Sway

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short piece about a relationship at a crossroads.

Submitted: July 02, 2008

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Submitted: July 02, 2008

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Sway


These things catch you at odd moments. You’re coming back from the bathroom, it’s just after two. You peed, washed your face, brushed your teeth; you’re ready for bed. You and Katie had another uninspired night out, the kind that makes you wonder: How soon is this thing going to end? And who will say it?
It’s better when you just go out to dinner. The two of you, across a table, a self-balancing equation. Sure, there might be a comely waitress to check out. For all you know Katie eyes the bartender when you’re in the bathroom. Both of you will at some point in the evening sit back and do a casual sweep of the room: sizing up the other couples, What’s she doing with him, that kind of thing. But mostly you pay attention to each other, and like what you see. In a candle-lit room, Katie’s dark eyes are like marbles. If other couples size you up, they probably think, They go well together, they make a solid couple. Yes, you’re a solid couple.

Tonight, Katie got out of work late. It’s a Friday and the first two places you try have waits so you head up Hillhurst to Yuca’s in Los Feliz and eat fish burritos standing at the open counter in the balmy Los Angeles night. You eat and don’t talk much.
“Split another?” Katie says. You sneak a peak at her mid-section and think maybe she should go easy on the Mexican. “You read my mind,” you say. “Uno mas, por favor,” she says to one of cooks when he catches her eye. “Suyos son los mejores.” Her firm is springing for Spanish classes. “Your Spanish sounds better,” you tell her. She can’t roll her r’s to save her life.
You eat your half slowly, looking around, up at the palm trees, at the slow crawl of traffic up Hillhurst, at people going in and out of the liquor store across the street. “In a moody mood tonight, Michael?” she says.
“Maybe.” You stretch the word out in a bit of bored-on-a-Friday-night indifference. “I’m not sure I want to be writing ad copy when I turn forty.” That’s not it at all. You can see yourself writing ad copy when you’re seventy. You’re good, you can do it in your sleep, it takes nothing out of you. Complaining about work is an easy thing to fall back on; it explains away almost anything.
“Well, you’re a young man for a few years still, enjoy it,” Katie says, then grabs your thumb and squeezes it, hard. You tell her to stop doing that all the time, but it might be your favorite thing about her. “I know what you need. A little night life, a little clubbing, a little shaking that tight little groove thing of yours.” Her big toothy smile pushes toward her ears and out pop her dimples, your other favorite thing. “Aren’t Lava Blue playing at Spaceland?”
Lava Blue do this trip-hoppy thing with a couple of horns and a dj. It’ll be packed. The crowd will run late twenties, it’ll be a high-end scene, probably some models and a few b-list celebrities. You wonder how the two of you will fit it. Katie’s wearing pin-striped pants from work, though she swapped her heels for some thick-soled Fleuvogs and threw on a vintage off-white blouse you like on her. She looks fine, but definitely a professional type. You’re wearing jeans you’ve had for five years, a Jam tee-shirt you’ve had for ten, and some beat-up Converse sneakers. You’re a little stressed about your hair these days. It used to be this great sloppy Mod-style cut that reminded you of the brief time you’d been in a band. But it’s thinning and soon you’ll have to cut it short and you’ll look like some nerdy late-thirties screenwriter wanna-be. You wonder if having a younger, hotter girlfriend would make the hair less important. “Sure, you’re the boss,” you say.

You went and it was ok. It was packed, it was a scene, you’re pretty sure you saw Winona Ryder over in the corner by the pool table. The opening bands were lame and the Blue didn’t come on until almost eleven-thirty. That bothered you and you hate that it does because it makes you feel old. There was no room to dance. Katie stood in front of you, swaying back and forth, shimmying up against you sometimes. You held her lightly by the hips. When you pinched the little roll she has there she turned and gave you a cross look, but the truth is you like the feel of a little surplus flesh, there especially.

You were thinking about that little roll as you washed up. You like the feel of it, when the two of you are in bed, or when you’re taking a slow walk somewhere and you put your arm around her and hook your thumb into her jeans and feel that soft press against the back of your hand.
The sight of it is a different thing. You note the hint of it under anything but the loosest of shirts. Last year she switched to a one-piece bathing suit. That one-piece seems to say you could do better; that even though you’ve been together almost two years, in the end it’s bound to be one of those transitional relationships, tiding you over, bridging the time between your ex-wife and whatever comes next. Vicki had no such roll. The marriage was still young when she started getting under your skin, but her body was a sight to behold, and everything between you was electric, even your fights. Especially your fights. You and Katie never fight. You keep trying to tell yourself that’s a good thing.

You don’t have bathroom mats and the tile on the floor is always cool, even on a warm night. The short stretch of hall leading to your room is also cool, cooler for some reason than the hardwood floor in the bedroom. Or maybe it’s the sight of your bed as you step into the room that makes the floor there seem warmer. Or knowing that in two steps your feet will meet the big Persian rug at the foot of the bed. You spent money on that rug, on your Egyptian cotton sheets, on the stereo. The rest goes into restaurants and going out, and on travel. You and Katie haven’t done any traveling together, to speak of. Maybe it’s memories of the disastrous trips you and Vicki took that hold you back. Or maybe it’s just something you like to keep to yourself for now.
That’s what you’re thinking about as you enter the room, that it’s time to plan a trip. Katie’s not pushy about it, but lately she’s been sending you e-mails with links to on-line travel pieces, or clipping articles and saying, “Pretty, huh?” A while ago you saw an offer for a three-day weekend rate for two in La Paz, and actually thought about mentioning it to Katie.
Often as you enter the room you will close your eyes so that your feet are your eyes when they fall on the Persian rug. It’s this ritual you have when you’re alone. You turn off all the lights before you wash up so you can enter a darkened room. You close your eyes, wait for the feel of the rug, its give, the faint scratch of fiber against your toes. Then it’s three steps to the bed. You’re crazy about sleep and that bed. You can’t sit still all day and tap your feet when you try to, but when your feet touch down on that rug, it’s like the whole day was prelude and bed and darkness and oblivion are the payoff. If Katie’s not there you are asleep within minutes. You don’t dream.
But tonight she is here and the room is not dark. It’s that flicker of light that makes you look up. Katie is at the far end of the bed, by the bed-side table, swaying in the darting candlelight. She is dancing a slow woozy blues to a thin thread of late-night jazz on the clock-radio, music you don’t even hear until you see her moving to it. She hadn’t planned on staying over but it became a late night and so here she is wearing a pair of your boxers and your Clippers tank-top. What is it about seeing a woman wearing your clothes?
Katie’s a goofy dancer. She tries too hard, does too much with her arms. But right now she’s hardly moving. Her hips rock one way, her shoulders in counterpoint the other way. Her hands float up and down, barely, and slowly, like she’s underwater and it’s the currents that are moving them about. Her eyes are closed. A slice of her overbite shows against her lower lip. She is in sway to the music, and to something just past it as well. She is hearing something you don’t. And she is dancing to it.
You come up behind her and rest one hand on her hip and lean over to blow out the candle. “Bed, sleep,” you mutter in her ear. Then you stop. Your hand still rests on her hip, your thumb on her skin, your fingers on the silk of the boxers. You lean into her and kiss her on the neck just below the ear. You inhale. You feel like telling her you love her. But you’ve never told her that: why this night?
You nudge her into bed and go around to the other side and slip under the covers. Katie faces you in the dark. Your eyes haven’t adjusted, you can’t actually see her, but you know this. She reaches out and pinches the tip of your nose. There is an insistence in her touch. “I’m here, Michael. It’s me, Katie.” She turns and settles into her side of the bed.
The sting of smoke from the candle hangs in the air, and hangs there for some time. It has a sweetness as it fades. Your hand finds Katie’s hip. As you fall asleep you remember the moment you picked her up after the show. The car was parked several blocks away and you went to fetch it while she used the bathroom. You pulled up to the club and she didn’t see you at first. She stood under the neon throb of the marquee, the crowd spilling out all around her. She stood serenely in the middle of it all, staring off in the distance as if at a ship skimming the horizon. She stood there, waiting, time on her side.


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