I am thinking about endings.
“My wife will be home Tuesday after next.”
I nod. I’d forgotten the exact date but I knew it was coming. “You must be excited,” I say. I guess this is our last lunch out, I think.
“I told you I can’t see you once she’s back.”
“I know; you have an arrangement while she’s out of the country. Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn up on your doorstep and make a scene or anything.”
She’s sitting very straight, hands folded on the table, all business. “There is no arrangement.”
There’s a sudden weight in my stomach. I set my chopsticks down. “So what did you tell her?” I know the answer but I have to ask.
“About you? She doesn’t know.”
“She doesn’t need to.”
I don’t say anything. We are sitting in the restaurant not eating and not speaking and not looking at each other. I don’t have anything to say and don’t much mind that it’s making her uncomfortable.
“Is there anything else?”
“That you lied about.”
“What does it matter? We could only do this until she came home. She is coming home. Nothing has changed.”
“If it’s all the same anyway why bother lying about it?”
“Would you have given me your number if I had told you the truth?”
I am thinking of her right now, defensive and closed off and not lying for the first time and I want to say “no, never, not a chance.” I can’t think of any better way to slap her right in the conscience and that’s all I want to do.
I am thinking of the last four months, of meeting her in pubs and movie theaters and here, in a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. Of how she always stood out, looked a little too bright and perfect to be real, like she belonged in a book of pin-up art. I am thinking of the day she cooked lamb tagine and baklava that smelled of orange blossoms. I am thinking of electricity and sex and almost drowning. Of how she preferred to speak French when she could, and how she laughed at my accent when I tried to speak it with her. I am thinking of the day she looked in my closet and declared it had to go: all my shapeless T-shirts and ratty jeans and fully half of my shoes. I am thinking of the spines of her books, arranged by color. I am thinking of her hands, with long, long fingers and nails that always looked as though she’d had a manicure that morning. I want to say “yes, I wouldn’t have missed these few months for anything.”
I am thinking of the day we met. She was selling anime and a book on corsetry. I tried not to flirt too much while I looked them over. I asked for her number–“for the sale form, not for me.” She said she’d give it to me if I gave her mine. I am remembering all the things that made her stand out, that day. Her cocky grin. Her Tinkerbell eyes. Her taste in books and film. I want to say “I don’t know.”
“I guess we’ll never know.”
“We can still go out this weekend. Or you can come to the house.”
“No, we can’t.”
She doesn’t seem surprised. We pay for lunch, reassure the waitress that our still-full bowls are not a commentary on the quality of the food. She pulls a book out of her purse before we part ways. “Have you read this?”
“You should. It’s one of my favorites. Here.” She’s gone and it’s in my hands before I can decide what to say.
It’s inscribed: “Merry Christmas. Love, C.” C is her wife’s initial. It’s called Written on the Body and it’s about an affair, and she’s right. It’s one of my favorites, too.
I am thinking about endings. Sometimes they need to happen, are the only thing that can happen, but they still feel like a play without the final act. The uncomfortable truth is that the final act still happens, I’m just not in it. I was never meant to be.
[this is ancient history, years ago. Mad has texted a couple of times. I haven’t answered, have deleted her number from my phone. I never did turn up on her doorstep to make a scene. I didn’t look up C and tell her what she deserves to know, and I don’t know if she’d want to hear it. That was it, just an ending.]