It's all in my head,
But she's touching his face now,
He takes off her dress now,
Now letting me go.
The wolf is always at the door...
In a New York Minute
There is a sidewalk cafe. There is a Sunday morning. There are two cups of coffee and hard steel patio chairs. Cars hiss by in the young sunlight. Horns echo against concrete and glass. The smell of fresh baked bread wraps around thinning diesel fumes.
"You don't believe that stuff," he says, eye contact for a second, broken in self-consciousness.
"What makes you think..." she stops herself and it bugs him she never says what's on her mind.
"The path to the soul is through the feet. That's what they're telling you."
"I never said... Why do you have to pick now to bring this up?"
"Because I just thought of it. Reflexology is bullshit."
She stares at him for a second as if trying to envision a ghost in a contrail of cigarette smoke. "We had all day yesterday..."
"Sorry," he says, and he shooes away an invisible gnat. "I'm always sorry."
"What's wrong with you?"
Lifting his cup he averts is eyes. Watches the traffic light change from yellow to green. Sips his coffee staring at a passing car. As he replaces the cup it rattles slightly on the saucer and it surprises him. She notices.
Once in freefall, in freefall till the impact.
"What's wrong?" she says.
"Tell me what I did. I won't do it again."
"Nothing, it's me," he says, and he starts to get up but realizes it doesn't lead anywhere. Stays. Tries to look at her but can't.
He imagines her thinking. Either trying to understand, or watching her own construction unravel. Maybe he'd unravel it for her.
"Ok," he says to fill the silence. "Ok. I..." and when she doesn't jump in he says, "You know what I'm going to say."
She shakes her head slowly. The look on her face. Involuntary muscles making barely perceptible changes no one passing would detect. It makes him want to shelter her. Protect her.
But he stays where he is, watching the liquid pooling in the corners of her eyes.
"What's happening?" she says, quietly.
"Ok, so I came to your yoga new-age dance whatchamacallit class yesterday. Watched through that window in the foyer."
"You came?" she says. She smiles a grimace. "I didn't see you."
"I heard them telling you about curing viruses through whatever. Rubbing your feet. Dancing like a witch doctor. I thought it was a yoga course."
"It wasn't just yoga. It was movement. Mind-body connection through a lot of different disciplines. I wish I had known you were there, I needed a partner."
"You needed what you needed," he says. Picks up his coffee and his hand shakes so he puts it down again.
Why is this happening? He asks himself -- why is this happening? Why can't I stop?
She takes a breath as if gasping before a dive into an oncoming wave. Holds a hand to her mouth.
He tried to say, "I've got to stop, I'm sorry," but he hears the words, "I saw you dancing with that guy..." and the grillwork in the steel table captured his attention and wouldn't let go. As if he could hide between the leaves of the metallic rosette. Never be seen again. Why can't you stop your heart by thinking about it?
Why can't I? What's wrong with me?
"We had to have partners," she says. "It was a partner's dance."
"Why don't you dance that way with me?" he asks as if breathing through an aqualung. Forcing words through the density of an impenetrable ocean. What do I have to learn to avoid this? Why can't I be what I want?
"Why can't I ever be what you need?" -- why can't I ever be what I think?
She says quickly, "You are what I need. I love you," and he watches her lips move. Her mouth but not her words. Now quietly, "You don't believe me..."
"I saw the way you looked at him. I saw the way you got all tangled up. I know the way you are. It was that kind of emotion with you. The kind that makes you say you're not responsible."
"It was part of the class."
"Don't tell me--" and he waves his hand again forcefully. Quiets the rumbling inside him. Says, "I've been on the other side of that with you."
"It was just a dance..."
"Please. It was more. I saw you."
A bus goes by. A dump truck. A couple passes walking a brown-black dog no bigger than a kaiser roll. Its feet move in a blur underneath it.
Gazing upward between the monolithic skyscrapers, a white cloud drifts against a patch of sky. And it's as far away as the spinning blue earth to an unborn child.
After a while she says a near whisper, "What do you want me to say?"
He doesn't know.
She says, "I love you. I would never hurt you."
"Yeah, well," he says, now trying to lose himself under the tires of a passing garbage truck. Then he can't sit anymore. Looks at his watch. Says, "I think I have a conference call at eleven." He signals for the check with his wallet out. Throws a sawbuck on the table without waiting. Stands up unable to obey a voice in his head telling him to say "goodbye".
She shuts her eyes and a tear dribbles out. Winces. Says, "It was a fantasy. I'm sorry. I didn't know you were watching. Don't you ever..."
"It's me," he says because he can't argue, he can only hurt. "It's not you. It's me."
"I don't want you to feel this way."
"Neither do I."
"But I can't stop it from happening. I don't know how." She reaches to him. Her fingers toward his hand, first inert at his side, he runs it over his hair but she won't give up. "Why isn't being in love enough? Don't you believe...?"
Finish the sentence. Why won't she finish her sentences? Doesn't she know how many blanks he fills? What he fills them with?
She's got so much out of reach. Pieces of her he would never integrate. Parts of her she would never let him own. Secret keys and codes in languages girls invent when they're young.
"Don't I believe what? Fucking believe what?"
She opens her mouth but says nothing. Now crying it kills him he's done it to her. Pain begets pain. Where does it end? She manages, "I'm still the same. What's making you be this way?"
He sits on the hard metal chair. Elbow on the table, rubs his eyes. Forehead. She's still reaching.
"Tell me -- tell me how to 'just not be jealous' and I'll do it. Then you can dance with whomever you want. Hell, you can sleep with whomever you want if I never get jealous."
She wipes at her eyes with her napkin. Tears gone, she shakes her head. Takes a breath. Determined. Then slowly, folds her napkin and stands. She reaches to him again.
He looks at her hand, then out at the dirty street beginning to shimmer in the heat.
Her voice a sea on emotion she says, "You don't have to trust me. You don't even have to believe me but I know this much -- if you don't believe yourself, I don't stand a chance."
He sees it in her eyes, the courage in assertion, maddeningly attractive. Despises the hesitancy he allowed before taking her hand. Follow her lead a step back home.
She says when the tears return, "And lover, you know you can't dance," touches, leans, then falls against him. He embraces her in a grip he promises would withstand the hand of God invalidating the universe.
"I'm not that..." he says.
"...no really. Very bad," she says, and kisses him salty.
The smile he feels warms the sidewalk under his feet.