We are driving in your car through a night black as wet velvet. We are heading toward town. Our favorite folk singer reaches us from the stereo and because we are a little bit giddy, we say she is delicious, that we could not live without her. She tilts her songs toward us, deliberately, it seems, until we spill into each other and remember everything as fast as it is happening.
This is what I see.
You pulling your key out of the ignition. Me searching your face with my eyes like this is some kind of new Braille. This moment right here, I mean right then, is how I have come to define forever. And there you are. In the midst of something as ordinary as glancing at your purple watch band, your wrist turned up, the face, the numbers, showing you that it is already 9:05 p.m.. The evening is hurling itself into the future.
And too soon we are parked, believe it or not, directly in front of the theatre. We try on idle chit chat. I remind you that I have parking luck. You smile your smile. The one that is my favorite and you know it.
The snow continues to settle on the sidewalk, like dust. A thin layer over the footprints of those who have already gone in. This is how we can pretend that no one has been here. That we are the only two people in the world. The wind has also stopped. I look through the windshield at the bright light chasing itself around the marquis: U-N-F-O-R-G-I-V-E-N. I pivot, shift in the seat so I can look straight into your eyes, but you point them out the window to watch the snow falling. It is still fine and straight. Like a curtain of gauze around us.
And it is all I can do to not think of last night. The oval at your temple, just the size of my mouth, and where I started, slid my tongue down. Slowly, over your eyelid. I remember lingering, circling, lingering, savoring. I wanted to stop without stopping, to move as slowly as it is possible to move and still keep going. Then I found my way home to your bottom lip in my mouth. There was your murmur and hum. There was my undoing. The sound of your back melting. My nipple like a gumdrop in your mouth.
"Come on," you say. " I want to see it. It won Best Picture." You toss the keys between your hands, slightly larger than mine. I remember the thing you told me about energy leaving the body through the right hand, and entering through the left. I hold my palm up and feel your pulse through the air between us.
"But this is our last night. Don't you want it to be special?" I feel submerged, somehow, as if my voice has to travel up just to get out.
"No I don't," you say softly. " I want it to be easy, easier than this. I want it to be just like all the others. This was your idea. You are the one who said ‘Something simple. Just a movie.' " You reach for the door handle.
I know it is not a threat, still my mind storms as if it is.
"Please!" I beg and feel my lungs seize as the word escapes. My fingers reach to cover yours before you can pull the door My memory pitches and rolls in sudden desperation. God help me. The darkness weighs on me, and Imy eyes wider to keep myself from sinking. My heart unhitches itself and floats loosely in my chest.
You say my name aloud and hold it in your mouth, unable to get past it.
I say yours slowly. It descends the length of my tongue as if it can. I wind my fingers easily through yours and reckless abandon presses on the back of my throat. I loot my breath for words. "It seems crazy," I hear myself telling you, "to sit in a dark theatre, next to you and stare at a screen for two hours when all I want to do right now --," and at this point we watch my other hand fold itself around your knee "--is make love to you. God, I don't know when I'll be with you again."
"Or if you will." You stroke my index finger with your thumb, survey my other hand. Stroke that too.
"And that." I wait, grip the insides of my shoes with my toes. "Look... please. I'll go anywhere else. Just not a movie, not tonight. I'm sorry. I want to be with you." "You are with me." You smile and turn down the radio. Look over the dashboard at how the silence and snow falls unevenly. Briefly, you consider that this whole thing should never have happened. You should not have gone out with me the first time I asked. This was supposed to be simple. A friend. Someone to talk to. Just a couple of months.
Now everything matters. The damage reaches beyond you. You think of Alex at home folding shirts next to yours. But this doesn't change how you feel. I am still right here and you are still accountable. Your right hand, or is it your left, flutters on your breast for a second. I see it, watch it, as a flightless bird, and I am flailing wildly in the stillness of my desire, and I know you are tapping out the cadence of your heart, assured and yet dismayed by its quickening in my presence.
You will still feel this way when you think of this moment years from now. You will be somewhere, anywhere, it doesn't matter where, and something, anything, let's say maybe a fragrance wafts past you and then suddenly you remember waking up into the talcumy spirit of my body loitering on the collar of your shirt, and you will breathe in and displace yourself, hold yourself hostage there with your collar in your hands and your face in your collar, swimming in some kind of luscious cove of memory, for what seems like hours but will truly only be minutes though you'll feel as weak immediately following as if you'd been clubbed. And you will look down to see your hand, again, flutter on your chest. Exactly as it does now. You can feel the moment forming already somewhere in your marrow. It will happen.
You look at me watching you and listen to my eyes ask you for your touch. You can feel my longing in your skin, singing. "Don't look at me with that tone of voice," you joke, but your voice limps and you fight yourself for some resolve. You won't write me, you remind yourself. It will be for the best. You expect, eventually, that you'll become distracted, caught up in the current, and drift along on the ordinary habits of living.
Then I brush the back of my wrist across your jaw, move my scent closer to your remembering and you close your eyes. I follow you in there and hook myself into your scalp from within. I inhale the powdery scent of your hair so slowly that I can almost believe it is traveling my bloodstream. And I exhale in bare, imperceptible wisps, as if it is possible, to let nothing go.
You loosen your fingers from mine and reach up to touch my hair but stop. This has gotten out of hand. You tell yourself you will simply have to remember the feel of it. I tell myself remember this. All of it. You. Tonight. The last few months. Create a space in forever that will always be full of you.
You catch my hand in spite of yourself, hold it long enough, barely long enough, maybe just one second past the moment before your throat might close up, and then you put it back in my lap, where there are other things you remember. Things you will be unable to forget.
I can see you telling yourself to remember to breathe.
I want to whet the world to a single, consumable thing. I want to pause, indefinitely. And then I want to back up through every moment I've ever spent with you. In slow motion.
I know this cannot happen and I cannot keep myself from trying to make it happen. I even want to stop the way your hair falls across your shoulders. See again how you smooth back the strands when they fall forward in long commas. The way you drop your head and smile at the sidewalk. The way you walk right up to me, slide your hand behind my neck and in one smooth motion pull my face into your lips. The way I can't keep myself from whispering your name when I'm alone, in the dark, torn between imagining you and waiting for sleep to save me. The way I want to feel your voice go wordless, tiny gasps over my shoulder, floating, roaming, when my mouth finds your neck. The way I know your heart beats. In places you didn't know existed.
You clear your throat twice and whisper without meaning to, "Look, it's just a movie. Two hours." You are doing your best. You are treading water and trying to keep from going under. Yet your mind panics, and slips back, grasps the first thing it sees: the sun on my hair that one scorching day last summer in the woods just outside of town. You close your eyes and you are right there, feel the heat buckle your knees. You swear you can still taste me on your tongue. Or is it my tongue that's tripping, traveling where it must go, must know all those places where your pulse has been?
"No. " I tell you, and I am brimming with urgency. "I want to be alone with you." That and everything else. All of you. My heart throbs. Somewhere. I have heard that people who are drowning, already under, have been known to fight off their rescuers because the drowning feels too good.
You tap your long fingers on the steering wheel. "All right, " you say. "We'll think of something else." And you are searingly beautiful. And I am not as strong as I thought I was. And my bravery needs shoring up. I cannot possibly bear it. But I do. I look out at the lights on the theatre. I think of how isolated I feel sometimes, in the midst of such white light, like being in a bright room at night, looking through the window and not being able to make out a single thing.
The snow has nearly stopped. I remember this and everything else. I do. I see it now. The flakes turn to unbalanced clumps too heavy for the sky. Spiraling, falling indirectly. They are long in coming, the distances growing between the one that just passed and the next.
Christiana L. Langenberg teaches in the English and Women's Studies departments at Iowa State University, where she is also an academic advisor and advisor for the student-run literary journal, Sketch. She was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the U.S with her Dutch father and Italian mother. Raised trilingually in rural Nebraska, she was naturalized when she was 17. She now lives and works in rural Iowa with her four children. She is the winner of the 2003 Chelsea Award for Short Fiction, and her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Chelsea, Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, American Literary Review, Lullwater Review, The Blue Moon Review, and a variety of literary formats.