We went out for a few beers. Leaving one bar, we headed for one where her girlfriend works. We got free drinks and tipped what it would have cost. We were having fun, playing songs on the jukebox, and cleaning up at pool. Nothing was planned, but we let things happen. We nudged things into place and pretended it was chance.
I used to have better sense. For years--and under certain circumstances--my faith in that good sense was enough for me. But situations changed, and being alone, it seemed to me, was worse than fucking up. So, I've changed, and she seems to have noticed. Where she was used to placing trust, she finds uncertainty. Huh oh, she says to herself, now I have to trust myself.
A few months ago, I had a job interview in the city where she lives with her boyfriend, her partner. I was just going to crash at her place. She hadn't told me the guy was out of town. I hadn't made any plans. I had brought a sleeping bag, but she said, "there's no reason we can't share the futon; we're both adults."
We made spaghetti and drank wine. We sat out on the fire escape and watched the cars pass. She said she's thought about us. So have I. "It always seemed like something could have happened with us," she said. I was nervous, and the fire escape seems too flimsy to hold us up.
"Did I bring condoms?" No, I hadn't been expecting...
"That's alright," she said, she knows where his are.
We lay on the futon, and she passes me the little box, as if she doesn't want to implicate herself by picking a single one. Is she sure she wants to do this? I ask. Is she sure she is sober?
"Sober? maybe not completely."
"Would you drive a car?"
"I don't know I don't know I don't know."
I lay and wait. She hadn't had that much. I thought, Am I going to stay like this until she can touch her nose? "I'm getting in my sleeping bag," I told her.
- - -
In the bar, we owned the pool table. I'm smiling, but at the same time, wondering what it is I lack? Why should I stand around? I don't even care if it's her, just someone like her. I should stand on a chair and make an announcement. I'll write it all in the personals and break through their armor and suspicions. I'll have tears of emotion rolling down their cinderblock faces.
We finish our game, and she remembers something she has to do; she needs to check her voicemail. I give her a friendly quarter and stand by the phone. "Oh," she coos, "He's worried about me. You've got to hear this." She hands me the receiver. He is speaking in a soft voice
"...cos I don't know where you are. I know you're probably just out with friends, but would you please just give me a call. Okay. Bye."
I hand it back to her. "Yup. Isn't that sweet," I say. "He's a fool for you." She laughs.
This is no good. I need to feel something. Guilt would do just fine. Regret would be a shot in the arm I could stand. It's so simple and common and small. I want to be immune, but it's just like holding your breath, and hey, you're starting to turn blue.
I'm just a bit frustrated. It's all really much simpler than that, not really such an effort. Things will fall into place, right? You see a girl walking down the street; you pass each other and your eyes meet and some tiny look of adoration passes between you. But she walks on and is gone, leaving you with just a whiff of soap. She's pretty. Did I feel something?
Later on, down the street, you see her again. She's standing in line for a cup of coffee. I could use some coffee.
She sits down and opens a book. I look around for a table. There's only one free in the whole place, and it's the one next to her. I get my coffee. I sit down. There she is, not really as pretty as I first thought. I try to see what she's reading. Am I craning my neck? I'll just read a newspaper. We'll sit here next to each other reading, knowing that our eyes met on the street--not that that means anything--but we'll sit here and read next to each other and not speak as if we are very old and have been together for years. Yes, she knows me completely.
She looks up. Someone has spoken to her, a friend. Her eyes flick in my direction as if to say, 'oh no, we're finished.' And we are. Her friend sits down. I look around the room, but there is no one else there for me. Ah well, just another day. At least I have my New York Times and coffee. I take another sip and begin to read.
- - -
We have another drink and play pinball. She said to me, a little smug, "I thought I might have scared you off that last time." It had been on her mind...and mine, too. But, I thought we were going to forget it.
I said, "Hey, if this is a bet..."
No, no, she said easily. No, no. "Let's go for a walk," she said as she let her last ball roll past the paddle.
"Let's go down to the lake and swim," I said.
"Let's go down to the lake and drown," she laughed.
I guess it was my idea. We walked downhill. We talked along the way, both of us feeling easy. It was late, and the town was empty and turned off. There was a cool breeze; it was really too chilly to swim, but the summer had been warm and the water would be warm enough.
Standing on the dock, the sailboats' mast lines kept time like metronomes. We knew we had drunk too much to get in the water. This, maybe, was worse than getting into a car.
"We're going to drown," she said.
I untied my shoes. I never thought that I would be like this. I will swim drunk, I thought. I'm a good swimmer. She slipped off her sandals and pulled down her skirt.
"How well can you swim," I asked.
"I'm alright," she said and continued to undress. I wasn't going to ask her if she was sure. "I'll hold onto the dock," she said.
Leaving our clothes in pile and mixed together on the dock, I dove in. She jumped in behind me.
"Come closer to the dock," she called. "I want you here just in case."
I swam to her beneath the water and slid up against her as I surfaced. Her hair was black and slicked back; her eyes were bright and scared.
"Where's the dock?" she said and reached out with her bare arm behind her.
"Just hold on to me," I said. "Let the air out of your lungs, and we'll sink." She pushed against me, but I held on and brought her with me as I descended. She let herself sink. I could hear her blowing her breath away.
When she stopped, I let her go, and she kicked back to the surface. I kept going, dangerously relaxed.
"I thought we were going to drown," she said when I came back to the surface.
"No," I said and pushed away from the dock on my back. She came out after me. Together, slipping against each other in the warm water, we swam back to the dock. We pulled ourselves out and wiped away the water as best we could and dressed while we shivered.
"We'll probably get arrested," she laughed through chattering teeth.
I laughed. "Probably we will." We shivered and chattered our teeth and laughed at ourselves and hugged to stay warm. We merrily skipped down the road we were making for ourselves.
"When we get back to my place, we'll take a hot shower," she smiles. "Then we'll climb into bed together."
We walked and sometimes ran through the empty streets. It was a long way back. The bars and gas stations were closed. We stopped in a city park to rest on the cold, damp grass.
"Should we feel bad about this?" she asked.
"We will," I said, 'but I don't care."
"I feel like this is between you and me and has nothing to do with anyone else."
"Not everyone would feel that way," I said.
"They will never know," she said.
"Please don't,' she pleas. "I never felt that you and I got a fair chance."
"This isn't fair," I felt obliged to say.
"Really," she said, "don't."
My duty was done. "It really is just between you and me." Like I said before, fucking up was better than being alone.
In her bed, with wet hair, I said, "I have a condom in my car."
In her bathrobe and with bare feet and the noise of my keys, I went out to my car and fumbled through a duffel bag in the trunk.
In the shower there had been the smell of soaps, and in the bed the warm and dry smell of sheets and still the soaps and now the smell of the spermicide on the condom.
Together, we were more perfect than walking down the street. You couldn't feel better: your legs moving, your heart pumping. We, it seemed to me, were something that existed.
But that didn't matter--I should have kept in my mind that I was visiting a place I did not live.
"He and I have been together for so long, she said later.
I was such a fool. I was surprised.
She said, "I can't imagine being apart from him... and I don't want to be apart."
"You've taken one big step."
"No," she said.
"So, I guess we're waking up," I said. "I guess we're sober now."
She said nothing.
I'll lay here for just one more minute, I thought. Time for me to put on shoes and walk away. Sometime today I'll be hungry, and I'll have to go somewhere and eat and be around other people. I'll be out in the open and expected to talk back when others talk to me.
"What are we going to do?" she asked.
I imagined getting into my car: unlocking the door, sitting down, closing the door, fastening the seat belt, starting the engine, pulling out of the overnight parking spot and driving away. She rolled over against me. I could feel her breath on my shoulder.
"Hmm?" she questioned.
"Fuck it all," I said, 'I'm going to go out to the desert like Paul Bowles."
She laughed, turned away and stretched beneath the warm sheets. "You need to find someone," she said.