Why Not And Only If
By Joel Van Noord
He remembered the oddest things about their relationship. It was funny. When he remembered their intimacies together he remembered the small, unusual things, like the time he woke and rolled over to her, tracing her inner thighs and cradling her tenderly as he searched fully. For a steady few minutes he gradually brought her to an aroused wake, then sighed and bolted up and began his preparations for work. She protested. Standing at the side of the bed, yet to slip on his boxers she pouted, “I thought we were going to have sex?”
Where did that go? It infuriated him. Flabbergasted him. Such a powerful phenomena. He had loved her. He still loved her and he knew those powerful feelings belonged to her too.
There was another time. He came back from work and she was there--she was always there, working 10 less hours a week than he--standing in overalls rolled up to the middle of her shins, an orange bikini top on, nothing underneath the loose denim. She’d been painting. Not just painting, but painting something deliberately for him as her departure date ruefully approached with the weight and maddening strength of suburban sprawl. She’d been on her period for the past bit and it’d been awhile since they’d been able to act their love. She turned from her canvass and drove him mad with her look of purity, biting her lip in innocence, looking like a cat caught in some act. “Hi” she’d string out in a deliberately high and assuring voice. He walked to her and they embraced. He kissed her naked shoulder in the warm summer apartment--the romantically cozy and poverty-stricken apartment. Their hands and lips moved faster and she proposed and he questioned politely. They put out one of the bed sheets she used to catch paint drips and they made love on it. Catching whatever would have fallen on the floor.
Strange these were the things that stood out, two and a half years later. During that time she’d gone away and he’d stayed then moved as well, respecting a space she needed in that time of her life. She left on long academic trips and met, what he considered, surrogate hims. She was intimate with other men and he had sex with a few other women, always distracted and always thinking about her, not being able to devote himself entirely to the fiction being initiated between the new lovers.
They had always talked and wrote letters. But the frequency and veracity slowed and he was plagued by the memories of when it was better. His thoughts of her ravaged him to the point where he broke down and banned all contact from her. Eight months passed and he sent her pictures of a two-week backpack trip he’d done in some of the most remote portions of the U.S., in the basin range area of the high desert west. She responded and for several weeks they wrote back and forth. Small sparks shot up in his chest, his throat closed a little. She was done with school. Was thinking of taking a trip with a friend and wanted to know if they could stay with him. Of course.
Three weeks later and they made the drive through the heartland, past what used to be the rolling prairie, over the Rockies and to the cradle between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake.
He watched her standing by the bar and it stabbed him. It hurt. His lower lip trembled and he tried to discover what, exactly, it was. She came back from the bar and set the two drinks down. Her friend was in the bathroom and they were close together, their noses not far apart as their bodies pointed toward one another. He didn’t want to hear about the blank space in their history. He was curious as to her studies in South America, he wanted to hear her ever-fervent passion on the world and human rights and social justice. He couldn’t, however, hear the names of males she’d casually drop during this time.
“So how have you been?” He asked her for the umpteenth time, emphasizing a different word, hoping she’d reveal some deep depression and longing she’d had for him. Something that would allow them to look into each other’s eyes and realize, all that time, they were still in the same boat and ready to begin where they left off.
Then her friend came back from the bathroom and sat down in front of her half-finished drink. The body language the old lovers had shared broke off and he leaned back in his seat and looked out across the bar. It was a quiet lounge bar in the south end of town, tucked behind popular breweries. There was a DJ playing respectably soft music you didn’t have to scream over but could dance to, which many were doing. There was a platform in the far left corner of the room and a stereotypical, short, gay male was dancing with a much taller and plump women. The male wore a pink boa around his neck and controlled the ends of it with his hands.
Then a blank-eyed man approached him and stared at him as he sat with his old lover and her travel companion. He was uneasy with this stare of deep drunk nothingness the man with the blank-eyes gave. It was an unpredictable and unhappy stare, a stare that was capable of tragedy.
“It gets stale fast.” The blank-eyed man said in a drenched speech as he nodded to his old lover and back to him knowingly.
It was hard for him to understand what the blank-eyed man said. In fact, he couldn’t be certain those were the exact words the blank-eyed man said, but that was the sense he could untangle from them.
“I just met her." He answered as the blank-eyed man turned away and he returned to his old lover.
They finished that round and waited for a waitress to come around and he again picked up the round as it rotated back to his turn. She was happy and smiling. Her travel companion was too. They talked about travel and experience and the places they’d been and where they wanted to go. With concentrated effort he was as amicable as he could be. Hiding the torture that lay just beneath the surface. Hiding the thing that ripped him apart in the guts, the thing that told him he had, he needed to have her.
A commotion came past the trio sitting on a raised platform against the wall. The blank-eyed man was rushed outside with his hand pinned behind his back by a clear-eyed bartender. Two more bartenders quickly, purposefully, followed. He instinctively rose to follow and she did too. The travel companion stayed put and watched from a distance.
Outside the blank-eyed man was subdued, standing in a position of submission, his head down and his shoulders dejected, leaning against the bumper of a cop car. He was nodding acceptingly as a cop leaned his head in and talked down to him. There were four other cops there. Three were talking to themselves while the fourth was engaged with a much livelier drunk than what the blank-eyed man had become.
He couldn’t hear what the words were, but he watched the livelier drunk’s obviously aggressive mannerisms. She was behind him in the crisp outside. She held his hand and stood on her tiptoes, resting her chin on his shoulder in a display of wanted protection. The livelier drunk said something obviously sassy and the cop replied, putting the tips of eight fingers on the livelier drunk and pushing him slightly. The livelier drunk reacted and the small crowd that watched him seemed to collectively shake their heads. An equally small retaliation was had on the cop and that was enough; the stagnant three charged the assaulter and threw him to the ground. He protested, giving the officers more righteous grit to deal with the criminal.
The man with the blank eyes did not react to this scene. He remained standing, dejected, against the cruiser, listening to his lecture.
He felt elated with this contact from her. She was, again, bringing him to dizzying heights. They were always, however, accompanied by abysmal ruts. He turned to the small group that had joined him.
A blonde was looking at him as he turned and he said confidently to her, as he reached his hand to his old lovers waist and showed ownership, “what a fucking idiot. The cop provoked him, but shit…you don’t do that.”
He felt good and he talked, something that would have been foreign to him if she hadn’t rested her hand in his and her chin on his shoulder, if she hadn’t given him the freedom to wrap his arm around her waist.
The blonde talked and he asked, “Where are you from?”
“From America.” She answered and blow smoke, one hand she carried a cell phone and with the other she held her pack of cigarettes, cigarette, and beer.
“No, you’re not.” He said and pressed her again.
“No em frum um-air-ic-ah.” She said in a heavy and obvious accent.
The travel companion was watching with a contemplative stare from the booth against the wall as the old-lovers embraced on the dance floor. High-speed techno was playing and they were moving accordingly, bending on their knees and moving into each other and out. He would wrap his hand around her waist and she would reel in and he could hold her tight, then she would raise her hands above her head and turn a circle, dipping down where he’d follow, placing his hands on her knees and thighs.
He pulled her close and then said to her: “you should just stay.”
“Huh?” She said, obvious that she’d heard.
“I don’t know, you should just stay.” He said again.
Joel Van Noord writes from northern Montana and is gathering money for an upcoming congressional bid. Inquiries and donations are accepted.
Joel's short story Mimes also is available at VerbSap.
Photo "Hold Me Close 1" courtesy of Georgios M. W., Herlev, Denmark.
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