It had gone just about as smoothly as a thing like that could, given that she was beautiful in ways that were both subtle and plain as day, and given that when they talked, it was very natural and assumed that they were interested in everything, going inside things when they spoke, but not too far that they wouldn't laugh. It had gone almost word-for-word along the lines of a script he'd had in his head at nineteen, one that he'd had to throw out at twenty-three, and now suddenly had come back at twenty-seven. But it also had the most important thing, which was that it felt very unscripted when they were together, like it could go in any number of different directions and each would be fine.
That was the funny thing about time though. At nineteen, when the girl who played the girl in the script had been so close that the only thing missing was her, he had been unable to have it go with any kind of smoothness at all. Meanwhile, what she had done at nineteen, she told him the second time they met, was that she had gotten married, and she didn't want to go into it much, except to suggest that she had been foolish and that it was a long story. The funny part was that even at nineteen, he had imagined her as a girl with a knocked-around past. He just hadn't known that if she had come along eight years later, that past might be so knocked-around that she would tell him that she thought what she needed now was a long time by herself, which was what she did the third time they met.
It was in a bar, a nice place with good music, and when she told him, the only thing he knew for certain was that he would not do the thing he would've done at nineteen, which was ask why. If he was going to speak, then he was going to say something, just as she had.
“Look,” he said, and as he began, he knew that there was only one thing to say, and it was related to why the last eight years had gone the way they had, with him doing his writing in writing rather than with a girl. It was related because it was a story, the only story he could ever tell and the only one he could tell just then.
“Look,” he said. “A man will leave his house (Oh boy, he thought. You've found something. You've found something. Keep going and don't stop and think about a damn thing, most of all don't think about what other men have found when they've been sitting in a bar and the girl has told them that she needs to spend a long time by herself.) A man will leave his house and walk to the bus stop and get on the bus and it will be a good feeling just to get to the neighborhood of the girl he's going to have dinner with and to see the sign for her street. And what'll happen is that as he's walking, he'll see a couch that somebody's left on the sidewalk and next to the couch is a beer bottle and on the couch is a magazine and he'll laugh because it'll look like a work of art. It'll look like a work of art and even though his gut feeling is that each object was placed there separately, it's still a work of art because it looked like it was, and he'll think of how much he wants to tell her about it.
“But when he does get to her house, it'll be so nice to come inside and walk up her stairs that he'll figure that he should just stick to the present, because the present will seem like enough. All of a sudden it won't seem as necessary to tell her about the couch because seeing her and being inside her house will need a lot of attention itself. And they'll start making dinner, and it'll be good to put that feeling into an activity, and there'll be a couple times when he'll have to tell himself to just relax and chop the vegetables, because the whole thing is so pleasant, more pleasant than he is used to, not because things have been particularly unpleasant, but because he has been concentrating on being a writer, and in order to do that he has had to look at everything else as a job, which is not really a bad way to look at things.
“But at any rate, they'll make dinner and sit down to eat and he'll wonder if she sees it as a romantic an occasion as he does, and he won't be sure because she seems like someone who isn't showy about her romantic feelings, which is nice if it is the case. But he'll try to forget about it and talk, and it'll go very nicely, and a couple of times he'll tell himself to make sure he isn't staring too much at her face.”
She was smiling now, and looking very comfortable in the story. It was nice to see because it meant that he could go on. But just tell the story, he thought. Just tell it and don't think about the smile.
“The whole thing will be very interesting though, because he will not have liked a girl in that way in a long time, and it'll be good to see that even though he has been concentrating on something else, he can still be thrown into a little bit of a loop, and it's a different kind of loop from when he was younger and didn't write, but it'll still be a loop.
“So after dinner they'll walk to the market, oh, but before they leave, they'll be standing in her room as she is putting on her jacket, and she'll be telling him about the books she's reading, and in the way she talks there'll be a feeling like she can really get into the subject of books with him, and he'll feel glad and proud that she can feel free to talk like that with him, and it'll seem like she's also operating on the premise that they know each other a little better than the three times they had hung out, which is the premise he has been operating on to a degree, and he'll decide to put more stock in that at the dinner table, which will be easy to do because books seem to mean a lot to her.”
“Hold on,” she said. “I want to hear the rest of this story, but I have to use the bathroom. Just a second.”
He looked around the bar. All around were women and men together in different states of relationship. The state that he happened to be in was that of the woman not wanting a relationship and him trying the only thing he could. In a way it was no better or worse than any other state.
She came back and sat down, smiling. “Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” he said. “Well, they'll walk to the market because she's going on a camping trip tomorrow with her friend. They're going up to a place out by Yosemite that has lava caves, perhaps you've heard of it?”
“Well anyway, the walk to the market will be a little quiet, and he'll hope that it's a romantic kind of quiet, but he'll know that that's not really it and that the whole thing is going in the direction of a serious conversation before the end of the night, one that'll be more serious than he would've hoped. It'll be fun while they're at the market because they'll be doing something together and it'll give him a little hope again, but coming back outside into the night, it'll be the same feeling, and even when he suggests that they stop in a bar for a drink and she says okay, it'll still feel heavy, it'll feel heavier than he would have expected at eight-thirty on a Saturday night, and it won't be the feeling of a man and a woman going to a bar together on a Saturday night with lightness and ease.
“It'll be a nice place with good music, and he'll feel thankful for the music because he can already tell from her face what she is going to say. It'll happen to be some of the
same music that he has been listening to in the mornings while eating breakfast, before sitting down to write, and he'll feel confident that the music will keep the happy connotation it has for him despite the sad connotation developing in the bar, and he'll feel thankful for that because he'd hate to lose music as good as that.”
“Well,” he said. “That's about it. He'll hold out some hope. He'll hold out some hope even after they are in the bar and she has told him about needing to not be in a relationship these days. He'll hold out some hope because of the way she smiles as he's telling a story, even though he knows that she is too intelligent for him to not pay heed to her words, and that she means what she says, which is in actuality part of what made her attractive in the first place. He'll hold out a little hope in the romance of the moment, even though he has a lot of respect for the kind of talking that takes into account the long view, and he has a lot of respect for her talking like that.”
They held hands for a while. Of all the different states, he thought, this was certainly a funny one.
They walked back to her house and along the way he wondered if he had made himself sadder, by getting a little closer. He didn't know if he had or not, but he was glad he'd done it. He was glad he'd done it for the record, if not for her.
And the rest of it was pretty much as he would've guessed: One last attempt outside her house that became awkward because he really did respect everything she'd said, some vague talk from her about being friends, all of it mixed in with a feeling of fatigue, and then she went inside.
But the thing that came as a surprise was his own walk home. He knew that somewhere inside he had a broken heart, but he did not feel it. He kept walking and several times on each block he would stop and check again, but still he did not feel it, and not only did he not feel it, but a couple of times he felt like singing and so he did. He walked the whole twenty-four blocks back to his own house and he did not feel his broken heart even though he knew it was there, and he did not want to analyze it too much. But he did think even though all this effort in making stories was not working out for editors and publishers just now, at least it was good for something >>> Literature forum
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