Her body, smelling fresh like lemons and vanilla beans, receded beneath me. I thought of Kate again, and I wondered if this was her. But it wasn't. This was not Kate because Kate could never be this real to me – brief glance of belly glossed, hair sticking to my cheeks, lips, even as she receded from me. Then, the tide reversed, and for a moment I caught who she really was, who was swimming beneath me in our sex.
She sat up, her legs over the side of the bed. I lay on my back, looking at her in the bureau mirror. She buttoned up a long sleeved shirt, white. She stepped into grey sweatpants and put her hair up in a bun, turning to look out the window and then back at me.
She asked “Have you been back to Chicago lately?”
The question made me doubt, for a second, what we had been doing for the last few hours. How can people know this little about each other, after all that?
“No,” I answered.
“Would you like to?”
“Are you coming with me?”
“Of course not.” She leaned against the windowsill, resting her palms on its ledge. Her nipples grew pinkly opaque through the shirt, one pointing to the left a bit, and downward, like a lazy eye. She bent her head back, stretched her neck back and forth.
“I might. There are some people I miss.”
“Of course there are.” Her tone was not sarcastic. Neither was it sympathetic. I waited for her to indicate what I should say.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“I could eat.”
“I have some clam chowder in the fridge, and half a loaf of French bread.”
“Sounds good to me.”
She made her way to the door, pausing next to my naked feet. She pressed her hip against them, turned, until her lower belly bent my toes back a little, so my heels could feel the warmth of her. She moved a little, tugging me towards her, then left before I could pull her back down.
We ate in bed. Crumbs gathered in our laps (I had put boxers on). The chowder scalded my tongue, so I set it on the nightstand to cool. I watched her eat, raising and lowering her spoon in a decisive gesture, as if she were stapling photocopies or putting away groceries.
“So tell me about who you’d like to see, if you went back to Chicago.”
“I don’t know…”
“Why? A girl or something?”
“Just tell me.”
“Okay. Her name’s Kate.”
“I think you’ve mentioned her before.”
“I don’t think I have.”
“Well, if you haven’t, then you were about to a couple of times.”
“Sure. Tell me what she’s like.”
“I don’t know. Really.”
“Sure you do.”
“She’s… just a dream. It would be impossible to see her anyhow.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say.”
I picked up the chowder, set the bowl before me, and tried it. It was still too hot in the middle, but the sides were lukewarm. I stirred it, began emptying the bowl in quick shovels, leaning forward.
“The one that got away,” she offered.
I thought about it. “No,” I answered. “If anything, she’s the one I couldn’t get away with anything with.”
“With anything with,” she repeated.
I smiled. A bit of laughter came out of my chest. I wiped my bowl clean with strips of bread crust.
“Good chowder,” I said.
“You bought it.”
“Well then, thank you to me. But you still have a magic touch with the microwave.”
“Now my sheets…”
“You could bread chicken thighs in them,” I suggested.
She shot me a glance. We laughed.
We leaned against the wall, letting the food settle. She moved her hand slowly along my leg.
“I like you,” she said.
“Mm. I really like you too. I haven’t… No, that’s not how to say it.”
“You haven’t had sex in a while?”
“Almost a year.”
The question was easy, conversational. I knew I could have answered the truth, even though the truth was only an anticlimactic “Not once.”
“Wow. That must have been special.”
“A dream,” I reiterated. “She’s like a shadow at the foot of the bed, easing through cracks in a good night’s sleep. being hereI know her more for what I am than what she is.”
“Is that why, why you think she’s so… much?”
“No. That’s only why I can’t talk to her.”
“What did she give you?”
I thought: the freedom to never have her? Me, in so many ways? But the answer was her, too. She had given me something, something real. Real enough to long for, at least. Enough to know I could never have her... But I was getting fatalistic.
“You never answered my question.”
I pressed my mouth against her neck. She sighed.
I said, “I’ll tell you a story.”
“Please.” She shifted her weight onto my torso.
“Op. Hold on. I got a twittery stomach.”
We shifted into a snug compromise. I began,
“We met a few times, nonchalantly, in social circles mostly concerned with drinking and that kind of stuff. I can’t remember what I first thought of her. Just another girl, you know. I was… twenty-two, I think. Very focused on sex most of the time. Sex and religion.”
“Sex and death,” she added.
I wanted to use the word eschatological, but declined.
“Yes. Then, one night, at a little drinking party my roommate Josh threw, under the pretence of art, Kate and I started talking in the kitchen, one on one. Again, I have no clue what I was thinking or what we were talking about. Then, somehow, our eyes locked into each other's, and she started tractor-beaming me in to ground zero. It was your basic scenario when the wolf suddenly becomes uncomfortable with the sheep’s prowess. I said hold on a second, but her force… I ended up angling my head forward a bit, so we’d lock horns instead of tongues, and then I slowly retreated from there. But she had me. That easily, with a prolonged stare. A little eye, and my defenses where shattered. A week later we made out furiously, and three month later she dropped me for Josh.”
“That’s hardly a story.”
“I just wanted to get the plot out of the way. And anyhow, I don’t know how much of a story I can make out of her. There are just a bunch of little bursts in my memory that illustrate my totally unreasonable emotions for her.
"I remember she told me never to buy her flowers. She said she thought it a bit… ominous, when they die. But on Thanksgiving, I bought her a bunch of daisies. They were bright orange, like a flaming pumpkin. And funny enough, I never got to see them die. She dropped me before they crumbled to dust.”
I might have put too much umpf into that image. I looked at Jill’s face. She was frowning some. I put my hand on her cheek, bringing a smile out of her.
“Do you know what silence is?” I asked.
“What is silence, Patience?”
“Well, there are as many types of silence as there are noise. Actually, there’s more. For example, if you took a square mile of raw space, of pure vacuum, you’d have more energy in there than in all the matter in the universe.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… to really understand, to have a really great understanding of things, you need to have freedom. You need to have the freedom of not being bound to them, so they don’t restrain you…” I realized I wasn’t making much sense. Looking down at Jill, and it was obvious I was making none of the good kind of sense.
“What are you saying?” she asked.
I laughed. I kissed her. “Hush, sweet girl. I’m only being philosophical, not irresponsible. I guess I’m trying to say that, in the absence of anything definite, everything is manifest.”
“So Kate is your silence?”
I smiled, admiring Jill’s ability to cut through my crap. “No," I said. “She was just present when I discovered it. That’s all.”
I played with Jill’s hair, studied the way her body took shape. Angle over angle, curve wound through curve. I didn’t know what I knew of this girl, taking shape in me slowly, sometimes an inch a minute, sometimes a thousand miles an hour. But I knew she was as real as me, and knowing that made me feel genuine as I reached over her, turned out the light, and let the darkness take us where it would