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"Tandemness," short story excerpt

Saturday 8/27/22

So we met at the only Joe’s American Bar and Grill in the region. I think there’s a rule: one such establishment per fifty-mile chunk of a state at max. Fortunately, I could walk to this one. We were sitting outside on a Sunday in late June. I’m having my virgin Bloody Marys, she’s quaffing back the the real stuff. If I were a bartender who’d seen it all and knew how her day might end—or her next one start—I’d be thinking about the necessity of and wisdom in pacing yourself in matters drink or otherwise. Life, dying, and love.


My expectation each time the waiter returned was for her to say, “hit me again.” I could tell that she hated me. She had arrived hating me. I mean, I had, too, but that would be getting me on a technicality. I’d known me. I had history with me. Some people just foregather in order to hate, though, like other people go to the store to purchase kale because they’ve heard good things.


I thought about my ex-wife. I had never been so attracted to anyone. What happens when that’s over—the marriage being the “that”—is one may become more attracted to that person because they’re gone. They’re not a viable life entity. I think they’re like money that way. You wish for seventeen million dollars, but then you also look at all of the people who have seventeen million dollars, and they’re as miserable as you are. Ah, but they’re more comfortable you tell yourself. Then you worry and are thrown into crisis that if you had the seventeen million dollars you’d screw it up such that you didn’t even feel comfortable. You’d legitimately stress if you could get more out of the toothpaste tube that an ordinary person would have discarded three days, let alone that there is no ordinary, there’s only typical. So it really doesn’t do you any benefit to be thinking about money as a wish, as an “if only.”


We’d pull the shades down, and on weekends my wife would wear a bra and panties—ideally a thong, unless weird patterns of laundry were lately occurring—and nothing else, if that, for hours at a stretch or the entire indoor portion of the day, with other installments of this form of intimacy and further sub-groupings—there was a brace of all-nude summer Sundays—that required a towel to be placed upon the couch before she took a seat beside me, and we watched an old movie or early morning Premiere League soccer match with the sound down too low. To this day I excel at reading Bette Davis’s lips and intuiting how much stoppage time remains.


I wanted to look at her every which way possible. To drink her in. Eyes do a lot more imbibing than mouths ever do, but they don’t brag about it, because eyes have too much class, and they just do it. To have all my stolen moments that were allowed, but were also as if they’d been pilfered for the stockpiling-sense. To see her prevailing belowness, those parts that are more than parts when revealed as fundamentals of motility, players in a game of inching us closer to each other and may do so when other ways have failed, or entered the transfer portal.


When you worry that you might not be able to afford food in the future, you acquire and try to protect—even if it’s just a pitched battle for freshness—more than what you need in the then and there. You think everything will last longer than it in fact does, or is built to. You own a lot of granola bars, for instance, because today’s granola bar, you have determined, could also be the granola bar of three years hence, when it is most needed and you’re fortunate to have it. Thank God you planned. You might think of a person starving on a raft at sea, and up floats a crate of granola bars. Do they care that they’re from a dozen years ago? Of course not. Delicious. What they wouldn’t do for another crate when the crate is finished.


Those granola bars live in places of your kitchen where you don’t go, no matter how small your kitchen is, and which the light does not penetrate. You can even lose those granola bars so that you won’t be able to remember or figure out where they are, resulting in a fruitless, incredulity-spawning search, and you will actually wonder if some thief has been in your home while you were out and made off with your granola bars, like they came there for something else which they figured you might have, didn’t find it, got hungry, took some granola bars for the road, and there were many more mysteries like this throughout life of which you were unaware.


“Can you even imagine?” you now think. What might they be? When did one such mystery last occur? Had there been one that week? Probably.


The love you want—the love that could be gotten to, and become, and flourish—is also the love that in point of truth—which is so much different than point of fact, or statement written upon paper or the shared air you breathe—may resemble a granola bar this way. And to take a stolen look at someone who doesn’t know how hard it is you’re looking at them, or why you are, how that desire, need, and fear, is always feeding itself in ways that a mouth could never understand, is to take a kind of look that we cannot take with anyone watching us, ironically enough. Or we’d have to not be aware of it, as they’re not aware of how we steal our looks at them. I was so in love with her, and I didn’t even know what I was doing, or what she was doing, because nothing worked. We had a hell of a lot of “if only,” though, which also means “soon” and “eventually, “in theory,” and, finally, “after.”


There aren’t as many viable reasons to keep granola bars—allowing you’ve come into a surplus of them—as you might think. You never end up eating them anyway.