Nov. 2, 2014
They spend the night together, there, in the big, empty house, and he convinces her to go out of town with him. They are in his car; it’s a bright day on the cusp of fall. Sunlight warms her legs. She is able to inspect him this way, without looking directly at him; his face in profile, the pale skin, the slight asymmetry of his nose, the mouth, which is turned up in a smile.
“How’d you break your nose,” she asks.
“In a fight. When I was young.”
"Do you ever fight, now?”
"Only when required."
He pauses. "Don’t you ever wish we lived in a time where you could just kill the people who get in your way?”
I’m attracted to ruthless men, she thinks. Of course she knows this, she’s always known it, but it becomes clear to her now that this is her preference. And, worse still, like most preferences, there is nothing she can do to alter it. It might slowly bleed out of her, naturally, over time, but it would be a kind of loss of truth.
In the hotel restaurant, they sit at a table by the window. People quietly notice them. A couple, nearby, steal looks.
He leans in, conspiratorially. “Don’t you find the waitress a little strange?”
In truth, Catherine had; she had visited their table perhaps four or five times in the course of the past half hour, in a kind of desperate, breathy presentation.
“A bit,” she says, “but it’s not so bad.”
If you looked closer, she was sad, with her pert little necktie, and her cheap uniform, and the short, streaked-blond hair that was never really in fashion at any time, all held together shabbily by the attention she gave to the insignificant tasks under her command. What could her life mean? She was not special, and they were, by some accident of genetics or talent or luck --
He lowers his voice to a kind of drawling hiss. "It’s as if she’s trying to protect you.”
Here it is, she thinks. The break in the narrative. The moment I understand. And she does. She knows that she will love him but she will not like him, and she is going to struggle against it. And, worse still, she will not be able to quit this futile dance. She will not be satisfied until she rides this disastrous wheel of dissonance to its inevitable, bloody end.
It is true that she likes certain things about him, there’s no doubt - certain gentle parts of him that cause her to lose herself in the rhythm of his distance: the way he rolled up his sleeves when he applied himself to the dishes, the size and feel of his hands on her waist, how he walks into a room and seems to fill it, immediately. This sway of gestures hypnotizes her, seems to beckon her to become one with it. When they are making love she feels at times that this is what love is: A gentle back and forth, a side-to-side.
They get into bed fully clothed, spent from the drive and the meal and the wine, and she places his head on her chest. He is flipping through the TV, and he pauses on the news, another faraway scene of destruction.
“There’s about as much romance in life as there is in death,” he says.
This is one of his moods; the softening she’d seen in him the night before seems to have dissolved into a kind of grim focus. He’s smiling, though, and he raises his face to kiss her, and suddenly they are both alive, and their actual regard for each other or the future they might share matters not at all. There is only the desire to dissolve this distance. To ride it out, to recklessly push into it, to get at this terrible, human thing that separates us and burn it to the ground.
“Open your mouth,” he says.