“I like it when we're lying down,” he said, “because that's where you stop being sarcastic.” He had arrived at her apartment twenty minutes ago.
“Not that there's anything wrong with being sarcastic. It's as reasonable as anything else. You're good at it too. I just like the way you don't need it when we're lying down. What actually happens when we're lying down can come later. Or it can come not at all. It's okay either way.”
The young woman looked at him and thought that she had never known anyone like him, that the feeling around him was so bright and so dark at the same time. He had just told her that the thing they had was going to end. He had told her as directly as if he had looked her in the eye and told her the date. A man couldn't tell a woman that who she was standing up was not enough and expect that he wasn't also talking about the thing ending.
And it was all right though, she knew that what they had was a thing with an ending. He had been talking that way from the beginning. And he was right: She liked the way the sarcasm fell off her when they were lying down, and she hadn't thought of it as sarcasm falling off her, but she was willing to, because he'd said it without sounding like it was personal gain.
It was a feeling of something bright and dark when she said okay and he smiled. Even if it wasn't personal gain, she thought, this was no way for a man to be. He couldn't just act like sarcasm was so little of a thing that a man and a woman in a bed together could make the whole thing go away. It would be a lot easier if he didn't know that there was a world outside that could seem made for sarcasm sometimes. But he did know, he just acted like it was that little of a thing.
In her bed it was something bright and dark too. Look, she thought, this isn't just a smiling thing. If I have some things standing up that I don't have lying down, it's because I need those things. Going from one to the other was not just a smile.
But that was the thing: His smile was something that was there. It was not asking for reciprocation. There was something bright and dark in him, she knew that, she knew it from his smile that wasn't asking for reciprocation. But it wasn't bright or dark in a way that she didn't recognize. It was far away, but not in distance, only in time, as though either her past or her future contained exactly the thing that was in the smile. If it was her past, then she felt sad to think of how it had been gone a long time. If it was her future, then she felt uncertain about how she was going to get there.
It was not going to be with him, she knew that much. She liked the way he looked at her lying down, but lying down was only half of it. She had known men who were not in a hurry to lie down in order to get past sarcasm. They had participated in it, and they had done it standing up or sitting down or wherever. They had done it lying down too, and they had had some beautiful moments when they had each understood the other's sarcasm and the world that was causing it. Those had been some of the best moments, when she had seen that a young man was walking around the world lost about the same things she was lost about, and then the two of them laughing about it in the same way.
“Tell me about a time when you were sad,” she said.
“I was sad today,” he said. “Reading the paper. Reading about the war.”
“I mean like a long-lasting sadness.”
“Oh, well, that's probably still going.”
“You seem like a happy person. You seem pretty happy to me.”
“Well, I've learned some things about sadness. Learning about sadness is a pretty happy thing.”
“I think it has been mostly a sad thing for me.”
“It can certainly seem like that. It can certainly seem like it's sadder than not learning about sadness. But I think it is happier than knowing there is something to learn and not knowing what.”
“How many people know there is something to learn?”
“Oh, I would say everybody.”
“I wish I felt that way,” she said. “I don't see the proof though. I think there's a lot of not knowing there's something to learn. I think there's a lot of running away from learning.”
“Well, you have to see it if you want to run away from it. That's a start.”
There was a time when a girl talking about people running away from learning would have been the last word. She would have been the last word and her words would have been the last words before kissing. But a kiss like that would be running away from something too. It could be a very beautiful kind of running away, but he did not think that that was what a kiss was supposed to be any more. It was supposed to be a happy thing. He wanted the last words before kissing to reflect that.
It had almost been as if the kiss had been something that was found. But it couldn't be found if he knew what it was. It was a kiss. And after the kiss was life.
He would take a kiss following sadness over a kiss following sarcasm though. That was the thing that he really didn't know what it was. He didn't know if it was happiness or sadness. He used to know. And with her, he remembered something of what it could be, which was, happiness standing up and sadness lying down.
It was a sarcasm that was directed at the world, not at him, but when he heard it, he thought, well, I am part of that world too. In the dispute between her and the world, he could not easily take sides. He thought that she could not easily take sides either, since she was a part of that world too. And he was right that she couldn't do it easily lying down. That was where she knew that the idea at least was to be on the same side as the world. And that was all that was needed for them to be on the same side as each other. They were already on the same side physically, but if they could be on the same side physically and with something other than physically, then that was pretty nice.
If it was sadness that brought the three of them together, himself and herself and the world, that was okay enough. There may have been a time when happiness was the thing that could have done that, but the funny thing was that at that time, he was the one who was so busy taking sides against the world that the sides-taking would find its way into a bed with a girl, either through sarcasm or through sadness. It was all right that he hadn't had it with a girl and the world with happiness. He'd had it with the world with happiness, and he knew he would again. He'd have that one when he woke up in the morning, and it was because he'd learned a thing or two about having it with happiness. Happiness wasn't jumping for joy, for example, so much as it was knowing what he had to do next and doing it. He'd learned all that he knew about it from trying to have it with the world, and he hoped to some day apply that to a girl.
He looked at her and he liked very much the way the sarcasm had fallen off her now that they were lying down. It had been so high when they were standing up that it all turned into sincerity now, which was the thing he had been trying to tell her. Her sarcasm came from wanting so much from the world, and he wanted to tell her: Go ahead and want those things. Want them directly and honestly and seriously, and something will come of that. But let your wanting be wanting. Let it be wanting because that's what it's trying to be, and not something else.
And he thought that maybe she could be someone to whom he applied all that he'd learned about happiness, but even as he thought it, he knew that the real decision to apply was not a decision to apply, it was something that a man just started doing. And there was a man who would one day just start doing that with her, and when he did, he would not be making any distinctions between who she was standing up or lying down. The feeling that he himself had for who she was, for who she was underneath everything, was somewhere in the neighborhood of love, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of love but his feeling for everybody and everything underneath everything was somewhere in the neighborhood of love. Underneath everything was not where people lived daily, and the love of a woman was a daily thing.
She looked at him and she knew it too that however they might feel underneath everything, it was no place to live. She did not want to be who she was lying down with him all the time. She liked who she was then, but it was not a sustainable thing. It was not a way she could be with the world. She felt like she had tried that, many years ago, and it had not worked. The men whom she had liked the most since then were the ones for whom it had not worked in the same way that it had not worked for her. They had come together and found something that had worked.
She didn't know if he would say that the whole thing had worked for him or not. Lying down with him, she felt like there was something inside him that worked very well with the world. But at a time like that, she would have liked to see herself reflected in his eyes more than the world, even as she knew that the smile included her. He was going to bring that with him wherever he went, she thought, to whomever he was lying down with. It was not a matter of her. Wherever he went, he was going to try to bring a world with him, wholly and fully and with a happiness to learn about sadness, and it was one of the things that were going to make it easier to forget about him when the thing ended, because it did not allow enough room for her. It was not going to be easy forgetting about him, but she could at least see the way.
It was forgetting about the world he brought with him that was going to be the tough one, because she knew she had a place in it. She had a place in it which sometimes she took and sometimes she did not take and sometimes she wished she would take more often. And she had not hoped for a permanent place in it, but she had hoped for something permanent that would show her exactly what her place in it was, and she knew that when she found it, it too would have a place in the world of the young man lying down beside her, and in that way she knew that she would never forget him.