There are four, by my count, in the first three months after Charlotte. In writing it looks like a lot, to me and maybe to you. A man my age, recovering from a storm like Charlotte, can only give himself a week inside, playing video games and refusing to shave, or possibly two. Then he has to leave the house.

There was Jenna, the elfin waitress at the bar across the way. We met in the alley for synchronized cigarette breaks. She had a delicate, woodsy look but burst into laughter when I called her Jenna-tell-ya.

There was Jen, the blonde soccer player who laughed at absolutely everything I said. For three full weeks. It was flattering. At first I attributed it to nervousness but then her palms stopped sweating and I discovered she liked Michael Bolton and Britney Spears in an earnest, non-ironic way. She laughed at Howard Stern. She laughed at racist jokes. She laughed when I talked about buying Christmas lights cheap, in January. She was most amazed by the obvious, like January and the fact that I could not possibly keep her. What will they think of next.

Lisa, the barista, told me she had reunited with her ex - a week after I had fucked her. I had brewed my own coffee every morning for seven days, had purposely thrown the pants containing her number in the laundry, so I'd have an excuse not to call. She stood across the counter, smiling tentatively. I exhaled, trying not to look too relieved, and threw all I had into the tip jar.

Marlene was the fourth and, of course, a mistake, though not the worst I could have made. Charlotte has been the elephant in the room with each other woman; here she breathed down our necks and practically spit coffee on both our backs.

Marlene made a sad face, similar to Charlotte's, as she dressed for work the following morning. She blew me a kiss.

Later, over Spanish coffee, I would tell her what Charlotte said in her sleep and how her mascara streaked on rainy days. I would tell how we went to the second-run theater, threw our feet up over the seats and heckled action films. I told her how Charlotte could go out on Friday and drink until 4 a.m., then crawl out of bed for Saturday cartoons at seven.

Marlene, who was as lanky and dark and serious as Charlotte was tiny and bright, would nod at this, frowning at her napkin. I, drunker still, would tell her Charlotte was my Ruby Tuesday. And she would say very sadly, I know.

But the morning after we fucked I was not compelled to explain my long face or inquire as to the whereabouts of her friend. I waved, turned on the TV and rolled over in bed, grumbling Monday morning noise.

When I came to I almost swore I saw Charlotte on "Jeopardy!" The woman in question, almost thrice Charlotte's age, turned out to be another mirage.

Love is the source of the best bad metaphors: If she was water, she evaporated and left me scrambling, deluded that sand would quench my thirst.

Also, there are CDs in my collection that I periodically ban from play so that I will still like them, so that I won't kill myself with repetition.

Here I am in my underwear at 5 p.m., watching "Jeopardy!" and consciously trying to forget Charlotte's name. It is not such an easy task. It is not just this contestant's wrinkly smile; it is blossoms falling off trees in a sudden wind. It is black lace gloves at Goodwill, which I would have bought for her. It is every movie she would have enjoyed or heckled brilliantly. I think of trivia questions to which she would know the answer. Every punch line to every inside joke we've had emerges out of context, and nobody knows why I am smirking.

It is, most of all, music, which sounds different to me since I met her. She swaggered like a rock star and for all I know is now snorting coke off the asses of groupies.

Sometimes you do play a record to death. Then you throw it on the shelf and try to grow up, forget you ever heard it, move on with your life. And some jackass requests it on the jukebox, or covers it at Open Mic Night, and you are back to where you were when you heard it the first time. Only less so, as if a hole had opened up - and you feel yourself leaking out of it, evaporating, becoming negative space.


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