In the market, even though preoccupied, I see her headed my way again, in a well-tailored black suit, white blouse with cuffs showing at the sleeves, black heels.
“What are you doing?” she says, stopping this time.
Most people out of work are beat, never curious.
“Picking out dinner,” I say.
That day, in the meat section, a small steak for $6.26 looks good, but then underneath is another for $8.08. So I have a decision to make. Have been making. Leaning.
She says, “I came back this way because I forgot nuts and you’re still here with that same two packages of meat in your hands?”
“You forgot nuts?”
“Yeah, right, I’m the one.”
I like what I see in her eyes.
And that’s how it starts, isn’t it? The ignited look—right conditions, it rages through the scrub, heads for tall grass.
“It wasn’t ten minutes,” I say. “Not quite eight.”
“If you say so.”
And that could have been it. But then, another day, deliciously eight weeks beyond, more shopping, there she is again.
I favor this store, the only one that has the proper lowest items checkout—even though it takes a longer route (4.4 miles from work; 8.2 from home) to properly get there.
I think she gets it too. I like her basket: smoked oysters, a pack of figs, a carrot juice, two-pack of brownies, pre-made wrapped roast beef sandwich, single roll of toilet paper, what looks like breath mints… and a crumpled white cup from the free coffee station at the front of the store.
(Does that count?)
She turns—looks at me looking.
I should know better but I’m getting drawn into those blue-gray eyes of hers. An edge beckons. She’s like one of those deep dark pools in abandoned quarries, where stolen cars and the parboiled bodies of teenagers end up.
I’ll skip the particulars. After I move in, we fall into routine. First eight days are great.
Neither of us is much of a cook. She uses the kitchen sink only to brush her teeth, and even then, not so often, but I like to do things right, the microwave my friend. I use one of the multiples, 24, 32 seconds depending on volume, to nuke or re-nuke. Eight more, if that isn’t hot enough.
“What are you doing?”
“You ever wonder how the mind can spiral? Loop back on itself,” she says, “so the routine becomes so credible it becomes incredible to believe one could change in any way?”
“Never,” I say, blowing on my spoon.
But she’s one to talk….
She doesn’t want loose batteries around. When the occasion arises, I have to reload a flashlight in the garage.
Speaking of cars, out somewhere, shopping or something? And she sees a dog someone has left alone? She circles the parked vehicle until the poor animal begins to bark. (If it doesn’t, and it’s time to, I stop her.)
When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom at night, she throws off the covers, gets out of bed and walks in backwards—comes out and into the bed the same way.
When she brushes her thick blonde hair? It’s four strokes down the left side, then the same, four, on the right.
I can live with that.
We all have our quirks. To be fair about it, I like to park in the same spot at work. It just makes me feel comfortable. How I start my day. Part of the set I work with.
Like when you hit eight minutes in a shower? You know, don’t you?
Maybe time to get out.
Maybe it’s what happens to any couple, together for that stretch, the feeling-out time, at the end of which you decide to keep it going or not. After say, eight weeks in, you take a long hard look and what do you see?
You see maybe, that day at the grocery was not about matched shopping methods, but instead a pedestrian chance encounter, where the compatibility you felt was a pent-up release, a transitional phase perhaps, rather than any soundtrack made from the music of the spheres.
Number two, you’re in an ice-cold garage puffing breath, changing flashlight batteries.
Number three, you sit down with eight chips, eight spoonfuls of soup and an eight-piece pizza pie because what’s eating healthy got to do with it?
Number four, you can’t believe that even if she doesn’t know that the Chinese consider eight a fortuitous number, a lucky number, a number promising good fortune—she should not be so as crass to remark, “We’re not in China.”
Number five, once you point out to her the base logic of certain numerical tidings she should definitely not smile.
Number six, you see that—don’t you?
Number seven, you see what you know now is the most important thing.
There is no number eight, so there you have it.
But you move on, don’t you? You go into to work, but you take a slightly different way. You may question the routine if not the reason, but you certainly don’t douse the baby with the cold bath water, as the saying goes.
You cut the wheel a little sooner than usual, and your heart thumps, as you swing it into the spot.
You take a deep breath, get out of the car, circle it, count each one out. Get inside on the good foot. Step it off, get it right. The new right.
And just that simple, like magic, yes like the music of the spheres, it begins the moment you see her: at the end of the row of cubicles, short black-haired, not long blonde (as if that mattered), seventh one down on the left.
What you hear is a song you hope will never end. It’s got the right beat, the rhythm to which the dance of your dreams plays out.
Jon Fain’s short fiction can be found here and there. He lies low in Massachusetts.