This is an experimental departure from my usual fare. I'll probably delete it.
In the meantime, please be kind.
"You wanted me to tell her," he says, and I nearly spit out my beer.
We never really connect, only reconnect. Our relationship has always been marked by long absences. In the first year I knew him, back when every meeting meant a tangle of sheets and grappling hands and eventual exhaustion before the sun had even so much as begun to dip below the horizon, we saw each other only half a dozen times. Now, sometimes a year will pass between chats, or sometimes we'll play long games of text-tag and missed messages that eventually peter out, or we make vague plans only to cancel on each other.
And then, eventually, a day. A date. A restaurant and his bony frame in the doorway, cutting away a dark slice of midday sun.
I used to be fascinated by how little space he took up. He was bird-thin, fine-boned, and then he would fold up. He disappeared into corners. He sat cross-legged on chairs, like a child. Today, when I sat down across from him and watched him turn from me to look at the menu, there was gray in his hair.
"What did you do?"
I have a bandaid on my middle finger. Just across the way and up the road apiece from my wedding ring. Years ago, I would have extended the wounded digit across the table and let him touch it, and I would have made a bigger deal about how it had met its bloody fate under my own teeth.
But that was the problem, then. With us. With me.
I tell the truth today: that I was watching a rerun of Law & Order, that I got nervous about what was going to happen in the final courtroom scene, and that before I even realized it I'd eaten off my entire cuticle.
It's funny to me -- it is me, it's just the sort of thing I'd do -- but lines appear on his face, and he says, "Noooo."
And then, "You can do better than that."
And that was the problem.
I'm not better than that. I could be, in fits and starts. I was twenty-three years old, and every thirty-one days I could put on my best and brightest, giving him one day per month with the esoteric, intellectual, literary version of myself.
It's easy to believe that someone is extraordinary, when you've never seen her be ordinary.
We would intertwine our same-sized hands over tables while our smug salads wilted and the wine got warm, and he'd say something about Don DeLillo, and I'd smile and nod with the knowledge that he wouldn't be there tonight, or tomorrow, or next week, to see me reading a Wikipedia page with a beer in one hand and a box of Cheez-Its in the other. That by the time we next met, the subject would have changed.
That he had no idea how much I hate frisee.
That he didn't know me, even when he began to claim that he loved me.
It made me wonder about his girlfriend, the one he lived with. He would leave her behind to be with me, and I thought that she must have been something -- to hold his interest, day in, day out, at home. In their home.
I thought she must have been exhausted.
"Did you ever meet my friend Mike?" he says.
I laugh, the way I always do when he asks me a question as though I'm a real ex-girlfriend, and not The Other Woman From Way-Back-When.
"Of course not," I say.
He looks confused.
"You don't introduce a girl to your friends when she's your dirty little secret."
There's a pause. A cry; I realize that there are babies in this bar. Two of them, tiny things with downy hair and heads that loll and coo against their mothers' shoulders. The sunlight presses hazily against the tabletops and their little eyes close tight.
"You wanted me to tell her," he says, and I nearly spit out my beer. I shake my head.
"Well, I didn't."
I take another drink.
"I'm sorry I didn't introduce you to my friends."
And another. There's foam in the glass. Spit, mostly.
"I didn't want to meet your friends."
He doesn't believe me, I don't think. I don't know.
I don't care.
My drink is gone, and so am I, and I don't think I'll see him again.