The girls were sitting and joking after dinner, and it was the kind of joking that made the boy feel like he was ready for the world, because it didn't feel like anything he couldn't handle. They happened to be girls, and they happened to be older, and they happened to each be at least a little beautiful when they spoke. But there was the same rise and fall to their conversation that showed they didn't know what was inbetween.
They were his cousin's friends, visiting from college. They were interesting to listen to and to think about college and how it would be for him. He didn't know if he was looking forward to it or not. It seemed like it could be a nice bright room the way his aunt's house felt with everybody gathered around. But he didn't have anything against the night outside either. He especially didn't have anything against it when he had been working out there, painting his aunt's fence, and the night seemed like the best thing to come after the afternoon.
The thing that surprised him though was that the joking was like the kind of stuff that he and his friend Tom used to do. He thought people would be on to new things in college. He didn't know what that would be, but he felt like there had to be something, because of the way that things could feel really lasting when they weren't joking. But he was beginning to see that other people were not always necesary for that. There was a lot that he could do on his own, and people and bright rooms might be a good thing to have in between.
The girls had ordered Chinese food, and they were cracking open the fortune cookies. One of them laughed and said, “Do you know the game with adding 'in bed' to your fortune?” They all laughed and the boy felt his face burn. This was the thing he couldn't handle, talking about that thing like it was some kind of joke.
They didn't understand it, he figured. They didn't understand and he used to think that it was because, like him, they hadn't experienced it. They'll quit their joking once they see what it's like, he thought. They won't feel like they have anything to prove. And they will see what a serious thing it is. But many of those who did that joking had experienced it, and that could only mean that they thought that they were over it.
“You will find happiness where you least expect it… in bed.”
Maybe they really were over it. Maybe they had experienced it and now that was where they were. But they were girls, they were the people that he was supposed to experience it with, and he didn't know how he was supposed to experience it with someone who could ever feel like they were over it.
They were supposed to be there in the bed together, and they weren't really being there together unless they were under it, unless they were admitting what a desperate thing it was. It didn't seem like you could look at the thing right if you were looking down on it from up above. He didn't think he could be in a bed with someone who could look at it like that.
“There will be a reunion with an old friend… in bed.”
He wished he could tell them that they didn't need to joke about it, that they already had everything they needed for a bed or for any of it. He knew that he already had everything he needed, but it was exactly that kind of joking that made him wonder if he needed something more, something that could come out lightly around people, smiling about that thing.
It didn't matter so much when it was boys talking like that, because that could add to the dream of the girl, but he felt out of luck when it was girls talking like that, because that was all there was in the world. He wished that he could tell them that it wasn't anything bad being under it, that it could be a perfectly fine place to be. They just had to give it a chance and trust that being under it did not have to mean being far from it. He wanted to be somewhere just under it, where he wasn't far away from it because everybody was admitting of how under it they were.
“The opportunity to correct a past wrong shall present itself….in bed.”
That was where he could be himself about it and wouldn't have to worry about being too serious. The thing was serious, and he was sure that it did not have to do with whether he had experienced it or not. He was sure that it was true for them too. They were going to come back around to that seriousness eventually, because a bed was not going to be a place where only one preson was serious.
That much he was sure of. He had always thought of a bed as the one place where he wouldn't need to joke around, where he would finally find something lasting, somewhere other than by himself. If they were going to joke about that, then he might have to find something else.
But even as they laughed, the girls each had a beauty that could go with a bed, and the boy knew that he was always going to be under it. He was always going to be under it because he was always going to be waiting for the yes or no. If it was a yes, then he didn't know why they were joking, and if it was a no, then he didn't know why they were bringing it up in the first place.
It was a feeling of being squeezed on both ends. And he trembled because he could understand why it was that boys tried to be over this thing, through the way they talked and and more. He could understand why they talked like it was something to be on top of. Somebody had to be on top of it if everybody else was just going to joke around.
The boy stood up and told his cousin that he had to go home. He said goodbye and left. Out in the night he felt better. It was dark but he felt better about all the things he felt when he was under the night sky. There was something that he didn't feel under at all when he was out there. There was something he didn't feel under or over but right where he should be, and it was only when he was walking past the houses of his town by himself that he felt it.
When he was out there, it seemed like there was a way to be neither under or over and inside them as well, inside the bright rooms, and inside them with a girl with a bright face, and to have the thing go as brightly as the room and her face. There was a way to do it, but he was going to have to do a lot of walking past the houses at night before he could bring some of that inside with him, past the houses of his own town and of cities as well. He didn't think he could be inside without acknowledging the darkness outside as well, and he couldn't do that until he got to know the darkness through and through.
The bright rooms were supposed to be a break from something, and he first had to learn what that was. A bright room with a girl in it was even more so, and as for a room with a girl and a bed in it, he was going to have to walk for miles and miles to learn it, farther than he'd had to walk for anything before, and far enough that he did not think he would ever be able to make a joke about it his whole life.