“Promise me just one thing,” she said over the crunch of Pringles between his teeth. She waited for the swallow, the contemplation over eating another.
Then she took advantage of the way his heart was facing her as he reached for the tube to strike it with her arrow:
“When you’re done with me, please tell me in no uncertain terms.”
Blink, and you would have missed the micro-hesitation of the chip en route to his mouth as he was forced to consume her words first.
“Why do you think I’d be done with you?” He asked, popping the Pringle in his mouth and letting it rest there. He waited for it to get soggy, except her request had left his mouth dry. How did she know that he knew he couldn’t let go, long after his hands had given out? It was like the cliff side of her had formed itself like handcuffs around his wrists, refusing to yield no matter how hard he tried to wrench free.
He thought — and then red wine made him say it aloud — that he shouldn’t adore her so much. He dreaded how it would end for him.
The thing about adoration is that it fades fast, like a half-formed idea that’s forgotten among the hustle of a day only to reappear in the dead of night when he rolled over and smell her perfume on his skin, or hear in his head how she somehow could pronounce “literally” as “litchrally” without sounding pedantic. All he’d think about for the next 30 seconds of wakefulness was her: Wonderful, riveting her.
But dread? That’s what kept him up the rest of the night after her perfume had faded and voice had quieted. He studied the book of everything they had said, done, planned, agreed upon, disagreed upon, bonded over or fought over in hopes of calming or confirming his fears that this was a paperback beach read of a relationship. So many nights he stayed up reading and hoping with every page turn that he would find a passage that proved this wasn’t just an author’s cruel joke of a novel meant to make smart readers feel outmaneuvered.
Just as he rounded the 10th or 11th chapter — he had lost count of how many nights he had spent on her porch, on her couch, in her bed — he realized that he had to make a choice. He could keep running his eyes along every curve of every letter of every word, hoping to find a single phrase pointing to this relationship not being a waste of time.
Or he could leave this book, unfinished and unwanted, for someone else to try to decipher late at night. Best wishes to whoever cracked her spine next.
All these people were walking a tightrope at one point: Balancing in a line on a line until the cable forked and some went left and some went right. And as they struggled even harder to make it on their own lines, they noticed the other lines and declared “mine is better” or “yours is better.” Some pushed, some were pushed, and almost everyone fell off.
And the joke of it all? If they had just looked ahead instead of at each other, held hands instead of shoving shoulders, they would have seen that all the tightropes came back together into one and tethered into the same endpoint.
I know from the smell of Narcoleptic Sam and the torturous scream of the tracks under my feet that this is the Blue Line and I’m headed northwest — probably between Division and Damen. I know this even though I’m blindfolded and guarded by two giant men who yank me around like two dogs “share” a chew toy.
But it’s not the smell of piss-soaked sweatpants or sound of earsplitting rails that gives our location away. I know where we are because this rather public abduction was entirely planned by yours truly.
I’m paying my captors $3,000 a piece to drag me, blindfolded, halfway across this city at 1 a.m. and throw me in a confessional during the tail end of midnight Mass so my father thinks I’ve confessed to the only boss in our family higher than him: God himself.
The last thing I need anyone thinking is that I’m suddenly remorseful for killing dear Saint Jimmy, who’s not even related to us but gets the right-hand seat at Sunday dinner while I, the head of the table’s own flesh and blood, am banished to the kitchen, draining discarded wine bottles and running my fingers along the edges of still-warm pots and pans in hopes of catching a taste of glory being served in the other room before it hardens to a crust that Loradonna will have to scrub twice as hard to clean away. That’s why I have two men hauling me around in the open so the midnight dwellers think “Ole Jack has really put the screws into his kid this time,” and Dad thinks someone else has it in for one of his own.
And it’s all going according to plan until we arrive at the church and a Goliath I haven’t paid lays waste to the two schmucks I have, then drags me by my hair up five flights of rickety stairs into the bell tower where I used to smoke during Mass when I was a kid and pushes me out the window.
As I fall, still blindfolded, time stops while I wait for the ground to meet me. I chuckle to myself, thinking that this will really put a surprised look on Dad’s face. I can’t wait to haunt next Sunday’s dinner to hear the stunned silence at the table, similar to the quiet just after Saint Jimmy’s body washed up on Foster Beach. None of Loradonna’s fretting over whether there’s enough butter out for the rolls; none of Katydid’s complaint at the calorie count in the food she so happily eats for free.
None of Dad’s mirthful laughter, which I could swear I hear above me, growing more distant as I fall.
Over the weekend I removed my brain from my skull, opened it like a handbag and turned it upside down, shaking every memory, thought, impulse, question and answer about us onto paper. Every what-if and why-that; every I-should-have and you-should-have and that-should-have-never-happened fell onto the page in spiderweb writing crawling with ink splotches.
When I finished, I slammed the words into a book to squash them dead, then set to work whip-stitching my brain closed again before placing it back into my head. I thought that was enough until, with one 11-word message, you found the spot where the thread was weakest and wormed your way back inside.