I met the next life tonight, and she slipped me.
We had rubbed glances going into the store. She had hair that was brown by accident, scattered eyebrows, and a gaze that was settled, but impossible to get around. Her lanky step swayed beneath a moon-colored jacket slightly too big for her. It rippled against my leg as I tried to get past. It damn near killed me. It was like a national anthem finally worth dying for.
I didn't smile, and she didn't speak, but her emerald eyes hit me like a tube sock full of jell-o. I went for the door, wanting to pull it open for her. Push, fool! I gnashed at myself behind my teeth. She waited, taking me in like a last breath. I gave her time. It was a kind of moment.
So we shopped. I orbited her conspicuously to illustrate how difficult she made this task for me, piling my arms with things I didn't need, but suddenly desired: canned bamboo shoots, Spanish rice mix, cocoa-pistachio halvah, marzipan, cheesecloth. By the fourth or fifth round—having forgotten, in the amnesia of her presence, to grab the shopping cart I hadn't needed in the first place—I was losing my grip. This spell was going to have to break somewhere, probably on the checkered floor of the international aisle—stuffed capers in a pile of broken glass and preservatives.
Not yet! I thought. Speech coiled on the tip of my tongue, I started toward her . . . and swept straight on through to the checkout aisle.
They were playing our song, remember baby? I would tell her someday—bargain thighs on Tuesday.
Eyes downshifting, I shuffled through the line, trying to sight-follow her reflection in the allergy shield over the register. It was like trying to thread a needle with a forklift. Lunging forward at his prompt to drop my coins, I missed the hand of the cashier, whose face I never registered, and left my receipt on the checkout belt, which seemed to be moving toward a conclusion.
She'll finish soon, I purred to myself. She hadn't grabbed a cart, either.
I waited for her beside a long-necked ashtray under the exit canopy, searching in my pocket for a word I could light like a cigarette, then offer to her in a gesture of intimate detachment. I found this intention ridiculous, found that fact enthralling. Inching on, I couldn't get past the edge of the parking lot. So I just waited, bad collage of a bicycle leaned against my hip—bike trying to look broken while I tried to look able to fix it.
I got hungry and restless, then sentimental, and then resigned. Still, I stayed, feeling powerless, feeling alive.
Then a bus ran over me.
I laughed and laughed, then went silent. I looked around for my bike, hoping it wasn't hurt, wishing I had paid my health insurance premium. The scabbed script of the sign on the curb before me—
VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED
AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE
—came at me in throbs, like a dirty telegraph.
I raked my hair back with nervous hands. They hit a gooey spot.
Finally, she exited the store, through the revolving doors that were like some flower a devil had got hold of, and hypnotized. My knees bucked. The lamps over the entrance sparkled off her shopping bag, seizing me by the veins. My life streamed out endlessly before me, heading north in the fire lane. I licked my lips and rode with the feeling. I didn't look back. It was beautiful.
Then the rain fell. It went on and on and on. When at last it stopped, the traffic had sprawled and the moon hung, palpably, against an ashen sky. The air was sticky and smelled like bad bananas.
She was gone.
I scraped myself together, drew a long, sharpened breath, and limped homeward. I had a game of pool racked up in the back of my mind, chalked for the shoot, prepared to lose everything—even the memory of you.
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