Angle of Repose
Once he came to a party at your house. He was too tall to stand under the chandelier. You were thinking about a dream you had the night before, the well, the dive into blue water. There had been glowing objects at the bottom that needed to be brought out into the light.
He was married to your sister’s best friend and he was laughing at a joke told by someone unmemorable, whose face is a blank. The house was too small for the number of people you had invited and they spilled out onto the porch although it was chilly. The cloud of cigarette smoke out there glowed in the backwash of headlights. Upstairs in the attic, your children and the children of the guests were making popcorn in an ancient popcorn maker which would soon blow a fuse.
Your daughter had made petit fours which no one was eating, and every once in a while you went into the kitchen and confiscated one, storing them away in a Tupperware container so that she wouldn’t know they were unpopular. When he came into the kitchen after you, it was to explain an obscure scientific term. There were tides in the earth, he told you, solid earth tides. The moon and the sun (but mainly the moon) pulled on the earth just as they did on the water, and the earth bounced and stretched in response, by perhaps as much as a foot. This effect was measurable but not noticeable to the lay observer. While he spoke, he chose one of the petit fours, inexpertly iced with a lemon glaze, and ate it, which made you love him for a while.
When he left you in the kitchen, you filled a glass with water and drank it, looking out of the kitchen window. Your next door neighbor had set up a trampoline the summer before and now it was sagging with snow and meltwater. You believed you were depressed, but looking back, you know it was more that you were sullen with that midthirties feeling that life had let you down, that it was less full and sparkling than you had been led to believe. The things on the counter reinforced these feelings: a box of prunes, a gift bag of candy, a soiled paper towel, an enameled tin that had been a present from your partner’s exgirlfriend, now used to hold colored pencils. You exchanged your water for a beer from the refrigerator and went back to the party, where your sister was having a silent fight with her husband. Soon she would leave without telling him, and he would follow, trailing after her in the car until she agreed to get in.
He was standing near but not under the chandelier, gesturing as he explained something to a group, which made them laugh. You wished, as you sometimes did, that you were somewhere else, or that you were the sort of person who could float in the now and experience it minute by minute. A woman came up to you and introduced herself, saying that she was the school nurse, and that you both had the same name, except that hers was spelled differently. You asked if she wanted a beer, and when she said yes, you handed her yours.
When he left, you took him to the bedroom where everyone’s coats were piled on the bed. You helped him find his wife’s. He explained that he’d only worn a scarf, that he never felt the cold. You couldn’t help but hug him, which you explained to yourself and to him as a desire that he should be warmer. You said that you felt as if you were his sister, as if you’d been born as twins to a goddess a thousand years ago, separated in the forever between then and now. There was something that sprang to life between your bodies, a stream of light that was almost visible if you had been the right sort of person. When you went downstairs together you thought that you’d always be connected. You planned to call him in a day or a week, or to run into him accidentally in a beautiful unnamed place.
Every relationship ends with death. If someone you know dies far away though, it’s as if they continue to exist. If you haven’t seen his body lying in a cushioned box, if you haven’t knelt to pretend to say a prayer, haven’t drunk coffee in the basement of the funeral parlor, drunk it black because they have only powdered creamer – it is as if he might stop by or call at any time. It’s not to say that you were waiting, not at all. You did tell yourself the story of those times every once in a while. You did sometimes follow him into the alternate story that might have happened, if you’d been wilder, if he had loved you at all.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, the novel Left to Themselves and the short story collection Stealing Time (story collection) – both by Random House, as well as a number of flash pieces in places like Helen, The Citron Review, and Tiferet. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.