TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 1

Flashpoint

 · Fiction

It is February. It is the worst winter New York has seen in years, and I have forgotten what it is to feel warm. Our apartment — the attic of a three-story walk-up — does not have a working heater. I sleep in wool socks, sweatpants, and Gerry’s UCLA sweatshirt. The wind moves freely through the open gaps in our windows and our walls. Its gelid fingers probe every corner, every pocket of space that is ours, exposing everything.

Gerry, who grew up in Detroit before our years in California, is accustomed to the cold. The sleet, the mounds of hardened, gray ice lining the sidewalks remind him of a childhood of sledding and snow forts. He does not mind when the hot water fails every weekend and forces us to take quick three-minute showers. Nor does he understand why I need double-layered gloves and earmuffs for the two blocks to the laundromat. He does not understand that I am always cold. That, despite the gloves, despite the earmuffs, despite the weatherproof, fleece-lined snow boots that cost more than we could afford, I am constantly, incurably, penetratingly cold.

Except when I run.

The alarm sounds every morning at 5:30. I am out the door by 5:45, shoes pumping against the pavement, sharp air filling my lungs. When people think of New York City, they consider Times Square or Greenwich Village. They think of trendy, vegan cafés and glamorous Broadway shows. They do not think of our lonely Brooklyn neighborhood, its hollow streets at six in the morning, empty except for my footsteps echoing off the crumpled walls of sagging houses and bankrupt stores. But I don’t mind the quiet.

I stopped taking my iPod on morning runs. I’ve come to embrace the sound of my sneakers striking concrete, the harsh puffs of my every breath breaking the morning air like waves on an untouched shore. The sidewalk scrolls beneath me, and the dull aches seep from my body. I move past the rows of salons and kosher delis, their windows blinded by metal gates padlocked to the ground. The signs blur into streaks of incomprehensible reds and yellows. The ashen snow melts into rivers of gray. The wind hugs my body, but I am safe. I feel only the blood surging through my veins, pulsing life into my limbs again. My footsteps mark a different rhythm — one that carries me beyond the drab corners of exposed concrete. The speed divides me from the sleeping city. I can sprint into a different world, a different plane. Here I am separate. I am untouchable, and finally warm.

* * *

I complete only one loop this morning. I have developed a sharp pain in my knee that has only worsened with time. It comes and goes throughout the run, but remains throughout the day. Quietly, I climb the splintered stairs to our door, stepping with just my toes to avoid disturbing the loose floorboards that Lucas still hasn’t gotten around to fixing. Our landlord lives on the first floor with his wife and four kids. Every evening, the scent of Caribbean spices, of jerked chicken thighs and cooked papaya, drifts up the steps and through the holes in our apartment.

I turn the key and shove the door open with my shoulder. There’s a trick to it — you need to pull up on the knob to dislodge it from its crude, impromptu frame. Usually, I make it through the neighborhood, around the park, and back before Gerry wakes. But today, from the hallway, I can already see the empty pillows — slanted bars of waxing sunlight patterned over folds of plain, white cloth. He says nothing when I enter, his broad, rounded shoulders a wall of noncompliance, framed by the unadorned square of our window.

Immediately, the post-run calm drains from my body. The familiar tension, shaken laboriously with each step, laces around my spine with ease. I am happy to disappear into the shower.

* * *

Our room is small, but I angle the closet door as best I can so Gerry can’t see me as I dress. It has been months since we’ve had sex. Neither of us has mentioned it. In the beginning, I felt guilty. I began to set up excuses early in the evening — I’m feeling tired, I’m getting cramps, I have a headache — but eventually it became unnecessary. Now, I find it difficult to imagine us in college — the entire days tangled in each other’s sweat-dampened limbs. It was long dark by the time we finally collected our crumpled clothes from the floor, movements languid with satiety. We went to In-N-Out and carried back grease-darkened sacks filled with burgers and fries. We ate cross-legged on the carpet, watching end-to-end episodes of Law & Order: SVU.

Though it has only been two years, I’ve already distanced these memories — as if they happened to someone else. We have lost the right to them. We have erected barricades with everything left unspoken, and now we are little more than two strangers once visited by the same ghosts.

* * *

“I don’t know how you don’t see it.” Gerry’s voice startles me. I hop awkwardly on one foot as I try to shove the other leg into my jeans.

“See what?” I ask, jumping up and yanking on the waistband.

“How different you look.”

I pretend not to hear the repulsion in his voice. Last month, with an uncharacteristic lack of tact, he told me, It’s like I’m dating a cancer survivor. Only you never had cancer. You’re just…sickly.

“Different from what?”

We’ve had this conversation already. The words leave my mouth without thought — I’m just making sounds. He means different from November, when we first moved here. The month has become the turning point for when we stopped being us.

“From before New York.”

He is standing behind me. He touches his hands to my waist, stopping me from putting on my shirt. My bra sags; there is no longer anything to support. At first, I truly didn’t notice, but now it’s undeniable. My clothes have stopped fitting. I wear all my jeans with a thick, black leather belt, which we bought for five dollars from a stand in Chinatown. We punched a new hole in it, two inches from the tightest setting, using a screwdriver and a jar of marinara sauce. Even with the fabric bunched at my waist, the denim falls in loose folds over my legs, as if they didn’t exist.

The width of my shoulders now seems too broad for my body; they used to be balanced by the swell of my hips. Without intention, I have spent the past few months paring myself down, whittling away the rounded curves that softened my figure. For the first time in my life, I am all angles and bones. It looks unnatural.

Gerry curls his fingers around my ribs — touching, but not holding me. His hands are wide and doughy, much like the rest of him. He’s the sort of man people describe as “husky,” like a football player gone soft. He hates exercise, can (and often does) subsist entirely on burgers and ice cream, but the weight he carries just substantiates his six-foot frame. He’s solid. Grounded. In his hands, I look like a toy.

“Allison,” he says, “maybe you should see a doctor.” I imagine this is the voice he uses at work — distant and diplomatic. A voice to hold me at bay.

“I don’t need a doctor. I’m fine.” I’ve been saying this for a while now, but only recently has it become an active lie. I’m not fine; I have bouts of dizziness, intermittent chest pains, and I haven’t slept through the night in months. That concerns me, but it’s no mystery. I run five miles every morning, and I don’t eat enough throughout the day. It should be an easy fix, but it’s not. Gerry prefers the cold slabs of fifty-cent pizza from the grungy kitchen down the block. He orders Chinese takeout that arrives dripping with fluorescent orange grease. But I am no longer the girl who feasted with him on Double-Doubles and Animal Style fries, and both of us are afraid of what this means. So I run while he’s still sleeping, and I nibble slowly at the crust of the Meat Monster Special with double cheese, gathering chunks of rubbery mozzarella in my napkin anytime he looks away.

I pull my shirt over my head, and the cotton devours me with its shapelessness. Gerry’s hands fall away.

“Do you want breakfast?” I ask, binding my damp hair with a rubber band. Even that has changed. Every night, I collect the thinning strands from the bathroom floor so Gerry won’t notice. Sometimes, though, I find myself wishing he would.

Gerry scrutinizes me. “Will you make hash?”

“Why not.”

We have only two eggs left, and one aged Idaho potato. I know this, and I know it will barely make one serving. In the kitchen, I tip canola oil into the pan, swabbing it over the scratched iron. I dice the potato into neat squares, aligning them with the edge of the cutting board. I take my time. There is comfort in touching food, in smelling it, even if I have no intention of eating.

I find bacon in the freezer, bound to the shelf by a layer of ice. I brown the potatoes in bacon fat and finish it off with the last of our eggs. Salt. Pepper. Dried oregano from a plastic shaker. A tender swell of pride balloons in me as I heap the food onto a ceramic plate.

Gerry looks up from his laptop. For a second he smiles — a flashpoint of happiness — and it disappears. “Are you not eating?”

“I ate earlier,” I lie.

“Before your run.”

“Yeah.”

“You know, I think I’ll just grab a bagel today,” he says. He moves past me for his coat, and before I can remark, he is gone.

I imagine him eating a bagel at his desk. I picture the thick layer of cream cheese he’ll slather over each half, and the slow, sinking satisfaction as he buries his teeth in the dense dough. I scrape the uneaten breakfast into the trash.

* * *

Gerry’s a junior analyst at Reiss Consulting, a small but growing advertising firm with a rented office in the Financial District. He’s one of the miscellaneous up-and-comers that they keep for long hours and toss small projects of moderate difficulty. He’s not a stand-out, but he’s not bad, either. That’s how Gerry is in life; he’s happy wandering the wide, leisurely path between indolence and industry. He has the blind confidence of someone who’s naturally charismatic and inherently lucky. He’s a successful stumbler. The most pathetic thing is, I used to feel superior — more ambitious, enterprising, or whatever. Now I’m just envious.

We both studied business at UCLA. In fact, we actually met through a study group for Management 127. On paper, I looked like a rock star. At the end of our senior year, I had internship offers from three major firms, but it earned me little more than the scorn of my graduating class. After the call from Deloitte, I walked from my apartment to the Santa Monica beach without thought. At the corner of Ocean and 3rd, I stood watching the rush-hour traffic crawl past the light, wondering when it would start to feel good.

* * *

The jog to Park Slope takes me twenty minutes, which is five longer than the Google maps estimate. I tell myself that the computer algorithm must overlook the grueling, uphill climb from Bed-Stuy to the land of baby buggies and manicured schoolyards, but that’s probably not it. I’m always tired. Even when I walk, it feels as if I have to sever the thick leather of my boots from the concrete with every step.

In the storage room, I change into my uniform — donning my black slacks and black shirt between columns of wine crates. I can feel my pulse in my limbs, dull throbs in my thighs and calves, far too slow despite my run. When I reemerge, Juan has already set the tables, each one wrapped neatly in white linen.

Everyone here has at least two jobs. Juan runs deliveries for the pub next door. Samantha, who waits Thursdays and Fridays, is a food writer for Edible Brooklyn. Natalie is a dancer, and — at age twenty-seven — already creeping towards the end of her career. Even Angelo teaches a class on sauces and soups at the Institute of Culinary Education. I am the exception.

I took this job thinking I would spend my days dabbling in coursework at CUNY. But the bills accumulated, and after a semester of psychology, philosophy, and biology, I felt even further from my lost identity. I settled for six days a week at Isola, three of which keep me from opening through close — ten a.m. to well past midnight.

Already I can hear the sounds of Juan’s voice echoing off the polished steel, past the doorway. I remember just enough of my high school Spanish to understand something about an experience involving too much cerveza and an ex-girlfriend — possibly two. The back door is propped open, which means Samantha has stepped outside for a cigarette. Angelo is busy at the stove.

Angelo Baccino is our French-educated but genuinely Italian chef. He learned the art of pasta at his father’s knee, in some fishing village in northern Italy. At twenty-eight, he has an impressive résumé, even for New York City. He’s worked at three Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famed Jean Georges. The reviewers at New York Magazine ate it up. Two months ago, they ran a two-page spread on the restaurant, featuring Angelo. Beside perfunctory pictures of plated pastas and swordfish Milanese, they situated close-up shots of Angelo’s secretive grin, his olive skin and neatly stubbled goatee. We still receive the occasional crowd of NYU girls with crinkled copies of the magazine, asking for his autograph. Nevertheless, Angelo’s legitimacy eliminates the irony of the fact that the restaurant owners are actually brothers from Quebec. Two retired opera tenors who eat a steady diet of poutine and meat pies.

Angelo hoists one of the stock pots from the stove and nods towards the bowl on the counter.

“Saved you some family meal,” he says. “It’s tonight’s special.”

As I peel back the protective sheen of plastic, steam kisses the air. I inhale deeply. Sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi with sausage, leeks, and fennel. I study the plump balls of pasta, bathed in tomato cream sauce, flecked with dried red chilies and a fresh snow of pecorino romano. My stomach stirs with interest. I haven’t eaten in over twenty-four hours, and my last meal was a plum.

I sink the tines of the fork into a single dumpling and lift it to my mouth. The rich cream spreads across my tongue, thick and smoky from the oils of spiced sausage. It takes me four bites to finish the dumpling. It is far richer than anything I allow myself to eat outside the restaurant; I chew each morsel until it dissolves into starchy nothing. Something in my chest gapes open and shudders with pleasure and yearning. For a moment, I can feel how much my body longs to be fed. The hunger is familiar. It is tremendous and protective, and I want to be cradled by its enormity.

“Angelo, you’re an artist.”

“Only the best for mi amore,” he says, and I know it’s true. When he partitions out the family meal, he saves me the best of everything — the most tender cuts of venison, plump halves of roasted duck on beds of crisp arugula. No use saving it for the tasteless masses, he says, who wolf things down too quickly to appreciate the subtleties of his work.

Angelo dropped his pursuit immediately after I explained about Gerry. But the pet names never stopped. Weekly, he sends me home with white pastry boxes, filled with his signature almond panna cotta. On the lids, he draws hearts or writes sweet nothings in Italian. Gerry no longer reads these before he digs into the custard.

“Man, he can call you whatever he wants if he keeps feeding us like this,” he once told me through a mouthful of chocolate mousse. He smiled to indicate he was joking, but I refused to play along.

My gut grumbles for more, and I poke at my food. I pick out a few slivers of leek, scraping the sauce off on the rim of the bowl before placing them in my mouth. Even so, I am acutely aware of the oil slicked over every bite. It tastes like fear, like vulnerability. Though Angelo is a gifted chef, I feel disgusted. Those two bites have hardened within me, viscid and unmoving.

While Angelo occupies himself in the walk-in, I snatch up one of the takeout containers. I dump out the contents of my bowl, watching the sauce ooze over the bottom of the tray. The package is warm, and I flatten my palms on either side, willing that heat to fill me. But it doesn’t, and I tuck the food away. There’s a cheap mini-fridge in the kitchen. Sometimes we use it to store extra kegs, but lately it’s just held my uneaten meals. I run home at the end of each night with chilled pasta in a plastic bag, swinging from my closed fist.

* * *

Thursdays are a crapshoot at Isola. Sometimes we’re slammed from opening to close, and I can think of nothing but the ticking time bombs at each table: five needs more water, seven’s appetizers are up, eight needs me to add up their check, and eleven wants another bottle of Schiopetto. Other nights, like tonight, business is slow.

Samantha paces before the front windows, pausing occasionally to peer through the glass.

“Guess it’s the damned weather,” she mutters.

Frigid droplets, neither rain nor snow, have begun to drip from the sky. They melt before they hit the ground, leaving everything damp and slicked with ice. A draft drifts through the back door. Sam has propped it open with her foot, leaning halfway into the night to smoke her cigarette. Servers always get anxious when there’s no business; it means we make virtually nothing for the night. We’re just killing time. But I don’t mind. I’ve retreated to the rear of the kitchen, where the warmth from the stove collects in the air. I hold a mug of tea to my chest, concentrating on that single point, on the way the heat burns at my breastbone.

“Per te, mi amore,” Angelo’s voice hums in my ear. He is standing beside me, leaning against the heater with a small plate in his hand. There’s a freshly baked rhubarb crostata. Smoke rises in thin curls from the soft center of caramelized fruit.

Again, I taste it at the back of my throat: fear.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask, clinging to my mug as if it were a life raft. Barley tea. No milk, no sugar.

“Table seventeen sent it back,” Angelo mutters, words thick with disgust. “They thought a crostata was a biscuit, like a biscotti. They wanted to know why we didn’t have biscotti. ‘Scarpetta has biscotti. Babbo has biscotti.’ Well, they can fucking go there.”

I lean toward the dining room to peek at seventeen. There are two women in their mid-forties, dressed in more money than taste.

He rolls his eyes. “Sam brought them the torrone instead. So…” He lifts the plate towards me again and performs and exaggerated bow. “For you, my love.”

I study the pastry. “I’m still kind of full from earlier. Juan will probably want it.”

Angelo’s shoulders drop. He sets the plate down. “Are you okay?”

I’ve heard this voice before. His words are tinged with concern, with protectiveness. With an urge to save me. He sounds the way Gerry did months ago, watching me wither away before his eyes. I know that if I look at him, I’ll see the expression that has since faded from Gerry’s soft face. I can’t bear it, so I stare at table seventeen. They’re studying the neat column of torrone as if it were a foreign artifact, jabbing at the nougat with their dessert forks.

“I’m fine,” I answer. It’s involuntary — a jerk of the knee when someone taps it.

“Liar,” he says. He reaches behind me for a round flask of hand-blown glass. “But there’s nothing a little grappa can’t solve.”

He snatches up two small, elaborate flutes and pours us each a modest serving. Alcohol, empty calories. But this is the Nonino, wood-aged for twelve years, nearly two hundred dollars a bottle. In my months here, I’ve only served it once.

Angelo offers me a glass and the liquid amber swirls against the shallow bowl. “Salute.”

“Cheers,” I say. I draw the breath of a diver preparing to leap. Before I can stop myself, I throw it back like a shot. The grappa is cool, but it sears the back of my throat. My mouth burns with the aftertaste of dry oak. I cough and realize that Angelo is laughing.

He sips at the rim of his glass. “Slow down, amore. It’s Nonino, not Smirnoff.”

I laugh, too. Already, a dizzy warmth flutters through me. “Sorry.”

“Try again,” he says and unstoppers the bottle. He fills the glass halfway. I lift it to my lips and sip. It’s different this time. Vanilla, nutmeg, and raw almonds. Velvet spice. It tastes of heft and significance.

“Well?” he asks.

“God…amazing.”

Angelo smiles with satisfaction. He reaches back for the crostata and cuts out a neat slice. He spears it on the end of a fork and brings it to my lips.

“Now eat,” he says, and I obey.

The crust is buttery soft. The sugared glaze is still warm, slicked around the tart flesh of baked fruit. I hold the sticky sweetness in my mouth, sucking flavor from it until it slips down my throat. I do not realize I’m crying until Angelo speaks.

“Hey,” he says, in a voice meant just for us. He touches my arm. “It’s okay.”

I never used to be emotional, but these days I’m one misstep from collapse. I am a house of cards, and all anyone needs to do is bump the table. I sob openly, clutching the empty fork.

Angelo’s fingers are coarse — scarred and callused from a chef’s work. His hands are smaller and thinner than Gerry’s, and his oversized knuckles jut out like knobs on tree branches. I wish I could fit in his palm, so I could crawl onto it and ask him to hold me.

Instead, I place my hand over his, squeezing so tightly that my skin flushes white.

“You’re freezing,” he says. “Come here.”

He takes the fork from me and sets it on the counter. He leads me to the stove, where he turns on one of the empty burners. The blue flames dance; they’re ravenous. Angelo stands behind me, the pillar of his body pressed to my back. His hands cup mine, holding my palms together and raising them above the stove. I am surrounded — the scorch of the fire and Angelo’s gentle warmth. It fills me from the outside in, sprawling through my empty chest, filling the cavity I’ve become. It’s exquisite. I want to be held like this forever. I want to be held. I want to be wanted. I want. I want the flames to engulf us, to be swallowed by this moment, me and Angelo, burning alive.

Except it’s not Angelo I’m thinking of.

“Gerry,” I say without thinking. It falls from my breath like a whispered prayer. Angelo drops his arms, and everything vanishes. Suddenly, I am an idiot in a kitchen, warming my hands like a beggar on the street. I wrap my arms around my waist and glance at Angelo. His mouth twists with guilt and resentment.

“Order in,” Sam calls from the window, slapping a ticket onto the counter.

* * *

At the end of the night, Angelo wraps the rest of the crostata for me. On the box, he scribbles directions for reheating it in the oven. He does not sign his name, and I do not miss the flourished curl of his capitalized “A.”

I walk back with the dessert atop my gnocchi takeout box. The sleet hasn’t stopped. My hair flattens into sodden clumps and freezes in the wind, but I don’t care. For the first time in recent memory, my limbs aren’t leaden, my head doesn’t drop. My heart pumps steadily to the rhythm of my steps.

I will tell him that I miss him. I will wrap his arms around me. I will bare my hidden, dirtied soul, my insecurities, and kiss him until we resurrect who we were, and what miracle of faith tethered us from Los Angeles to New York.

The building smells of thyme and stewed fish. Lucas’s wife has been cooking again. The keys rattle in my shaking hands, and I can’t tell if it’s from the cold or from the excitement. I take the stairs two at a time, weightless with elation.

Gerry is on the couch when I enter, a bottle of MGD in his hands. Two crinkled paper bags sit on the table, half-empty and spotted with grease. I don’t need to look at the receipt stapled to the side. It’s Five Guys, bacon cheeseburgers and fries. His eyes flicker from the TV, and their dullness reminds me: this is the man who has forgotten how to love me.

“Oh, you already ate,” I say. I shake the bag from Isola, and it spatters rain onto the carpet. “I brought you dinner.”

He lifts his shoulders in a shrug. “Stick it in the fridge. I’ll eat it later.”

I turn into the kitchen and slide the bundle onto the barren top shelf of our refrigerator. My body quivers at the idea of food. I’m not hungry, but I need to eat. I survey my options — half a box of Lucky Wok’s orange chicken, two more bottles of MGD, frozen peas, sliced ham. Angelo’s decadent goat’s milk gnocchi. A grapefruit.

“We need groceries,” I say. “I’m going to the store.”

Gerry turns to the clock on the wall. “It’s twelve-thirty. I thought they fed you at Isola.”

“They do. I’m just…hungry again.”

“Well, you’re in luck.” He smiles and reaches for one of the bags. “I was greedy. Thought I could finish three.” I study the heart attack wrapped in foil. My terror tastes like bile.

“You can.” I try to laugh. “I’ve seen you scarf down four.”

He shrugs again. “Guess I wasn’t as hungry. There are fries, too. Besides, you should stay. Let’s talk.”

He holds the burger between us. I inhale deeply. I can do this, I think. For him, for the ghosts we share, I can do this. Maybe, even, my hips will swell, and he’ll think I’m beautiful again. As I reach out, I see that even the aluminum is slick with grease. Everything in me turns with disgust. Gerry watches me unblinking.

“Okay,” I say, slowly peeling away the foil. “What will we talk about?”

“What did we used to talk about?”

When he speaks, his eyes don’t leave the burger. They are piercing, accusatory, and I can do nothing because I am guilty.

“Honestly, I’m having a hard time remembering,” I say, tearing off a piece of iceberg lettuce.

“Thought you were hungry,” he says. The thing about Gerry is that he knows me. He could map my flaws and fears; he could recite the litany of my nightmares in his deep, peaceable sleep. Beneath his gaze, I take a substantial bite, rolling the lukewarm meat around my mouth. It tastes like charred flesh and fat, like screaming cow. I grow heavy with my own mortality.

“Good, right?” he asks. There’s a predatory edge to his voice.

“Mmm,” I nod, swallowing a chunk of ground meat. It squeezes down my throat, a lump of regret. I am acutely aware of my pulse, which has finally quickened and hammers at my throat. I can’t do this.

“I’m going to bed,” I say, repackaging the burger.

“Already?”

“I’m tired.” That’s a truth. I could sleep forever, spend an eternity wrapped in sheets, and never feel rested.

“You’re always tired.”

I say nothing.

“You’re always cold,” he continues. He jumps off the couch. “You’re always sick. You’re always weak. You’re always shivering. I’m sick of it. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

He cuts me off, bracing his arm across the doorway to the bedroom. I have never seen him like this.

I weigh each word as it comes out of my mouth. “I never asked you for anything.”

“I know.” He reaches as if to grab my shoulders, but doesn’t. “I don’t know how to fix you.”

“I don’t need you to fix me.”

“Then what do you need?”

“Just — I —” My head spins. I may faint. “I need you to leave me alone right now.”

“What?”

It is outrageous. It is tremendously unfair, and I know it. But I am weak, and I am sick, and I am fucking tired.

“Just…I’m sorry, Gerry. Leave me alone. Please.”

He stares down at me, the giant who does not understand.

“No,” Gerry says, and the word falls like a gavel. “I deserve more than this.”

I am shaking harder now. This time I can’t tell if it’s from cold or starvation.

“You do,” I finally say, “but this is all I have to give.” I am built of hunger, a vacuum of longing — the opposite of what he needs. His face, once familiar, is a hard mask of disgust. I try to duck beneath his arm, but this time he grabs me.

“No,” he says again. He seizes my wrist; I pull, he pulls, but I am weightless. I am negligible. I swing through the air and my back strikes the wall. His hand is a fist. It fills my vision.

“Do it!” my voice tears. “Hit me, you fucking son of a bitch. Hit me!” I brace myself, my body taut and desperate. I have never wanted anything more.

Gerry’s eyes widen. The rage ebbs from his eyes, and I want to chase it down, follow the retreating tide of darkness and drown myself in it. His fingers unclench in midair and drift slowly to his side.

“No!” I am still screaming, though the moment is gone. I clasp both hands around his forearm, envious of its strength. “Gerry, goddamn it.”

He shakes me off, and I drop. The carpet is coarse against my hands and knees. Gerry returns to the living room, kicks his feet onto the table, and begins to eat my discarded burger.

* * *

Neither of us sleeps tonight. Eventually, I pull the blanket from our bed and wrap myself in it, seated with my knees at my chest. That’s how Gerry finds me when he comes in. He looks alien in the dim, yellow glow of the lamp.

Stiffly, he moves to the closet, where he pulls a backpack from our collective mess. He begins to fill it with clothes.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say. After such silence, my voice sounds too harsh. “Where would you go?”

Gerry shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Well, then, don’t be stupid…” I hear the words and regret them. “Please.”

A stranger glares through his eyes. I’m too tired to beg, so I watch him pack. I watch him subtract his things from mine until the closet looks hollow, my things pushed to the edge. The clothes that no longer fit me droop on their hangers.

When he finally looks at me, it’s with more confusion than emotion. I’ve lost the ability to make him sad. He doesn’t speak. Eventually, he turns towards the door.

“That’s your solution?” I say, needing the last word. “You’re going to run away?”

Gerry laughs, a harsh bark I’ve never heard before. “Al, you’ve been running for a while now.”

* * *

At 5:30, I get off the floor. I switch off the alarm before it rings. I step numbly into my sweatpants and tie my sneakers to my feet. Even without Gerry, I’m afraid to disturb the silence.

I step into the frosted air, which is still damp from the rain. The cloud of my breath dissipates and drifts away. On the sidewalk, I bend my body forward, straining my aching legs. I know that no amount of stretching will ease the soreness, so I bounce a few times, swing my arms and legs, and I’m off. I am running.

The beginning always hurts; it’s like dying in reverse. My lungs are stiff, and each step pounds at my joints. But it evolves. The rigidity melts with the cold. My limbs soften, and my chest fills, and I am cocooned in the sweet, merciful freedom of movement.

I pump my limbs faster, kicking hard against the ground. I don’t turn at my usual corner, or the next one, or the next. I speed past the empty cafés, past the gated shops and darkened windows, past the parade of familiar streets. My body screams with a faraway pain, and I push until I cannot feel my legs. I am weightless; I am nothing. And if I could just do this forever, I’ll be safe.

 


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