Backstory
To Be Concluded

§3. Heart Fog:

        "Okay, don’t be miffed. Let me get these other bits out of the way first. The story isn't going to make any sense otherwise. It may scare you a bit to know that I actually tried to follow your example for a while there just after Rob left. I tried to get cozy, making moves just for the feel and pleasure. There were actually a few doe-eyed guys I'm sure I could have swung my self around, quite satisfactorily. So don't try to always cast me as the endlessly chaste, last of the great lapsed Catholics. Yeah, well, you do have a tendency to play that up whenever I make appearances in your stories. Whenever I run into guys after you've been around them alone for a while they look at me like I might be their virtuous little sister. Like I might want go on a bike ride, or grab an ice-cream cone. Maybe push me on the swing set."
        "Anyway, don’t matter. I just couldn't trick myself into it. I thought it would've put me on Rob's level. After all, he pulled up the stakes and zipped out of town - and I though it must be someone else. Some little bean-sprout out in the country where he was working was no doubt banging him in the haystack or behind the old oak tree. So I felt I had a vested interest in maintaining the high moral ground. I have no idea what I was thinking. And of course any pronouncement of a high-minded sort like that’s going to have the whole universe immediately conspiring against you. Just the cosmos trying to get you to loosen up, I guess."
        "Details, details, yes, I'm getting to those. I'd already written Rob what was essentially my parting shot, left it with my roommates for him to collect, if he ever even bothered to show. I certainly wasn't going to do myself the indignity of paying for a stamp on his behalf, regardless of how badly I might have wanted some outlet. But outlet I got somewhere else, all the outpouring and finality with Rob I could ever dream for, even if he had no idea about any of it. I was sitting in one of the little parks down the drive I lived on, rummaging through the Sunday editions. There was whole rat-pack of little kids running around the park that day, splashing in the fountain, just chasing each other around, until one slightly more grown-up kid showed up with his pet boa constrictor, which was easily as long as he was and probably could have swallowed on the toddlers whole if given half the chance. They all scampered over when the big kid set the snake down on the grass, they all wanted to pet it or just watch it slither along and they were pointing and pushing each one another closer. They had absolutely no fear at all, most of them."
        "I'm just sitting there on the grass then, sunglasses and big straw sun hat to keep the sun off but still feeling my shoulders burning a little, just reading away, when I hear someone clearing their throat behind me. I turn around, and sitting about five feet away is this guy, whose just kind-of half smiling, half-grimacing at me. He's got his shoes and socks off to one side of him and his pant legs rolled up and he's got a pile of library books by his side and a bottle of water. He's wearing reading glasses, and a white kerchief on his head and it looks just at first glance that he's getting a bit red in the sun as well. In other words, he's kind of geeky-seeming and I find myself wondering exactly what it is he wants. He gestures with his head over to one side, past me, 'your bag' he says. And so I turn and of course find that while the snake went unattended momentarily by its young keeper it decided to make for the shade by winding its way into my carry-all. Only its tail was visible now, still sliding along inside, as it packed itself away in there. So that was pretty disgusting, not because I have any particular aversion to cold-blooded reptilian monsters that can strangle you in your sleep or anything but just since my sandals were in there. 'Eww,' I think may have been my immediate response, and I looked around to see if the owner was anywhere nearby, but before I could yell out for the kid, the boy just walked over and reached slowly tipped the bag upside down and the scaly thing slid right out and away."
        "'Very 19th century of you. Thanks,' I said then and he said he's had one named Sal for a few years ago until he ran, or slither away one day. He said his name was Jason, and I said I was Angie, and then he said he was glad to have been of service and he went and sat down again. Well from that point on I was only half reading, newsprint getting all cut-up by my wanting to turn around and take another look, just for my peace of mind, or make sure what he was reading wasn't terribly interesting. Then I stopped trying to read altogether and started thinking about what I'd resolved about Rob, which had by this time been four months past. I wondered about what precisely the point was in me keeping myself in a little hermetically sealed bubble, just watching the world go by without me, holding to this severed connection just on a point of pride. I take myself way too seriously, was basically what I came up with. So I did turn around, and he caught him dribbling water on his shirt as he was taking gulps out of his water bottle, and he looked kind of embarrassed and that sewed it up for me."
        "And then the next night you called me, because you'd gotten my letter no doubt and I'd sounded like the basket-case that I was, and the timing of events never ceases to amaze me, because up until that moment I'd been floundering awfully, yet in the course of one weekend everything had righted itself. I was thinking about this earlier today, about how people and places, as beautiful as they are in, make us to see and do things for ourselves. Jason was both, beautiful but also one of those people who’d spur something inside you, change you instantly if you're open to it. Turned out he wasn't the total nerd I'd pegged him for initially, he'd just looked a little silly at the time. He wasn't real self-conscious most of the time I figure, he just really wasn't out to make a big impression. I could relate to that after six months playing ghost to the outside world, just swishing through the scenery. But by the time you called, god I had no idea what was going on anymore, if I ever had. Just that first day we drank coffee for hours, then some dinner, so we swung round his place and he changed, and then we walked up to my place and I did the same, and from that first point when I asked it was me, for the first time I can remember who held the reins. I asserted preferences, 'sounds great' he said, where I wanted the conversation to stick, or deepen, or move it did but there was nothing ever mechanical about it. It was more like he just wanted to hear everything I had to say or do anything I wanted to do, to see how it might hang there in the air between us."
        "We had dinner in this amazing Afghani place, The Last Horseman. They serve these peppery fried potatoes that ought to be outlawed, like you about gave yourself whiplash reaching for your glass. I was maybe a little wary of the idea of desert food actually being much of a treat for a first date, but you get to sit with your shoes off all propped up with this big cushions and its all lamp-lit and there are tapestries everywhere. So it seemed really quiet and the light would be good for me, so we're there sitting at the corner of this long, knee-high table, just talking. The whole place is filled with the smell of frying sage with cumin, clove incense and pipe tobacco. Jason spends most of his time just looking mostly into the lamp light on the table. Seems to me I was pouring the last drops out of the carafe. I was at that point now also staring at the crook of his neck and the lines of his shoulder-blades under his shirt. I don't think I was even totally listening to what he was talking about at that point, something about the eclipse coming up and a Concorde ride you could take to watch its shadow move, and I think I may have said something painfully vapid about earth and moon and stars, because what I was really concerned with was that we were out of wine and it was getting late and place might start to shut down soon. It was really hot though in there and I didn't want to move and the waiters seemed to be having a bit of a tiff by the bar on the other side of the place. I was trying to be cool, really, but you can imagine how suave I looked doing a kind of DT- cheerleader- signalman thing to get their attention. 'So Angie, what're we going to do next?' is what came across the table next at me, and I looked back at him and he was wide-eyed and just waiting for answer, because I'd planned or allotted for everything so far after all. That's what his expression said, up for anything. '
        “We're going to get more wine little boy”, that's what' was what I managed to come back with to put it off, 'And you're going to tell me why you were all by your lonesome in that park today.' He started thinking it over, with a little peak in his eyebrow, and I remembered the word I'd been fishing for all night. Portuguese, saudade, a heady mixture equal parts melancholy and longing, like when you know, you just know that what starts out fairy tale never ends that way. No matter how bad you want it to."

...............

        Finally the big questions were getting some treatment, Angie thought, the air was finally clear enough for the hate, sex and money matters to be thrown out on the table. It was, appropriately enough, one exceedingly vile and filthy table which they were parked around much, much later that evening in yet another smoky basement apartment, lit by strings of colored lights and candles, to the whir of the ceiling fan. They'd been up now playing cards at mutual friend's pad for hours, everyone else who'd been there practically and visibly re-coiled in fear and surprise when they'd marched in the front door together.
        'Oh that's good, that's rich,' had been John's reaction. Zoe and Angie were not widely held to be a magical combination for the outside world, boy-dom in particular, as they fit together and re-configured in such a way that made it exceedingly difficult to either argue or resist them. They could've cared less. Angie, in particular, thinking about everything she'd just spilled, about the decision to leave Jason high and dry, about finding the strength to actually consider, and ultimately set aside another person for oneself, for once, after all that verbiage she wasn't terribly interested in taking any lip. So they did what they needed to do to clear the room, that is, they drank everyone else past silly and well-on-the-way to sick, by demurely playing waitress and bartender for the room full of boys all evening and showing no mercy in the stiffness of anyone's drinks, least of all their own.
        One by one they went down, if not necessarily in heaps, but rather more gurgling, slurring but still in a quite cute and clever in-their-own-fashion sort of way as they tried to pretend there were no girls in the room or at least appear that they weren't giving the matter any undue consideration. Adding to their collective woe at this new problem was that, first, they'd all been manageably but still noticeably single for varying degrees of what seemed like forever, second, in the two years Zoe and Angie had been away, both of them had gotten troublesomely beautiful, and finally, worst of all, these were the sort of guys who could never get it together to ever acknowledge to themselves, let alone voice, and heaven forbid ever act.
        Terry was the drummer in a local band who moonlighted making furniture. Dan was an engineer-prospector who loved photography and ended up in places like Ghana, Peru or Uzbekistan for months at a time. Erin was a geologist doing boat tours for a sliver-niche of people interested in indigenous rocks and land-forms. John was slacking off the summer before he went to teach English overseas. Craig was a painter who pumped gas. They'd all known each other since junior high, so they really didn't need to go over fundamentals that often, each knowing pretty well where the other stood.
        Guys either wonder and toil constantly over what girls think, or they give it little or no thought whatsoever. They either adjust their pitch to fall in synch with female presence, or they just go on acting exactly the same. This particular pack, Angie knew, fell certainly into the second category and before long they were all immersed in a heated banter of typically single-guy marginalia- new great bands, new god-awful bands, what books would make great movies, what purportedly great books didn't deserve to be used to hold your bed up. There was discussion, ad infinitum, about the rise of the new digital class, the influx of recent illegal immigrants, the way Russia seemed to be headed, what could happen if all the lights went out at New Year's. There were conspiracy theories about reclusive novelists, about Islamic fundamentalism and US interests abroad, about the Kosovo crisis and the bombing of the Chinese embassy, the whole rise of Japanese super cuteness. In general, Angie thought, the boys were talking about everything but themselves, by throwing out as many tethers as possible to the world around them, as it went on, very far away from here and having nothing really whatsoever to do with them.
        When they finally turned in, or dragged themselves up the stairs for home, Angie and Zoe were left feeling like they'd been sitting in less on a bunch of people who knew or cared about each other, and more like they'd stumbled on a chance meeting of correspondents in the bar of some hotel in the Third World. They sat there with their drinks, then started playing gin rummy, not saying much of anything for a few minutes, letting the totality of difference they felt wash away in the renewed silence. Zoe won the first hand, and so Angie started shuffling the deck again.
        "The money Zoe."
        "The boy Angie."
        "Stolen, isn't it?"
        "Let me guess: nothing happened and you didn't shag him?"
        "You first."
        "No you first."
        "Okay, on the count of three. Okay? Ready? One, two, three."
        "Sugar daddy."
        "Five ways from Friday."
        "Oh my God."
        "Deal the cards please."

< - Backstory
To Be Concluded