This one is going to be a fall love story. Why the hell not? It’s a beautiful day and this is how I start — with the clouds out the window because they are big and moving fast, dissected brains twirling beneath an omniscient surgeon’s light in the sky. They leave the city windswept, brushing through the trees like a giant comb pulled across patchwork canopies. Everything leans to the left.
And the air smells of toast. (And you thought you were the only one who enjoyed just smelling the air.) Specks of trash dot the street, but the city is not dirty because the trash floats and dips and dances in this untamed breeze, and this fall love story feels whimsical like the wind.
As with any love story, mine will consist of two characters. Not because I’m afraid to write about a love triangle. I’ve written a group sex story before. How does that make you feel? Queasy? Turned on? It’s ok to feel that way. It’s ok to feel any way. You’re an animal. People wonder why there are so many dumb people, but do they ever wonder why there are so many smart monkeys? Take orangutans, for instance. Orangutans are the only other primates besides humans that rape. Maybe this will be an orangutan rape story. But no. It wouldn’t sell.
A good love story (or one that sells) is about two people — two straight people — who meet, screw (a bare back shot, a cleanly shaven buttock, some tangling feet, and finally a slow pan toward a dark billowing curtain) and smile into an infinite sunset. These are the stories that the mainstream public picks up. Which is funny, because those stories aren’t true. Happy endings aren’t real. Any story that has a happy ending is incomplete. People die. Suns set. Lovers get chapped lips. They get mouth herpes. In real life, people drink and get blacked. They wake up with the runs.
So I write a fall love story that will be good, in the way that will make you smile. Good in the way that will make mom cry. But this is a fall love story, and like that tumultuous season, this good love story will also be real.
And this is where we find Gustav Simmons — at the crossroads of good (what sells) and real — on the pot with his baggy jeans around his ankles. Gustav doesn’t know that today he’s going to fall in love. He hasn’t looked out the window yet. He hasn’t seen those big brain clouds or those tilting trees. He’s more concerned with his colon. His angry, dysfunctional colon that rumbles and reminds him of the first grade class when he decided that Gustav sounded like a fat name. At least, that’s what Tommy Townson said.
“Gustav is a retarded name,” Tommy said on the playground under the monkey bars.
“What does retarded mean?” Gustav asked.
“It means fat. Fatty-fat-fat-poop. Don’t tell me you’re stupid too?”
So Gustav, not wanting to be retarded or fatty-poop or stupid, began writing Gus on all of the extensive paper and glue art projects Ms. McCarthy, the tree-hugging freegan, was so fond of assigning. But Ms. McCarthy misread Gus’s poor first grade handwriting (mistook the U for an A). She started calling him Gas when he raised his hand. The name stuck. It burned right into Gustav’s psyche until Gustav was no more.
Gas pulls his pants up. He’s running late, but so is the bus. Hogey, the Dutch bus driver with the high-pitched laugh, has a habit of pulling up to the stop fifteen minutes behind schedule, often from the wrong direction. He’ll hit the curb, and when the concerned riders climb aboard, they ask Hogey what’s wrong.
“They say you shouldn’t drink and drive…” the Dutch man laughs, adjusting his beige beret. “Oh well.”
While Gas is terrified by the prospect of hurtling down the city streets with Hogey the intoxicated bus driver, he finds that he does not mind the reckless endangerment. After all, if the bus were to crash, say snapped in half by a speeding train or driven off a bridge, Gas would not be the only one to die. Gas thinks about this as he bites into a bagel without any condiments (not even toasted). He considers the mentality of large group deaths. Mass suicides. The Holocaust. These sorts of things. To Gas, it seems terribly lonely to die alone, but together, in a mob situation, the individual tragedy would fade away. In a way, that seems kind of nice.
Then there’s Debbie, who goes by Sunshine, but for purely spatial reasons and in the interest of staying within the 140 character laws (lest this story should ever be tweeted) will be referred to as Debbie. She waits for the bus too, but, unlike Gas, she is on time. That’s because Debbie is punctual, even if this is by accident.
Debbie sits on the bench inside the glass casing of the rustic bus stop reading a Modern Architecture magazine. There is an article by Helfrich Mugato, the Helsinki native whose glass-homes-by-the-sea style is finding increasing popularity in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Debbie cannot stand Mugato’s self-congratulating quotes or his overly complex manner of speaking, but she reads the entire article because she worries that the smooth talking real-estate agents of the world will one day attempt to coax her into buying a Mugato home, and she wants to be firm in her belief that Mugato homes are inferior to several more traditional designs. Where are the teepees, she can’t help but wonder. There is an inherent coziness in caves and mud huts that Debbie longs for.
She doesn’t notice Gas appear outside the glass walls of the bus stop on a bike with a seat attached by duct tape, riding awkwardly and off balance. He tries to coast to a stop, but instead crashes into the bus stop walls. Debbie still does not look up.
She doesn’t have to. Gas’s lumbering presence is obvious. He casts a large shadow. Debbie is aware of his heavy breathing. She notes the probability of his high blood pressure, the likelihood of early onset balding. She has not seen Gas yet, but her uncle, the one who wears a cape and keeps a stockpile of AK47s in his heavily fortified basement, took her to a White Castle on her fourteenth birthday. The stereotype is set.
But Gas sees Debbie. He cannot help it. She is right there in the booth. She is the only one there. Her legs are crossed, and she seems upset. Not in her face, but in her posture. She has a posture that tells Gas she is uncomfortable, and Gas wonders why she doesn’t relax. Why doesn’t she uncross her legs and breathe? Debbie is wrapped tight in a turtleneck that is choking her, and her finger mindlessly twirls the flower tangled in her moldy-green hair.
She looks like an elf, Gas thinks, though he has never seen an elf. Not in real life, anyway. He saw a movie once with elves, and he thinks this must be what he is unconsciously comparing, though he cannot remember the name of the movie. This disturbs him greatly. Gas sits down beside the girl with the flower in her hair who looks something like an elf from a movie with an unmemorable name.
I take a lunch break. You shudder in anticipation. You worry about Debbie, this girl with the strange uncle and green hair who has been thrust into close confines with the man who contemplates mass human casualties. You tell yourself that your worries are unfounded, because you’re reading a love story, and the stage has been set for these people to fall in love.
At lunch, a contemplative ordeal in a foreboding café with an avocado turkey club and an iced tea, I worry about your total confidence in my good intentions. Strange how you trust me. You wouldn’t trust a stranger at a bus stop.
You wouldn’t think to say, as Gas does, “I wish there weren’t so many.”
And if you did think to say that, I would ignore you, and certainly not say what Debbie says, which is, “So many what?”
And now we are thrust back into the story, because we know that neither you nor I is speaking, but it is Gas who answers, “Jet planes,” and Gas who explains, “They’re always flying overhead, making such a ruckus. There’s never any quiet down here with them flying overhead all day. There’s no escape. Just when you want to be alone one always comes flying over head, and you can’t help but wonder…where’s it going? It’s like love in that way I guess… the way you can’t escape the jet planes I mean.”
And it’s Debbie, not you or I, who, while never having articulated that particular thought before, understands Gas’s problem with jet planes. She realizes she has been suffering from the rampant sound pollution of jet engines her entire life as well, finding her eyes drawn to the sky at all the most inopportune times. She feels somewhat comforted to know that it’s ok to cringe at the sound of a jet plane.
“I hate airplanes too,” Debbie says, putting her magazine aside.
“I’m Gas,” Gas says, wishing Gustav were still alive.
“I’m Sunshine,” Debbie says, though she doesn’t know why.
That’s when the bus shows up, and Hogey, the intoxicated bus driver from Holland, opens the door.
They decide to get donuts later that night. They decide this as Gas’s stop at Hollywood Video approaches. It’s a rash decision that neither Gas nor Debbie is sure about.
“I would like to see you maybe another time,” Gas says.
“Yeah, maybe, we could do something like that perhaps some time,” Debbie agrees. “But what could we do?”
Gas suggests smoking weed. Debbie says she doesn’t do that. Gas suggests getting wasted on cheap wine. Again, Debbie defers, and utterly devoid of any further ideas of what to do with a weekday night Gas mutters something about food.
“But not dinner,” Gas says. “Because dinner is so formal, and you don’t seem like a formal person, and neither am I. And not coffee, because you probably don’t like coffee even though I do. And not lunch, because friends go to lunch, and we’re not friends…”
“We could get donuts,” Debbie says. “Because donuts don’t mean anything.”
Gas smiles and nods. He agrees that donuts, a fluffy dough of sugar and carbohydrates rotating around an empty hole, mean nothing. He writes Debbie’s number down on the back of his hand, because his palms can get very sweaty, which he says, and immediately regrets saying. But Debbie laughs, which is encouraging. Gas feels safe enough to tell a joke. It was always one of Tommy Townson’s favorites, but Debbie only tilts her head and purses her straight lips.
The bus stops. With no time to redeem himself, Gas waves and flashes a peace sign. Debbie sends the sign back before turning her eyes back down to her magazine, her fingers return to twirling the flower in her green hair. Gas checks the number on the back of his hand to make sure the sweat that has flowed over from his palm has not washed the number away. Debbie does not see this embarrassing act.
And Gas does not see Debbie’s fleeting eyes watch him disappear into the Hollywood Video. He does not see her begin to cry.
Debbie is done crying by the time the bus reaches the gallery, but she is not done thinking about Gas. She thinks about his laugh, which sounded uncomfortable and forced. She thinks about his tendency to wheeze between words.
As she sits down at her easel, she finds herself incapable of focusing on her most recent portrait — French Onion and Other Silly Soups. There are bowls of days old soup laid out on a nearby table. She has been studying them for weeks — the air bubbles that get trapped beneath the layers of cheese, the thinly diced onions, the tendency of soup to just sit and sit and sit and never change except in temperature and appeal.
Debbie studies her painting. She feels something is missing. It is humanity, she decides. She spends the afternoon painting a man eating her various silly soups. She saves the face of the man for last. She pauses, unsure of how to continue. She gets up for a cup of water, fixes a snack, chitchats with Patricia the poet on the merits of time travel representation in modernist works, and argues with Sanjay the sculptor over the meaning of a quote by David Hume.
“Sunshine,” Sanjay says, “Is my work meaningless?”
A little heavy for 11:30 in the morning, but Debbie argues that the very fact that Sanjay pauses to ask this question gives his work meaning.
Sanjay is sculpting a forest. He uses iron. His face is marred black by superheated metal. His eyes are bloodshot. His hands bleed. Debbie hopes never to become lost in an iron forest.
“Hume would disagree with you, Sunshine,” he says. “Beauty is no quality in things themselves; it exists merely in the mind which contemplated them.”
“So there is no beauty?” Debbie asks.
“None at all,” Sanjay says.
“Then why love? If everything is ugly?”
“Because that’s all there is,” Sanjay asserts.
“So we should love all ugly and evil things?” Debbie asks.
“Yes,” Sanjay says as his fist falls onto white iron and sparks ignite in violent aerial clashes of light. Sanjay’s hand falls and falls again. The tireless rhythm of the artist pounding and beating every straggling bit of emotion into his work. Debbie is entranced by the falling hand, by the cadence of uninhibited passion. She is seized by artistic vision, and doesn’t say goodbye to Sanjay as she runs back to her easel.
In this frenzy of unhinged soul she picks up her brush, but applies it to the page with the secretive mousey movements of a twelve-year-old girl in a long purple nightie sneaking down to the kitchen for a late night glass of milk.
She paints on as that little girl in the purple nightie wanders into the kitchen that should be dark, but is not. Someone is there, looming over a towering countertop in the semi-dark of a cold kitchen. He speaks.
“Sunshine,” Cape Uncle says in a low groaning staccato, “Never love someone who doesn’t deserve it.” The falling hand beckons her forward with a sickening thud as it hits something leathery on a countertop that is too high for the little girl to see. “If you love someone who doesn’t deserve it, then love is a waste,” Cape Uncle says as the hand falls to its sadistic beat. The little girl gets up on her tiptoes but still cannot see. “Love is a waste when you don’t get anything out, but you put everything in.” There is a final thwack and Cape Uncle lets out a triumphant but disappointed rumble. “Three fucking cuts!” he grunts. “The advertisement said one.”
He tosses a boot on the floor. It has been diced clean in half. The fourteen-inch bowie knife he carries in his hand catches the dim kitchen light. He is a tall lanky man with a potbelly that puts him off balance, and he emerges from the cape around his neck like an alien born out of an egg with many inner layers. He smiles at the little girl in the purple nightie as he comes down to her level, the shimmering blade just grazing the microscopic blonde wisps of hair cowering in terror on her face.
“That’s why I call you Sunshine,” Cape Uncle says. “To remind you not to be like the sun. Don’t shine on everyone, otherwise you’ll use all your energy and blow up. Don’t waste the love, Sunshine.”
Debbie drops the paintbrush. The face is finished. The man eating the soup is not enjoying himself. At best, he is suffering from indigestion. At worst, he is dying from some nameless disease of the most horrible kind.
No one comes to Hollywood Video. That’s because it’s a Wednesday, and people are too busy to watch movies on Wednesday. In fact, any day of the week, people are too busy to watch a movie. Gas wonders why the higher management has not made accommodations for people’s demanding lives.
Before closing time, Gas makes a list of movies to take home for that night. The list is long and covers a wide range of genres. He asks himself what Sunshine would like. He realizes he has no idea. He asks himself what a girl like Sunshine would like. He realizes he has never met a girl like Sunshine, at least, he doesn’t think so. Actually, he’s not really sure. He asks himself what an elf would like. He realizes that it’s a stupid question.
Like when Tommy Townson asked Gas’s small group Leader at church what heaven was like. The Leader — a white skeleton of a woman who wore sweaters composed of only primary colors, sang loudly during service, dated a crack fiend in college, and kept a fascinating array of vibrators in her bedside table — smiled and told Tommy and everyone else that Heaven was a place where the buildings were made of gold, that there were no colds, no homework, that everybody spent their time playing football, that there was sex, but only the married, consensual kind, and God or Jesus or Moses would stop by for a barbeque. If you had been extra good, God would bring the potato salad. The Leader insinuated that the reason the group should love people was to get more potato salad from God in Heaven. Gas raised his hand, and the Leader called on him.
“I’m confused,” Gas said. “I thought the reason we love people is because we’re all the same. Everything is stardust, just atoms and compounds formed in a giant ball of plasma. I though we love people…animals…trees…the ocean…the world because we’re all in the same boat. We might be conscious of our atoms, but in the end, we are like the dust and rocks, blown into the universe by an exploding sun that’s burned up all its hydrogen in five billion years. Isn’t that heaven — unconscious bits of everything flowing through the cosmos, vast and eternal?
Tommy Townson looked at Gas. Tommy called Gas a retarded-fuck-face. This was fourth grade. There was much guffawing before the Leader decided it was time for a chocolate milk break.
What would an elf like, Gas asks himself? He chooses a movie on the Spanish Inquisition. It is four hours long and full of great fifteenth century fashion. Maybe he’ll get lucky.
Gas: So did u still want to get donuts tonight J????
It is after work and Gas sits on his couch. He types the words but does not push send. He stares at the button. He can see Debbie’s green hair blowing in the wind. He sneezes. His thumb pushes the button! It is an accident. Thirty seconds later:
Cryptic. No emotion. Insincere. These words and a thousand others run through Gas’s head. He ignores them, pushing ahead. He knows what he wants and it’s her…at least, that’s what he tells himself. He doesn’t want to admit that it’s just the sex he’s after. But he cannot help to deny a deep truth. There is this nagging desire deep inside not to spend another morning waking up in a double bed with only a drooled upon pillow next to him. He types furiously with several typos.
Gas: Grate!!!! Theres a place onRAndolf thats very goooood. Do u wa t me to pick u up???
Enough palm sweat to fill the Indian Ocean. Three minutes later:
Gas: *Great!!! There is a place on Randolf that’s very good. Would u like me to pick u up?
Wait…Gas takes the bus to work. He doesn’t have a car! But his neighbor does. Ten seconds later:
Gas: Dude, can I use ur car? Its a chick.
Three minutes later:
Neighbor: Sure, man. No cum in the back seat.
Ten seconds later:
Pacing. Frantic pacing. Nail biting. The cuticle comes out. His left index finger begins to bleed. Back to Debbie, three minutes later:
Gas: Or we could meet there? Or u could pick me up if u want. Some women prefer that. In Europe. Cultures can be strange. U know that Greeks threw their babies that weren’t fit into wells??? Its called infanticide!!!!!
Pause. A slap on the forehead. Fifteen seconds later:
Gas: Idk what Im talking about. Im not saying that u wanting to pick me up is like infanticide. Just its strange u know. But youre not strange of course J Unless u want to be which in that case is really cool
A minute later:
Gas: U r really cool.
Five minutes later:
Gas: And by cool I mean like a nice person. U seem like a nice person. Thats all I really mean. ;(
A chill envelops him. He feels sick. He convulses and then lies completely still. He thinks that he has killed potential before there was any potential to be had. He wonders what else can be done that night? He checks his weed collection. Empty. The alcohol? Gone and he cannot remember where it went. He wonders how many weeks behind he is in HBO’s Zane’ Sex Chronicles. He realizes he is all caught up. Five minutes later:
Debbie: HEY!! Sorry!! I was in the shower. U can come pick me up. How about 8?
Two seconds later:
Gas: 8 is grate!!!!
Debbie: K cool! See ya then!! J
Gas picks Debbie up at eight. At eight. He actually arrives at the address he has been texted twenty minutes early. (The apartment building is only around the corner.) He waits out of sight, until 7:59. Then, he pulls into the driveway and gives two quick honks.
Debbie runs out the door in a long skirt. Her green hair bounces at shoulder length, and the flower, attached by a single pin, seems dangerously close to falling to the ground.
Gas opens the door for Debbie, but mumbles his hello. He puts it into drive and turns the music too loud for comfortable dialogue. He drives too fast, and Debbie’s seatbelt snaps against her body as he approaches a red light. But the trip is only five minutes, and once they park, Gas comes to the side of the door and helps Debbie out by the hand. They begin to walk, and it is only after the car is several feet behind that they realize neither one has let go.
“So tell me about yourself?” Gas says. “Who are you?”
“What do you mean? I’m me,” Debbie says.
“Yes, but I don’t know who that is…” Debbie is quiet for a moment. Her pinky moves against Gas’s thumb. Gas wonders if she is trying to go. He suddenly remembers his sweaty palms. Is profuse sweat too much on a first date? Too much for a stranger? “Tell me about the flower,” Gas says as much out of curiosity as a distraction.
“Oh, it’s just décor,” Debbie says. “I think all clothes are décor. They accent us.”
They accent us. This is just one of Debbie’s little catch phrases she spits out so frequently. Like when Gas asks her how old she is, and she claims that she doesn’t age. She collects years. She has collected twenty-six. Gas is amused by this. Amused by the way she rails against a man named Mugato from Helsinki and his glass homes by the water. Amused by the way she asks at the small donut shop, not for a table, but for an invitation to join the atmosphere, as if the atmosphere of the tiny shop were its own life, its own world that required permission to take part. Gas feels lucky to have made his airplane comment when he did. He feels if he has said anything else, Debbie would not have listened.
But Debbie is listening. So very closely to her companion. He took a while to warm up, but once he is warm, he is going. He is excited. He can’t hide it, though he is clearly conscious of it, and when he feels threatened by his own gusto, he looks out the window and comments on the wind and the strange shadows snaking down the street.
There is soft lighting in this place. It’s warm. Perhaps overly so. The woman behind the counter is ancient. She smells of cabbage, but the cabbage is masked by the sweet aroma of baking dough. Debbie smiles in intervals. She nods and twirls her flower.
He is funny in a way he doesn’t realize, or perhaps in a way he is trying to obscure. He is thoughtful and sincere. The things he says are the things he means. He does not want to be misinterpreted.
“Tell me a secret,” Debbie says. She has read somewhere (she forgets where and just as well might have heard it on television or on the bus) that this is a good way to further a conversation.
“What kind of secret?” Gas asks. “Like a deep, dark secret?”
“You have deep, dark secrets?”
“No! Of course not!” Gas shouts instantly, knowing that instantly is already too late. “I mean. Yeah. Yeah I do. I think everyone does…or they should.”
Debbie twirls her flower. She bites down on a donut crumb. Gas looks around before leaning forward, his hands cupping the movements of his mouth.
“Sometimes when I’m at work,” Gas whispers, “I feel like I’m being eaten by an animal. Like a bear.”
“What do you mean?” Debbie asks.
“Well, I wonder, what would it be like to be eaten by a bear? Imagine…flying down the gullet of this huge animal that is ripping you to shreds. There’s saliva and torn flesh all around you. The sun is fading away as you hurtle toward a dark, churning pit. I think the problem with modern society is that all of the jobs out there make people feel like they’re being eaten by a bear. Not that all jobs are bad, but most jobs aren’t freeing.”
“I’m a painter,” Debbie says. “I’m free.”
“Not as free as a director. Painting is an art, but it’s not the best art,” Gas says.
“Film is the greatest art, because it depicts reality in the closest form. In art we are striving to reveal to truth, to convey ideas, and in film this is done most efficiently.”
“So what’s your favorite film?”
“That’s an impossible question, you must know. I’m sure you don’t have a favorite painting…”
“The Scream,” Debbie says immediately, “By Edvard Munch.”
“The Scream,” she repeats. “Have you ever felt a greater sense of emotion?”
“Yes, in film. Have you ever seen Breaker Morant?” Debbie shakes her head. “Well, it’s a mid-80s indie Australian film about the Boer War. Are you familiar with the Boer war?”
“Oh, that one,” Debbie says. “Yes, on my scale of human conflict, it comes right after Troy and Simon’s breakup with Garfunkel.”
“Do you mean to be so sassy?”
“Yes. Do you mean to be so nervous?”
“No. And if I come across as nervous it’s only because I’m totally digging you right now, Sunshine.”
Debbie brushes her foot against Gas’s leg. He falls quiet. They smile and pick up their donuts.
“It’s your turn,” Gas says.
“My turn to what?”
“To tell a secret.
“My secret?” Debbie says, her finger tangled in her hair pausing for a moment. “My secret is that I think I just might be totally digging you right now too, Gas.”
Debbie thinks of the cleaved shoe and all that wasted love. Gas thinks of Heaven — all that unified universe with bits of everyone intertwined in streaks of chaos. The donuts are hot and fluffy.
And they are driving. Gas asks if Debbie wants to be taken home. She says yes. They arrive at Debbie’s apartment building. Debbie asks if Gas would like to come upstairs. He says yes.
They are upstairs. There is a vase with dead flowers. Cold soup sits in bowls on the counter. There is a clock on the wall that ticks but tells the wrong time by several hours. It is six in the morning. A portrait of a little girl and a man in a cape on a shelf glints in the moonlight.
Gas asks if they should turn on a movie. Debbie says, “Sure.” They go to Debbie’s movie collection. It does not exist.
They are kissing in the dark. Then they are falling down the hallway like two drunken adolescents. Their knees attach, then their elbows, attaching at the joints like Kinex until their bodies are molded into one cohesive mass that sheds its clothes in shivers and tugs.
And I go for dinner. Someplace brighter this time. I order the pot roast, but it is not very good. I think about you, and how upset you must be that I have interrupted my story now. You were ready for that scene after so much tension, but I have denied it.
I think over dinner that I will return to it sometime. Perhaps in summary. I will say something like — and then Gas went about the business of pleasuring a woman. His hands worked at odd angles.
In seventh grade Tommy Townson said masturbation left scars on your face that told everyone what you had done. Gas punched Tommy that year from behind in the gym locker room. He hit him hard enough to cause something called cerebral hemorrhaging. Tommy almost died.
Aggressive foreplay will not give Gas facial scars, but he does worry about tendonitis and chafing. These things are real.
And Debbie…she worries about things, but they are different and less practical. She worries about the nature of her soul. She really does. I shuffle mash potatoes around on my plate, wondering why there are so many different types of mustard but only one type of ketchup, but this is another topic for another time. The topic now is Debbie’s soul…
How it bends under Gas’s body weight. How it sweats and moans, kicks and grabs. How it rolls over, demanding attention, letting green hair fly, letting everyone see and know that it is soul. How it is not ashamed. How it screams, “Call me Debbie!” in between violent twitches and long drawn out shudders. Then, how it calms, how it flexes and breathes. How, for a moment, the soul is calm and quiet and still. Debbie worries about her soul because it’s the only thing she’s got.
But I’ll probably never write about those things because they are too real, even for a good love story. I’ll never tell you who Cape Uncle is, if Debbie ever meets Helfrich Mugato and tells him why his homes are so bad, if Gas ever remembers Gustav or ever makes peace with Tommy Townson. Because those things, like authorial intrusions, fluffy donuts, and meaningless digressions, are so often forgotten in the dark of night; they are like the collection of short stories you pick up on a rainy night and sit reading to the sound of soft rain on the roof, the fire crackling, the cat purring as you stroke the sensitive spot under its chin; they are like the flutter you felt in your heart for the author whose words and ideas are a million times removed from your little room with the cat and the fire and the rain; they are memories, of fall love or whatever you want to call it, washed away by the placid glow of the moon or an unusually strong fall breeze.
Gas wakes up with his ear in Debbie’s armpit. She has the covers and he is shivering. He leaves the room to take a piss. His bladder is full, and his piss is loud. It wakes Debbie up.
She rolls over like a piece of chicken rotating on a skewer in an oven — slow and tired. Gas returns to the bed. He does not touch her.
“Well…,” he says.
“Yes,” Debbie says.
“What time is it?” Gas asks.
“I don’t know. Probably late. I don’t have a watch because…”
“Let me guess…you don’t believe in time or something,” Gas says.
“Well, it’s only an empirical measurement of movement.”
“Right. Well, I’m probably late for work. No one else will be there, but if I’m not, the higher management will know, and I’ll get sacked.”
“You shouldn’t get sacked,” Debbie says.
“Right, so, I’ll get going then.”
Gas gets dressed quickly. He cannot find his left sock. After a half-hearted search of the room, he forgets it and puts on his shoe without the sock. It is not comfortable.
“Let me know if you find it,” he says to Debbie. She nods. Gas begins to walk out the door, but not before turning back and asking, “Why did you want me to call you Debbie?”
“Because that’s my name,” she says.
Gas leaves. The wind has died. The garbage has collected in the sewers. The clouds linger and do not move. Everything stands straight again. Gas drives his neighbor’s car around the corner, back to his building.
He walks to the bus stop slowly, with his hands in his pockets. He’s not in a mood to ride his bike. He is early but only because he has nowhere else to be. A few moments later, Debbie appears twirling her flower. They sit beside each other on the bench encased in glass. A jet plane flies overhead.
Gas says, “I wish there weren’t so many,” and this is either the beginning of a fall love story or a grotesquely unsatisfying end.