Sometimes, the residue of beaten egg left in a bowl will dry and crack in the most lovely, intricate pattern. Sometimes, cool air will hit the back of your neck and your temples with a touch that feels like world peace. Sometimes, the color of a fish in a saltwater aquarium nearly levels you with its profound correctness. I like seeing these things. I like hearing, tasting, feeling them. And let’s not forget smelling. I like the smell of mud, of tea leaves, of new shower curtains.
Then there’s people. I drop gracelessly to the grass, lie back, stare up at him on his balcony. He may not understand it, but I don’t want to move. This spot is perfect. It’s not a kiddie stunt executed for cuteness; it’s not a flirtatious act of forced spontaneity. At times, I just have to Be. Somewhere. He walks into his apartment for a moment, then comes back. He starts tossing jelly beans at me, big fat ones left over from Easter. A yellow one hits me on the cheek and I roll into a ball on my side on the ground.
“I’m sorry honey, I didn’t want to get your face!” he calls.
“That’s okay,” I reply evenly, staring at the blades of grass. They are still ugly and dry, a delinquent spring. Each blade seems to have a crack down the middle, where physics willed it to buckle. I ponder this for a moment, and then let it pass. Now it’s time to stand up again and get on with things. I dust off and climb the stairs to his apartment.
When I walk in, he is clearing his lunch dishes from the living room. He works in steps that fall into place seamlessly, though I could never have guessed them. One: throw paper towel and apple core in the trash. Two: take plate, glass, bowl, and spoon to kitchen sink. Three: rinse all but the glass and stack in dishwasher. Four: refill the glass with tap water. Five: kiss me on my forehead. Six: walk back to the living room and sit down on the couch. Seeing him as he would look alone, as if I were a fly on the wall, usually intrigues me. It’s amusing to imagine my nonexistence. To complete the illusion, I remain silent until he is finished.
“So, any reason why you felt like rolling around in the grass?” he asks. I ignore his question, but smile at him.
I speak. “It’s too bad that you just ate. I thought we could go to the store and buy stuff to make a key lime pie.”
“Well, did you eat?”
“And you were going to have a key lime pie for lunch?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“That’s no good, honey. But you can make a pie if you want, and we can get you some lunch too, and by the time the pie is ready, I’m sure I’ll be able to try it.”
So this is the plan, and we drive to the store. I roll the windows down in the car and flail my arm out the window. When we stop, he rearranges the papers on the floorboard, sorting them according to size.
He says, “Key lime pie is good. We won’t get scurvy.” I nod. “Plus it’s green. You like green.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I like green, but this pie won’t be green. Lime juice is yellow, and I won’t have a green pie unless I use food coloring, and I don’t really want to.”
We arrive and wander with purpose. First, we go to the produce section. He grabs for my hand and I surrender it. The store is not carrying key limes that day, so I have to buy regular limes. “Hmph.” I make a face of disdain at him, holding the bag of plain limes out for him to carry. I just want to see what kind of mood he is in for now. He humors me by taking the limes and asking, “Next?”
Together, we collect the rest. Confectioner’s sugar, eggs, vanilla wafers for the crust. I bypass the vanilla, knowing that I have plenty, then return for some when I remember that there is none at his place. A song plays over the speakers, and I sing along absently to the chorus. It was from the summer after my sophomore year of high school and I remember it playing on the radio that I would drag out to the backyard when I sunned myself. Also, the unsophisticated green bikini. The untreated, splintering wood of the deck. The cicadas whirring. The towel growing damp and sticky with sweat beneath me. The lizards that darted in and out of the lattice boards.
“Sushi?” His voice prods at the edge of my daze, trying to get in. I look at him with questioning brow. “We could get you some sushi from here, for your lunch.” I think about it for a moment.
“Yeah, okay. That’ll work.” We swing back over to produce and the sushi counter at the side. I select a box, decorated with a flower and bamboo pattern that reminds me of soulless fractals. Then we go to the checkout, quiet and calm.
On the way back, I let him drive. I have to eat my sushi. Eating in the car while someone else drives always feels a little rude and gauche, like sitting in the backseat instead of the passenger side. I’m grateful that I can munch away without guilt or discomfort. Even if he hadn’t already eaten, I know that I could have anyway, because he is generous and patient.
We get home just as I finish my last bite of lunch. I grab the bag of groceries and we walk up the stairs. The scent of him and his apartment hits me as I walk in, as it always does, and I wonder why he can’t smell it, and why I can’t smell my own scent. I’ve heard it’s nice, and I’m a little disappointed at not being able to experience it. Then again, he can’t tell how brightly his eyes can glow when they are pleased. I suppose it’s a wash in the end.
We embrace for a moment while still in the foyer. I rest my head against him and feel him breathing down into my hair as the grocery bag rustles. “Okay,” I announce, “time for pie.”
“You want help?” he offers.
“Well, can you crush things?”
“I can crush you…like an insect!”
“Oh, aren’t you the charming one. Why don’t you crush up a bunch of the vanilla wafers?”
“All right. How many?”
“As many as you want.”
I hand him the box of cookies. He gets out a bowl and a fork. “A glass will work better,” I say. “The bottom of a glass.” He looks mock-impressed and retrieves a glass, setting the fork aside. I take out the limes and place them on the counter with another bowl and a knife. As I squeeze the juice from the limes, yesterday’s paper cut stings on my index knuckle. I say nothing and dig my fingers in harder, working my fingertips against the slippery rind. I look up at him. His vanilla wafers crunch with a dull sound. He smiles at me and I gaze back sweetly, my cut burning.