He holds the door open for her. It smells, aside from coffee, like pine cones inside, and cloves and cinnamon, and a little like how he imagines frenzy would smell. A soothed frenzy. He does not have a nose for this sort of thing.
The room feels like some sort of lackluster indoor block party. Adults and their laptops line the café bar, neglecting their drinks, enthralled by the troubles of suburbia emblazoned across their web pages. Infrequent chats are wars about suffering: whose ink jet printer is broken, who scraped someone else’s BMW the other day.
He sees someone he’s noticed there before, and smiles to himself. The place is a community, however laughable. They are all here to enjoy the atmosphere, or ambience, as he would say, if he were speaking. It’s a word he likes.
“Two small green teas, please.” He takes out his wallet after she has left for the bathroom. Sometimes she hides from him when they are out. She shields her face with her hair, or lowers her eyes, or leaves altogether.
He spits out his gum and picks up their drinks from the bar. The cups get sleeved in cardboard and one gets a straw as a joke while he waits. He takes a couple seconds to notice her standing by the exit, waiting for him to join her. She holds the door open for him with the edge of her sneaker.
They walk by a nail salon and a Thai restaurant and a clothing store and two banks, one drive-through, on the way to the lake. They pass the music store he used to work at. They try to hold hands, but her fingers are cold, and the tea sloshes too much when they walk with their elbows hooked together. It has become a running joke that she always burns herself. When she does, he kisses the fleshy part of her hand, the L that runs from her thumb to the tip of her pointer finger.
She almost left him the past July. He was in France.
“It’s a good time.”
She was 3,500 miles away then.
“What do you mean?” All the wind in Nice was choking him.
“We’ll have the summer. You know…it will be easier.”
Then she was a thousand times further.
They come closer to the lake, and she asks him to speak Russian. She asks again, and he can’t say no. She wants him to translate what she says. Then she requests French instead. Then just the French accent, then the Russian one. Then Italian. “Baba di boopy,” he says. Then British. He watches her squeal, and he kisses her cheek until she squirms. Even then, he can’t stop.
It took him almost four years to speak to her. He’s told her that he has memories of her from before then, but she can’t say the same. He remembers a time in his yard when he saw her. Dana was a puppy. He was sitting on the grass tossing a ball into the air when she ran by. She had headphones in and her cheeks were red, as though some jealous giant had reached out of the sky and pinched them. Their eyes met through the trees and the palms of his hands felt her disgust drift across the foliage.
This is not something she remembers.
She was always leaving him. The first time was before he had even held her hand. He asked her to see Joy in theatres. They went ice skating a few days later, and then a blizzard kept her indoors, and then, before he had hardly realized it, she left to Europe for three weeks. It was as though they had never sat, shoulders pressed together, in front of an outdated projection screen before. Those two hours in the dark, breathing in popcorn, his heart hammered, and from it came possibility.
The possibility of Her was so close to reality. It had felt as though a gust of wind had blown toward him and paused for a moment. How inexplicable, this random, absurd, marvelous mistake on the part of Fortuna. It had all the open sky to choose from.
Looking at her, there was some drive pulsing through the id of his psyche that breathed in his subconscious, crying for him to reach out his limbs and capture her. She was next to him but she filled his thoughts. The scent of her skin cartwheeling in the October breeze. Shadows of her smile becoming bruises on his jaw. Her laugh, grimace, violent eyes, quiet and disquiet, absence, quirks, care, and distance rang in his chest. She had punctured his world and flood it with images of her.
Some days he’d start skipping alongside her and there would be no better moment than that one, with her hand in his, to be children together.
Her bliss was his drug.
There was a morning when the world rolled out of its star-studded sea and was hung, unmoving at the outskirts of its universe, so that he could spread a single minute over hours. He met her early, like every other day, only on this one, when she saw him she tossed off her jacket and bags and barreled toward him like some cannonball out of a falconet. Her fingers met the back of his neck and her arms, his shoulders, and her legs enveloped him, but where his hands held her at the small of her back, she was air. He carried her for days, unmoving, hardly breathing, until she became conscious of herself, disentangled from him, and left him.
He stops short. Some minutes ago, they had started jogging, but he can’t remember why. The air is thick, picking up, preparing to carry over to some nearby town. He leans against a fence lining the lake to catch his breath. His lungs are several paces behind his legs.
When he first met her he had developed a plan, or more a strategy. He wouldn’t approach her unless she hinted it was alright. He wouldn’t touch her, hold her hand, unless she told him she wanted him to. He slaved over his effort not to embarrass her. There were topics he learned not to discuss and people he learned not to bring up. Each joke was a risk.
She was unmovable, so he practiced flexibility.
“I’m coming, wait a second,” he stretches his arms over his head and jogs over to her, trembling in the wind. The cuff of her sleeve is soaked with tea.
A year ago it would have been everything to stand next to her.
They round the corner and he has his breath back. He takes her hands and rubs them between his. She curls her palm around his pointer finger like an infant, and they walk. His airway burns from the wind, but it’s becoming more of a deep cleaning than pain. He walks with her, letting her hold onto him, and knowing that he could run, if he wanted to.
It hurts, having him order for her, pay for her. Her dad would make her order by herself if he were here, just because he knows she doesn’t like to. She’s a child.
“I’ll be right back. Bathroom.” Her feet trail away from the smell of coffee.
She presses down on the door handle to the bathroom, covering by her sleeve. What a relief that it doesn’t stick. She locks it behind her, and then checks it. Twice. There’s a bucket with Lysol and a roll of paper towels on a stool next to her. The soft kind of paper too.
She puts the bucket next to the wall and stands up on the stool. The mirror watches her fingers slide down her waist, over the curve of her hips. It eyes her hands lingering over her pelvic bone. She turns sideways and lifts up her shirt. Her jeans don’t have loop holes for a belt. She has started to fold them down from the top. First once, now two times. Her doppelganger meets her eyes. What would her doctor say if she couldn’t explain her weight loss? No dieting, no eating disorder. No excessive exercise.
Strange, how thrilling it is to pretend there’s something wrong.
The toilet flushes. Three gallons of wasted matter drain back into the universe. But washing her hands is better. Cleanliness is better. Her fingers shake in the water.
“Damn it, damn it! Get in here!”
Every time, his tone was the indicator. Like any tone could be. Tone in poetry. Analysis of the author. The way an elderly couple says, “I love you.” Someone’s snarky comment in Calculus. The condescending whines in a household of adolescents.
Or her father’s voice three years ago.
“Do you know who made this?” Dinner.
His face was also an indicator.
Red was love. Confidence strutting out of a successful job interview. Action, the drive of a body in motion, and lust. The most visually stimulating color. Passion.
“Yeah,” his tongue curled against his teeth, “me, and who helped?”
Was it just heat, in that moment? Or intensity?
“I cannot get you girls to do a single thing without asking. Nothing! What, do I have to start fucking paying you to do the dishes?”
“Goddamn this house.”
More of it.
She cut her finger picking up the wine glass he had broken. Funny, how her pulse had slowed, seeing blood flicker in the water under the faucet. The only red brighter than his face had been.
Her sister learned how to put a door back on its hinges that night. What pride.
Her father came back when she was asleep, fished an “I love you” and an “I’m sorry” out of his mouth, and then left.
Was red love?
She dries her hands with the paper towels from the bucket. A little girl in a blue tutu sprints by her when she opens the door.
The café seems emptier than it was before. Maybe the lighting dimmed, or someone left the door to the outside propped open. Most of the warm smells have wandered off.
She stops herself from calling out to him. He’s struggling with his wallet. The dollar change he keeps, the coins he leaves as a tip. Every time. Every place he goes.
He might be a miracle.
She watches him put cardboard heat protectors around the cups and pick up a straw. Every person in the room must be falling in love with the smile on his face, his careful hands, the aura diffusing off of him. The room is fuller again.
Neurons erupt in her brain.
“The lake, maybe?” Her offer as she holds the door open on the way out.
Her drink is green tea. Coffee is nauseating. Caffeine, actually, which includes black tea. She knows that he knows.
Subject: The reason why
July 6, 2013 at 4:38 PM
Found in Inbox
You asked me why I love you a few minutes ago. It’s a difficult question, not because the answer is unclear or vague, but because the real answer is simply that I don’t have motives or reasons for loving you. That’s not how it works. Obviously I don’t love any old passer-by on the street, so I’ll try to give a better explanation.
I think the biggest cause is the time I’ve spent and the experiences I’ve had with you. Just remembering times like the MFA, sitting with you by the lake, kissing you for the first time, eating melted ice-cream bars with you, walking around the Rose Kennedy Greenway with allergies (and still loving it), or meeting you in the break during my math class at night overwhelms me with how much I love you.
The memories don’t even have to be big things. Something like going to Whole Foods with you that time we didn’t buy anything, or waiting in the airport for you to come online (and the feeling of absolute happiness when you did), or meeting you instead during a “lunch break” at work can make me feel that way.
Also, I think a subclause is how comfortable you make me feel when I’m with you. Or how well you complement and counterbalance my personality with yours. I love you, and I also love your temperament and your personality and the aspect of you that some people might call “straight-edge.”
I don’t think I even skimmed the surface of all my reasons for loving you, but I can’t explain it any better. This email was difficult to write just because it is such an impossible thing to examine for me. I hope it helps.
I can’t wait to see you. I miss you. I love you.
They make it to the lake in five seconds. That’s how time works with him.
With him, she’s younger. She can be eight, before she was conscious of her body. Eleven, when she wasn’t afraid to dress up in her mom’s work tights and scream along to Dancing Queen in her room. Four, when all it took to make her happy was someone’s smile. Or six, when her dad was her superhero.
He’s leaning over the fence trying to slow his breathing. Her cup is empty. Most of the tea has spilled over her arm. The stain runs down her elbow and the chill in the air steals away her heat.
Once he rejoins her, she holds onto his finger. It’s something they’ve laughed about, how his hands dwarf hers. Her eyes flicker across his raincoat, the slope of his shoulders, his jeans, down to his red laces, and hopes that she hasn’t stained him.