“And what’s a nice girl like me doing in a spot like this,” I reply. We both smile: this is better. This is an acknowledgement that we are acting, for what else can we do in such a setup?
“Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.” We’re quoting from late movies, from the time before. And the movies then were from a time before
that: this sort of talk dates back to an era well before our own. Not even my mother talked like that, not when I knew her. Possibly nobody ever talked like that in real life, it was all a fabrication from the beginning. Still, it’s amazing how easily it comes back to mind, this corny and falsely gay sexual banter. I can see now what it’s for, what it was always for: to keep the core of yourself out of reach, enclosed, protected.
I’m sad now, the way we’re talking is infinitely sad: faded music, faded paper flowers, worn satin, an echo of an echo. All gone away, no longer possible. Without warning I begin to cry.
At last he moves forward, puts his arms around me, strokes my back, holds me that way, for comfort.
“Come on,” he says. “We haven’t got much time.” With his arm around my shoulders he leads me over to the fold-out bed, lies me down. He even turns down the blanket first. He begins to unbutton, then to stroke, kisses beside my ear. “No romance,” he says. “Okay?”
That would have meant something else, once. Once it would have meant: no strings. Now it means: no heroics. It means: don’t risk yourself for me, if it should come to that.
And so it goes. And so.
I knew it might only be once. Goodbye, I thought, even at the time, goodbye.
There wasn’t any thunder though, I added that in. To cover up the sounds, which I am ashamed of making.
It didn’t happen that way either. I’m not sure how it happened; not exactly. All I can hope for is a reconstruction: the way love feels is always only approximate.
Partway through, I thought about Serena Joy, sitting down there in the kitchen. Thinking: cheap. They’ll spread their legs for anyone. All you need to give them is a cigarette.
And I thought afterwards: this is a betrayal. Not the thing itself but my own response. If I knew for certain he was dead, would that make a difference?
I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was.