We’d wandered around the apartment for a while after we arrived through the front door, moving from a compulsion to ensure that all the cold, detailed tasks of the day were really done. An hour passed without note and we found ourselves on the earth-colored couch in the living room, sitting placidly, but upright. I tried to assure myself that I had been busy enough throughout the day to warrant being tired.
It was then, as she stopped to look into the curve of the socks on her feet, that I realized there was nothing that we felt the need to say. Understanding was what we shared then, intuitive and unimposing. I joined her in looking down at her feet and the blank, tan floor under them. She made a soft noise like a hard breath that was supposed to turn into a hum. I yawned and she leaned back into the couch, stifling her own yawn in the strong clench of her round jaw. There was no charm in the non-ticking of our digital clock hanging opposite us above the black, inactive TV, so I adjusted myself as I leaned back to draw out the noise of the fabric and fill the gap of silence for as long as I could. I was studying the small marks dotted along the paint of the wall and noticed her looking at me through the corner of my eye.
When I looked back and spent a few seconds of focused time trying to draw out the intentions from her eyes, I saw no initiative to move, no agenda, no fidgeting filler. It eased me into thinking that a kiss would be a means to an end just then—a show of gratitude for being accessible even in my boring silence. The moment passed; she turned to lay her head on her edge of the couch and swung her feet up across my lap. She squirmed and nestled in a few small motions and adjusted a dusty throw pillow below her head. Her face remained stoic yet serene and her eyes began to close. The wiggling of her toes became her benevolent smile. With an idle hand I began stroking my fingers into the humid, open valley above her heel. The toes curled inward at my touch and relaxed as I palmed the side of her foot. Touch can mean many things, I suppose, but this intimacy was a blind, reactive thing. It was a whole rather than a part– an end to the mild night.
While I pressed hard into that valley, my mind stumbled on chronic thoughts. There are still things I can’t stand to think about for long, and one of them is the idea of her being a stranger again and of me owning an empty apartment in which I try to justify time spent with the occasional distant guest and my own lonely ghost, hoping that I have something impressive to say or be. I can’t stand to think of what must happen when these moments with her are done and all used up. Happiness generates hunger for more happiness; contentment is a foreign thing that needs practice to be sustained. The mind is built to be unsatisfied. My current future is the sum of desires that evolve around and from her.
If it were possible, I would’ve found a way to turn myself and lay parallel on the couch with her, but the couch was too small. Instead, I settled for slouching in the same spot I was in, letting my hand drift from her foot and rest under her legs. I strain to feel the rhythm of her breathing move her frame in subtle ways as I try to drift off to sleep. A familiar, benign fear of time creeps in and follows me into my thoughts. The transitioning, half-lucid schedule of my life came flashing, reminding me of the things that need doing tomorrow. I tried to drown it with thoughts of her and the calm she shares with me. The competition was fierce and unstable; I escaped it by floating out of consciousness and becoming nothing.
I slip into a dream. I am intent on driving all the way through Las Vegas at night on a single road into the eventual desert. The details of this desire are vague and weary, as if I am thinking of it while exhausted. Past my headlights, the sand of the open desert anticipates figures in its haunting blankness. The stars alone define the limits of the horizon. My path begins yielding those promised figures: a scattered parade of hitchhikers lines both sides of the road. They are carrying illegible signs and posters; they are walking in the same direction that I’m driving and they keep their heads down. Maybe there are twenty and maybe there are forty, but I will pass them in an instant all the same.
As I get close, one of them suddenly tries to dart across the road, as if to hurry and pick something up on the other side. I hit him bleak and hard, the slam un-resounding. My car slows down but is not stopping. The hitchhiker rolls over on his back, heaves a breath in the settling dust, gets up stiffly, and looks at me with cat eyes that glow in the dark. I see him smile and he laughs at me. The other tattered people notice he’s fine, and while they return into a cluster of dot-sized forms that fade into the starry night, they laugh at me too. As I turn back to the road ahead of me, I realize and remember what his sign said: “What’s the matter?”