We meet at a waterfront. The sun is hot on our skin and the sea spray cool on our faces. This isn’t the first time we meet. It isn’t the last.
We walk along the boardwalk. Above us seagulls balance precariously on the wind. I buy you an ice-cream. We don’t talk much, and nothing that we say is important, but afterwards we will remember every word.
The sun sets just as we reach your car. I can see that you want to invite me along. There is sand between my toes and the smell of you in my nostrils. You smell like sunscreen lotion. I touch your lips, but we don’t kiss.
“Next time,” I say. You half-smile. That’s what I said the last time, but you’re not angry.
“Next time,” you agree.
The air is hot and still, crisping around the rows of cornfields. As we drive past we get minuscule, split-second glimpses along their perfectly straight lines. We can smell the dirt they’re in and the sun; we can smell the leather of your car seats and the oil in the engine. The wind blasting in through our open windows blows the hair back from your face. You complain; you’ve never been more beautiful.
It is so warm that I can feel the sweat gather beneath my palm where it rests on your thigh.
We stop to gas up, and buy cornstalk angels from an old woman named Josie. She explains that they are all named Erica. Her daughter Erica, she tells us, has been missing for fourteen years. We look at a picture that is old and faded, of a woman that is young and bold, and we are not lying when we say that no, we have not seen her.
(You cry, afterwards, and I hold you and tell you that no, you’re not being silly.)
It is night time when we reach your parents’ house. You are holding my hand so tightly that it hurts, but I don’t complain. We sit in the car and watch the cool impersonality of their condo. The engine pops as it settles. I can hear you breathing.
“Do you want to go in?” I ask you.
“It’s her birthday,” you say.
In the end we leave a cornstalk angel on the doorstep. When we run back to the car we’re laughing because the only other option is grief.
There is a park near my house that we like to visit on Sunday afternoons. It is ramshackle; less park than abandoned property. Behind it is a struggle of trees. When the wind blows through their thin branches it sounds like they’re whispering. We always stay until after dark.
“A void,” you say, of the sky. I can see light reflected in your glasses. But your eyes are in shadow.
“Mostly stars,” I correct.
You squeeze my hand, but the gesture is abstracted. In the distance a red light blinks on a radio tower.
We don’t meet at the diner at seven like we’re supposed to. I wait fifteen minutes. Your phone stops ringing after five more.
The long-term care facility is cool inside, and quiet. I visit three times a week, more if I can. I always bring ice-cream, just on the off-chance that you’ve woken up. Nobody ever thinks I’m being silly.
Sometimes your lips move when I hold your hand, and I imagine that you are saying, “Cecil,” but nurse Dana says this is common, and not to get my hopes up. She says this as kindly as a person can say such a thing.
It’s not so bad here, I tell you. I tell you that I think you’d like it better if you were awake to appreciate it. I tell you that I used to kiss the corners of your mouth, and that I miss you more than I can say. I tell you angrily and I tell you lovingly and I tell you hopefully.
I tell you the story about us.