"The beginning of the end just happened," I said. "I have a feeling about this kind of stuff. Like, I always know what song is coming up on the radio and I can tell you what time it is without even looking at a clock—I've never been more than seven minutes off."
"Okay, well, how is this the same?"
Three drinks make night look unfamiliar. We explore. I take off my shoes and lunge forward.
"Green toenail polish? I like it," he says.
"Thanks. I was worried it might look like fungus, but I don't think it does."
"No, not at all, actually. It's pretty."
He stands on my thigh and starts prying at the street sign. The bolt that should be connecting the bottom of the sign is missing, and the top is loose. It wobbles but doesn't come off. We give up.
"I like your jeans," he offers.
"Thanks. You said that already."
"Well, that's because I really like them."
We sit on a bench made up of thousands of tiny rocks stuck together, but none of them come loose. The street lamp overhead pops and flickers off. Now we hear the absence of a buzz we hadn't noticed before.
"Whoa. You have some serious brainwave frequencies."
"What?" I ask.
"The light. There's something about electromagnetic brainwaves that affects electronics or something."
"Your brain! You're close to the lamp so it—"
"No, I get what you're saying," I say. "I mean, why are you telling me this?"
"Oh. Because it's weird."
"And you still don't believe me that this is the beginning of the end?"
"Well, everything is if you want to look at it that way."
We ride our bikes to the end of the trail with the moon bright enough to see by. We climb to the top of the silo and if it weren't for our hands being covered in dust, or something else we can't figure out, we might touch each other. Instead, I tell him the names of stars I know. He dares me to the edge and jokes, "What if I pushed you?"
"What if I jumped?" I counter, without enough of a smile.
"I'd try to catch your ghost on its way up."
"No, really. What would you do?"
"I'd climb down and lie with you."
"Ew. I'd probably be all bloody."
"Yeah. I'm worried I might laugh out of shock. But then it would probably sink in and I'd never be able to laugh again. I might sing to you."
"You wouldn't call the cops?" I ask.
"Yeah, well, after I lay with you for a while, I'd call."
"They'd probably think you pushed me."
"I'd leave before they got here."
He kisses me in his car, and I think about how maroon the interior is.
There are people at his apartment and he tells jokes about 80s cartoons. I talk to his best friend for an hour on the couch.
"So," the best friend says, "you should come back to my place."
"What?" I ask
"You could stay there. I'm only about a five minute walk from here."
"No," I say in violent disbelief.
"No? Why not?" he asks.
"No. I'm staying here."
"Oh," he says, "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't know."
We sit on wobbly stools at the ice cream counter. With my pen and notebook, we write letters to strangers. I write, "Look around. It's all for you." He writes, "Don't worry about that money you owe me. We're even." I laugh and remind him about the point of all this. I write, "This life is more beautiful than you remember." He writes, "Great job yesterday. See you in Ohio." We finish our ice cream and deliver our letters with sticky hands. This time, the notes are for the bicycles on the sidewalk that look the most ridden.
Something about the lights behind him at the bar, or the taste of this pizza, or The Beatles song playing overhead makes me think it. The vodka and cranberry makes me say it.
"I love you."
We sit cross-legged on his bed. His sheets are floral patterned and have a yellow tint that suggests they were bought at a garage sale, or maybe found in his mother's basement. My finger follows the outline of what I think is a poppy.
"I met Jeremy last night," I tell him.
"Yeah? Does he know you're my girlfriend?"
"Oh. Am I?"
"Of course," he says. "I mean, I thought that's what this was. Were you thinking something different?"
"Sorry to assume . . . I just thought—"
"No, no," I say, "I'm glad."
I clean his apartment. He sits on the futon with a book and a pen.
"Thanks so much for doing this," he says. "You're seriously saving me a lot of time before my family comes."
"No problem," I say, showing my teeth. "Keep reading."
He blows me a kiss and I wring out the mop. There is a stain the size and color of a rotten apple on the tile under the toilet tank. I scrape the mop back and forth over it until my arms shake.
"I can't get this stain all the way off, come see."
He stands behind me and looks over my shoulder at the stain, now the size of a thumbprint.
"Wow, it's crazy you got it that much. That stain has been here since I moved in."
"I tried, but this is as good as it's going to get."
"That's okay. It's better like this, actually. Now every time I see it I'll think about how great you are for helping me clean. If it was completely gone, I probably wouldn't ever think about it."
He looks at us in the mirror and smiles.
We buy pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns but never get around to it, so they roll around in my trunk for a few weeks. When I take them out, they have something like bed sores all over their soft bodies.
We rent a room at a hotel five minutes from his apartment. For the pool.
"Let's play mermaids," I say.
He looks at me as if to say, "Seriously?" but then grins and spits water into my smile. I do a backward somersault and splash water in his face—my feet pressed together in a perfect mermaid tail.
"How do you do that?" he asks.
"Just keep your feet together," I say. "You have to pump your legs harder, though."
He gives a lame attempt and his feet come apart.
"I can't," he sputters. "I'd rather just watch you do it."
I keep my feet together to the wall and back.
"You're beautiful," he says.
It's November and we're swimming.
We're at a booth with the mutual friends we've accumulated. I run my finger down the side of my glass and wipe the condensation on the back of my other hand. He finishes his drink and says he needs to meet a friend to record some music.
"So . . . you're just going to get up and leave?"
"I'm sorry. You know how I am. I need to play."
"But we're hanging out with people, and you're leaving?"
"I don't understand."
"Yeah, well, maybe you should get a fucking hobby."
I laugh a little to make everyone else think it was a joke. I rip my straw wrapper into as many pieces as I can and add it to the pile of napkin shreds.
We talk about going to San Francisco. We talk about learning how to ice skate. We talk about writing a book together and taking a train somewhere. We talk about lying on graves. We talk about the maintenance of bonsai trees and the likelihood of pregnancy. We talk about talking and about broken mufflers and about directions to the art gallery and the alcohol content of beer versus cider and if the line for the theater will be around the corner and we talk about coming back to see the next show in December and about the plural of fish and the range of peripheral vision. We talk until our eyes are tired and our shoes are worn.
My first painting is of a seagull. A side view of her body, but her head is turned and her feet are buried in the sand. It could be hanging on the wall of a sea-themed bathroom over shells in a soap dish. I show him my painting.
"You bought watercolors?" he asks.
"Yes. I wanted to start painting."
"Damn it. I bought some the other day and wanted to surprise you. I forgot. I hope the store will take them back."
I tell him I painted it for him. He puts it under his bed.
His cat lies on my stomach.
"I have to say, your cat is an excellent judge of character," I joke as I pet it.
"Man, he loves you."
He's at his computer, dragging a microphone across the carpet and layering the sound over some whale cries. With the volume up and my eyes closed and my fingers tracing over the cat, I pretend like I'm hearing the original far away sounds underwater. And it's so sad.
I drive by his apartment because he isn't supposed to be there because he is supposed to be visiting his mother forty-five minutes away who is supposed to be sick but she isn't and he isn't there because he's here at his apartment and I know he's here because his kitchen light is on as I drive by and then I see his car parked on the street and even though it's not parked in the lot where it should be I know it's his car because it's so maroon and because of the bumper sticker—not because I've memorized the license plate. And I call him and he doesn't answer. And I call him again and he's crying.
"I knew it," I say. "I told you this on the day we met. I knew it. Remember?"
"I'm sorry," he tells me. "You were right, but we did it anyway."
I say, "I know. What now?"
He says, "I have nothing left to give."
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