I don’t expect to see you, but here you are pulling up into Benito’s driveway. You leave the car running, your high beams feel like they are focused on me. I’m caught in the light, mesmerized. About five months ago, everything about you, except for the perfume that lingered for about a week, had disappeared from my apartment. The compact discs, the toothbrushes, your thin underwear, all these things disappeared. I double check the grill, and it’s the same one I dinged when we were drunk and pulling out of the parking lot of Cajun’s Jazz Bar. I had insisted on driving because you stumbled on the way out the door, the two hundred and fifty plus pound bouncer raising an eyebrow as we left. One eyebrow and I was intimidated. I reached over to kiss you after we poured into your car, but my foot was mashed down on the clutch and we rolled forward into the retaining wall.
Benito moans. He rustles through his soft brown leather jacket and tells me, “I forgot that she was coming over, man. Shit, I forgot.” I watch your door open and you step out, your thin legs shining in the backwash of light. You have a CD in your hand. It catches light and throws it off the plastic case as you walk towards Benito. Your steps are placed, slow, like in a dance, like a waltz, or a tango. You give him the CD. He smiles, says his thanks. I’ve always liked the sound of a modern tango arranged for guitar. I was always jealous because you and Benito could talk about cutting classes in middle school to smoke cigarettes in culverts across the street from your school. I like 2/4 time better than 4/4 for tango. Your fan belt kicks in with a high whine, your car needs a tune up, is missing, the percussive sound of at least one cylinder out of synch with the others.
You are in front of me. You are darkened, almost black in contrast to the bright light behind you. You push me. You yell, “Why did you do that to me? You son of a bitch, why did you do that to me?” You jab me in the chest with a long skinny finger, you yell, but I can’t move, I can’t say anything, I’m caught in the lights of the car.
At some point you had quit wanting to do things, even go to the movies, but wanted to curl against me on the couch and watch the national news or sitcoms that I hated. That was the beginning of it. You quit using words, would just stare into me. Your blue eyes would dim, and you would look through mine to somewhere in the middle of my head, and it would frighten me. You said that words were useless, that they didn’t mean anything anyway. That they didn’t mean what you wanted them to mean. You tried to get me to talk to you with my eyes, you said we would be able to talk with our minds, but that’s ridiculous. I thought that we were both becoming apathetic. You would watch, blankly, Benito and me play our guitars, us slaving over something in the Mixolydian Mode, or the flamenco thing in E minor seventh. You used to love to watch us play, but then you became expressionless, motionless. You would say it was only because we played the same things over and over, but you would have the same disc in your car stereo for months.
Some nice flourishes, a long embellishment, one that goes on for minutes. I can hear it in my mind, not the actual music, but the skewing of the form. It could be very nice. The tango. It takes two to tango.
Sex was mechanical, something to do sometimes before sleep. I realize now, now with your finger in my chest, that you wanted me to grow, that we had something growing, something growing half ours, half its own thing. But then there was her, the other one, the other woman. When I had seen her naked on her leather couch it was an embrace of something different. I don’t even know why I was attracted to her. She was short, had large breasts, and was quiet, and I don’t even like those things. But I will always remember the way I had to peel myself from her soft leather couch, the way it had molded into my back and I would sink into it. She was alluring somehow, her darkness, the way she would flip her head and her hair would cascade down to the small of her back. The warm of our bodies, and then the soft sound of my back pulling away from leather. Both of us knew it wouldn’t work, but then there was the way she would take her glasses off and pull herself into me.
We had gone to the coast a few weeks after we began to date. You said it would be romantic. And after we had sex in some seaside hotel that was the cheapest I could find, we went walking along the dark beach. You were spinning across it, letting the sand wedge between your toes when you suddenly stopped. I walked up behind you, and you had something in your hand. Look, you said, it’s perfect. You held your hand out to me and offered me the brilliant red sand-dollar you had found. It must have been four or five inches across, it swallowed your palm. It’s so thin, you said, and I’ve never seen one so red. You slid it from your palm into my outstretched hand. I flipped it over in my palm, and then I picked it up and tried to look at it against the distant light of neon signs. It was the red that bad landscape artists would paint into sunsets, the red of an addict’s nosebleed, the red of stop signs. You said to be careful, that it was a symbol, that even the slightest pressure would break it, that if I just closed my hand around it, it would turn to dust. When we woke in the early afternoon your legs were entwined with mine, and a television was on in the next room, and the sand-dollar was resting on top of the bible that was on the night-stand.
But now with your arms flailing, your breasts work themselves up and down as your fists hit me. I realize that I was growing in your womb, and that’s why you had been acting strange. Maybe you had been apathetic, but not after that, not after that instant that I became a part of you. That’s why Benito was surprised that you had been shaken up, he said that you usually took those things very well and never showed any emotion. He said that you were crying, curled into a ball on your living room floor saying it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, and he said what, and you said that bastard did it, and he didn’t understand. But I do. I do now. It’s disappeared, this thing. I broke it, turned it to dust. You would have been ripening now, this thing, but you’re not, you’re almost anorexic, but with muscle hardened like scars.
A long note, held with Benito’s vibrato, the way he can make a note sound so sensual, so sympathetic, to show the pause of the dance, the beauty of the woman’s form caught in dance. Everything else would drop out, and it would be just him, just him and his one note. Even this I cannot do, this thing that I have centered my life around. I can play the notes, I can play them fast, I can switch between intricate chordings with the dexterity of the best, I can play the jazz rhythms, the almost instantaneous time changes, but I cannot hold one note and make it feel. I cannot make it feel like anything. I cannot hold one long sustained note and make the audience feel its aloneness, its sadness. Benito can.
You’re crying now, and I’m still caught in the lights of the car. Stone. Benito is calling your name. There is no remission of this, is there? There is no retribution for this, is there? I am crying, and you stop hitting me. You look at me, your head tilted to one side. It’s that quizzical look you can have sometimes, that stupefied but omniscient look you can have. That bright dimness of the eyes. The water flowing down your face smears your makeup. It must have looked like that sand-dollar. Red like that sand-dollar, this little lifeless thing I turned to dust. “I’m sorry.” I say it soft. I say it louder. I begin repeating it. Over and over and over and over. I am saying it even as I weave across the lawn. I say it in my car where no one can hear me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.