The evening had been planned. A matinee followed by something adventurous: falafel and kebab and saffron like morning gold.
Not too spicy? he had said.
Not sure, she had said back. Never been.
They took their showers one after the other, her then him, towels briefly touching near the sink.
He dressed. He thumbed through the mail on the kitchen quartz. Adjusted his scarf. Checked the leaves on the ficus in the corner. Ate fingers of carrots dipped directly into the sour cream container. Heard his name being called by the door. I’m ready for my showing, she said. Her arms were outstretched like a debutante’s. He sleeved her in her coat wordlessly. They took stock in the hall mirror.
Not too shabby, she said.
I’d be a touch more generous, he said. I think we look damn good.
They gave themselves a second look.
Outside, freckles of snow fell vertical.
On the sidewalks, as they drove past, New Year’s Eve revelers sashayed in their finery: women tugging the hems of sequined dresses or embracing themselves compact, keeping the heat of their breasts; men barking at the purple sky then blowing harlequin noisemakers. Cheap paper unfurling like gecko tongues.
I’m glad we’re not walking, he said.
She said nothing, tiny bulbs of hardware corking her ears. He tapped her on her knee. She turned.
I’m practicing my Spanish, she said.
Now? he said.
Estoy perdido. Yo no comprendo, she said.
He pinched her knee. She smiled. Everything was alright.
In the lobby, they performed the should-we-should-we-not pantomime regarding popcorn, Sno-Caps, black cherry soda. Neon worms that smacked of lemons. They settled on the forever-possibility of Next Time then found their seats.
The movie was an action-drama set in space starring an actor they both admired.
He nodded off after the first act, a snort of breath shuddering him awake two minutes later. He mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to no one.
She fared little better, checking the time half an hour before the credits rolled.
They filed out of the theater on stiff legs, pivoting like scarecrows.
He had a glow, once, she said on their drive to the restaurant. Our leading man.
Once, he said back. Though maybe never again.
Everywhere was packed, festivities well underway.
He squeezed between twin sedans and they shuffled three blocks to a hostess with wait-time-blues.
But I had a reservation, she said.
An hour and change is quite the hang around, he said.
The young woman offered an open, sweeping hand, as if to conclude, What more is there to say?
Ten, twenty minutes. Thirty fast approaching.
A lighthouse of shine illuminated an idea.
He led her by the wrist out the door. They cut through a park.
Abducted? she said. What have you done with my husband?
They stopped just shy of a tin-walled trailer. Multi-colored lights the size of ornaments stitching the side.
It’s still here, he said.
I haven’t thought of this place in years, she said.
They ate tortas from paper sleeves as they huddled near the oven breath of a portable heater. The flavor was exactly the same. They went back for seconds.
He poured an orange-flavored drink over ice chips nestled into a plastic cup. They sat and watched the galaxy, taking delicate nibbles from the sugared concoction.
How strange, she said. All this.
A bright speck dislodged itself and fell with a wink, already extinguished.
He grabbed her shoulders and earnestly looked into her eyes, just as the actor had done to his counterpart during the climax. “I’ll love you forever. To beyond the stars and back.” A forced set of chuckles to acknowledge the silliness though they both felt it, a screw shifting left, a loosening of the bones, trouble pulled from the muscles, a lightness filling them with precious air, a heat rising up their necks and into their cheeks and warming them like a vampire afternoon.
We should head back, he said. She nodded.
In the car, in his hurry, he turned the wheel too sharply and bumped the metal bulk behind him.
It's fine, he said.
Then again, as he corrected.
She said nothing, placed a hand on his forearm. Already their spirits were shrinking, an unletting of birthday-bright balloons. So quick. So quick as to not even call it real.
He tried again and left a blue scar across silver.
She wrote their number on a napkin, tucked it beneath the motherly arm of a wiper blade.
In their bedroom they undressed to their promises; he to his silk; her to black lace.
I’m feeling bloaty, she said. Shouldn’t have gone for the second helping.
The neon face of the clock pulsed unstoppable, two hours to midnight.
That damn car, he said.
Stillness choked the house all the way to the foundation.
Watch the countdown? he said.
Okay, she said. But It’s not off the table.
They climbed into bed utensil-like, their bodies grey in the aquarium light of TV. From their screen, they witnessed every corner of the world, clear as life.
Sleep shadowed their eyes like a hand.
It’s okay? he said.
It’s okay, she said.
Several clicks plunged them into darkness.
In bed they held each other closely, densely, desperately as the world spun centrifugal, almost pulling them apart, both dreaming what the other could not know, or not dreaming at all.
And this, too, is necessary.
Nova was originally published July 23, 2020
Ben Greenlee holds an MFA from Colorado State University. He has been nominated for Best of the Net 2018 and his writing can be found in Dark Mountain, Green Briar Review, and The Citron Review.
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