She shakes her head. A debating professor, only one that looks like a movie star.
–You don’t even know where to begin, do you?
–What do you mean? I ask.
–Honesty. Being real. Being really there, in the moment.
–I’m here. And real.
–You have a ten-foot-façade circling you.
–No I don’t.
–Tell me. Right now. What do you think . . .
I wait for her to finish her sentence, but instead she slides her hand over mine. It’s not just a touch. It’s a hand unlatching something deep inside of me.
–What do you really think about all of this? Lissie asks.
It’s all a bit too much.
–Too vague. Tell me more.
–I feel . . .
I can’t say anything more because the desire inside of me doesn’t just pulse. It rages, livid and hungry and questioning and a bit scary.
–Tell me, Lissie says.
–I think you know—
–I want you to say it. To tell me. To be honest.
Her hand is still over mine, and it’s like some kind of splitting-the-atom experiment. I feel her over me and inside of me and everything inside feels like it’s shaking.
–I want you.
I can’t be more blunt, more honest.
–Finally, she says.
–Finally some honesty.
–It’s a bit obvious, right?
–Yes. But . . .
Lissie takes her hand and now wraps it around mine, figuring out where the fingers should go to clasp onto mine.
–Don’t you see, oh honest one—the feeling is quite mutual.
There’s something I see for the first time and I realize she isn’t just being friendly or sweet. There’s the want inside of those eyes.
My fingers curl, digging into her hand, taking every single inch of skin and bone I can get. But then—
–What? I ask as she pulls her hand away.
–It’s a nice dream.
–A nice dream?
My desire suddenly starts to wilt. I wonder if this moment and this picture and this bit of everything is all just some kind of random bit of nonsensical shit.
–Is this all some sort of dream? I ask her.
–Life is all some sort of dream. Sometimes really good ones, sometimes nightmares.
–You know what I’m talking about, I say. Is this some kind of unreliable narrator sort of story? An M. Night Shyamalan twist when he was still known for doing great films?
–You tell me.
She’s so confident in not giving anything away.
–I have a headache, I say.
–No. This sort of emotion, this is nothing. Remember those Sunday nights when you’d feel nothing, when you’d have nothing inside, when the kids would take every ounce of energy and emotion to bed with them, tucking them inside their arms like stuffed animals full of your soul?
–Yeah, I remember those. They weren’t too long ago.
–It’s when you’re in the trenches and you feel like you can’t do anything more and then you hear the bombings begin again.
–I wish I could be bombarded again.
–Yeah, of course, she says. But at the time you’re just face first in the mud praying you can make it to tomorrow. I know because I’ve been there. I was there many times.
–Do you miss it?
She nods, looks away, staring at the painting on the wall.
–Regret can follow you into the afterlife. Especially when you have nowhere else to put it.
She’s still staring at the painting on the wall so I glance over to the modern art full of black and red. I swear it looks like it’s moving. Like the paint is running.
It looks like it’s bleeding.
I feel like I’m staring at it for a hundred hours.
–I need to go, Lissie says abruptly.
This whole mood and the connection and the touching hands has now turned into blood dripping down the wall.
–Did I say—
–No, she interrupts.
She stands and I can’t help glancing at her, glancing at all of her, glancing at the someone and something I want and can’t have, glancing at the brief solace in this crazy situation.
–I’m sorry, Spencer.
She looks as if she wants to say more, to do more, to be here more, but then she walks away.
I feel as if I’m somewhere in the ocean, wading up and down, spinning in circles and unable to move. I sit back down and just stare back at the painting. But it’s no longer alive, no longer pumping blood. Its beating heart has left the building.