It had been going on. There was no talk of ending it, but she was leaving in the morning. Rainy, sitting in the cold car on the cold road and the lights of the houses blinking on and off like morse code. Rainy, that is, her name: the night was clear and sharp and her parents had a perverse idea of beauty. She sat there, with her hand resting on the stick shift and the house that she was headed for lowlit, almost dark, but the living room glowing low from a shaded lamp, through the bay window. She, remaining, going forward, heaving in the whiteness of air. The house standing maybe menacing, she wondered how it was that going-forward occurred and, better, why.
He stood inside, by the cold fireplace, having put his child to bed, having called their restaurant and heard his wife’s voice and hung up. That she would know. That it wouldn’t even be a surprise. These facts drifting away, as the universe expanded and he stood by the fireplace and made a decision not to light it. Will summoned a breath and could do nothing but wait. It had been going on for two weeks and there was no plan in it, anyway, a revenge, salty-sweet and rearing up out of nowhere.
Once, they had all sat together. Will, Wife, Child, Jean, Ted, Sharin, Rainy, at the restaurant Will had opened with his wife. Who sat next to whom? In any case they shared bottle after bottle and Wife (Aline) crawled across the bar and Will danced with anyone who had come to him, though he wasn’t a dancer. He wasn’t an adulterer either, but there it was. Just as he had danced with Child (Florinee), her hands reached straight above her head and her stomach dancing before the rest of her, she had fallen and would not be comforted in her crying. Aline taking Flory home, two weeks ago, the car pulling away in a plume of thick white steam. And so everything was allowed to stay on into lateness and certain conversations that were not innocent but no one questioned the two left behind, their heads nodding to each other as they left, one by one, and the empty restaurant had become a thick dark furrow of flesh.
Before, they sat and Rainy had said, “What did you want to do, then? If not this?”
And Will didn’t move for a few moments. He spun his glass between thumb and forefinger and it wasn’t stalling or thinking, but the slate stood blank except for their tenuous pawprints creeping from the edges, smudged in yellow. She ticked off time, studied the imprints on his forehead, wondered, wondered. He would tell her, later, that he wanted things that had been precluded when they had married, when he had driven up here in the dead of winter to ready the house for a pregnant wife and to escape the city. The things they would not tell each other, too, she took his imprint, she impressed it upon her own relative blankness, relishing the creases. But he shook his head instead. He smiled as he did, the skin of his cheeks gathering and his eyes refusing to follow suit.
“Well that never works out, does it?”
“So why ask?”
Rainy shook her head instead, and she did not own up to attraction until the face came on face and this permeability of lips betrayed her just as much as it did him (her, too, the one sleeping off her day, their child’s hair still live on her fingers). But how simple it was and she braced her leg on a chair as he knelt before her and she was shocked that the windows of the café faced the dark, still street.
Aline crawling across the bar, as Ted sat at the end with his chin on his folded hands, looking into her short grey skirt.
Will forgot everything only when she was facing the mirrored banquette’s wall. There, above the tables where salads and fish were served, everything was easily forgotten, even Flory -who was harder to forget than Aline was. How his three year old waved her hand between their lips, limbs, and he could banish guilt for everything but her. But when Rainy’s face in the mirror was nearly trumped by her spine, curved and notched, incandescent in the dark, well, he was overtaken and it was ground away, as herbs give up between mortar and the pestle.
I was raised by wolves, Sharin had said, laughing, I was brought up among the savages and she took Flory up and growled at her and the kid was tired, but she laughed anyway, everyone did. Ted had begun a long story about a child who was raised by wolves who had been found plucking fish out of streams and tearing them open from mouth to belly and eating the flesh. The child had been taken and brought back to the world and raised in a small research facility—it killed itself when it was seventeen. Flory lolled on the banquette and asked how to catch fish from a stream with her bare hands. Will and Aline laughed together at this, but they were beyond catching one another in the action. No one else laughed at their daughter: it went unremembered, anyway.
Far, far away, long after, minutes at least, her spine supersceded her reflection, and all there in front of him, and she saw his face in the mirror, too, saw it barer than he saw hers because his eyes were closed and he still had his shirt on, hiked up as it was. On the banquette, one knee braced on the cotton-covered cushion and the street watched them with interest. The refrigerator turned on and the ice in the chest fell down between the necks of the cooling beers. Silent, except.
Her breath became whiter and whiter and she pulled the keys from the ignition and dropped them in the pocket of her coat. She was ready to get out of the car. It wasn’t late, but the night swore quietly to itself, it was late, it was late: this could not happen anywhere but the final edges of night. Which was easily enough gotten by: she didn’t look at the clock and approached the modest porch on which a stroller was folded like an umbrella, propped against a peeling railing. She knocked, Will came, she was very quiet.
But he pulled her in with both hands and they wondered whether to go to the living room, but went into the kitchen instead. Rainy brushed her hands on her jeans and he filled juice glasses with wine. She asked if Flory was sleeping and he put one finger to his lips and pointed at the ceiling with the other.
There wasn’t much time. There was a glassed porch off the kitchen and an old futon was folded there. Rainy wondered if he had put it there for her, for them, if there was squalor in this, after all. They leaned with three fingers on the kitchen table until he went into the porch and blew snowflakes with his breath onto the glass and she fell onto the futon heavily, spilling a few drops of wine onto the splotchy cover. She drew a picture of a cat in his snowflake. He blew another and she drew a heart. But he crossed it out and they still didn’t kiss each other, the point suspended.
The silence of the place decided for them. Flory would wake up if he put on music. The brush of legs against the cushion, their fingers wheezing on the pane, she turned her head quickly and it almost echoed. She wiped the pictures with the heel of her palm, the perfunctory negation of a crossing-out instead of an erasure.
“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked him, and her age slapped him across the face. Didn’t women say restroom, powder room, ladies’? He told her and she went away. She discovered the clot of blood on the toilet paper, as he blew on the window and drew another picture. When he was getting up and topping off their juice glasses, she was sitting on the porcelain, debating, how if he was not this married, with child, with house, with café, they might be beginning something. Getting up, sliding up clothing and going forward, anyway, for a different aspect of debate. Sitting back on the futon in the cold room, placing the glasses on the floor and his hands between his knees: waiting.
When she came back down, she realized that she didn’t know how to go about saying this. The assumption of sex, the preordained nature of this thing, like going into a place that sold bagels: you bought a damn bagel. You don’t wonder whether you will buy a bagel, it isn’t a question. And she couldn’t let him pull his hand up from her, fingers iced with the rich blood, what could never have come from some rupture of skin, filled as it was with fragments of unfertilized egg. No. She hummed and said something about not-the-best-time, a kid’s excuse, because she wasn’t sure if he was one of those that minded blood. She liked the ones who didn’t mind. The relief from disgust. The breaking down of borders. He said oh and kissed her, then. And she thought, briefly, about this kiss never ending, she wanted it, gorged on it, kissing and kissing, like breathing, this kiss making every corner of her body stand on end, brought all the blood that lay within her to the surface of her skin so that his hand on her forearm might just as well have been entering her, blood and all.
Aline had smiled and asked her what she was studying. She had said, oh, a few things, she hadn’t decided. Aline had smiled again, said she knew something about that, told Rainy not to hurry, that it was only her first year, that there was time, said these things kindly, politely. The polite conversation, which dwindled and fell off. They weren’t interested in each other. She was interested in the woman’s husband, though at that point she hadn’t gotten around to thinking about his lips or his bared flesh. That would come out of the space between them when they were alone, it would come up without being asked. Aline got up to end the conversation and took off her sweater and her brown freckled shoulders were covered by Ted’s hands and Will looked away, glossing his own knowledge with the beauty of deception. Jean, who had been quiet that night, drinking glass after glass, suddenly looked at Rainy pointedly, glanced at Ted and Aline pointedly, raised her eyebrows and Rainy had felt bad. For Will, maybe, or for this exposure of secrets so unceremoniously placed. Which was when Flory fell, cried, and Aline took her home.
When they had spent the banquette with their heavings, when his hands had clutched her breasts finally and let go, and he had smoothed the ridges of her spine with his chest, bent over her and kissing her with her one cheek made cold by the mirror, the other too hot from his lips and the passed effort. When they had stood up gingerly and put on cursory clothes and sat at the bar with her feet in his lap and she had asked him if he was happy as if that would explain something, he had said. I am content. I am blessed. I am not happy. To which she could say nothing. To which her self was ended and herself quivered, revivified by her own thinness, his unmentionable history.
“Can I touch you?” he asked, after they had stopped kissing and his hands had traveled again all over and around and now he wanted in. And she said yes and it was awkward even with her skirt. And then he stopped because it was too much of an attempt and he lay back on the futon, overwhelmed, wiping the blood on the dirty cover. She was sitting with her legs bent, open. She watched him for a moment and then went forward. Thickening herself. His eyes were closed and his face half-lit, the fine lines and the delicate lips. She brushed his eyelids. She stroked the line of his cheekbone. She painted a stripe down his nose and smoothed away the lines of his forehead. She placed her fingers in the shadows where his lips ended and pressed them away to his jaw. She wiped her thumb across his top lip and into the niches of his nose and eyes, she took his face into her hands and slid them gently down his neck and onto his chest, she found the dents of his temples and worried the baby skin where his ears were attached to his head and mapped his smile lines on his cheeks and the frown lines on his brow, she touched his lips and they opened, she covered his eyes and they lost their nervous press. She described his ears exactly, she drew the shoreline of his receding hair and she put both hands over his face, gently, barely touching him. She did this knowingly, but without end, to eat him and to let him live, past. When she took her hands away, there were two excessive tears resting in the crook of his eyes, not going anywhere. He looked like he was ready to be dead and when he opened his eyes, he said thank you.
So she left. The child upstairs undisturbed, the wife still at the restaurant. And though they sat on the porch for a while, unable to leave each other, and she talked about going back to school and he talked about where he used to live, they did part, finally, and everything hovered in the air, thick but unable to land, unable to be attached to anything at all. So though they had told no lies, they had not asked for an answer either, had never attempted to pull it down from the air, but it still hovered. She cried on the way home, of course she did, gutted and barely seeing the road in front of her.
He looked out the front window of the house. He knew he should be asleep when she came home, not to avoid revealing himself –she knew everything- but to forgo getting into bed together. To let her slip into her side without this humiliating act of taking off clothes and putting on pajamas and getting into this bed that was not his and not hers but theirs. She knew everything. It was a very small town and the windows of the restaurant looked onto the street, but not only that, Rainy had told her friends and, well, it was a small town. But he knew everything, too. Ted and a few others. Aline crawling across the bar in a short skirt. Going out back of the restaurant, into the parking lot while everyone was eating in the dining room and he was making Flory jump higher and higher as she hung onto his hands. It wasn’t an excuse, it was a structure. He had contributed to the pain, now, and it made him dark with pride. He was content. He was blessed. He was not happy. But his face was smooth and his heart beat slower, he felt cleaned. He went upstairs and fell asleep with Flory, she opened and closed her mouth like a kitten when he laid down beside her, and fell back asleep as he drew his arm around her and was a wolf who had forgotten how to hunt, a devil too tired to fan the flames of hell.
Rainy drank a beer, plucked from her parents: they wouldn’t care. Shuddering off the secret and wishing oblivion on the time, she listened for the foghorn, but it didn’t sound. She listened for the tick-tick of the streetlight and there it was: immediately silent as the night finally gave way to the edge.