--I HAVE MASTERED THE ART OF FALLING
Talk To Me
He calls me Cricket, says I’m cute as a bug, the best girlfriend he’s ever had. He plays connect-the-dots with my freckles, across my shoulders, then my face. He says I’m his first love, his last, just like that, without irony, without blinking. It’s so hot on the boat dock I can’t breathe. It’d be nice to believe him. I don’t.
He shucks his shorts, grins. “C’mon, let’s go skinny dipping!”
I shake my head, look away before his grin fades.
Splash. “C’mon,” he yells. “While we’re young!”
I want to say something mean and clever. How that was funny when Rodney Dangerfield said it, but not now. I can’t think what.
He climbs out dripping, pissed. In five minutes I’m not Cricket anymore. Now it’s Prude. Shitty Girlfriend. You Suck.
I could call him back, lose my suit, what’s it matter. I don’t know. I take off my sunglasses, squint at the sun. It’s a white fruit stand cherry. It’s seen everything— dinosaurs, Jesus, all four Beatles alive.
“Talk to me,” I say. “Tell me.” I don’t hear anything.
“I like your hair messy,” he says. “You look like a woman who could find her way out of a fox hole.”
He chuckles his big beaver laugh. He has hairy knuckles and shins. He belches up bologna and cherry-flavored cough drops.
She says, “You could kiss me differently, you know. Tender–like.”
“If I wanted to, I could. Yeah.”
A smear of toothpaste encrusts one side of her mouth, white and crackled like seagull droppings.
“What about dance lessons?” she asks. “You said we’d learn how to tango?”
“What do you think we’ve been doing all these years?”
He scratches his armpits and says he might have a rash. He takes the last beer and tells her to hit the market for more.
She gets her coat and keys. He lifts his beer can in goodbye, seated on the sagging couch in his boxers and wife beater, back to her.
She pulls the garrote out of her handbag, tightening each end around her hands, her only regret that it was rope and not barbwire.
Whenever it rained the animals got to talking: the cockatoos whispering in their Ethel Merman sopranos while preening their plumage, the nocturnal hamsters stepping off the treadmill to hover in a hill of straw like hairy hoodlums, the cats slinking to a canopied spot behind the couch, all three of them—Dinky, Dinky Do, and Dinky Do 2—mewling and squalling. Even the outsiders became verbose; squirrels chattering, birds peeling a sort of fluted screech, the fish in the lake leaping out of water and putting their point across quick before splashing back in the drink.
I think now how dissimilar we were from them, us always sullen in the rain because it recalled slick pavement and the accident. I wonder if we had talked then, like the animals, if things might have ended different.