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living in the house of night

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This work is from the collection of short stories called “The Secret Heart”, ©1995, published by HMS Press.


I really can honestly say I did not know what I was getting into. I just didn’t feel like sitting there and listening to the others drink, and get drunk, so I asked him to join me in a coffee shop, anywhere, anywhere but there. I said, “Want to go for a coffee?”. And five minutes later, we were gone.

I guess it was the right place, for it didn’t take me long to forget there were other people around. I found that I could just look and look at him, and never get bored. That’s one thing I like, for all the things I’ve heard about him, he never bores me. Or rather, around him, I am never bored. It’s a distinction, but it’s one he would think was important.
His face reminds me of someplace. I knew that when I first met him, but the place, it loomed behind his features like smoke. I could never seem to place the place behind his face. At least, not until we saw each other in the window. We sat at the table, facing the street, and looked into each other’s reflections. I have often felt the need to be silent, but never that it was something understood. But in that moment, I knew, I just knew. And so I told him.
I said, “I have something I want to show you,”. And we left our coffee and moved out into the night. The words that passed between us on the way there were so small, I don’t really remember them, they were like small sounds in the wind, like the way the stairs creak at night, like the neighbours’ voices in the apartment next door, through the wall. The hot dog stand was the last marker, a gate to a place I could only remember, that I hadn’t seen until I looked behind his eyes. We reached the gravel that marked it, and I suddenly noticed I was ten years too young for this, and a thousand years too old.

I walked to the back of the alley, his footsteps falling behind me, and I turned and leaned up against the wall there. Our shadows were flat against the brick, a little larger than ourselves, and I gathered my breath inside me before I closed my eyes and spoke.

The words fell out of me like stones, small black stones, heavy, yet at the same time, so light I could toss them on the gravel four feet beyond me and not hear them land. I cannot say that I remember their shape, or the way they felt moving from my mouth to my palm to the ground. I don’t remember their names, or the names I gave them, or the texture of their surfaces against my skin. All I can say was that they felt like mercy, and that when I had tossed them so easily from me, to lie among the other stones, my words were absolutely indistinguishable amongst their companions in the dark.

When I could find no more stones, we stood and watched the building that stood across from us, waiting. I didn’t know, couldn’t feel what he was waiting for, but I thought that maybe if I waited long enough, I would see a sign, a movement beyond my vision that would tell me which way to go. Waiting, I felt, was something I could do, something I had done so well in the apartment that sat above our heads, against our backs, looking out at the building that sat before us. There I had waited and waited, in the silence that enveloped me even now, waiting for a sign that would tell me which way to go. Waiting for the place that I only now recognized behind his eyes. Waiting, as I only knew in the instant I realized that I was ten years too young for this, and a thousand years too old, for a silence that would not mean desolation. Waiting for him.

The light went off on the second floor. And then I knew it was time to go home.

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