He's got one hip leaned against the sink and his eyes intent on my face. It's getting on towards night, and I should be going soon. Somehow, it feels like we've got all the time in the world.
One hand, cupping my cheek. A tired, serious look. "Goodbye." he says.
"Do you ever wonder about people you meet when you fall asleep?"
I'm helping him move a sofa into this new apartment, and it's the most bizarre shit I've ever thought to say midway through changing apartments. "No," he says. "Lift that end a little bit higher."
All the way up the stairs, this place doesn't have an elevator. Beautiful garden views, though, a veritable lush jungle in this quiet neighborhood. I didn't expect him to have a place this nice, never mind helping him with the goddamn behemoth in the living room.
He's already busy rearranging things when I leave. On the way out, I grab a bird of paradise from one of the bushes. I lose it before I get home.
It's a foggy Tuesday evening, and I'm only halfway down Lake Street when it starts rolling in like a Victorian novel. Everything has gone dreamy and indistinct, even from the windows of the 14 bus to downtown. Leaning my head against the glass, I just let it go by in a blur.
There's a meeting tonight in one of the great office buildings; when I sit down at the conference table, he's already across from me with my portfolio.
He doesn't say anything through the entire affair.
He helped me move once, into this old industrial space, but it was done quickly, like he was discharging a favor and couldn't wait to get away. I was more interested in setting up my computer desk anyhow.
On our way to fireworks again. Laughter between friends, and we stop in at the bookstore, admiring the various small statues and other nonsense crystals stacked between the cheap new-agey bits. Upstairs, they've got more of the really nice terracotta masks alongside a worn and battered selection of older classics. Kneeling, I inspect a few.
I hear him coming up the stairs. "Cass?" he asks, though I suspect he knows I'm here.
I stay kneeling down before the masks just a little while longer, savoring the quiet up here in the shelves.
We usually don't talk much. The last time we had a full conversation was years ago, and we never talk about each other, or ourselves beyond inconsequentials.
In any case, I never see him when I'm awake.
For once, I'm walking faster than him, and he's not too eager to catch up. It's late; I need to get home. I glance back, and sometimes he's alone, sometimes he's with others. When I turn around one more time to smile at him, he's gone.
A cabin in the woods, his dad's place, and his sister lives there too. Prefab, seventies sort of place: shag carpeting in the living spaces, linoleum in the kitchen, dark beams of wood overhead, lining the ceiling. The kitchen is filled with cast iron; his room is full of bookshelves.
It's uncomfortable between us as it rarely is; he doesn't want me here, and he's lending me the use of a single to crash on before I'm supposed to move on.
When he leaves to go take care of something, I don't see him again in that house.
Less than a month later.
He's visiting me in Ashburn. (he never visits.)
Not going out to eat, on his insistence. I come out of the shower, and he's in the middle of deboning a chicken for soup. I watch him for a while, and he hands me the carcass. Still plenty of meat on it. Unusually messy for him, I think, and I'm annoyed.
"You're making soup?"
It's storming outside, around morning, he's in on a redeye. (he never flies.)
When I look down at the mangled chicken, he vanishes.
Another one. The next night. I don't understand.
Same trip, same place, more continuity. We're having uncomfortable, stilted conversation. He's playing with a knife while watching me flopped out on the bed on my stomach. When I begin pulling my clothes off, he stalks out, visibly pissed off.
I keep dreaming up this man I've never met, who doesn't exist, who shares aspects of other people I've known and loved. Our conversation continues on, back and forth, we fall into step, or out of step, like I've known him for years, though I never really have. Sometimes, it's oddly like he knows this isn't real, as if somewhere else, someone is coming awake with these same remembrances, these same memories of things that never happened. Sometimes, he has my face. Sometimes he has yours. Sometimes, he seems unaware, and I feel guilty; other times, he knows he's dreaming, and he's unhappy for it.
When I wake up, I feel lost and guilty; when I forget pieces of the dreams, as I inevitably must, I feel vaguely like I'm committing murder, and that when I wake up, he is dead.