Bodies swaying left and right, back and forth, some sitting, some standing, all in unison. Lights, green, yellow, red, pass by in blurs, the morning sun in the eyes of bleary teenagers and uncomfortable adults. My backpack, carefully hanging by one shoulder in diffidence, taps a coffee cup held by an elderly man, he is not amused. I ignore him and continue to stare ahead, blank gaze a necessary accompaniment of these travels.
The bus stops, bodies lurch forward, feet finding other feet and mercilessly crushing them in an effort to support their owners. A young girl is seated a few feet away, at least five years younger, she's reading a large book, an anthology of some period or another. I examine her hair, braided, her shirt, white with blue highlights, her skirt, black cotton, her shoes, sandals, perfect for long walks on the beach and stubbing your toes. Her hair is especially of interest, leaning this way and that, movements matching tit for tat that of the lazy bodies. She leans forward to pull an apple out of her bag, red like the lights, and takes a crunch from it. Mouth moving in and out, cheeks bulging, freckles growing pulsing as they expand and contract. Green light, lurch back.
I walk calmly to my first appointment, a sultry social science on the far side of campus. Wearing headphones with nothing coming out of them, hands in my pockets, block after block of sidewalk passes underneath me, eyes on my sneakers. I can hear voices outside but none of them register, only the laughter, primal call of the careless.
Unfortunately the class populates only twenty students at best, forcing a studious inspection of not only individual behaviour but individual attitudes. The professor is a woman of thirty years, if not less, she wears skin-tight sweaters all year long, bottomed with sleek skirts that come down to her ankles with a small slit. Eyes are like an insect's, silent but slitted against the mildest movement, her mouth moves simultaneously, squeezing the breath from you if you stared at her sweater for too long.
She asks the class if we've got anything to say about yesterday's reading. Shuffling, fidgeting, eyes scanning the text in front of them frantically. Nobody? she asks, diligently making notes in her head about which students are looking up and which aren't. She takes attendance in silence as she waits, checking and x'ing.
"Did anyone notice a similarity between last class's excerpts and the theories we covered last week?" Steer them like cattle, force them to see it your way, mash and press until they're routed into the corral, brand them with a searing reprimand, mark them as your own.
Amazing courage, one of the eccentrics at the back of the class raises her hand and spouts a quasi-obvious response, a hero among peasants. The rest of the class awaits a response but nothing comes, she's not giving in that easy.
"Yes, that's a possibility." Dutiful Pause. "Anyone else?" She gracefully adorns a pair of reading glasses, placing them gently on the thin bridge of her nose, a seal balances a ball on its nose to impress. But a seal doesn't know what its doing.
Silence, awkward rustling, eyes diverting. I sigh, enough to make the people around me hear, and raise my hand, I've done my homework I announce through languid fingers and arm. She calls on me, I answer, problem solved. Look down at the blank page in front of me, don't want to make my pride seem too obvious.
Class continues as planned. I answer two more questions, sparking a heated discussion that takes the class by surprise, but you have to watch the woman in the sweater, she'll snap you up if you don't pay attention. Our hour together is soon expired and the class packs up, minds wandering to future assignments and familiar surroundings. I approach the throne at the front of the class. Her skirt is trapped, wrapped around her legs like some desperate animal, she won't even let it dance in the breeze that I create as I get close.
She looks up, eyes somehow softer than before, rounder, browner. "Yes?" she asks coolly, hands moving independently, shoving papers methodically into her leather attaché. "Just had a question about today's discussion," I reply, equally casual, composed, smooth. I jump right in, something forcing my voice, "Natasha mentioned something earlier about gender being socially constructed, not necessarily a physical attribute." I pause, hoping for some response, some justification for this voyage into dangerous waters. Nothing but dead air and scuffing papers. I stammer as I go on, "I was kind of wondering what exactly 'socially constructed' referred to; is it the opposite sex that constructs it, or is it something both sexes do?" She stops for a fraction of a moment before speeding up her process, finishing, pulling her glasses off her nose, pushing her shoulder-length hair behind her ears and gazing at me for a second.
"That's a good question, I'm glad you asked. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to answer right now, but maybe you could bring it up next class."
"Well," I say, wishing she could stay longer, wanting her to sit down, converse with me, comfort me, "the truth is that these chi– these girls make me kinda nervous, you know?" I'm compelled by some force other than my own, the image of freckles expanding and shrinking pulses dimly in my mind.
She chuckles to herself, gloating, then repeats that she is in a hurry and that she's terribly sorry and that we'll have to take it up some other time and that she'll make sure to get back to it.
Two hours before my next class closes in on me. I sit in the cafeteria, upset, her sweater taunting me with its shadow patterns, her skirt laughing at me from between her legs. My phone vibrates against my thigh, once, then twice, a third time and I know I have to answer. Moments later I am surrounded by a group that I call my friends, three of us altogether. We exchange formalities, how was your day, how'd this or that go, did you watch the fucking political debate last night, can you believe that cunt got thrown off the set of another movie, when's the goddamn party you piece of shit? Hidden descriptors, sometimes the urge to scream seems almost too strong to ignore. I bite my cheek to stop myself from grinning during the silences.
"So, you still up for that movie tonight?" She's sitting across from me. Icelandic blue eyes, naturally auburn hair, a strange combination. I roll my eyes and reply with a sarcastic I guess so. She assumes I'm joking, I wish she wouldn't.
"I can't believe you want to see that," pipes in the redheaded monstrosity to my left, my best friend since grade school. He wears jeans loose enough for an elephant's leg and black t-shirts every day, each one proclaiming his participation in some concert or another. "It looks like the most inane thing I've ever seen in my life. You can only watch so many romantic comedies before your gag reflex acts up, right?" We laugh, as instructed, my voice louder than the rest.
"Shut up," she replies, her pale cheeks flushing slightly under the florescent light, she looks away, suddenly interested in the workings of the recycle bin in the distance. In one swift motion, her eyes turn back towards me and we meet in a separate world, the walls disappear, red hair beside me fades. She is asking me something, I turn away, I don't want to hear it. "Besides, I didn't even ask if you wanted to come with us," she concludes, glaring at him.
"Fine, I won't." Separate topics arise soon after and we forget about it, smiles and more laughter all around, the soup of the day is distraction.
Mother is making supper, I'm sitting at the dinner table, reviewing the newspaper as I'm prone to do when I can't stand the constriction of my room anymore.
"You know it's our anniversary soon." The voice comes from the stove, she's wearing an apron, floral print, wooden spoon in hand, voice deflecting off the wall into my ears. "We're going to a show downtown, so you'll have the house to yourself for the night." She proclaims this as if warning me while simultaneously releasing me from some parental constraint, ludicrous, my parents haven't told me when to go to bed in years. I moan a curt response, devoid of any real form of communication.
Father's key turns in the front door, right on cue, the sound of his briefcase placed on the foyer floor, closet door opens, shoes are placed inside, footsteps.
Muah, he kisses mother on the lips, light reflects on their tongues as lips part slightly to let each other in, it lasts only a second yet I watch it all. My neck twitches. Father turns to me, How's it going Shakespeare. I grunt in reply, getting up to leave, interrupted by mother's announcement that supper is finally ready as if it were some great ordeal, she says it every day. Father sits down, pulling me into the seat next to him, mother doles out mounds of potato surprise and cauliflower, followed by sizzling steak. Fat still sputtering on its surface, a small trickle of blood flows into my potatoes, soiling them, I quickly push them apart.
Mother takes off her apron and hangs it on the hook. She's wearing a low-cut shirt, provocative, an elegant skirt that twirled around her shins as she walks, the body of a twenty year-old with the wisdom of a grandmother, what father says as she frowns at him. Her skin is tanned, artificial epidermal insemination, she probably doesn't care that it causes cancer, she has to look her best. She makes her way slowly to the table, hips swaying, father is already eating. She sits down next to me, looking me in the eyes, pleading with me.
"Ready for the show on Friday, honey?" father asks, looking up from his plate as she takes her first bite. He waits patiently as she chews her food and swallows, throat bulging for a moment then deflating. She smiles and replies sweetly, a fleck of pepper stuck in her teeth.
"You bet." She smoothes a pleat on her sleeve and continues eating, both seem in a hurry to get things done, get it over with, chew, swallow, digest, shit. Every once in a while they look up at each other, I catch father's subtle wink and pretend to ignore it. Twitch. I don't finish my meal, preferring to throw out the remainders rather than watch.
There is an email waiting for me when I return to my room, my laptop is blinking in the corner, taunting me with information. I slip into my desk and open the icon, hope rising in me, it's got to be something interesting, karma owes me that much. A quick shot of adrenaline as I see it's from Sweater & Skirt, I open the file absent-mindedly, a small twitch runs through my finger as I begin to read. It isn't very long, yet there is more to it than I could have imagined, a luxurious font too, coaxing me further:
I have been considering the question you posed me today in class and have done some research concerning the subject. If you'd like to pursue the topic further, please join me in my office.
It has no signature but a time and place follow the message. My heart has been beating faster as the words registered in slow-motion, each one shortening the period between heartbeats. What could this mean, it's obviously strictly business, has she asked anyone else to come see her that late at night before, I'm sure it's merely for convenience, where is this going? I read and reread the letter carefully, trying to find some clue to true meaning, trying to convince myself of something I didn't know needed convincing, trying to understand what exactly is happening. Soon the words no longer make any sense to me, only the shape of the letters remains relevant, the curves and serifs, the bulges and corners.
I can see her legs dancing in the glimmering computer screen, moving in and out between the letters, the slit in her sleek skirt getting wider and longer with each step. The sweater appears above them, gripping her chest tightly, keeping nothing a secret, chanting for me to slide my hand along the firm outlines of her chest, sliding in and out of the curves, up then down, then up again. Then through.
The laptop bleeps at me, warning me to smarten up, my battery's dying you sick fuck. I search frantically for the power cord among the mess underneath my desk and plug it in, it's too late, the screen has gone black, Sweater & Skirt lost in the darkness.
The previews aren't up to standard, more commercials than actual promotions, sugar caramel, sugar beverages, sugar cereal, sugar surreal. Only the two of us end up going of course, red hair choosing to stay home instead, give us some room, let us breathe, be as supportive as possible. He says we should at least try and make it work, try and see if we can still do it, try not to let him get in the way, don't get distracted by the past. Yet his red taunts me from the darkness, I can see him with her, they're laughing, she hugs him as a joke, she knows I'm not there to stop her, he kisses her as she hugs him, one big joke, one big fucking joke. The joke goes on as they drink more, fire in their stomachs, only the heat reaches the heart, pumping harder to keep up as the mattress squeaks and the sweat rolls. I take a sip of watered-down Coke to drown the image of six months ago.
The intro credits roll, lights go dim, the sound of people settling in, speakers crackling as they adjust to the volume. The light from the screen is enough to see the tops of their heads, their drinks, their popcorn, their attention span. Like them, she is rapt, watching closely, can't miss a thing when there's nothing to miss, actors, directors, writers, all the same. Absently, she puts kernel after kernel of popcorn into her mouth, squeezing in her cheeks to suck the air out of it first, soaking it in saliva – don't want to chew too much – second, then finally swallowing. It hits her stomach with a resounding thump, a pile of popcorn, eventually protruding from her mouth when she's full. She puts the bag down in the seat next to her, good call, wouldn't want to look like a pig or something.
The plot announces itself in bright colours and saccharine music, a man stuck in the city, woebegone, longing for his love, pining to get to her, opposed by seemingly impossible odds. Emotion palpitates, some women crying softly, the sound of tissues being unravelled from purses, male dates shifting in their seats, checking their watches, squeezing her hand, trying desperately not to call attention to themselves. The hero of the film is stuck in an airport, the clerk refusing his passport, he hasn't authenticated it with the main office, he begs her, she denies him, says there's nothing she can do. You're supposed to feel indignant at this, but I can only deal with one emotion at a time and I'm stuck on apathy.
Her chest moves in and out as she breathes, quickens when the hero's in any particularly dramatic sequence, slows when he's at rest, when there's a better likelihood that he'll get to his love. I can feel it, can sense her breath, slow and contained, nose flares, chest heaves, breasts rise underneath her jacket, can't see it but I know it's there. Seeing is different, touching is different than feeling, tasting, but I refuse, barring myself from memories sure to force rage on me. Yet I can feel them swilling, lingering, waiting for an opening, leaking through, soon enough I'm saturated in her, her smell, her flavour, her touch.
Nights spent when the parents were out of town, nights spent with momentum, slow at first, faster as the hours counted down to the morning, cries in the darkness, ecstasy or pain or both, it didn't matter at that point, collapse, sweat still trailing down faces, embrace, euphoric high fading as the minutes pass. Slowly eyes close and breath returns to a regular pace, peaceful, exhausted sleep, no dreams necessary. I would wake up in the same position, her essence still in me, snap back to reality yet somehow still be entranced by her presence, the warmth felt when she hugs me as I make breakfast. Mornings spent with momentum, conversation flowing from us both, a nirvana composed solely of hearing each other talk. We can argue without ever disagreeing, tease without offending, compete without losing or winning, each of us wondering why we're happy, then not caring. Soon only the feeling mattered, the heat of knowing there was a separate soul with a part of you forever tied to it; do your part, share a heart.
The final credits roll, she gets up, gathers her purse, leaves the popcorn. We discuss the film as adults, commenting on the acting, I make most of it up. She drives me home, nothing else is said, we reach my house, the sun has set. As I reach for the door handle, courteously yet curtly thanking her for the ride, she grabs my arm, holding me back forcefully, there is fear in her eyes, electric blue even in the ruddiness of the streetlights.
"Wait," she says softly, redundantly, I've already settled back in my seat. I eye her inquisitively – what now? – but she says nothing, her hand is still on my arm but her eyes have drifted to the floor. Her hair is still perfectly arranged, bangs framing her face perfectly, a portrait of indecisiveness, eyes fixed on the ground, hand trembling slightly, legs nestled tightly in dark blue jeans, snug against her crotch. Her breath is falling heavier now, heavier than in the theatre, slow and deliberate, desperate, I know what's coming, watch her chest move like a jackhammer in slow motion, digging for something too hard to get by hand.
"Look," she begins, releasing me, "can't we just forget about it already?"
"What do you mean?" I can see her entire pupil, white surrounding blue, reverse island.
"You know what I mean."
"And? You want me to forget it?"
"Yeah. It was a mistake. You know that." Short, curt, hurtful confidence.
"How do I know that?"
"Gimme a break, we were wasted, you would have done the same thing."
"Done what? What exactly would I have done?"
"Don't…make me say it. I already apologized."
"What would I have done?"
Deep breath, eyes rise to my level, hands in fists, ready for a fight, ready to rumble, to take it to the next level, to get bloody, get some faces beat in. "I fucked him." A short burst of air escapes me, a hairline fracture in my mask. "Happy?" She stares at me, refusing to look away, can't let her win, there's no victory in looking away. "What else do you want? You want me to say sorry every time we meet?"
"Then what the hell do you want from me? Every time you look at me I can tell you hate me; you won't let me touch you, not even a little, but you can't stop staring at my goddamn boobs! You want me to fuck you for revenge? You want what I gave him, you want retribution?"
Nothing to say, nothing fills the gap between me and my mask, the crack expands, my eyes widen behind it. Yes, I want to cry out, yes, let me fuck you and get it over with, give me back what he took, give me back what you owe me, give me back myself, what he stole in the dark, red hair flying. "No." Resolution remains intact, miraculously.
"Fine, then what?"
"I don't know." I open the car door and put one foot outside. As my foot scrapes the pavement, I hear her take in a quick breath:
"If you leave, I leave."
What is this? "Fine."
Days pass, no communication is had, no phones vibrating against my thigh, no careless laughter, it doesn't matter. The time of the Meeting is getter nearer, that is the only thing that matters now, the only thing I can look forward to, the only thing getting me through the mindless hours spent in stuffy rooms learning stuffy material with stuffy men in stuffy facial hair. The minutes pass by slower when I think about it, so I stop and focus on the scratching of my pen as I responsibly take notes about things that don't matter. Scritch, scritch, flip, scritch. I can't take it seriously.
The Time finally arrives, anticipation coursing through me as I walk down the dimly-lit campus sidewalks. What will she ask me, will we get to talking seriously, will we go out for coffee when we start to get tired, will this last till tomorrow morning? For every footstep, ten thoughts flash in and out of my mind, each one leaving a paintmark on the inside of my skull. I try to slow my breathing as I approach the destined door, her name printed neatly on a metal plaque adorns the wood, beautiful font. Standing erect in front of the door, eyes staring straight forward, hand raised to knock politely, the gentle passion of a breakfast conversation pulses in me but soon I have quieted it. Tap, tap, tap.
"Yes?" Her voice seeps through the thick wood of the door. I tell her who it is, hoping to whatever gods may exist that she didn't forget the Meeting.
"Ah yes, of course. Come in."
Her office is well-upholstered with cultured artefacts. A bookcase of British literature, another with World literature, a boat-in-a-bottle on her desk, a small lamp with a green glass shade, glasses perched jauntily on her forehead. She asks me to sit down, indicating a large leather sofa and armchair in the back corner of the office, previously unnoticed. I sink into the armchair, realizing instantly the mistake I have made: this is her spot. It's too late, so I play it off as intentional and wait for her reaction. She does not miss a beat, sitting comfortably in the closer corner of the sofa, floating on top of it, not sinking like a shipwreck.
"What was it we were scheduled to discuss?"
I had forgotten the actual question, my own schedule focused solely on the enactment of this meeting. Stumbling for words, I manage to sputter something related to that fateful day's question.
"Right, of course. First, let me ask you: do you have any idea as to the answer to that question?"
"Well, no, not really. To be honest, I hadn't been thinking about it much." Stupid.
"It's an interesting question, but I suppose the answer has to be that it is in fact both sexes that construct gender."
"You see, the very concept of males being the only ones that construct female identity is contradictory. The very fact that we are having this conversation is proof that women create their own gender. Do you follow me?" I don't, she continues. "The act of asking questions has, in the past, been seen as unbecoming in a woman. This being said, the fact that women today are not scared to ask questions – as I'm sure you've noticed from the female population of our class – is a construction of gender. We create our own identity through the very questioning of identity."
Nothing was clicking like it usually did, nothing made sense, no pieces fit together. Normally I understood everything that came out of a professor's mouth, normally I could see into their very core and know that I knew more than they thought they did. Yet now I am at a loss, I can only stare at the ground, at her feet as they sit flat on the ground, at her ankle-length skirt with it's teasing skirt, at her waist floating gracefully, at her sweater with its vice-like grip, at her chest, inflating and deflating slowly, her–
I jolt up in my seat and see her arms are crossed, her stare stern, her mouth pursed and pursed hard. "Hmm?" I manage to get out, clearing my throat.
"Would you mind if I ask you something personal?" Her lips soften a little as she says this, I can feel a tingle in my fingers. I nod and try to look serious. "Are you currently in a relationship?" Fingers tighten on the armrests, genitals contract, toes curl in their shoes. I do not know what to answer, what will get me what I want, so I shake my head no.
"I suggest you think about what I've just said before you engage in one. It's important to understand that, as a male, you do not have the right nor the ability to mould a woman, to conform her to your ideals; the identity of any woman and in fact any male is created by both parties and only with the consent of each one. Try to understand, I'm not attacking you, only trying to warn you."
"Right." Something starts to sink in my chest, my arteries filled with lead. I needed to leave, to find a pillow, to punch something that would break.
"Tell you what," she continues, leaning forward on the couch and looking me straight in the eye, "come back a week from now and we'll talk about this some more. Think about it, then tell me what you've figured out. You're a smart kid, I can tell not only from your schoolwork but from your attitude; you'll figure it out." I nod in compliance. "Alright then, same time next week."
At home, I punch my pillow; it does not break.
The sound of the front door clicking shut wakes me, I check the clock on my nightstand, four in the morning, my eyes go wide, a burglar. Swinging my legs out of bed, I realize it is Saturday morning, my parents have just come back from their show, probably drunk, probably ignorant to the value of the show they've just seen. I lay back in bed and stare at the ceiling, there is a small crack that runs from one corner to the center of the room, I follow it back and forth with my eyes ten times before I realize that blood pumping through me from the previous shock is preventing me from falling back asleep. I follow my parents movements with my ears, up the stairs, shoes still on, creaking up the last few steps, I can hear laughter now, then forced whispers, then jittery giggles, both male and female, then a low smacking, kissing, right outside my door. Oh God, no.
Their bedroom door opens, the lock snaps shut as the footsteps lead to the bed, the sound of wet lust resounding in my ears, I squeeze my eyes shut but to no avail. The giggles grow a bit louder before dying off, only to be replaced by the sound of a weight on their bed, a deep squeak as if it were a dying animal. Nothing, for minutes no sounds emanate from beyond my bedroom walls, breathing a sigh of release, I open my eyes, they must have fallen asleep. Count the Crack, I try to see how many times I can follow the crack back and forth before I fall asleep. One, two, three, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, it's not working.
Finally I decide to merely force myself to sleep, but there is a slow creak from my parents' room, then another, then another, the seconds between creaks getting shorter and shorter until it is a full-blown squeaky mattress parade, the sound of my father's panting and my mother's repressed cries bounces off my walls and sinks into my head, the image of two naked humans, entangled in the reproductive act with no intention of reproducing, doing it only for the sweat and the jolts of pleasure that follow. I can see my father's thrusting hips, my mother's receiving pelvis, the way her fingers clutch at my father's thighs, his eyes squeeze shut and he leans forwards, pure energy flowing from him into her. She now supports his weight, he can no longer do so on his own. She alone can see into him now, she is the one with the power, the shift is complete as he sags into her and she caresses him, smiling, both knowing the joy of nights spent with momentum.
In the morning I find them eating scrambled eggs and toast together in the living room, having a conversation about their high school days, reading an old yearbook. I leave them be, trying desperately to force the images of last night from my head. Sit down at the kitchen table with a bowl of sugar surreal and forget it, just eat your damn breakfast.
They spot me and come over to sit down, I glare at them but they don't notice, or really try and notice at all. Father puts down the yearbook on the table, open, and points to an old photo from his graduation, he is holding the hand of a young woman with beautiful hair, supermodel curves and a dazzling eyes, nose and mouth combo. Instantly I'm curious, yet refuse to give them any ground.
"That's me and your mother at our graduation." I grunt in reply, disgusted by my earlier judgment of the girl's looks. "I bet you didn't know we were high school sweethearts, did you?"
"That's right," my mother chimes in, "since the tenth grade." I look up and she is smiling brightly at me, her hair still mussed from last night's romp.
"That's awesome." I leave in a huff, slamming my chair against the table as I push it in, my room in the daytime is the only solace I have left it seems, yet even this is challenged when there is a knock on my door. I don't answer, my father walks in anyways, frowning as if I were a toddler who had just drawn on the walls yet again.
"What was that all about?" He doesn't seem angry, he's using his I'm-a-nice-guy-just-don't-fuck-with-me voice, I'm not intimidated.
"Come on, that didn't just come out of the blue."
"Just forget it okay, it was nothing."
He sits down next to me on the bed, I stare straight ahead and focus all my concentration on a piece of lint on the closet floor. "What's bothering you, son?"
"I heard you guys last night." It comes out as a whisper, my neck unmoving, my eyes stoic.
"Yeah, sorry, I told your mother to close the front door quietly, but she just has this habit of slamming doors."
"No, I mean I heard you in your room."
"Oh." Eyes shifting, butt shifting, thoughts shifting, words shifting. "Well, that was bound to happen, I suppose. Does that bother you?"
"Of course it bothers me."
"Son, it shouldn't bother you. It's natural. I mean, your mother have been doing it for a long time. I would have guessed you'd have known that by now."
"Why would I know that?"
"Because we love each other."
He puts his hand on my cheek and turns my face towards his, I continue to divert my gaze so he talks right at me. "So there's nothing wrong with having sex with someone you love." He releases me.
"Yeah, but you guys are old. And besides, you can't still be just as in much in love as you were in high school."
"And why not? I enjoy being with your mother exactly as much as I always have, and that means that once in a while we do have sex. It's part of any relationship, son. I mean, I assume you sleep with your girlfriend; are you going to stop sleeping with her once you get old? Obviously not." Horror at the notion of my father talking about me having sex, it shows in my face. "Oh come on, I think I can tell when my own son has had sex. Besides, you're old enough now that we can talk about things like this and be mature about it, right?"
Not knowing what to say is frightening, having something to say and not being able to is only more so. "Dad…"
"Dad, we had a fight. She's not talking to me anymore. I mean, I know it's my fault, I know what I did wrong, but how am I supposed to tell her that?" Veins thumped in my temples, not knowing where or why they were doing so. "She did something wrong and I got pissed at her. She apologized for it and I know she won't do it again, but what can I do? She hasn't tried to talk to me in days and I'm just…" Trailing off, pleading for comfort.
"You're going to have to figure it out, buddy. Everyone couple who loves each other has fights; the trick is knowing how to solve them. That's how you know you're really meant for each other." Bupkiss. No easy answer for a redundant question.
"Thanks." He gives me a hug and leaves the room, closing the door gently.
The weekend passes, days spent alone, reading, trying to lose myself in paragraphs, then words, then letters. Eventually all I'm doing is turning pages, nothing being absorbed, letters folding and unfolding in front of me. Sunday night encroaches on my boredom and I can feel the dread of knowing what I have to do seeping into me. I pick up the phone and dial. One ring. Two rings. Three. She's not there. Wait.
"Oh. What do you want?"
"You want to meet for coffee or something?"
"No." I almost hang up.
"Well, can we at least talk?"
"I want…I want to say sorry."
"So say it."
"Sorry. I was out of line. I mean, I know you wouldn't do it again, right? So I want to just put it behind me. I just want to forgive and forget."
"Who says I wouldn't do it again?" The severity of her tone is somewhere between testing me and daring me to explode.
"Well, I just assumed. You wouldn't, would you?"
"Look, let's go get coffee, I want to see you face to face."
The coffee shop is freezing; they have the air-conditioning on, a meat locker for our beloved customers. I'm early, she probably left late, just to make me wait for her, just so she can know she's still got some power left, trying to push my face deeper in the dirt. Every few minutes a shiver wracks my spine, travelling from my tailbone to my neck then back down to my fingers, telling me something is wrong, something is going to go down here. I check my watch one more time, twenty minutes late, typical woman, can't they go anywhere without making up their face?
As I look up from my watch I find her standing in the doorway, I wave, she comes towards me and sits down. She pulls off her gloves, her hood, her jacket, then finally acknowledges me.
"So how's it going?" She says it formally, almost menacing.
"Not great, obviously."
"Look, let me just start by saying I know, okay? I know you were right, I was wrong." She says nothing, arms crossed. "I don't know how else to say it."
"Tell me exactly what you're trying to say. Be specific."
"Just do it."
"God, fine. I'm sorry I was so pissed at you even after you apologized for sleeping with my best friend."
"That's too bad. It's too late, don't you get it? You can't just say you're sorry and expect me to forgive you and let it all go. You're never going to be happy if you keep thinking the way you do, and I just don't think I can live with that." She pulls on her jacket.
"What?" She doesn't look up, she's zipping up. "What?"
"You heard me, buddy. It's over, forget it, go on with your life. Don't bother looking me up."
She left without looking back. The sound of her voice ricochets inside my head. I manage to hold in my confused tears until I get home. I do not speak to her again for the rest of my life.
We meet again, once more at night. A v-neck sweater this time, a silky skirt that displayed her stony ankles, we sat in the same spots. I've repeated the scene in the coffee shop a thousand times at this point, trying to place exactly what it was that made me think it would work out, what would have made me believe that I wanted to save that relationship. What was in it for me? A cheating girlfriend? A lifetime of constant worry that she would be sleeping with every red-headed asshole that came into her life? No, I didn't need that shit, you can do better than her, you've got potential. After all, I'm in a private office with a beautiful woman right now.
"So, have you given what we talked about any more thought?" Right to the point, like a pack of wolves devouring their prey, swift and efficient.
"And? Any thoughts on the matter?"
"I think I agree. I mean, while the male identity does presuppose a certain female identity, in the end an identity cannot define another, only the identity itself can do that."
She's smiling, nodding, I feel as if I have just answered a question no one else had the answer to.
"Would you like a drink?"
"When I get stressed about work I like to knock one back, calms the shakes." She gets up before I can answer and makes her way to a cupboard beside the bookshelves. Behind the door is a bottle of wine and a few glasses. She takes two out and pours some dark red wine into each glass, handing one to me and sipping from the other. I take the glass but don't drink any. Finally, she completes the trip and lies down on the couch, facing upwards with the glass resting on her stomach.
"You're absolutely right, of course. You've hit it on the button, no question about that." She sighs, the smell of wine emanates from her mouth. "But you know, sometimes a woman does like to be taken by a man, for a man to tell her what to be, what to do. Do you understand?" I can't believe it: she took off her glasses.
"Umm, no, not really." What was happening here? My heart was beating fast again, yet nausea had crept into my stomach, I could feel a pain in my groin, as if I had been punched by some invisible fist.
"Sure you do." She removes an elastic from her hair, letting it loose around her shoulder. I had to leave, forget this, I don't need this.
"Look, professor, maybe I'd better leave." I start to get out of the armchair and she sits up abruptly. Moving quickly for the door, I find she's gotten up as well and put her hand on my shoulder. I spin around and find her staring at me with tearing eyes.
I turn the knob as fast as possible and jog down the hallway towards the elevator, looking back every few seconds to see if she had followed.
Something about the night sky when I exit the building feels different to me. Instead of seeing the stars shining, suspended in space, I feel them looking down at me, judging just how small I was. Shucks, they seem to say, this kid's a goner. I smile in return and close my eyes, leaning against a pillar. It was going to be alright, I know that now.