He sat up, feeling his heart grow a little heavier, and the walls around him seemed to lean in and gave him knowing looks that said “We told you so.” The half-empty cup on his bedside table sneered. “Fourth time this week,” it said, and Wes said, “I know, fuck off,” in a pathetically nonagressive tone of voice and that was the end of the conversation because at that exact moment his phone rang. He slid his thumb across the screen to answer the call, and it was his mother, and he told her that he was just getting his jacket on to go meet some friends for drinks, and she said I Love You Very Much and Get Home Safe and he hung up the phone after saying Mmhmm and You Too a couple of times. He looked around for his jacket, not because he really needed it (because there were no drinks and there were no friends), but because he realized he might have left it at work that morning. From where he was sitting on his bed, the jacket was nowhere to be seen; he decided he had probably left it and stopped looking because the clutter around his room was giving him a headache between the eyes. Looking down at his legs, he uncrossed them and felt a slight pinch in the back of his left knee, because he hadn’t stretched his leg in a while. He let his legs dangle limply over the side of the bed, and did not move except to adjust one of his socks, which had slipped uncomfortably down from his heel.
When the doorbell rang Wes stood abruptly, as though someone had flipped the “On” switch in the back of his neck, and walked to the door. He signed his name, first and last, on the little slip of paper, took the pizza boxes from the small man standing at the door, and said Thank You and I Hope You Have A Good Night. The small man asked him if he was having a party and Wes looked him in the eye and smiled a big smile and said “Everyone’s just inside.” The door closed and there he stood, cradling his two pizza boxes and staring straight ahead. After a moment he remembered how to walk, and carried himself to the kitchen counter where he deposited the pizza boxes and, in the same moment, realized he wasn’t hungry. He caught a glimpse of himself in the microwave and made eye contact with the cold cup of tea sitting inside. It smiled back at him through the glass, looking almost apologetic, and said something that sounded sincere but that Wes couldn’t understand because the microwave door was too thick. The television remote, which somehow had made its way to the kitchen counter also, looked peeved and Wes flipped it over before it had the chance to berate him as it usually did.
Wes walked slowly back to his bedroom, and stood for a moment under the door frame with one arm at his side and the other reached out, gently bent at the elbow, so that his hand was just barely resting on the white wood. He looked down at his feet and was sad, deeply and all at once. He looked up and saw himself in the full-length mirror across the room, only he wasn’t completely sure it was himself he was seeing. The man in the mirror lifted a hand to move a strand of hair out of his face, and Wes was surprised to feel his own hand brushing against his forehead.
After Sadie he had sort of forgotten what he looked like.
Because he liked to read a lot, deep inside himself Wes considered himself slightly above everyone he had ever met. He knew what words like “Cavalier” and “Proclivity” and “Nefarious” meant, and though it wasn’t always intentional, often slipped his impressive vocabulary into his everyday conversations. When he spoke to people he would sometimes notice the skin between their eyebrows come together ever so slightly, and he would be more than pleased to explain the meaning of bigger words to anyone who asked. After explaining, he would always feel the tiniest sliver of pride seep into his fingers through the handshakes of impressed listeners.
When Wesley shook Sadie’s hand for the first time he felt the pride not in his fingers but somewhere else entirely, as though she had captured a little lightning bolt in her palm and injected its electricity directly into the veins in the upper chambers of his heart. When he pulled his hand away, his wristwatch snickered and almost laughed aloud but Wes shoved his hand into his pocket to silence the little thing.
When Wesley read Sadie’s favorite book for the first time, which she had given to him without an occasion, unwrapped, in the middle of the day, he cried in a quiet way he had not known he was capable of. It was nearing the end of their first month, and Wes knew without hesitation that he understood her better now than as a result of anything she could say to him out loud. The book became a close friend of his, and would whisper lullabies into his ears each night until he fell asleep, his fingers caught between its pages.
When Wesley woke up beside Sadie for the first time, the first thing he noticed was not her nakedness but the way her hair was a different color than he had thought. He moved his head slightly, slowly, so as not to wake her, but in order to see if her hair changed colors in different light, and there he sat for ten minutes, slowly rocking his body back and forth and watching it turn from hazel to honey until her eyes opened. She said “Good morning,” and he would respond Yes It Is, and he knew that it would be.
Wes liked the coffee-stain birthmark on her lower back and Sadie liked his eyebrows and the way his nose was slightly crooked from the time it had been broken. He liked the way she talked to children, how her voice never changed pitch even though she knelt to their level, and she liked the way he held his coffee mug, threading his fingers through the handle in a way that should have been uncomfortable but wasn’t. He liked her voice in the morning and her voice in the evening, and her voice that was small over the phone and large when she was upset. Wes liked when Sadie read to him, and she never loved him more than when he looked up at her reading from where he lay in her lap. Sadie knew he liked when she stopped to ask about words she didn’t know the meaning of, so she asked often. He liked the way she held onto him the first time they had sex.
During Sadie, Wes forgot about growing up and remembered things he never learned.
The first time Wesley said I Love You to someone that wasn’t family, the girl cried and Wesley couldn’t understand why.
She had been beautiful, her hair lighter than wheat and her lower back without a coffee-stain birthmark. He thought that he had loved her, so he told her so, and she cried while Wes made incredulous eye contact with the glass of red wine on his kitchen counter. He was twenty-two and liked how she smelled vaguely of mint leaves and sometimes coffee beans. When she went home in the morning, he lay in bed surrounded by her scent until the rays of sun peeking through his blinds convinced him to get up. He didn’t like doing laundry after she went home, because the smell of clean sheets was far less interesting than mint and coffee. After two weeks, sometimes three, the pillows would complain loudly each time Wes tried to sleep and he would strip and wash them reluctantly, dragging his feet and ignoring the washing machine’s mocking eyes.
Her parents liked him because he had read Nietzsche and when she said she didn’t love him anymore he didn’t feel anything, which frightened him. He spent a month alone trying to figure out why his heart wasn’t hurting, and he washed the sheets every week without fail and kept the apartment as clean as it had ever been. He cut his hair and kept it tidy, and wore clean and neutral-colored clothes to the bookstore where he worked.
It was just past seven p.m. on a gloomy Tuesday, and Wes had just locked the door of the bookstore, slipped the key into his pocket, and shuffled his arms into the sleeves of his jacket. He was at his good friend’s house within fifteen minutes, and smoothed flyaway eyebrow hairs in the rearview mirror of his car before he knocked on the door. And then, after Hellos and How Are Yous and Come On Ins, Wes heard the words I Would Like To Introduce You To Sadie.
They shook hands and sat down to eat, and the world was exactly the same as it had been three minutes before.
Except for the fact that it wasn’t.
Ukrainean CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr