bus connections

Today I was waiting for a bus that was running late, so I decided to jump on the next bus that came by, instead. I didn't know where it was going. I asked the driver. All I knew is I'd never been to the neighborhood before. It was perfect. I rode until the terminal, and got off and found another bus going somewhere else I'd never even heard of. Halfway there I got off and walked several blocks off the nearest side street. I asked the first person I saw where the best place is to get some decent coffee around here, and he directed me to a little cafe off another side street.

I had no idea where I was by this point, and the diner was the sort of dingy out of the way greasy spoon the locals love, but nobody else has any cause to visit--in short, a beautiful place that would be constantly crowded in a nicer district but instead has a steady patronage of incredibly loyal regulars.

The sort of place a guy like me, who walks in looking completely lost, looks like an outsider--the kind of outsider who gets asked questions like "So where are you from?" because they know it's not around here. I tell them and they ask me what I'm doing so far out here, and have I been here before? I tell them no, and that I honestly have no idea.

But this is some damn good coffee.



She talks about lots of things I don't understand. Arcane formulae and numbers and terms that I don't understand. I don't know if I'm supposed to understand, or at least I don't know which ones I'm supposed to understand. Is that one important, or is it just there for show? What do they all mean? And so she talks and I write down what I can remember and I ask her very nicely to repeat it and she does, and she tries to use words I'll understand but sometimes that just makes it worse, because then it's so close, like I can almost see it.

Mostly, though, I come so I can watch her lips move while she tries to teach me. Maybe that's not a very good way to learn.

She helps me work through it and I write everything she says down obediently but sometimes I can't figure it out and she gets frustrated and does it for me. I don't think she'd say she's getting frustrated. She's trying to help. She wants me to see how she does it. I only see her hands and her writing. It's not neat. It's tiny and angular and hard to read. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between the numbers and the letters and the symbols. Sometimes I can't tell if it's just an unintentional mark.

And then I screw up again and her hand is on mine and I can't think of anything else.

tired smile

She is sullen over coffee. Her eyes won't meet mine, and she draws on her napkin with her finger. Neither of us talk much--because today is the sort of day where I need coffee, and I'm only drinking water. I'm not sure why she's silent. And the important thing is to never ask, not directly.

She's not really touching her coffee, either. Now she leans back with her arms folded and sighs, and I'm not going to ask about that, either. People always ask me what's wrong when I sigh. I'm usually just tired. It's hard to have to justify your breathing. Now she looks out the window with an expression I can't read--it's either longing or the type of boredom or exhaustion or whatever where you'd rather be anywhere but here. I suppose they're really the same thing, in the end.

And then, I smile and say something completely inane about the day, some stupid unremarkable thing that only really seems funny when the only sleep you've had in the past few nights came in the form of a cup of coffee. She smiles too. It's the sort of smile that comes with relief.


sunrise in a good way

She doesn't close her blinds. They're broken. Her room faces east, and the sun comes in when it's morning and she has such a clear view of the city and the sky.

That's what woke me up this morning, and it's been forever since I'd seen a sunrise. I don't know why that makes a difference. I never did. We even argued about it, once. A sunset is fleeting. A sunrise lasts all day. I don't think I said that right, but I'm okay with that. It was so clean. I probably woke her up sitting up to see it better. "It wakes me up every day," she said.

My blinds aren't broken. I keep them closed all the time now, even when it's day. I don't want to let the heat out. My room is dark and the only light is cold and sterile. I'm not sure why sterile is different from clean, either. "I'm still not sick of it," she said.

I didn't have anything to say. I asked if she was going back to sleep. She shook her head. I asked if she wanted me to make some tea.

By the time the water boiled, of course, the sun had basically risen. The horizon was still a pale shade of pink. We drank tea and curled up under blankets. I don't think mornings are supposed to feel so decadent.

crooked smile

One time, my sister left a comment on one of my Facebook photos saying I'm never smiling in them, which is true. I don't smile. I don't laugh. I know I've talked to her about this but I don't know if this was before or after her comment. I don't do so good at remembering these things. Sometimes I'm better than others.

Smiling. Ever since my girlfriend told me I'm smiling all the time I've thought about smiles constantly. I look at pictures of me smiling and I wonder why I look like that. I smile in the mirror and wonder why it's so crooked, why it looks so fake. I'm a good actor, so long as you don't expect me to smile. I look at pictures of her and I notice she's always smiling in them, and she used to hate cameras. It's like she couldn't help herself. She smiled like it was a secret. I always wondered if I was ever really smiling all the time.

I look at pictures of my sister, who smiles like a cat--she's happy and happy to be happy. It's smug, but not in an arch or condescending way at all. When she's smiling she's showing it off. That's her in photographs. She really appreciates being happy.

I know my smile wasn't always crooked. I'm not sure where that came from. It didn't used to be so wry and skeptical, so arch, so put-on. I didn't used to be afraid to admit that I'm having fun, without any sort of commentary on who I am or what that means. I didn't used to obsess over people who could look like that.


the error of my ways

I'm worried a lot lately. More than usual, anyway. I feel like there are a lot of mistakes I've made. Well, I know there are. I say it all the time, even: "We all make mistakes." "It happens to the best of us." I make it into platitudes and jokes, and people laugh politely, I think because they don't know that I'm only half joking. They think it's just some sort of game.

There was a girl, once, who really laughed at them. Can I say girl? They tell me that it's not a very progressive word, that it's demeaning. I don't know anything about that. I just know that I like the sound of it better. "Women" sounds like a word for the type of person who tells you that "girls" is a term which is derogatory. I don't want to hang out with women.

I was talking about laughing at my jokes, though. I really appreciated it. I couldn't say that, though, because how do you say that without sounding like you're just desperate to sound funny? I'm not. But you only find that sort of thing funny if you really understand that when I tell you, "I'm pretentious," it's not just a thing I say so you will like me. I really think that.

The other night I turned down an invitation to go to a party. I stayed in with a poet with punk rock aesthetics. We watched our favorite sitcoms from the 90's on Hulu, and drank coffee liqueur and smoked Parliaments. We listened to Weezer. We talked about kittens. We told stories that were mostly honest, or at least embarrassing.

At midnight I wondered aloud if I should try to catch public transit back home. She gave me a smile that would have been coy if she were still sober and suggested that she had room for me at her apartment. I kissed her, and then I realized that it was the first time in longer than I could remember that I'd done so because I wanted to, not just because I felt like it was expected. Like the girl who laughed at my jokes, I didn't know how to tell her this. I'm trying to be genuine. Sometimes I'm not so good at it.

Later, when my hands found the clasp of her bra and deftly unhooked it, I told her how we'd all practiced that with a padded bra that we found as a prop in an old theatre's dressing room in high school, just idiot kids hoping for an opportunity to look suave in the future. She laughed. I am good at making some people laugh.

Even though it's fall now the sun still came through her window too early and just made the headache worse, and I can't sleep with her there, but I can't just leave and I can't just leave a note, and I worry that I've already fucked everything up. Maybe I wasn't genuine enough, or I told her too much. Maybe I worry too much. Maybe I'm just worried that I obsess too much and I will act too uncaring. I don't know. I'm worried.

I just want everything to be okay. I know there's only so many opportunities you get and I don't know when the last one is going to be. You have to get it right. You have to plan ahead. You have to assume that every chance you get will be your last.

The next day when I finally went home I was really tired and went to bed early. I slept right through her phone call and her text messages. Today I called her while I was eating lunch and she didn't pick up. My coffee and cigarettes taste like her.



My sister called to ask me about the accident. She'd always wondered, after it happened. Like most things, we never really discussed it. I think she assumed that I remembered it at all.

I knew it happened, of course. It was hard to miss. The neck brace, the hospital. Calling her up on Christmas eve. Hi, this is Rob. I just--I'm not going to be able to make it. Could you tell dad--no, I'm fine--there was just an accident. No, I wasn't--yes, I'm all right, I just--no, I'm fine. Really. I love you too. I have to go. It's coming home in the new year with all the Christmas decorations still up, and the neck brace isn't so bad but suddenly it's just so sad that you weren't there. At least they kept them up. They had a little party for me when I got home.

It's the stupid little things like that you never talk about. She was there for most of it. She knew. And we never talked about the things we weren't both there for. Maybe this was her attempt to start, but there wasn't even a cinematic moment of realization. I woke up and I knew I was in the hospital. And they told me what happened, more or less. I was lucky. I should be more careful.

At the time I wasn't thinking of home. I was thinking of a boy who smiles easily and sincerely and who can laugh at anything. My smile is crooked and contrived and I mostly just sneer. "You're lucky. You should be more careful." I wish one of those statements were true.

The driver was apologetic. She was frightened that I would sue. She didn't know what to do and she admitted fault and did everything she could to make me happy and if I wanted to I could have taken her for everything she's worth. Instead I took her out to dinner, on me, after my sister called to ask. It was six months on. I asked her if she remembered what happened. She was still apologizing, and I told her we all make mistakes.

Eventually that night her smile came easily, and we both made mistakes, and after, when she was asleep, I called my sister and told her that I still didn't remember what happened at the accident. But I told her about the boy who smiled, and how I didn't smile enough, and how that's why everything went wrong. I told her that sometimes the worst thing you can be is close to someone.


Kate spends her evenings working with the subtle nuances of language, carefully placing this word here, that word there. She strings words together until they are beautiful, until they are perfect. She is good at it. Words are exciting, and she often says there is nothing she likes more than a particularly elegant turn of phrase. Her mother once told her that words are nothing without action. Her mother reads romance novels from supermarket checkout lines.

There is a girl who works in her building at front desk sometimes, who is usually reading while she is working. Every day it is a new book and every day it is a different kind of book. She is not there every day. Kate has never had a conversation with her--all they ever say to one another is "Hello," and "thank you." She has never shown her how she can put together pretty words. Sometimes, when she hands the girl at the front desk her identification card, their hands touch, on accident, and Kate smiles. She says "thank you" because she means it, though she is fairly certain she does not mean it for anything to do with checking her ID.

She frequently resolves to say something, or write something, something beautiful and captivating. Nothing seems to fit, which is not a new experience, but it is frustrating nevertheless. She feels that if she cannot write about something it must be because she does not understand it.

It is roughly eleven o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. She is not expecting to see the girl at the front desk, but she is working there anyway, reading a book by Richard Feynman. She looks up and smiles at Kate as she enters. She says, "Hi."

Kate says, "Hello," and hands over her identification. Then she says, "Thanks," and smiles again, and as she walks past, very nearly stops to say something else.


broken sky

I'd known her for years but it wasn't until one morning under a broken sky I really felt like I understood her. She was staying on my couch, and I had work in the morning. I woke early and walked out into the living room and she was there, not asleep, not really awake, with one leg curled under her and the other pulled up to her chest. She watched me without word or acknowledgement. I showered and got dressed. She was still completely silent as I left.

The sky cleared up to sunny during the morning, and by the afternoon it was that apocalyptic shade of autumnal grey, with the faintest breeze and a temperature just chilly enough to remind you summer is long dead. The sky was broken again by the evening, and she was sitting on the steps of my building with a cigarette.

We didn't say anything, or even look at each other, as I sat next to her. She handed me a cigarette and I lit up and watched the sky go dark and the evening people walking past, and there was this weird clarity to everything. None of it made any sense and I knew it all.

Her hand brushed my shoulder as she walked back inside. I didn't look up. I didn't have to.



Fate has never been kind to old ghosts like me. I was content not to haunt all of the old places where everything happened. I was content to live out my life in the city, a place bereft of memory or personal significance. I would even go so far as to say I was happy here. I had friends, a lover, and even if I didn't like them much they were my friends, my lover. We got along, exactly like humans do. We lived our little lives with our own little insignificant dramas. I was allowed to be fond of it without ever caring about any of it. That's all that I wanted.

I got a phone call late at night, at the sort of hour that people who don't think about time zones think is appropriate to call east coasters. Maybe if I had looked at the caller ID I'd have been allowed to stay, but probably not. I said, "Hello?" She said, "Hi," and it was exactly like I remembered, exactly like she'd always said it back when we talked. For a minute I forgot where I was and I just asked, "How are you?"

She said that she was pretty okay, and I smiled. She said, "Hey, didn't you end up in New York?"

"Last I checked."

"What are you doing tonight?"

I didn't have any plans and I always wanted to see her one last time, even after all the other last times. We met for dinner in this upscale pizza place in Brooklyn. I couldn't tell if she was happy to see me, but she smiled and I did too, and it wasn't awkward at all embracing her. She said something about moving here in a week, she was just finalizing the deals, she was glad I was still here, sorry we hadn't kept in touch more.

As dinner arrived and we ate and drank, I was mostly just trying not to remember all the reasons we hadn't kept in touch, the reasons I ended up here in the first place, and smiling and laughing at her jokes, and wondering when she'd ever been so talkative and so cheerful, and then we shared a taxi back to her hotel and suddenly she was kissing me and we almost missed her stop and we got out and hurried into her hotel room, celebrities fleeing the paparazzi.

I stopped her and said, "Are you drunk?" and she said, "No," and I knew she wasn't, and she grabbed me by the lapels and now it was too late to run. She was here and I was--

I'm on the next flight to Nashville. I didn't sleep well in the hotel I was staying at in Brooklyn. I look like a ghost, all pale skin and dark circles around my eyes, with my suit and hat mostly so nobody can see that you can see right through me. I don't know what I was doing in Brooklyn. I feel a little bad leaving the girl in my hotel room there, but I'd have felt worse waking her, and I had a plane to catch. Nashville calls. I can see bright things in my future.


He lived his life impulsively, and believed, genuinely, in honesty above all else. And maybe she found it an admirable trait at first. It was easy to appreciate, certainly, that everything he did was entirely open. There were no lies, no taking anything back. He said what he meant and meant what he said--and he said what came to mind. That was important. You can't be honest if you leave anything unsaid.

And she spent her evenings in her study writing and refining and editing, and he never really paid attention to the process, until she mentioned one day that she had to cut out an entire section to make it work. She often had to--sometimes she'd write six pages of introduction, only to cut them out because none of it was actually worth reading.

He asked what she did with them when she cut them out. "I don't--I just delete them. Is that what you mean? It's usually just not worth keeping."

"You just de--you know what, forget it."

She couldn't, of course. Every word she cut out, even if it was just revising a sentence on the fly, felt like she was committing some unspeakable crime, like she was burning books--books that would never even be read, hiding words from the world that would never be seen. The editorial process became utterly untenable. He seemed to approve of this new approach.

She left him not long after, of course. There are certain things a writer couldn't do for love nor money.


the accident of

She contemplated ignoring the phone call. It had been a rough day and there was simply no impetus left to do anything. It had started snowing already, and there was a certain appeal do doing nothing more than making hot chocolate and reading a book, and pretending the cold would go away if she avoided it.

But she had made commitments. For some reason that was important. They would, presumably, still be her friends if she cancelled, and there was no real reason apart from circumstance she was friends with this group at all--they weren't even united by the shared accident of birth--but she still honored her commitments. It had something to do with proving she had a choice, or perhaps convincing herself she cared.


"Hey, are you coming out tonight? I just left."

"Yeah. Yeah, I was just about to leave."

"Cool. Did you want to get coffee or something beforehand? You know nobody is going to be on time anyway."

She looked out the window. Between the wind and the rainy snow, it was promising to be one of the dreariest evenings of the year. "There is nothing I want more than a coffee right now," she said. "Meet you there in five."



They let me out early. They said I was a model prisoner. I said I learned my lesson. I said I'd be good. I meant it. I meant a lot of things. The worst thing in the world is a man who says something he doesn't mean. Sometimes at different I'd say things that meant different things. I meant them both. Sometimes at the same time.


I meant it when I hit her. I meant it when I yelled at her. I meant it. She made me so angry. She made me. I still mean that. Not "I got angry." She made me.

And I meant it, every time I said I loved her, even today. Even calling her, saying it now. It was the first thing I did now I'm free. I told her I did my time. She told me she never wanted to see me again. I said that I probably deserved that.

I'm not sure why they call this freedom. I know what I did makes me a monster. I know that. That's what the prosecutor said. That's what the arresting officer said. I know I should have been better. Maybe I should have listened to my dad more.

But I know I'm not a monster, too. I'm just a man. I do my best. Sometimes that's not very much, but I do my best. I mean well. I just try to get by.

I don't have the money for a train out of this city. I don't have anywhere else to go. I promise I'm a real hard worker.


succinct, pt. 6

They meet for dinner and he casually mentions that he is going to quit his job. She asks if he has already turned in his two weeks notice, and the pause that follows is a little more awkward than she had hoped.

He says, "I'm not giving notice. Today was my last day."

"That's--you should at least give notice."


"Well, what are you going to do?" she says.

"I bought plane tickets. You should come, it'll be fun."

"I can't just leave."

"Sure you can. I am."

"I really can't. I don't even know why you're leaving."

He shrugs. "I'm trying to figure that out, myself." She stares at him. He says, "So how was your day?"

And that, she knows, is all they will ever say about the subject.


succinct, pt. 5

They do not see each other for a few days. This is not unusual, because they are both busy, and there is a certain level of trust there. They know that they do not mean anything by it. So he is both surprised and unsurprised when he receives her phone call--surprised by what she has to say, unsurprised that she is calling at all.

She asks if he wanted to talk, if that is why he left in the morning. If that is why they haven't seen each other. He says no, and that he has just been busy, and the second part is true. He has been busy and he has been thinking, which he usually does not do when he is busy. He is thinking about everything in a way which is not entirely new, but has never been this constant.

"Hey, I'm on break, I don't have a lot of time, can I call you back when I'm off?" he says.

"Sure. I don't know. I'm just worried."

"Don't be. I gotta go. Love you."

"I love you, too." He hangs up.

This is not quite right, either. He decides that something needs to be done.


succinct, pt. 4

He is not so good at confrontations or sometimes even conversations, especially with his careful girl, who is confident and competent and knows what to say. He is not inarticulate, but he is succinct because he lets other people talk over him. He thinks that rehearsing what he will say will help him.

"What do you want to be called?" he is saying to himself, and then he says, "I will call you that." Mostly he says this in his head. Occasionally he says it out loud, though quietly. He is on the train to meet her at Miracle of Science, where she has said she is hanging out with a few of her friends.

It is crowded when he arrives but he finds her in a large group in the corner, and goes over. She greets him with a little more enthusiasm than he expected. "You came! Have you had the burgers here? You need to order a burger, it is the best burger you will ever eat," she says. She introduces him to her friends. He says hello.

The conversation is too fast for him, so he sits and hears snatches and occasionally injects something--too little, too late. But she was right about the burger. To an extent.

She is drunk by the end of the evening, but not too drunk: she is careless with her language and a little unsteady, emotionally and literally. He has missed his chance to talk to her. They walk home--she insists on walking, though he is willing to pay for a cab--and tonight he offers to stay with her. She is out like a light as soon as she hits the bed, and he decides to leave quietly in the morning.


succinct, pt. 3

He dresses himself the next day with the intention of looking careful, like his careful girl. He remembers reading somewhere that if you look sharp you will be sharp, and it sounded compelling, perhaps because it used words like 'study.' Even as he follows the advice of the ephemeral article in question he questions it. He certainly doesn't feel any sharper or more attentive.

Still, he has to admit, he is standing up straight and there is a swagger to his step that he doesn't usually have. Today he feels like, as he takes his coffee on the train, he may just look like a busy and, no doubt, interesting professional.

Then he starts really thinking about that email from earlier. Or rather, he starts thinking about himself--about how he sees things. His life, his job, his habits. His relationship with his careful girl. It is, he decides, quite different from the reality of things. He is not sure of anything about himself, really. He knows only what he thinks he knows. Did he mean something by calling her by that little nickname he'd never used before? It felt so natural, and he certainly didn't think about it.

Could he have meant something by it? Was he somehow insincere without knowing it, or, worse, was he somehow sincere without knowing it? What is, as the bard put it, in a name? Would not a rose by any other name smell just as sweet? Would not calling a rose by some other name naturally raise suspicion? Why would you call a rose by some other name?

Distracted with these thoughts he misses his stop for work and has to take the train one stop in the other direction. He arrives late and disheveled, having completely forgotten why he is dressing up and looking sharp. He has to talk to his careful rose tonight.


succinct, pt. 2

When she invites him into her apartment, he declines. "It's not much further," he says, and there is something about the way he says it that gives her pause. He kisses her, and he says good night, calling her by a name he's never called her before. This is not lost on her, but she doesn't say anything about it.

It's still early, as far as she is concerned, so she puts on a movie and pours the last of the red wine they opened the other night. It is not, as she fears, vinegary. She puts her concerns out of mind and drops off before the climax of the movie.

She wakes from strange dreams at four in the morning, and now her mind is racing, because she doesn't remember falling asleep, and that is upsetting. And now she remembers the strange name he used, and now she is worried. She begins typing an email, hesitates, begins calling his cell phone, hesitates again, and settles for the email. She passes out again. In the morning there is an email waiting for her that says he didn't mean anything by it and honestly didn't even remember calling her that.

She worries at first, but by the time she has taken a shower and gotten dressed the sun is high and it's a beautiful morning in the fall, and there's simply so much to do today.


succinct, pt. 1

She is, he reflects, careful in her appearance. It is not meant as an incisive comment. Her hair, her clothes, everything is intentional. He is whatever the opposite is of careful. Thrown together, perhaps. His jacket is oversized and slightly rumpled. His jeans are worn. His shoes are more than battered. His hair is always unkempt.

They do not look together, is the point. When she smokes she looks perfect, composed, European. When he smokes he looks downtrodden and destitute. Coffee in her hands is an elegant beverage. In his hands it just keeps him together.

They are sitting next to one another on the train now, and she is talking about something--he is honestly not sure what, and he has been trying to listen. There seems to be no point. He is staring at the advertisements, which are talking about some university he has only heard of in advertisements on the train.

"You're quiet today," she says. He nods but says nothing. She says, "Is something wrong?"

"I'm tired," he says. He feels that something more is expected of him. He says, "It's been a long week."

She says, "Tell me about it," and she tells him about it. He tries to keep up but now he is thinking of the long week which was so unremarkable: about taking extra shifts to cover for his coworkers, about long conversations on the phone with his careful girl, and a hurried dinner that was meant to be relaxing but left him feeling breathless.

Mostly, though, he remembers how little of it he remembered. Not that his memory was going, but that there was simply nothing to remember.

The train stops at Harvard Square, and they get off together, but not looking together. He holds her hand because he is tired of feeling like they are not in the same room, but by then they're outside.