Before We Met


1.

At Pike Place Market, we sit at the fish counter and order our lunch. He gets fish and chips—some kind of cod—and we both order oysters on the half shell. He has taught me to eat these over the past year; has taught me to squeeze lemon over the flesh and tip back the shell; chew once, twice; feel the spring of the meat against my teeth—I like the smaller, firmer ones—to even enjoy the tang of the lemon with the brine all at once, before swallowing the whole thing down. I’ve had oysters with him several times, and by now I have gotten a taste for them. As we sit at the fish-counter, watching people pass by and lobsters stalk about their tanks, I fidget and swivel on my red-topped stool.


His fish arrives first. It’s crisp and golden-brown, gleaming with oil, on a bed of thick fries and swaddled in newspaper, and I eye it from where I sit. I don’t want to take his lunch, nor presume he will share. He exclaims “Look at this piece of fish!” and pops it into his mouth. He chews contentedly, eyes on nothing, lost in his lunch, and I twist again on my perch, looking everywhere else—at the razor clams on ice under the glass counter before me; at the men grabbing shells out of buckets and hosing them down. Then he looks at me, and hands me the other piece of fish. Our oysters arrive, and I quickly take the proffered cod so I can share the moment with him, both of us gulping them greedily down.


2.

The pills change the nature of her desire. Where before she craved him, wandered about full of wanting, now there is a flat, dull lack. Not even a lack—an absence, an inability to conjure up a comprehension of what it means to want. When he climbs atop her in the morning, her body remembers how to oblige; loves his closeness; lights up with warmth. She delights in the feeling of being wanted, but the ache she’s always known is gone. A light tamped out. She would like that feeling back, but remembers that there are downsides to all that restless need. Isn’t this better? Something tells her probably not, but for now she swallows the tiny pills, conscious always of the exchange she is making in this daily transaction. The one for the other—the desire for calm overcoming the ability to want.


3.

Afraid that now I’ve found you, you will go—and I’ll go back to all that time alone. Remember that hurricane last fall? Before we met. Everyone was hunkering down, stocking up, and I realized I had no one to hunker down with. I went out on the little balcony and watched the wind whip through the Crepe Myrtle across the way; the potted plants on decks get blown down. I gazed at the darkening sky, and then turned back inside. Where were the candles? Did I still have that pack of votives under the sink? What would I do if the lights went out?


The next day, I went out into the storm alone. I drove down the big wide street and went to the store to stock up on my own. I bought a roaster chicken and a bunch of little bottles of water and beer. Also a bathmat. It was plush and cream-colored and I was in the mood to buy. The wind lifted it out of the cart and onto the wet, muddy pavement in the parking lot, and I drove the cart right over it. Managed to get it out and took it back home, deflated, where I ripped the roaster chicken apart with my fingers and drank a lot of the beer. I spent two days and nights up there, in my tiny top-floor apartment, waiting to lose power.  

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