“Every now and then,” said Mia, “usually late at night, I wonder how I ended up here.”
“Aha,” said Hayato. “Ha. On occasion.”
“Exactly. Now you do one.”
“Every now and then…” He leaned back, mouth open. “Ahm...” His head snapped forward again, long bangs falling into his eyes. “I sleep through the night and the day, and the next night.”
“I’m not joking. I do that.”
“So tired, huh?”
“Sometimes so tired. I do it on occasion. Every now and then.”
Mia tutored Hayato in a private room in the university library so they wouldn’t disturb people studying. She’d met him through her friend, who was also Japanese and knew him from the foreign students’ centre; the friend had said Hayato’s English was good, but that he was an aspiring translator, and needed help with idiom.
Every time they met that winter, Mia stood outside the library doors at the allotted time, and ten or fifteen minutes later, Hayato came shuffling up the slope draped in a huge jacket and speed-smoking a cigarette, his shaggy hair parted haphazardly with the thick bangs pushed to either side. He walked bent almost double so he wouldn’t slip backwards on the ice – the town was built on a series of steep hills with the university on the most dramatic. Almost a foot shorter than Mia, he seemed neither young nor particularly old, but simultaneously round-faced and haggard.
“I’m sorry,” he’d say, smiling widely. “So sorry. Mornings are my Achilles’ heel. Yes?”
“Yes – good – Achilles’ heel. Mine, too.”
They usually met at noon.
Hayato was a quick student and paid Mia at the end of each lesson, in cash. After a few months, he thanked her, and she didn’t hear from him again for over two years.
It was a small city and a smaller university, and Mia hadn’t seen Hayato around. She didn’t know he was still in town until she received his email near the end of June.
“Listen to this.” She read from her computer screen, “I need to talk to you about something. Please meet me for coffee.” Steve was on the sofa behind her, waiting for his bagel to toast. “Weird,” she said. “What do you think he wants?”
The toaster oven pinged, and Steve disappeared into the kitchen. She called after him, “Meet me tomorrow, he says. Mister Tea. Noon.”
Steve walked past her, heading back to his office with the cheddar-covered bagel. No plate. Mia averted her eyes from the menacing cascade of falling crumbs, promising herself she’d sweep them up later. In theory, Steve had the second bedroom as his office because he was more introverted than she was, but she’d agreed to set up her desk in the living room mostly so his spread-out papers, dirty socks, dust bunnies, and books would be contained in an enclosed space. He’d complained that the apartment outside his office felt like her space rather than a shared one – he was sequestered into a miniature version of his former basement pad, minus the tumour-reeking ashtrays since he had agreed to smoke outside.
“What do you think?” she called after Steve. “Do you think I should meet him? What could he want?”
“I don’t know, Babe.” Steve had already covered the apartment’s 600-foot length and was inside his office. Before the door clicked closed, he said, “I mean, sure. Go for it.”
Hayato was sitting in Mister Tea when she got there, a steaming cardboard cup in front of him. He wore the most serious expression she’d ever seen on his face. A small, tense smile. He watched her buy a cup of coffee, nodding with a lacklustre impersonation of his usual enthusiasm both times she glanced over and met his eyes.
“So,” she said, sitting down. “It’s been a while.”
“Long time no see,” said Hayato.
“I’ve never seen you in summertime. Hair’s too short. Wait – I don’t mean that. I mean to say, hair’s so short. Not too short, not too short.” His face cracked into the familiar grin. “Ha ha!”
Mia clasped her hands in her lap to resist touching her head. “It was even shorter,” she said. “I shaved it off.”
“Shaved?” He mimed a razor against his face, eyebrows high.
“This is crazy!” But the tense expression was back. “Thank you for taking this time to meet me,” he said. “I have something to tell you. My sister-in-law has died.”
During the sessions in the library, Hayato had never mentioned his sister-in-law, or any member of his family. “It was cancer.”
“I’m sorry. She lived in Japan?”
“Yes. She was married to my brother.”
Hayato put his hands on the table, palms down, then took them off again. He looked out the window. He was wearing a grey tee-shirt, and had a jean jacket over the back of his chair. His hair was still as plentiful and unkempt as ever, his skin a little shiny with the heat of the day. Hers must have been the same. His eyes settled for a moment on her collarbone, then on her shoulders; she was wearing a tank top. Her hands twitched to cover herself, but she clasped them tighter.
“Mia,” he said. “I would like for you to tutor me again.”
“Oh, really? The same as before?”
“I’ve applied for translation work. I need to make sure I’m ready. I can pay more than last time.”
“That’s great,” she said. “Because I’m taking the summer to finish. I’m supposed to be done already. So my funding’s run out.”
“So, you need a job, I need you.”
“And you finish your MA in…”
“And then you…”
“I’m moving out west with my boyfriend. He’s starting his PhD.”
“You have a boyfriend now.”
“I do. Yes.”
Hayato looked at her forehead, her shoulder, his cup on the table. “One more thing I have to tell you. I have a laptop for sale. A year old. I’ll sell it for four hundred dollars. You know anyone who needs a laptop?”
Mia pictured herself writing in the library overlooking the river, in Mister Tea, in Sally’s Café, and in the grad bar that occupied the famous dead poet’s old house. With a laptop, she could put the finishing touches on her thesis in the poet’s former living room, instead of in her own living room, where the sound of typing woke Steve and tormented him, reminding him he wasn’t working on his novel.
“But I can’t afford four hundred dollars,” she said.
“Three hundred and fifty – as low as I go.”
“How about if I pay you two hundred, and work off the rest?”
“I’ll pay you in work instead of money. I’d work off the hundred and fifty
dollars by tutoring you for the equivalent number of hours.”
“Ahh! Work off. Yes. Yes, all right. You work off.”
“Work it off.”
“It. Aha. One question.” He pulled a squashed cigarette from his back pocket and tapped it on the table, trying to reshape it. “There’s a phrase I read recently that I don’t understand. May I ask?”
“It’s just fucking with you. What does this mean?”
“Oh – that’s a colloquial expression meaning, just kidding. I’m just playing a trick on you. Trying to confuse you.” Mia moved her finger in what she imagined was a universal sign of insanity, in a circle beside her temple.
“Ahh. I see. Very colloquial?”
“Yes. Remember, fuck is considered a rude word? Until recently, it was considered the worst word in the English language.”
“It means – sexual intercourse.”
“Most swear words have something to do with bodily functions or sex or religion. Taboo things, right? In Japanese, too?”
Hayato moved his head in a motion that could have been nod or a shake. “What’s considered the worst word in English, now?” He squeezed both sides of the cigarette, and it sprung a leak. Little shreds of tobacco scattered across the table. He tapped it again, slowly, as though to be sure.
“I don’t know. I’ll think about that one.”
That evening, when Steve woke up for his night shift, Mia climbed into bed with him, and said she’d found a new source of income and a laptop.
He pumped his fist sleepily and said, “Woo hoo,” in a tone that sounded sarcastic, but wasn’t.
“It’ll help pay for the movers,” said Mia, rolling on top of him.
“You’re awesome.” He wrapped his arms around her lower back and ground his erection against her hip.
The next day, Mia met Hayato again to pick up the computer, which he handed over in its own shoulder bag, in exchange for her cheque. The bag was heavy enough that it bent her body sideways, and she struggled back up the hill, her back aching, the shoulder strap digging into her shoulder.
At home, she immediately turned on her computer, saved her thesis onto a disk, and transferred it to the laptop. She ate her lunch, and when she came back, the laptop’s screensaver had turned on: a single phrase, in white text on a black background, moving across the screen from right to left, again and again: Just fucking with you!
He emailed a week later. Mia nudged the door of Steve’s office open, holding her laptop. “Listen to this,” she said. “My student wants me to meet him at Chapters, up at the mall, so I can help him choose novels. Two of them. He says he wants ones I’ve read so we can discuss them.”
“What do you think about that?”
“I don’t know. I’m concentrating.”
“Okay, but listen to this. I believe reading is living. So reading together is living together in a way. That's wonderful, isn't it?”
“So what do you think about that?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess.”
Steve needed sleep, and couldn’t relax in her presence, not with her tendency to stand in his office doorway, asking, “Why do you want me to move out west with you, again?”
So Mia left an hour early and trudged up the hill toward the mall. It was dark and cool, the sky full of low, grey clouds, the kind that usually gave her migraines.
“What do you want me to do?” Steve had said. “Take an oath? I don’t know when I’ll stop being depressed. That’s not how love works; you don’t stop loving someone because they’re working as a taxi driver and having a hard time.”
He concentrated on his clicking.
“What can I do to help? Do you want a massage?”
“You know what I want.”
Mia stepped into the room, put her arms around his shoulders, and leaned her forehead against his cheek. “Come to bed and let me make you feel better” –
He snapped forward, away from her, and clicked on a mine. “Crap,” he said. “Oh, not that.”
By the time she reached the mall, Mia had replayed the whole scene at least ten times. The problem was, Steve was right. She’d declared her love when he was cheerful, adoring and over-sexed, eager to take her on drives into the forest, to stop during walks by the river and pick her up to swing her around. Watching his broad shoulders at the computer, she’d been thinking of getting his clothes off, getting his hands on her, not about his feelings.
“If you need to get laid,” he’d said, “just find someone else. You’re a girl; you shouldn’t have a hard time. I told you, I can’t be responsible for your sexual needs.”
“You’re a – you’re crazy. Turn around! Look at me, at least. Steve! Stop playing that fucking computer game!”
“I’m not talking to someone who’s yelling at me.”
“Are you insane?” Her throat ached with the volume of her voice. “You want me to fuck someone else?”
“I want. You. To leave me. Alone.”
She stood outside waiting for Hayato, for half an hour this time, her English teacher face twitching, her shoulders back. As he hurried across the parking lot, dragging viciously on the last scraps of a cigarette, she felt the first raindrops on her arm.
They found the fiction section and started with the A’s. She pulled out books she’d read and enjoyed, summarized them for him, and described the writing style.
“How about Martin Amis? Margaret Atwood? JG Ballard?”
Hayato turned each volume in his hands, shaking his head. “I can only read a book that gives me a feeling – a certain feeling when I touch it,” he explained, after listening politely to her pitch for Empire of the Sun. “No feeling, no good.” He shrugged; he couldn’t help it. Nothing she could say would give him the feeling if it wasn’t already there. She resisted looking at her watch. She would find books that gave him that special feeling. She would earn that laptop.
“What about this one? It’s great.” One of Steve’s favourites, too. “It’s about the absurdity of war and bureaucracy. A classic.” Hayato held out his hands, and she lowered the book into them.
“Oh!” His fingers closed around Catch-22. He held it at arm’s length, turned it from side to side, examining it. “Ahh!” he said. “Yes!”
“Yes! Catch-22. Joseph Heller. Yes, yes. This is good.”
“Great!” she said. “You’ll love it. Terrific!”
They continued through the I’s, J’s, K’s, and L’s. At least Steve would be working all night. Mia could go to bed as soon as he left the apartment and lie right in the middle, with her arms and legs spread out like a starfish.
“Oh,” she told Hayato. “How about this? I just read this for a class.”
“By Ian McEwan.”
“You like it?”
“Yeah, definitely. It would give us lots to talk about.”
He reached for the book, slowly, bracing himself, and as his fingertips made contact, his eyebrows shot up. Thank God: it was the feeling.
The mall’s foyer was darker now, though it was still mid-day, and smelled of ozone; the rain was pouring. Mia called a taxi from one in the long line of payphones. In this town, taxis didn’t just hang around malls, not even in bad weather.
“My boyfriend’s a taxi driver,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be him.” Steve would not have approved of her using him that way – mentioning him to provide a buffer between her and a man eyeing her with an expression that could have been affection, amusement, fear or something for which there was no word in English. Maybe he was just thinking about his next cigarette. She calculated in her head how many tutoring hours she still owed before the laptop was officially hers.
“It’s difficult to make friends in Canada,” Hayato said.
“Is it?” said Mia. “Yeah. I don’t really have any friends in town, either.” She led him past the phones and jumbo movie posters, and pushed through one of the mall’s inner glass doors to lean against an outer one.
He said, “Lonely.” It sounded like a question.
“I’m not lonely. I have a boyfriend.” The black asphalt parking lot was clean and shiny in the rain. A yellow car turned onto it from the road, way off by the Boston Pizza.
“You consider me as a friend?” said Hayato, looking at her instead of outside.
“Oh, good!” he said. “That’s what I thought. Friends, out for the day.”
Only as they jogged through the rain to the cab did his meaning dawn on her. The two hours at Chapters had amounted to friends hanging out, not to tutoring hours.
She still owed him the full hundred and fifty dollars. That was over ten hours. Ten long hours that stretched out ahead of her with the laptop visible in the distance, its screensaver blinking at her: Just fucking with you! Just fucking with you!
The taxi eased down the long hill toward the river and downtown.
“Will you marry your boyfriend, the taxi driver?” said Hayato. He was already holding a cigarette, ready for when the car stopped, so he could stand in the rain, smoking it.
“I don’t think so.”
“We don’t believe in marriage.”
“Don’t believe in making institutionalized promises that humans are constitutionally incapable of keeping.”
If any of her words were ones he hadn’t learned yet, he didn’t show it. “You don’t believe?”
Mia did a half-nod half-shake, Hayato-style. The sad thing was, when Steve had applied for the cab-driving job, she’d been excited. Partly because she’d looked forward to phoning the dispatcher in the middle of the night and pretending to be a customer, and to Steve picking her up and screwing her in his taxi. At least once. For godsake. You have your own taxi, and you’re not going pretend your girlfriend’s a customer and get it on with her in it? Sometimes when Mia looked at Steve, she wanted to say, Stop being such a pussy. Insane, considering her thesis was about effeminacy and chivalry in seventeenth-century English literature.
“Are you and your boyfriend on a rock?” said Hayato.
“Hmm? Oh, on the rocks. No, no…”
When Mia got home, the vinegary egg-smell of mayonnaise told her Steve was in the kitchen making his midnight lunch.
She stood beside him at the counter, and he said, “Hey, Babe.” He spooned mayonnaise into a bowl of something pink.
“How’s it going?”
“Ehn,” he said. “You know. Just woke up.”
“I’m sorry we fought.”
She put her arms around him from the side, and he turned, gave her a solid squeeze, and let go.
He said, “You know those scenes wreck my whole day. I don’t just snap out of it like you do.”
“I don’t just snap out of it. I felt awful all afternoon. I’m sorry.”
Steve always made the same thing: a bagel sandwich containing some kind of canned fish or meat salad. Sometimes the canned substance was tuna, sometimes salmon or ham.
“Why don’t you try those Montreal-style bagels I got?” she said. “They taste so much better than those puffy ones.”
“These are fine. They fill me up. Why do you care what bagels I eat?”
“I just don’t see why you’d eat a grocery store bagel when you could eat a real one.”
“These are fine.”
“Like how you could really not care one way or the other – “
The week before, she’d suggested throwing some chopped celery into the sandwich mix, and had once offered to make him something else. He’d said she didn’t respect him because he was a working class Joe.
“You have a master’s degree and teach at a university – “
“And drive a taxi. And you don’t have to work at all, because of your scholarship. You’re privileged. And I keep my earnings in a jar, and you can’t stand it.”
He gestured toward the table, where the jar sat, its lid off so he could count out his float for the night. He was right. The jar really got to her. Especially when, every few days, he dumped its contents onto the table to count it.
Now, she said, “Why not take an apple?”
Steve tucked plastic wrap around his sandwich to hold its shape, put it in his backpack, and sat down at the table to make cigarettes.
“Anyway.” Mia sat down across from him. “I just had a strange experience.”
He packed tobacco into the little machine, worked an empty paper tube onto the end, and then slid the sprung contraption to form a perfect smoke.
“That guy is obsessed with smoking,” she’d once heard someone comment at a party, pointing over at Steve with his cigarette-maker on the sofa. “Look at him. He would eat smokes if he could.”
“I think my student might have a crush on me,” she said.
“Maybe not. I’m not sure.” Mia told Steve about the Chapters outing, and he rolled his eyes.
“So what do you think about that?” she said. “Does he want to be friends, or just not to pay me, or does he have a crush on me?”
“Can you please stop talking?” Steve pressed another wad of tobacco into the machine, and arranged another paper tube. “I don’t like to talk right before going to work. I’m trying to think.”
“Steve.” Mia closed her hand around his wrist; it was a thick, muscular wrist, weighty in her hand. “Why do you want me to move out west with you if you’re so unhappy?”
He sighed. “Not again. I’m not unhappy because of you.” She let go of him and he cranked the machine, lay the smoke beside the first one. “I’d probably feel even worse without you. I can’t stand this – your constant demand for attention. You say you love me, but you won’t give me what I need.”
“Which is to be left alone.”
He reached into the tobacco pouch for another wad. “Yes.”
“But not to be left.”
Mia picked up Steve’s two perfect cigarettes and crushed them in her fist. They didn’t come apart, but a bit of tobacco squeezed out their tips. She let go; they hit the table, wrinkled and deflated.
“Not cool,” said Steve.
“Why don’t you just dump me?”
“I’ll never dump you. I told you.”
“Shh – just talk in a normal voice.”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
“I’m sorry.” Mia put her hand on the table, her fingertips almost touching the mangled smokes. “I’ll make you some new ones.”
“I’ll do it.” He swept the tobacco she’d wasted off the table and back into its pouch.
A week later, there was a heat wave, the kind that melts lip balm into a puddle in its little jar. Mia was sitting at her desk with a fan two feet away. “Hey, Steve,” she called toward his office. “My supervisor says one more set of revisions and I’m done.”
“You rock,” called Steve.
“Oh – and. Oh, weird. Listen to this. It’s Hayato. He wants to discuss the books now, and then he says, It is so very hot. Are you hot? Damn, yes! What do you think he means by that?”
Steve stepped into the room and stood behind her for a moment. “I don’t know. Nothing.”
“So he’s just referring to the weather?”
“Should I explain to him that hot has another meaning? I guess it’s my job to explain stuff like that, but it’s awkward. You see what I mean?”
“I don’t know. He’s your student.”
“Maybe he chose Catch-22 as a message to me, that he was planning to put me in this position where I’m damned if I do, damned if I – “
But Steve had left the room. He was two hundred square feet away, mashing mayonnaise and canned ham.
To discuss the books, Mia suggested Sally’s Café, the teahouse run by a couple renowned for their rudeness. “Their rudeness is their charm,” Mia convinced Hayato. The first time they planned to meet, he didn’t show up. Give me one last chance to keep my word, he wrote to her that evening. He just hadn’t been able to wake up, he explained.
The second time, she sat for five minutes with the grey-bunned Sally glaring at her over the counter before Hayato appeared outside, pacing the window. Finally, he dropped his cigarette butt, came inside, and ordered tea for both of them.
“The note,” he said. “What do you think about the note?”
Sally slammed teapots onto the table, her husband peering in from the patio to eye his only two customers with bald contempt.
“The note. That Robbie sends to Cecilia.”
“By mistake, and then they meet in the library, and, ahh…”
“What do I think of it?” she said. “Well, it’s pretty amazing how that little mistake affects all the character’s lives so deeply isn’t it? And how something seemingly profane becomes profound…”
“Yes,” said Hayato. “But what would you think if someone sent you a note like that?”
“Um,” Mia said.
In my dreams I kiss your cunt, your sweet wet cunt. In my thoughts I make love to you all day long. Steve had sent Mia notes like that; for the first six months of their relationship, her email inbox had been full of them. That’s how she ended up in this mess.
“You wanted to know the most offensive word in the English language?” Mia said.
“That’s it. That’s why it works in the novel. To shock the characters and the reader – do you see?”
“It’s so rude, I don’t want to say it. That’s how rude it is.”
Hayato had deep grooves in his cheeks; would he be offended if she asked his age? He said, “But what would you think if you got a note like that?”
“For anyone, it would depend. But what did you think about the ending?” she said. “What Briony reveals at the end?”
“Not so interesting for me.” His hair flopped over his forehead, and his grin threatened to crack his cheeks.
Mia said, “This counts as tutoring hours.”
“Just so we’re clear. This is tutoring. Hours.”
He didn’t care about metafiction, about Briony’s tortured quest for atonement. He probably didn’t even care about Yossarian and that dying soldier in the plane.
“Tutoring,” he said. “Teaching words. But you won’t say the word I want to learn about.”
Sally stood behind them and frowned at their mugs. “Are you ordering something else?” she said.
Hayato stared at Sally like he didn’t speak English, and her eyes widened. She backed away.
Hayato leaned toward Mia, just a little. “Just fucking with you,” he said.
Mia didn’t have to avoid Hayato for the next three weeks; he didn’t contact her until a few days before her departure. By that time, she and Steve had packed their apartment, aside from a few sets of clothes and enough dishes to get by.
In his email, Hayato apologized for bothering her when she must be busy. He wanted her to take some photos of him on campus, he said. He had no one else to ask, and he wanted to show his friends in Japan where he lived.
“I can’t believe you’re going to meet some student the day before your defense,” Steve said. “The day before we’re leaving.”
“This guy doesn’t have anyone else, maybe,” said Mia. “I think I need to do this.” She squeezed onto Steve’s lap on the sofa, between the boxes. “Can we take a shower together when I get back? I feel like we shouldn’t leave this place without taking one shower together.”
“Yeah,” said Steve. “Okay.”
“I’ll wash all that moving sweat away.” She lifted his arm and pushed her face into his armpit. The smell made her dizzy.
Hayato was waiting for her outside the library, as they’d planned. Mia stopped, and he stepped closer to her. “You’re so tall.” He looked up at her chin. “You have a pimple.”
“Stress. I’m defending my thesis tomorrow. That’s rude, by the way.”
“Pointing out a pimple.”
“No. No – not… I meant. You’re young. I meant you’re so young. And I’m – “
“Still, young. Too young for stress.”
“I’m moving across the country with a man whose most prized possessions are a jar of coins, fifteen years worth of his own journals, and a second-hand Oxford English Dictionary – the multi-volume kind that comes with a magnifying glass.”
Hayato gasped. “Love,” he muttered, like he was embarrassed to say it. Then he said, “I. I will move to Texas.”
“Oh…” said Mia.
“Texas – because – the work is there.”
“Right, well. You wanted photos? I only have about ten minutes.”
Hayato posed in front of the library and then with his back to the hill; the town, spread out behind him, looked like a lush forest dotted sporadically with houses. He sat on his favourite bench, spreading his arms to invite his family? friends? in Japan to take a look.
“All done?” Mia said.
“Wait! Us together.” He stood beside her and took a shot of their faces.
“I’d better go,” she said. “I’m packing today, and my defense…”
“Wait, wait. Please. One photo of you, please. To remember my friend. Sit on the bench?”
Mia sat on the bench.
“I can see your underwear,” said Hayato.
She followed his gaze to her shoulder, and pushed her bra strap into her shirt.
“Okay, now. Yes. Turn your shoulders like…”
She smoothed her hair.
“You look like a Playboy model!” said Hayato. “Now just lean back a bit, look at the camera…”
“That’s enough!” She stood. “I have to go.”
“Yes. I have to get ready for my defense. My boyfriend’s waiting for the movers. I have to help him! I’m really busy. So – goodbye, Hayato. Good luck.”
Mia stepped backwards, downhill, and they faced off, both panic-stricken. He looked as if he might do something desperate. Hug her, maybe. She stepped back again and waved her hand, nodding manically to encourage him to do the same.
“I want to kiss your cunt.” He mirrored her open-mouthed expression and then reassumed his trademark grin. “Like in the book!” he said. His smile twitched.
“Ah,” he said. “Um?”
“That’s not a nice thing to say.”
“It’s not? Wait – I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
Mia resisted running, but speed-walked along the path that led her to the grad bar, where she ordered a pint and sat in the dead famous poet’s living room.
Mia took the laptop, which was technically half hers and half Hayato’s, from its bag, flipped it open, waited for it to boot. Hayato had managed to email her already; from the library, she supposed.
I deeply regret that my joke was not funny for you, he’d written. It was a joke and I never meant it. I swear it. He said he hoped and prayed that Mia’s defense, and the rest of her life, would be a wonderful success.
Hayato, she wrote. Aren’t the Japanese supposed to revere teachers? I know I live with my boyfriend, who I don’t intend to marry. I look young for my age. I made too many jokes, maybe, while I was tutoring you, and I recommended Atonement. But you have the wrong idea. She paused, her fingers still on the keyboard. I’m a serious person, she wrote. Then she deleted the whole message.
She wrote, You misunderstood, and pressed Send.
The next message from him appeared in thirty seconds. It said: You.
There was no need to answer. She was leaving the next day. She would never see or think about Hayato again. She shouldn’t have gone to meet him in the first place; what was she doing, taking time out of the busiest day of her life to meet someone she barely knew? She should have been at home, helping Steve, getting ready to leave, getting ready to begin their real lives together.
She left her pint glass half full, and jogged toward home, downhill and then uphill again. When she turned onto their street, she saw the moving truck. Four strangers were carrying boxes into it, marching with their burdens like a line of ants, one with her unassembled futon on his shoulder. They would leave only an air mattress and a couple of suitcases. Steve sat on the front steps, smoking. He lifted his head, and Mia waved. He stood, and she broke into a sprint. She imagined how she must look to him, running up the hill; her hair was too short now to lift and fall much, but he’d see the involuntary smile transforming her face. He’d remember two years earlier, the first summer they dated, how she used to run the last block to his basement apartment and arrive breathless, how he’d open the door and pull her inside, his hands already in her clothes.
“Steve!” she yelled.
She was close enough to hear the creak of the moving truck’s ramp as a teenaged boy carried her bike inside it. None of the movers glanced at her. Likely, they didn’t know Steve was moving with a woman; it wasn’t the type of thing he’d think to mention. He reached into the nook in the brick wall beside the mailbox, where he and some other tenants kept a coffee can for their cigarette butts, to prevent litter. He was freeing his hands so he could grab her, lift her and swing her around. He’d say, “Hello, sexiest woman on Earth,” just like he used to, and they’d go inside to shower together, to make love in the empty apartment cleared of everything that had obstructed their happiness. Afterwards, they would smile and smile, faces close together, savouring the end of their difficult year. Mia laughed and ran faster, beginning to spread her arms.
Brushing his hand against his jeans, Steve looked over his shoulder into the building; one of the movers said something, and Steve lifted his arm in response, then turned away again. Mia was halfway across the street when he stepped inside and shut the door behind him as though he had never seen her in the first place.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Naomi K. Lewis. All rights reserved.