I can’t help watching them. The young couple sitting opposite me, travelling backwards on blue seats. They brush the tips of their fingers, upper arms, knees through jeans beneath the grey, plastic table. They speak with intensity, staring at each other’s lips moving.
Absence transforms experience and memory. He thinks of her often because he cannot find her. She does not respond to his texts, phone calls, or emails. But it is neither an old catastrophe nor a new one. It is a longing. Not exactly. It is a longing mixed with desire.
“It’s not difficult,” Helen said. “Just don’t fuck your teacher. Or your students. Actually, don’t fuck anybody you’re not supposed to. One of my old teachers is having a kid with one of his students.” She was speaking quickly, her words falling from her mouth in a tumbling cascade. Beside her, Margriet fiddled with a cloth napkin. While she spoke, Andy watched the small brown mole on her cheek. Wedged into the crease that curved from the slight round above her nostril to the corner of her mouth, it rose and fell with the rhythm of her lips. She had taken up running, and her body had refined into a new, compact package, one he was having trouble acclimating to.
I walked across my shadow, past expectation, with a discreet limp and a gnarled cane. The shadow mocking me with the thought of the cane and the cane itself having sometimes failed to keep me erect.
All my life I’ve worked in and around porn. First as a writer, then as an editor, and finally as a web content provider. Most people recoil in horror when I tell them what I do. This is the United States of America, after all, Puritania with a capital P. Unless you’re in the business yourself, you don’t realize that it’s still a business. You’ve got customers to satisfy, schedules to meet, bills to pay, and workers to contend with. Ah, the workers!
She had been looking at his back for the better part of three hours, pretending to read the book she brought. It was her armour, her anchor, whenever having a coffee or a meal alone, in public. Seneca. It wasn’t pretence. She didn’t take it to show she was smart. Recent events and reading this book had made her even more aware of the delicate, fleeting nature of her existence. It had changed the way she looked at herself. What she wanted out of life. The needs and wants of a body that would one day wither and be left to decay. Such a sad thing, she thought while she stroked the soft skin of her thigh under the table. Not just a vessel to carry around a bewildered mind, but so much more than that. How her senses connected her to the material world around her, in sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful ways.
Before Covid and lockdown I ran in the evenings, but now I go out early to avoid other people. And working from home suits morning running as I have to be back by 9 am to log in.
Sugar and nutmeg. Maisy sniffed again. Not sugar, syrup. The cheap, oleaginous glucose stream of childhood IHOP visits. Nutmeg needled through the cloying scent, sharp as fresh pine.
Ruth felt nervous, passing through just about the most cracker part of California on the long drive from LA back to her home. Three hours up the I-10, near Palmdale, a brother had been found hanging from a tree. ‘Suicide’, the ‘investigation’ had concluded. Very likely, Ruth thought. The ‘Confederacy of California’, the news stories had said Palmdale was known as. She’d never been to Palmdale and had no plans to go. But she doubted that Palmdale could be more cracker than this long desert stretch of Southern California east of Palm Springs and its neighbor cities, on the way to Arizona. To Ruth this part of California felt like Arizona, and Arizona was pretty cracker.
Chloe wished she had never read the poem her boyfriend, Ricardo, had written about the girl in the alley. The image of Ricardo pinning the black-haired, almond-eyed beauty in a short leopard skirt up against an alley wall outside of The Dresden haunted Chloe.