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FICTION takes my pulse. I sit on the floor next to the couch. I close my

eyes and put my head back. He closes his eyes too, and I think he’ll fall asleep in ten minutes. But I hear him talking softly, so I lift my head. “I’m Rob,” he says, introducing himself. “I know who you are,” I whisper back. “I know who you are too.” His eyes fix on mine. “I don’t think you do.” He brings a hand up to my face. “Tell me your


“I thought you knew.” “I do. Just tell me.” He watches my lips, waiting

for my pronouncement. “You say it.” I lean close to him. “You say my

name.” He pauses, staring. Then he speaks: “Cynthia.”

He takes a deep breath. “It’s Cynthia.” Rob’s dead wife. He’s thirty, a widower. He closes his eyes. The moment he said her

name, he knew it wasn’t true. I didn’t expect this. “Rob—” “Say it’s Cynthia. My name is Cynthia,” he begs.

“I’m not—” “Please.” He raises a hand to his temples. “Say it.

Just say—” “Rob, I can’t.” For a moment, there’s silence. Then he starts

sobbing. He’s sobbing, and I sit on the floor helplessly, feeling cruelty in my sinews. I put my arms around him, first one and then the other, and I hold him tightly. “I’m sorry, Rob. I’m sorry. It’s only me.” In my grasp, his body quakes. There’s a rhythm to his sorrow: we rock gently. For twenty minutes, he weeps. Then we sleep.

Me on the floor, Rob on the couch, my arms entangled with his torso, his tears streaked on his cheeks, a pain in the small of my back, dust in my nostrils, a chill underneath the door. At 6:30 in the morning, I try to rise. He shifts

when I remove my limbs. His eyes open and I can tell he knows it’s me. I sit down again, my back to the couch. Rob grasps his pillow. After several moments, he speaks.

“Have you ever seen someone die?” he whispers. I think about the death in my life. “No,” I have to

admit. “Pets. It’s not the same. I’ve seen dead animals.” Rob’s hand moves through my hair, pausing as


the base of my neck. “Cynthia died of a brain tumor.” He traces the shape of my skull. “The fucking brain.” The one, two, three, or nine train shakes my walls. “It took her three months,” he says. “Three months to die. That’s all.” He swallows. “She had a really bad headache one night, Sybil—that’s all.” He shakes his head. He can’t believe it either. “It wouldn’t go away. I took her to the emergency room and they did tests. Two days later, they told us it was inoperable. Just like that.” He snaps his fingers. “Can you imagine how quick and simple it was?”

I breathe deeply. “No. I can’t.” “They just told us. Inoperable. Live with that. Try

living with that.” Tears form in his eyes again. “Go home and die. You’re twenty-three, so maybe you guys should go see the Grand Canyon, rent some Classics, get in what you can.” Tears spill over and I reach up to pinch them between my fingers. Seeing a man cry rattles me, squeezes my insides. “What do you do now?” I ask. Rob stares up. “I do what I have to. Whatever it

takes to sustain my losses.” “Are you always only sustaining your losses?”

I touch his hair. “Is that what you were doing at Ramone’s? Sustaining your losses?” Rob blinks. “Yes.” The tears begin to dissipate.

“That’s what I’m always doing.” So then we sleep. When I get up for my bed,

there are no protestations. If there is vomit on him, it’s vomit on me. A rose is a rose is a rose. Vomit is vomit is vomit.

We sleep till eleven and, when we wake, I

drink a Bloody Mary and Rob has a pot of coffee. We don’t mention a thing. We take a walk along the Hudson, strolling, swinging our arms, wearing dark glasses. We’re like animals, after they’ve killed—not remembering the killing. We’re gentle, tentative. We move shyly and, when we bump against one another, we are kind and apologetic. We try and try to stop remembering, but we’re not really like that. Not really like animals forgetting.

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