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Young, Moth-eaten … The Moment … XIV
A story about a meeting in an unfamiliar city.
It wasn’t the city where either of them lived, had ever lived. He had just picked her up at the airport and driven her back to the motel. The room was booked for a week. He shut the door, slid the chain, dead bolted. The curtains were closed. The room was dim, except where cold bright spilled from the bathroom. On the way over, they had barely touched.
“Take off your glasses,” he said.
“Do you not like them?”
“Of course I do. But they aren’t right for right now. They let you hide. They give the wrong idea. Wearing them you look like a college student, like you study English somewhere private and expensive, with huge courtyards and weathered brick and deep rain puddles and gargoyles that you can feel on the back of your neck when you’re hurrying to your classes, and you keep your head down to keep from looking them in the eyes, or to keep from looking anyone else in the eyes, for that matter, because you feel even smaller here than you’ve ever felt before, and like you don’t know what you’re doing, and like you don’t really fit in, like there might have been some mistake, and you try not to think about it too much, and you’re managing alright, but only because you’re keeping things compartmentalized, and you’re staying focused, and doing what you have to, and it’s a delicate balance, and it feels like you can’t afford to take any risks, like making unexpected eye contact, especially with a boy, although with a girl too, more than you’re willing to admit to yourself, but anyone at all, really, would just be more than you want to deal with right now, than you’re sure that you’re ready for just yet, even though you know you should feel ready, but you don’t, so you keep your head down, and let your hair blow in your face, and you get excellent grades, you’re near the front of your class, not the best or the brightest but clearly well above the average, and most of your teachers say you have real potential and real promise, they go out of their way to tell you this, even, because they wish you would participate in class discussions more, and wouldn’t be so reticent to speak up, they all tell you this except for your Victorian Literature professor, who’s had tenure for thirty years and makes such a spectacle of your idiocy when you mix up Charlotte and Emily Brontë one time during class discussion you have to leave the room and go cry and hyperventilate in the bathroom, but then when you go to his office hours, because you feel like you have to apologize, or stand up for yourself, or do something, you aren’t sure what, but something that will somehow prove to him you deserve to be in his class, it’s like he doesn’t remember it at all, and he asks you if you have a boyfriend, and it makes you feel nauseous, and helpless, and it’s not like you have no friends at all, there’s a couple girls you sit with at lunch sometimes, a few others you talk to in classes, it’s not like you’re a pariah, just last week a guy in Midcentury American Poetry invited you to a party, you’re just too quiet and withdrawn to have anyone you feel that close to, anyone you could talk to about something like this, so you don’t, you lie to your Victorian Literature professor and say he plays lacrosse at another school, a school in the next town over, and you’re not sure he believes you, but nothing happens, either, he stays on the other side of the desk with his diplomas on the wall behind him and his shelves full of books, a whole row, probably, with his name in them, and a picture of a woman you think is his daughter sitting there by his coffee mug, although it could be his wife, for all you know, so you try to just forget about it and stay focused on your assignments, stay focused on your reading, practice smiling in your mirror. That’s what you look like when you wear your glasses. And it’s beautiful, but that’s not what I want to see right now.”
“What do you want to see?”
“I want to see you in an iron mask.”
Later, he was showing her a picture of a dead lamb. He carried it with him everywhere. The lamb’s neck had gotten caught under a metal gate and been crushed. It was night. The ground around it was covered in a thin layer of snow. The camera’s flash gleamed two white points in its empty black eyes. Its face was frozen in an expression of panic, mouth half-open, as if mid-bleat. But no sound was coming from its throat anymore.
“What do you think it was thinking, just before it died? Do you think it felt relieved?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
“I know,” he said.
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