty was the new twenty.
He leafed through the calendar again and could tell she was looking at him from the corner of her eye. They didn't know each other well enough. At that very moment, he wished they did. And wished he knew enough not to make her as unhappy as she had been before. He had been a bastard in the past, didn't want to be one again.
She dropped a t-shirt on the bed, and sat beside him. She put her hand on his face. He instantly wished he had shaved that morning. Her smile was serene.
"I am happier now."