Of hiding in plain sight, she tells him this: hold on until the world falls into place. While the wind and the sea have fallen short of each other's mercy, he tells her, "I will carry you with me." In the open sea, where ladies in bikini tops hang their hands to dry in the sun, the map of goodbye holds still. The goodbye is amplified by doubt and hidden enemies behind a facade of smiling friends.
To the time before the end of the world, they were happy. He took her to see his parents and when they watched tv and asked her about her Jewish father, she smiled. In the evenings and perhaps in the mornings too, they would sit in the balcony of a house pushed down by the weight of a dead man and tired siblings and they would talk and laugh about things as silly as the love in a bottle of tasteless beer.
They would stand together in a public bus while his hands, wild with the promise of tomorrow, would seek her out in blind passion and touch her and listen to her soft moans. They were more than happy in the cheap motel rooms that smelt of vomit and sweat and rushed sex. They were perfect in the past tense, tender in the rush of closed feelings and lingering taste of nudity.
In the beginning, they were wild and free. Like the storm they were powerful but like the sun, they were captured by the darkness before the moonlight.
In the end, they were apart. Not for space or time but of feelings and hunger and pride. In the end, the story became woven into the present tense, annihilated from the past, eaten whole by the timeless need to capture one last moment.
He talks about the weather in France. He says it is lovely but doesn't insist on her coming. She tells him about the neighbor next door, tells him how silly the woman is but doesn't tell him she envies the happiness of her collared shirts. He laughs at the peeling sun; she smiles at the moon. Then, they part, with unsaid words dripping from their hearts.
Start this with a pair of mismatched socks and an old sweater at the bottom of her drawer. Start this with a week in June and a letter from someone who had eyes like his and hands so warm it broke years like glasses. Then, without thinking about tomorrow, end this with him, in America or in a country in Asia, looking out of a window to the city and the broken boys.
She keeps a glass of water by the door and watches the children, all giddy from annoying pranks and smelling of yesterday's sweat run past her door into the arms of the mothers who love them and to the fathers who will fight for custody in a year's time. In the evening she sits with the glass of water by the door and forgets the food on the stove.
He loved her. She will tell herself this when she hears about his last trip to China and about the rumors of the new Spanish woman he's been seeing. She will hide under torn papers and diary entries and strap ons, all the while thinking about him. Then she will sleep beneath a woman and hold tomorrow in a stainless glass.
She thinks of herself as the sweater he forgot at the bottom of her drawer. When she tucks the hair behind her ears, she is reminded of him. He should be well, she tells her sister. When she stops, it is only because the sister dies in her sleep, beaten by an overdose of painkillers. He shows up at her funeral, hands wrapped around a woman with complicated earrings.
In the end, behind a tree with fallen leaves and unripe fruits, he says to her, "Nola was a great lady. I am truly sorry."
That's when she tells him, "I miss her."
He hugs her and when she leans in and presses closely, he sighs and lets her go. He tells her about his trip to Tokyo and the people he met there who will soon be his friends, keeping out the fact that he hates the moon. She tells him about the new clothes she bought, keeping out the sweater she found at the bottom of her drawer. Then, they part, with unsaid words dripping from
His leaving breaks her each time she remembers him on the sidewalk laughing and tossing words at her. Then, they could talk about anything and everything. It didn't matter who first brought the topic, the other finished it like a well-woven sweater. Like his at the bottom of her drawer.
When she packs up all her sister's things she finds a ring by the thrash. She sits on the cold tile and stares hard at the ring, noticing the delicate pattern of the fake diamonds. It doesn't take long to find Nola's diary but it takes probably an hour to find the page that talks about the ring. Flipping through she makes an apology to her dead sister and delves into the old pages.
The page dedicated to the cheap ring looks torn, as though Nola had written words halfway and stopped and chewed on the ends. Not a single meaningful word about the fake diamond. But when she wants to leave, she slips the ring into her hands and pretends that he loved her enough to want to marry her.
In her apartment a week later, she calls him. It rings once and then he answers. She says to him, "I thought you'd be out of the country by now."
"I just need a few days." He replies.
It takes a while before she can say again, "Do you want to come over? For coffee or anything."
"I'm sorry, Zoe, but maybe we need to be apart. Maybe it's better than trying to grasp the already broken pieces of us."
She hangs up quickly.
There is a pile of cluttered photographs of him on the floor of her kitchen. She stirs the food on the stove and from the comfort of her old home, she watches the woman with the collared shirts calling out to her children. She envies the happiness they share, more because she had dreamt of that with him and he had loved her more.
In the first picture, he is laughing at something off the camera. She cannot remember what. She imagines it was her but knows otherwise so she places the photograph amongst all the others she will destroy along with his sweater and mismatched socks.
In the last picture, the memory climbs back, tickling her to the bones. It is at the last picture she remembers him as he were: deprived of sleep as beer blots out his guts. She calls him up again and when he doesn't pick up she sends him a voice mail. Her voice is thick with remorse and longing and her eyes are spilling tears.
She is saying: I told you to hold on until the world fell into place. I said that at the end when you were leaving and I couldn't find the right words to say goodbye. Come back, Jimmy. I don't want another goodbye."
In the morning, they tell her he is gone. They tell her he was with his Spanish lover. They tell her nothing else. That's when she burns up all their memories in the photographs and drinks beer.
She goes to visit friends who smile and hug her and ask her, "Tea or coffee?" And when she leaves, she remembers him again.
She sees him at the door of her apartment when she gets home. He smiles shyly and when she opens the door and lets him in, he says, "It doesn't change."
"What doesn't?" She asks him as she takes off her shirt.
"Everything." He says turning away for her to change.
"You've seen me naked more times than you've seen me dressed." Her voice is mild, "And there is nothing you've never seen before."
"That was before everything." He says.
"They told me you were gone."
"Yes, and I came back."
They sit apart and eat pizza. He tells her about Hawaii and smiles at the memory. She tells him about work and all the paintings she has sold.
"Why did you leave?" She asks when they are done eating.
He shrugs, pretending he doesn't know why.
"We could have fought for this...for us. To love is to go blind to imperfections."
"And yet, maybe I wanted to see. Does that mean I loved you less? Of course not. We could have fought for us and helped ourselves with maybe a year or two of pretense but we had come to the end."
"Is that what you think?"
"It's the truth."
And because it is, she nods her head and together they watch the woman with the collared shirts dry her eyes with the back of her palm, her children gone to the father who wins custody too soon.