Monday, September 17, 2007

Love in the Night

short fiction:

He didn't even kiss her. Not really, anyway, but he came close in the front seat of her Bug, the midnight thrum of jazz through her radio and the two of them giggling. Giggling. Joe was the kind of guy who smirked and nodded but never giggled. Until that night. Until Dorothy. Nineteen, freckles across her nose, thin lips light and pink like a secret. Dorothy.

This was his stop: the cul-de-sac on the heels of his high-rise apartment. She gave him her number and he called it right then, an experiment, stupid, juvenile, but so what?
"What's new?" she answered, eyes cool and blue.
"Just sitting in your car, talking on a cell phone."
"You liking the cheesy jazz on my radio?"
"Loving it."
"Stop lying, furby."
"Furby? Who says furby?"
"I do, Joe."
"What does that even mean?"
"What do you even mean?"

Joe knew it wasn't just the jazz that was cheesy that night. For God's sake, he'd gone off the proverbial deep end. When he talked to Dorothy, he didn't think about his feelings. No. His mind buzzed on its own, an electric current that made him goofy with its sparks. Happy. Giggly.
"What are we doing?" she asked.
He nuzzled close to her neck, her blonde bangs like the tips of feathers brushing against his nose, and he sealed her forehead with a nub of a kiss, a nub. Barely anything at all.

She was still wearing his coat.

At the party, she put it on and he marveled at how pillowy it looked against her skinny arms. Maybe she felt cold and nothing more but he took it as an act of intimacy. She picked my coat.
He stuffed his fingers into her sleeves and they dangled their arms together "like Siamese twins," she said. They rocked back and forth. They probably looked like bozos but so what?

It was an apartment party. Everybody else was drinking, jello shots or beers but she wasn't into alcohol. He found her in the kitchen, peering into the fogged window of the oven. Baking cookies. Chocolate chip. "Smells chocolaty," he said.

He told her they'd met before. Bookstore. In the fall. How they struck up a conversation about overpriced postcards. How they laughed at the stupid ones with the talking babies on the front. How he lost her when the long lines split into two, before he could get her name. Her freckles creased when she tried to recall the details. "Oh yeah," she said, finally. "You have a good memory."

She majored in art. Sculpting. He wanted to be an actor. "Unemployed," they said in unison. They talked about books they never read but should have. "Like I have this dream about Shakespeare," she said, "and he's twiddling his mustache at me. It's menacing, really."

Decade-old Will Smith songs pulsed from a boombox and Joe and Dorothy knew the lyrics to every last line. Just cruisin', yeah baby, I don't care. They sunk into a couch with Dorothy's roommate asleep and drooling at their feet. Joe hummed shyly but Dorothy sang, her lithe fingers jousting the air with no irony, with no reason. Incredible. The waft of her peach perfume, how her cheeks turned pink when she smiled, how she looked as if she was blushing even when she wasn't.

"Incredible," he said, offering her a sheepish high-five. Their hands clasped together, lingering, tingling. She looked at him. Stared. He stared right back. The party melted into a blur of incoherent shouts around them. Staring, they kept staring. And then he blinked. "I didn't know we were playing a game," he said. "Always," she whispered.

The party waned. The music quieted. Somewhere in his logical mind he knew it was silly. This all was silly. He didn't even know this girl, and of him she knew only that he was a wannabe actor embarrassed of his own Hollywood dream. Really embarrassed. "You'll figure it out," she said. "You're a soulful person."
He'd never heard a better compliment in his life.

In the car he wanted to kiss her. He should have kissed her. But she had a long-distance boyfriend. High school sweetheart. A guy vaguely described as smart and nice and sweet and "I can't do this," she huffed after Joe planted that nub on her forehead. "He loves me."
And so they said good night.

Five years later he sits business-class, bound for a mortgage broker conference. Red-eye flight, window-seat, scotch in a glass. He's not comfortable in a coat and tie but he pretends to be. He's always pretending.

He thinks about Lily. How she slinks flowers into her hair and adorns her bedroom with pine cone castles. How he pulls her close to him when she tightropes the edge of a busy street and she thanks him for being "my roadside protector person!" Sweet soul. "What are you thinking?" she asks, any time he looks out a window for too long, his face hardened and narrow. "What are you thinking?"

As he gazes through this window at the black city unfolding, he looks for a woman he never really knew but still can't forget, a woman who sings Will Smith and says the word "furby." She's down there, there, one of those beading lights scattered like pumpkin seeds across the looming horizon. It's silly, he knows. But still. But still.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

San Francisco in the picture

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