The first night we meet outside the classroom, you say you like two things: whisky and music. You hustle me into the car, slide a disc into the player, and roll the windows up against the storm. You say we should pretend that we don’t know each other, pretend that you don’t even know my name, because this is the only it will be okay. What’s your name, you say, and I smile, make something up, anything. You nod like it’s the best name you’ve ever heard, like it’s the name of Jesus, pass me a flask and turn up the music. By track three you’re leaning in to kiss me. You say, I think it’s time we kissed. We kiss like the storm, loud and wet. We kiss like we’re made of electricity. Sizzle.
The next day you come to class. You stand in front of the chalkboard and say, Class is cancelled. Your head is bent low as you walk out the door, not looking in my direction even though I’m in the front row. My hands shake as I leave the room, as I knock on your office door. When it swings open, you’re sitting there staring at the wall, staring at nothing. Your voice comes out like a whisper, like a breaking wave. We can’t do this, you say. I stand there like I’m made of concrete. It was just one night, I say, It was a mistake. But when you turn to look at me, when our eyes meet, we both know the connection between us is stronger than those words.
There should be no question of how this ends. It will end exactly as expected. Even from this, the beginning, there should be no question of that.
Thanksgiving: You are way down South away from the snow, somewhere where people wake without the need to whack windshields, knock knees, utter such phrases as wind chill or lake effect. Your family has gone to mass, but you don’t go because you don’t believe in all that. Instead, you go to the gas station to buy Corona and chocolate chip cookies. You are a million miles away but you write to tell me about this woman at the station. She bought a bank account worth of lottery tickets and sits at a picnic bench beside the unleaded, tarnished penny in hand, scratching. It is Thanksgiving morning and she sits there scratching, scratching. When I close my eyes I see something lost float away, like litter flitting down the highway from the gust of a car, rushing past.
Christmas passes, New Year’s too. We are nowhere near each other and I don’t remember missing you. That won’t come until later. And then it will come like fire. Leaving burns, scars.
You live in a house like a fishbowl. It is round with 16 windows and we spend our days watching snow paint frosted circles around the frames. Inside, we keep warm with spiced wine. You cook vegetarian chili on the stove and I wear wool socks, your oversized shirt. You ask about the scar down my shin. Your hair is mussed as you lick tomato sauce off the wooden spoon. When I tell you I got it shaving my legs with a machete, you break into a wide smile, a whoop of laughter. Your hand is on the nape of my neck pulling me into you. You kiss me hard, and without taking your lips off me whisper, My god I love your brain.
One morning, while standing at the sink, you state that coffee has no nutritional value. And yet we drink it. Each morning we ignore the fact that we’re pumping our bodies full of caffeine, tricking our stomachs into thinking we are full. But we need something warm in our bellies during winter. Even though we agree it isn’t good for us, we brew, pour, swallow.
That night, we eat Indian food at home. We eat from takeaway containers sitting on the floor because you don’t have a kitchen table. You steal half my bread, tear it off and eat it with your hands. You tease me with the bread, holding it just out of my reach, taunting. And we are dancing, jumping, laughing, laughing. The bottle of wine is kicked over but we don’t hear it over our amusement, don’t feel it under our hopping feet. When the bread is gobbled, making its way down into your stomach, we settle back onto the carpet. The wine, we murmur. I tell you I’ll find a rag to soak it up. I’ll get rid of it, I say. But you cock your head. Would you look at that. The wine has stained the carpet in the state’s perfect shape. We forget the rag and leave the wine. Our own little red Alaska.
Later: I am out with girlfriends. A man saunters over and drunkenly presses his lips against my neck. When I shove him away he’s so angry he smashes his beer bottle against the tabletop. It is a mess of shrieks and glass shards. Tables are kicked over, the music screeches, lights burst on, somewhere a circle is chanting. I steal into the bathroom, crouching in a stall with my cell phone. On the other end your voice is thin, tired. I’m grading papers, you say. I don’t have time for this. The line goes dead and I am left with nothing, just the silence, the static between us.
Two days pass. Three? More? When you call you make light of the situation saying you’ve thrown lots of things: parties, Frisbees, fits, never drinks. When you say that you’re sorry, your voice is thick like purring.
You’ve smuggled spiced rum into the theater and it tastes like butterscotch, cinnamon, your mouth on the warm metal spout as we pass the flask between us. Later, we lie in bed while your heart pumps rhythms through my skin. You tell me how you busted your Achilles running through winter that one time, those two times. Your accent plinks like raindrops, swoons like gale winds. Outside, the sparrows are beginning to rise.
One afternoon, I sit in a leather chair sipping Amaretto, smelling garlic, red beans. Out of nowhere you turn to me and say, I have an ex-wife, a child, do you know that? I know that this should shock me, that this should hit me like a monsoon, a flying fist, a hurdling car. But I continue sipping Amaretto, smelling garlic, red beans. I say nothing but think that it shouldn’t matter here. Not on our own little island. Not on our red Alaska.
In the morning, we wake with swollen, smiling lips.
Later: I find a note taped to my windshield. I have a very soft kiss for you, and a blue plastic wine glass. Come over, I’ll hug you ‘til your bones sparkle.
Even later, you turn to me and say, Wait until you get into the real world, or, When are you going to grow up? But these words disappear like plumes of smoke exhaled after the drag of a cigarette. Repeated. Repeated. Unconscious of the damage being done on the inside.
We make a picnic with the bed sheets on your living room floor. I bring Gouda cheese and smoked almonds, but you scrounge up Cheez-Its and eat them from the box. From the fishbowl, we see a car slide graceful as a figure skater on the ice, and slam into the curb. Our breath fogs the glass; our fingertips absorb the cold from the pane. The driver is fine. This time. You stare out the window and tell me the story of how once, you saw a car miss a mountain curve, overturn, bounce down the mountain. You dragged the skull ruptured man from his car and drove him to the ER. It took you weeks of scrubbing the backseat to remove those bloody stains.
When I say nothing, you suck cold air between your teeth. You turn away from me and hiss, You just don’t get it, do you?
I don’t answer my phone or check my email for days. You write and say, God, when u check your email, mine will be piled like snow on the end of a snowplow’s blade! Outside, shadows dance in the sun coloring the sky bruise blue.
You don’t stop calling.
I tell you to back off, but you don’t have volume knobs. You can’t turn it down.
For a moment there is nothing. Just you. Me. Separate.
And yet, you call. Your friends are going skiing. They’ve rented a lodge and you want to know if you should book for two. I say, I hate the snow. I hear the air whoosh from your deflating heart. Come on, you say, You’ve never even met my friends. I imagine they must wear horn-rimmed glasses, tweed jackets, quote Proust, speak in tongues. So I stand for days in front of a full-length mirror trying on every dress I own before driving to meet you. On the road, a plow clears the way in front of it. Its blade scrapes the pavement, showering my windshield with white.
At the bar, your friends chug beer and belch loudly. They are half your age, with moussed faux-hawks and diamond studded ears. I order a drink and before the straw hits my lips, one of your buddies leans across the table, slurring. Tell me something, he says. Do you sleep with all your professors? And then there is nothing but silence, static replacing the moment following that monsoon, that hurdling car, that flying fist.
I want my things. They’re in the mailbox outside my office, you say. But I bang on the front door and demand that you let me in. In the kitchen, I pull open drawers and let them clatter to the floor as you lie on the bed like a corpse, staring at the wall, staring at nothing. You don’t sit up when you sigh, Do you expect me not to talk to my friends? Your voice drones, flat as stone, icy. I can’t stop myself, can’t stop the voice spitting from me, Why don’t you just punch me in the face?
When you don’t respond, don’t even blink, I am screaming, If you want to hurt me why don’t you just punch me in the fucking face? The clock ticks seconds behind me as you lie on the bed with your hand draped so close, brushing the edge of our little Red Alaska. When I see it there, that giant red stain, it is as if for the first time. The last time. And I am nearly blinded by the truth of it.