His first solid indication that the things she’d said on the phone, about finally and fully leaving her husband, weren’t quite the way it was, was that the suitcase she’d packed and carried up from the trunk of her car, into his apartment, contained two pairs of boots and nothing else.
He asked about this, and she said she couldn’t decide which she preferred, then something about how exciting it was, autumn again, unpacking all the boxes, sweaters and pleated skirts, all the new fashions in the stores, that things were coming out in pumpkin flavor, and the prevalence, again, of crossing guards.
He asked again, more directly, and she told him that this was another thing she didn’t want to talk about, couldn’t talk about. It’s all too huge right now, she said, too massive, gigantic, big. Then she’d asked, for the second time, if it was really all right for her to smoke in his place, which, of course, it was, as it always was and always had been—as he said, perhaps too transparent in his panic—on all her previous, brief, and secret visits.
At dinner, their Korean place was oddly crowded, a party, people celebrating something, in Korean, with accompanying sizzle of meat being cooked at the table and three beer towers, much boisterousness. It cheapens the place, she said, other people.
He ordered chicken, pounded flat, and she sifted through her bowl of rice, plucking out each miniature shrimp, eating nothing else.
She put her hand over her glass when he tried to pour her more Bek Se Ju. It’ll go to my head, she said, in the same tone, that later, with his lips on her, she told him, I think I’m too sore.
He spent the night awake in his bed, pretending to sleep.
She spend the night pacing his apartment, her scowl lit by the bright blue glow of her cell phone screen, smoking the first half of each of a long line of cigarettes.
In the morning she pushed his hands away. It’s the autumn, she said. It always does this, makes me jumpy. Let’s go get some air.
He suggested breakfast, and she wrinkled up her nose. She needed cigarettes, though, so they walked to the nearest place, a newspaper and porn kiosk.
Even this reminds me of my husband, she said, and, of course, he didn’t know what to say to that.
He could hear his own pulse, echoing in his ears, and he concentrated on it, and considered that concentration. He suffered from several distinct aches.
They walked under the elevated tracks, past wig stores and military surplus emporiums, over broken bottles, a spilled container of Thai noodles, a patch of vomit, tiny square zip bags and the yellow cap from a needle.
I’m not sure I could live in this neighborhood, she said, sounding completely sure.
Then she switched back to her favorite topic, fall, new faces behind the counters at the cafés, so enthusiastic, happy to start you on your day. School supplies. Series premiers.
Their experiment was over within the span of three half cigarettes back at his place. Without her products, anyway, she needed to get to the gym. This was already too long to have gone without a shower. And she would have to go home some time, as she said. All her stuff was there.
It was nice, but it wasn’t real, she’d say later. Or: I want you, but our worlds just won’t allow it. Or: He and I have our problems, but he knows me and he loves me and he’s still willing to stick by me, and he deserves something for that.
You have a spare pair of boots at least, he said, trying to lighten the mood.
I wasn’t thinking straight, she said. You can’t put pressure on me about this. I’m the one who’s married; I’m the one for whom this is hard.
Before it had ended, before they’d made it back to his place, they had passed a garage sale, at the end of his block, there where the neighborhood begins to improve, a playpen and a weight bench, a pair of internal frame backpacks. Brick walls marked with pitchforks, upside down crowns.
Then they came to another empty lot, a construction site, a deep, broad hole, dried leaves drifted up along its sides.
Cut out construction paper leaves, she said. That’s so autumn. The smell of crayons, glue. Did I already say crossing guards? New television shows?
She paused to light another cigarette, turning her back to the wind but stepping away from his hand when he reached out to held her.
She dipped her own hand into her purse, sliding her phone open, shut.
He stared at the temporary fencing, the panel stands weighted down with oblong bags of sand labeled winter traction grit. He said the words out loud. It could be part of a poem, that phrase.
No, she said, her cigarette lit, turning back around, away from him. That would not be a good poem.
Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008) and the forthcoming Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010) and Learning for Revolution: the Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2010). His website is wwwspencerdew.com.