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Buckle


ISSUE:  Winter 2014

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke
The kitchen cupboards were the last to be sorted out. My father gaped at the size of the throwaway pile in the front hall. “Would I do this to you?” 

I was nearly done with the books. The Salvation Army was going to make a killing. “What’s on TV?” I asked him.

He smiled at the idea and returned to the television, now louder than ever in the empty living room. At the next change in programming, he wandered back in, holding open the blue leather photo album I had thrown out that morning. A crowd of sepia swimmers fanned out in front of a beach umbrella, my mother’s family. Dad’s fingers touched each of the faces. 

“I don’t know even one of these people.” 

“Neither do I. May as well let it go.” I closed the cover and put the album next to a trove of plastic containers. 

“Good idea.” 

He grabbed my wrist and stared me down. A glimpse of his old self. “Douglas!” He tightened his grip and pulled me close. We have the same name, so this move always carries extra urgency.
 “What?”

“Grandad’s buckle. In your excavations, it should have turned up. Has it shown itself?”

The buckle, with its red-​black carnelian set on a bronze plate, had last been seen around Grandad’s waist at his funeral. I shook my head. 

Over the next hour, he asked about it three more times. 

“I’ll let you know if I see it.” My policy was not to challenge fixations, but to wait for them to dissipate. 

But Dad spent the afternoon hunting for it, skulking through every room. “We need to find that buckle.” 


Dad’s house had been bought by a couple who promised not to knock it down, though the architect with them one morning spent more time looking at the land than the layout. I convinced him to sell by promising him a spot in one of the places I managed for Paul, apartment buildings for business people flying through. There was one in an old deco building on Golding Avenue that came with a doorman. It hadn’t been occupied in months. A supermarket around the corner and me a few blocks away. 

At the closing, my father was too vague to pick up a pen. The buyers and brokers looked the other way and let me sign his/our name. It saved the hassle of declaring him unfit. 

The concept of him living on his own was a con, of course, to be revealed slowly. The proceeds from the sale would buy a share at a retirement place I had already picked out that was close enough to the city that I could get there without too much trouble. Plus, it had staged care. He wouldn’t know the difference. But Green Cedars didn’t have a room available when moving day came, so I packed two suitcases and brought Dad to stay with me. 

He glared at the lumpy paint job in the front hall and the dim yellow light in the stairwell, but he was too tired to complain. While I unlocked the door to my apartment, he fingered the straps of the suitcases. They had been with him and my mother on a hundred car trips and, once, to Spain. 

Holding the door open, I poked him. “Your new home.” 

He paused with each step inside. I pushed past him with one of the suitcases to turn on the lights and lead the way. 

The spare room had been modified for his benefit. I had him sit next to me on the sofa bed while I went through the suitcases for his fake-​wood-​grain digital clock radio. I put it in his hand like it was a gift. 

“My clock,” he said. 

I plugged it in, set the time, and put it on the bookshelf I had cleared for him. He gave a halfway smile but kept watching my hands, as if he was waiting for me to unpack the rest of his house. 

“Where’s my library?” 

Dad had always enjoyed the manly classics—​Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway. He used to pace the garden, rereading Tom Jones on principle every spring, insisting that he still found new angles in it. But lately, I’d find him asleep in a chair with his fingers clasped tightly around some advertising flyer on his lap.

“There’s enough for you to read here if you want.”

He peered around at my shelves of college textbooks and less-​manly classics. Squinting at a collection of Shirley Jackson, he exhaled, “You say.”

After coaxing him to eat a few spoonfuls of canned minestrone and half a piece of toast, I tucked him into bed under his old blue-​striped camping quilt. I was tired. My face burrowed against his chest. His plaid pajamas still smelled of my childhood—​close and cottony and kind. Tomorrow I would give him a shave.

“Douglas?” He lifted my head by my ears, forcing me to look around at the crowded room and his life reduced to suitcases. “Would I do this to you?”

I laughed. “Yes. I like to think you would.” 

He shoved me away. He grasped at his legs under the covers as if an itch had possessed him. I moved back, imagining some incipient delusion, a line of ants. 

One hand emerged with my grandfather’s belt buckle. He held it between our two astonished faces and said, “Would you look at that!” 

“Dad. Where did you get this?” 

He shrugged and smiled wide, hugging the long-​lost thing to his chest. “It’s not like Pa needs it to keep up his trousers anymore.” 


In the morning, he was in the bathroom in his underwear. He had showered and shaved and had moved on to shining his shoes. “You didn’t bring my polish, so I had to borrow.”

A glance into his room showed that he had hung up all his clothes, folded his underwear and socks, organized it all neatly on the table, and hid the suitcases behind the sofa. My papers were stacked on the floor in a corner. 

“Did you sleep all right?”

“No complaints.”

He had already put out two bowls of cereal on the kitchen table. We ate breakfast, him in his boxers, me in my briefs, a habit Mom couldn’t stand. It was always workingman’s silence during meals with him, but he was looking past me, as if he believed he was in some different room at some other moment in time. I was afraid to picture what he would do on his own for the day. It was one thing for him to go wandering on country roads, another thing to do it on city streets. Five twenties for spending money was enough to take care of any needs or get him into serious trouble. 

“I should be home around six.”

“That wall back there. You’ve got a crack settling in.”

A tiny line was, in fact, visible. I had never noticed. 


Mostly, my job meant collecting rent, organizing plumbers and electricians, doing checkout inspections, and scheduling cleaners, with an occasional splurge on cheap furnishings. I was in the midst of the budget, a task that usually brought mathematical satisfaction, but that day I stared at the receipts and charts and woke up when my face hit the desk. 

Dad didn’t call. Neither did Green Cedars. 

When I came home, he was in the living room, running his thumb along the spines of my books.

“Are they clean enough for you?” I asked.

“Don’t be smart. Take me for a walk.”

“You had the whole day for it.”

“You left me the key to my house. The one you sold out from under me,” he said, putting it in my hand. “Good thing I checked your lock before I thought about shutting the door.”

“I must have swapped them by accident.”

“Forgetful.” He swatted the back of my head as he pushed me through the doorway. 

We walked up the street slowly, against the current of commuters. 

A school of female joggers split into two streams to maneuver around us. Dad appreciated the view. “I don’t know why you can’t find a woman in this town.” 

Near the park, two teenage girls had pulled an old iron out of the trash and were swinging it around for entertainment. One of them dragged it by the cord, pretending it was a disobedient dog on a leash. I tried to pull Dad away, but he was transfixed by the scene and edged closer. The girls started to talk about the sweater they would knit for the iron to wear when the weather turned cold. My father’s eyebrows rose and fell as they spoke. He was having a good day, sharper than usual, but this was too much creativity for a fragile mind. Please, please, please, say nothing, I thought. 

As we walked past, Dad leaned over and scratched the handle of the iron. “Good boy,” he said, with his old trickster wink at the girls. They cracked up.

I bought us a roast chicken, his favorite, as an apology for leaving him locked up all day. 

After dinner, he kept himself occupied with games of solitaire that went faster and faster until he slapped down the cards and called for bedtime at a respectful 10 p.m.

In the morning, he was dressed and pressed early, adjusting his collar in the bathroom mirror. 

“You look good.”

“If you expect to keep me in the city for a while, I may as well dress the part.”

“It’s not too much effort?”

“No effort at all.”

“I’m glad to hear that. I was worried—​”

“Listen. If you have so much time for chitchat before work, how about you switch the television on and talk to that for a while?”


Paul had furnished my office with a black metal worktable. Drawers and baskets were forbidden, signifying some ideal of paperlessness. As a result, the office was immaculate. When I opened my laptop that morning, though—​chaos. The main screen was an unrecognizable mess, as if someone had been playing solitaire with my documents. I spent the morning filing them back into their proper folders and changed my password. 

On the way out of the building, the elevator stopped on nine and my messenger got on. He wasn’t mine, exactly, but I liked to think so. He worked for a courier service that I had lobbied Paul to hire solely for regular access to this particular messenger. He had a hawk-​like nose and chin that gave him a permanently wry expression. He was taller and younger than I could ever hope to be. Today, he wore red bike shorts. We’d shared a few crowded elevators before. Each time he offered up an extra gesture that bordered on flirting, and the last time we’d been pushed together, he brushed against me, accidentally and repeatedly. I happily returned the favor. Today, as he sussed out the otherwise empty elevator car, his grin sharpened into a pleasantly predatory expression. He stood close, smiled up at the security camera, and whispered in my ear so that I could feel his breath, “At last.”

And then: I didn’t make a move. Not because I was on my way home to babysit my father. Not because we had a mere nine floors in which to consummate our love. I simply felt nothing. Doll parts. My grand response to this opportunity I had been fantasizing about for months was an uncomfortable grunt, as if he’d reached a wrong number. He sighed and raised his eyebrows. The indicator lights counted down to L. The doors opened, and he clopped in his bike shoes back toward the service exit while I went out through the lobby to the bus. And the only thought furrowing my brow at that moment was whether I had enough money on my card for the ride home. 


The work responsibilities that had once provided enjoyment (leasing an apartment out for six months, choosing a new refrigerator) became dull reminders that it all belonged to someone else. The numbers stopped mattering and stopped adding up. I allowed myself beer with lunch. If I had to look busy until five because Paul was coming by, I would sit at the computer and follow an endless chain of linking news stories and kitten videos.

The reward was when I came home and Dad was still there. The TV was never on. He said I had too many remotes. Instead, he filled his time by sorting through the living room and kitchen cupboards. Empty picture frames and jars without lids started to stack up by the front door. I let him. It felt like recompense. 

One evening, he handed me a box that contained a blue luster tea set that I’d located on eBay. It had been tucked away in a high cupboard. “Douglas, you’ve got to sell this.”

“It’s decorative.”

“A man doesn’t need a tea set. A woman barely needs a tea set.” He forced it into my hands. If I hadn’t grabbed it, the box would have dropped. I hid it under my bed. 

The next week he proudly counted out seventy-​five dollars and gave it to me. “The guy at the junk shop was only going to give me sixty for the set, but I bargained for you.”

“It cost a hundred and forty.”

“How could I factor in the fact that you’re a fool?” 

He was doing more than settling in. 

“What else can we do to keep you busy here?”

“Nothing. You threw away my books.” 

“There isn’t room. And you weren’t reading. Besides, I’ve got a lot of books.”

“You’ve got a lot of inappropriate reading material, that’s what you’ve got,” he said, eyeing my bedroom. 

That night I went through my closet and did a porn dump, smuggling it out of the apartment with the trash. Much of it was past its use-​by date or committed to memory anyway. It wouldn’t be missed. 

I called Green Cedars. Their mortality rate remained at zero. 

A nursing agency informed me that the cost of a full-​time companion was roughly equivalent to my salary. 

The last refuge was to lay down some rules: Our bedrooms would be inviolate. It had been months since I’d brought a guy home, but my mental health demanded that I could still entertain the possibility. Our personal information remained our own unless anyone’s safety was involved. And a closed bathroom door indicated occupation.

“Whatever you say, boss.” He tipped an imaginary hat.


Dad continued to improve. Logic suggested that if he kept getting better I could actually go ahead and move him into Golding Avenue.

I came home one evening to find him sitting in the overstuffed chair in the middle of the living room with an open book in his hands. As he read, his forefingers caressed the worn binding, which I was sure I had seen in the donations pile back when the house was sold. A few other familiar books were in a low stack at his feet. 

“How did these get here?” 

Keeping one hand on the book and his eyes on the page, he showed me his palm. No talking. He was reading.


I had to do an inspection after work. The tenant had been a whiner, reporting every blown light bulb. Those are the ones who leave the dining table soaking in the tub, so the place had to be seen while he was still there. I called Dad to say I’d be late. No answer. 

When I finally came home after nine, the house was dark. No note, no clues. 

I tried to relax into waiting for him. When would be the right time to call the police? How seriously would they take me?

After ten, finally, a sound from the stairwell. I opened the door. Dad was coming up to the landing. Behind him was a brittle old woman in a faded blue jacket, grasping tightly to the banister to hoist herself up the stairs. She had a bob of white hair and too many wrinkles for such a small face. 

“Dad!”

He was caught. He looked back to give the woman a shake of the head, at which she turned and went downstairs. In a moment, even the sound of her shoes on the steps had disappeared. Dad lingered where he was, staring at the hollow of the stairwell.

I said, “She didn’t have to leave. If you wanted to have her up—​”

He was silent for a minute. “It’s not what you’re thinking,” he said, and jostled past me into the apartment. 

I found him in the kitchen, holding still. His fingertips traced the sink’s metal rim as he gazed at the faucet. His face softened at a thought. “You know, that woman—​Janet—​is what they once called a ‘raven-​haired beauty.’ And a brilliant mind. Someday soon, you’ll meet her. You will adore her.” 

I waited for more information. Nothing came. He walked away as if it had all been a dream. 

That night, a fog descended. Or lifted. I stopped worrying about when Green Cedars would call. I stopped plotting ways to sneak him into the place on Golding. He was recognizing me. He was washing and feeding himself. He had made a friend, or whatever she was. He was home. 

By eleven, the door to his room was shut and the light around its edge was off. Through the door, I could hear him switch on the radio. Jo Stafford crooning “Why Can’t You Behave?” He must have been lying there awake. “Not troubled,” he used to tell my mother, “just listening to the music.” 

Then Dad was asleep and I was wired, walking from room to room without a destination. For the first night in months, I ventured out to a bar. The place was usually dependable for last-​minute bargains, not that I even knew what I was after. When I pushed through the inner door into the murk, the prospects were circling around me, twirling ice in their glasses and pretending to ignore one another. But the beards were too trimmed and the arms too muscled, as if the entire day had been spent pumping biceps at the mirror. 

Two drinks and two aborted conversations later, the air was filled with stale beer and nothing more. A kind face peered in from the entrance to see what was on offer. His scan slowed when it reached me and then moved on. He gave an exaggerated shrug and retreated to the street. After another beer, so did I. 


A gray morning light came through the bedroom shade. A steady sound of wheezing was seeping into the room. Had I slept? 

I listened to the raspy noise until my brain connected it to my father’s aged lungs. The sound was coming from the living room. My first response was to leap from the bed to go to him but, once my feet were on the floor, I stopped. I remembered my mother’s hospital bed, tented with silver rods, clear tubes, and bloody bags for the last two weeks of her life. At the very end, when it looked like even the machines were straining, Dad pulled me out into the dim orange corridor. “When it’s my time, no heroics.” 

The wheeze on the other side of the wall became a cough.

What was I supposed to do? Pull a pillow over my ears? It sounded like he was gagging. 

He hadn’t asked to die alone. I pulled the sheet around my waist, took the two steps to the door, and opened it.

Dad was in his boxers, face down in the middle of the living room carpet, his arms and legs spread out like he’d been flattened. With considerable effort, he rolled onto his side and I saw his exhausted smile. “Twenty pushups,” he said, still puffing. “It’s been a while.” He glanced at my torso. “Ooh. Looks like it’s been a while for you, too.” 


Occupancy reports, some metric for new pricing structures, and a volley of e-​mails about a potentially larcenous housecleaner all competed for attention. Not to mention a month of receipts to be coded for the accountant. I sat forward in my chair, determined to make the necessary calls and calculations. One moment later, it was four o’clock. The day had evaporated without me performing a keystroke of data entry or touching the phone. There wasn’t even any evidence of procrastination to show for the time. The newspaper lay folded on the table, pristine. If I’d allowed myself some distraction on the net, there was no memory of it. 

I packed up the laptop. An hour or two of concentration in the evening might mitigate the bewildering day. 

The messenger was on the elevator again. We both faced the doors, and I didn’t care. 

I had become mysterious to myself. 


Dad waved a thick green volume at me, his finger bookmarking his place. “After a lifetime of procrastination: Moby-​Dick,” he said. “It’s actually amusing.”

A dozen empty cartons were stacked in the corner. 

“What are those for?”

“The big move, whenever it comes. I’m thinking ahead, for your sake.” He saw my laptop and gave it a dirty look. 

“I had a hard time focusing today. There are a few items I’ll finish up here.” 

“Ah, yes. Overtime without pay. What an innovative workplace.” 

“Dad.”

“All right. Let’s have a compatible evening. You do your work, I’ll take care of dinner.”

He stood up and I took his spot in the chair. I fell asleep to the clanging of pots and woke to pasta with a simmering meat sauce. The table was set. 


Another day at work. The hard drive on the laptop had been wiped. The woman from IT who helped me restore it said, “It looks like you just threw everything in the trash.”

I came home to find that Dad had scoured the kitchen. The drawers had been cleaned out, the knives were sharpened, the plates and cups were in careful clusters across the counter.

Before I could speak, he pointed at his room and silenced me, raising an open hand, then lowering it through the air between us. “She’s sleeping,” he said. 

“Who?”

“Janet.”

“What is she doing in my house?”

“I told you. Sleeping. And it’s not your house, it’s rented.”

An indigo shawl hung on the doorknob to Dad’s room. I draped it on the back of a chair and turned the knob silently. She was on his bed, on top of the covers, curled toward the door, maintaining a delicate, steady purr. 

I ventured closer. In the half-​light from the living room, her clothes seemed to have been pressed for a photo shoot. Thick wisps of salt-​and-​pepper hair framed her face. It was less troubled, less lined, than when I’d seen her on the stairs. A serious black skirt covered her knees. It was if she had been arranged to look as alluring as possible. Her sturdy curves, the warmth of stockinged legs visible below the edge of her skirt, her undisturbed face. She was oblivious. Her hands were clasped together near her face, with her forefingers touching the edge of her lips. 

Behind me, Dad gazed into the room. 

She opened her eyes and immediately pivoted up to a sitting position, straightening her clothes and stretching her wrists. This time, she didn’t avoid my gaze. Her eyes were a smoky green.

“Hello,” she held out her hand. “Janet,” she said. “Again, you catch me off guard.” 

I held her hand for an extra moment. How could I have mistrusted a woman so warm?

She pressed her fingertips into her cheeks and temples to wake herself fully. I saw what Dad meant when he said she wasn’t for him. She would have been too young. 

“Next time, I promise I’ll be the one who’s surprised,” I said.

“It’s a date.” She nodded to my father. “He is sweet.”

“Give it time,” my father said to her. “Let’s wait.” 

She paused, keeping her eyes on me.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. 

She stood up. “I should be off.” She headed into the living room, in search of her shawl. My father reached it first, thrusting it into my hand and giving me a shove toward her. 

“Wait. Give what time?”

Janet plucked the shawl from my hand and wrapped herself in it. She wriggled into it, turned to me, and rested a hand on my shoulder. It felt heavy and warm through my shirt. She could have told me anything. “You’re under a good deal of strain right now. Life can seem perplexing.”

“It’s because—​” My muscles had gone slack under her touch.

She nodded. “You have to understand: We want what’s right for you.”

I tried to say, “I can manage,” but my voice came from the bottom of a well.

She smiled sympathetically, gave my father a peck on the cheek. “Look after each other,” she said.

As I listened to the fading tap of her shoes on the stairs, Dad rested a thumb on his belt buckle and looked me up and down. “I’d say you two got along fine.”


He fed me leftovers and then took himself offto his room. The kitchen was still in the middle of his reorganization, and stacks of books made the living room difficult to navigate, so I climbed into bed with his copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge. The jacket promised a tragedy, and the width of the spine promised brevity. 

I started the first page five times. It was about people walking on a country road, but every word seemed to have a second meaning. I gave up and decided to go for a walk myself. 

Young women ticked their heels along the sidewalk. Men stood smoking in doorways, swaying back and forth. A couple sat on the steps of a brownstone, crying on each other’s shoulders. Whatever their grief was, they were bearing it together. When I passed, they glanced up at me with what looked like pity on their faces. Where I finally ended up, the streets were empty, full of warehouses and trucks lined up for the night. I stood there, just me and these buildings. Half vacant, half past their usefulness. The place was itching to be converted. I couldn’t remember why I had hurried to get there. 

When I finally wanted my bed, I felt lucky to find my way back. 


The alarm had been going off for a while. Iopened my eyes to my father’s broad smile. He hovered at the side of my bed holding the old wooden bed tray that I had thrown away weeks ago.

“What have you done now?” I asked.

He lifted the tray close to my face. “Eggs, scrambled with a bit of milk in them, the way you taught me. Orange juice. And your toast, medium rare.”

As I dragged myself up to a sitting position, he propped it across my lap. He added, “I haven’t figured out how to make coffee to your specifications, so you’ll have to do that by yourself.” 

He ducked his head as he backed out of the room.


Paul was sitting on the black table, yellingat me as I came in the door, “Did you think I wouldn’t pick up on it?”

“What?”

“The place on Golding. You keep the apartment clear for four months, then have a third party rush in to get me to sell it cut-​rate. I fell for the scam.”

“What are you talking about?”

He threw a copy of a contract on the apartment onto the table between us. My father had signed it. 

Paul turned to the window. He couldn’t look at me. “It was a cash sale. It’s done. All there is to do is let you go.”

“This is crazy.”

“It is, and even more crazy is that I trusted you. I’ve seen the shape your computer is in. Unbelievable.”

“I—​”

“You knew I’d want to dump it, and you swooped in and made it easy. Fuck you very much. Give me your keys and your swipe.”

I had to reach into each of my pockets before I could find them. “There’s an explanation.” 

“Do you have any keys to any of the apartments?”

I shook my head. 

“Then just go.” He hustled me into the corridor. “The other crap that you’ve got in the desk, I’ll messenger it over.”


I went right past the bus stop and came home through the park. It was full of school groups. Before I knew it, I was on my street. The long walk, during which I was supposed to figure out everything, was over. 

In front of the building, Dad loaded my car up with cartons. 

“You bought the apartment on Golding?”

“Yes.”

“It got me fired.”

“Well, there’s an unexpected bonus. I was able to wangle a great price for it. Believe me, that place is the best thing you’ll take away from the job.”

I nodded. “What’s in the car?”

“The breakables and last pieces from the kitchen,” he said. “The rest went on the truck this morning. Should be all set up for you when you get there.”

“Get where?”

“Your new place.”

“I’m going to live there?”

“It’s the least I could do.”

The car was packed tight with blankets tucked around boxes to secure them for the ride. 

I squeezed in on the passenger side and shut the door so I could sit still and consider what was happening. 

Dad rapped on the window. I rolled it down. “Douglas, what are you doing? That’s the lady’s side.” I stared at the buckle around his waist. The rock was as red as it had ever been, and the tarnished bronze plate even managed to glimmer. He yanked me out of the car. “And here she comes.”

She wore a short navy skirt, bright blue leggings, and some thin white blouse that buttoned only two-​thirds of the way up, bra visible. There were supermarket bags in both hands. With her wrist, she drew the mane of black hair out of her face. She was my age. When she saw me, her face eased open to a smile. 

I held the passenger door for her while Dad tucked the keys to the apartment into my back pocket. “Try to be open-​minded. Janet really likes you.”

She pushed the bags into the foot well as she slipped into the passenger seat. “Some snacks and wine for the fridge. To bless the new place.” Her skin looked like a new bar of soap. As she straightened the band of fabric across her hips, Dad whispered, “She’s all yours now.” 

I trotted around the front of the car to the driver’s side. As soon I was in position, holding the gearshift, Janet put her hand on mine. “Ready when you are.” 

We flew through the traffic until we were in the Golding Avenue garage. 

“Let’s leave the boxes here for now. I’ll have to leave later. You can unload them then.” She picked up her shopping bags and pulled me toward the elevator.


The movers had done a considerate job. Mybedroom and living room had been perfectly transposed. The closets were full. Most of the cartons had already been flattened and propped against the wall. 

My radio was on, set to one of Dad’s stations, blaring big band. 

Janet surveyed the curved cornices along the ceiling and the blue-​and-​white-​tiled bathroom. “Lots of original details. Not bad, not bad.” She ran her hands along an archway. “Excited?”

“Overwhelmed.”

“Overwhelmed can be good.” 

She bounced on the couch, her hands holding onto the edge of the cushion. “And there’s this lovely item.”

I stood by the kitchen doorway, laughing as her bouncing slowed. “You’ve been busy, too.” 

“I have.” She stretched her legs out in front of her and raised her arms up to the ceiling.

A high-​school anxiousness took over. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. “You said you have to leave?”

“No. I’m good.” 

The radio went silent, abandoning us to the sound of two people in a quiet sunny room in the middle of the day.

“How weird is it that it dropped out like that?” She rushed to the window and looked outside. Over a horizon of rooftops there were a few slabs of taller buildings and a mural of blue sky with puffy clouds. “Do you think it’s the end of the world?”

“I hope not.” I twisted the dial until the music came back. The tone was sharper, the horns louder.

“Let’s pretend it is anyway,” she said, going back to the couch. She kicked off her shoes and sat down, tucking her feet under her and leaning back. “I’ll tell you what I know about life so far, and you tell me what you know.”

She glanced at the cushion next to her. 

From where I stood I could see the shadow from her skirt against the inside of her thighs. My mind was making its way there when I remembered my manners. I should offer her a drink. Before I could even open my mouth, she said, “I’m thirsty, so whatever you decide on is fine with me, as long as it doesn’t take too long.”


I’m in the kitchen now, staring at the shelfabove the sink. Here are my old water glasses and the tall, thin orange tumblers. I don’t remember where they’re from. All I know is I’ve had them for years. They have gold rims around their tops. Somebody has lined them up.

I came in here with a purpose, but I can’t remember what it is.

Then it comes to me: You’ll pour two drinks. Nothing too strong. The sun is still high, the afternoon is ahead. You just want to get the two of you comfortable and see what happens. Wine? Cider? Douglas, focus: It doesn’t matter. 

You’ll make the first move. Drift closer on the couch. Apply a little bit of thigh to thigh. Your hand will come to rest near her knee and you’ll both know what’s next. You’ll lean forward to say something and she’ll meet you halfway. Your hands and her hands will lead you further. It will seem like a surprise, that full feeling in your chest after so long, but in the back of your mind you’ll know it’s exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. 

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