Wide awake on the floor the night light kept the imaginary fire going but it didn’t keep us warm. Pangur Ban snored loudly at my feet. Every little snore reassured me that she was alive. Those audible indications of actual life. Her lungs were barely functioning but managed to find a way to let air in and out. To be honest those mechanizations don’t always prove anything to me. I rolled over to see Glory, also wide awake and beautiful, looking back at me.
“Hi,” she said, with her hands in prayer tucked under her ear. It sounded like the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me. How is it possible that this woman was this enchanting? I was in a heap of trouble. Nicht gut.
“You alright?” she asked. “That dream of yours seemed intense.” Glory swept hair out of my face.
I almost said yes without really thinking about the question knowing that the response was always a lie. The truth was something you weren’t supposed to tell. Don’t confide in people. Shut down. And most importantly keep your fucking mouth shut. It was all part of the conditioning and playing a role in our dysfunctional microcosm. When anyone asked if things were alright at home, or how you were, you just said yes. Yes, things are fine. Yes. I am fine. Leave it there.
The truth was I was never fine. Hattie was never fine. Who the fuck really wants to know anyway? Who could possibly understand how I felt? I didn’t understand anyone else. It’s asking a lot. They were not me. And I was not them. Why bother? Why did I want to open up to Glory? Don’t front, you know she got you open. Why did I live in terms of cultural associations?
I coveted the ideal woman since the moment their shapes stole my attention and kept me awake at night. How scary they have always been to me. And none scarier than how this one made me feel.
“I’m not but I will be.”
“Is it me? Should I leave?”
“It’s not you. For your sake you should leave but I don’t want you to.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I want to be able to talk to you. I mean that. I’m just not ready to talk yet. I want you to be the one person I could talk to. This is going to sound crazy but I want you to be the one person who knows me better than anyone else.”
I meant that. Now could that change? Everything was subject to change. Could I ever be candid and completely genuine with her? Could Glory really be the person I needed or was I fooling myself again? My distrust was always present in my thoughts. I languished over everything. How could people share their thoughts and feelings when they are so deceptive? Lamenting reactions and fleeting happiness. Nothing lasted. What was real and what was imaginary? Do you tell a woman you barely know that you could see yourself falling in love with her but there will always be a part of you that refuses to be happy, or that you will secretly want the relationship to end, and quite possibly you will sabotage it at some point in the future? Is it misleading to keep those bits to yourself? My escapist disposition was inherent.
Were all the women in my bloodline dreamers and all the men evaders? Did they try to romanticize everything too? Was failure corporeal for them as it had always been for me. What was wrong with me if after a few hours three words were lingering on the tip of my tongue. This was not indicative of a stable person. I was a twenty eight year adolescent with hearts for eyes. How pathetic. I was frightened and aware my transposing feelings were untrustworthy. I felt the tingling, giddy onset of love or what I presumed love to be. Had what I felt before truly been love? Who’s to say? What if it was only infatuation? I’m scared I have never loved anyone at all.
As aghast as it might sound, maybe I’m not capable of loving anyone. And maybe no one ever really loved me. You can call me a piece of shit once and I’ll believe it, but tell me you love me a hundred times and I’ll question it each time.
“Whenever you’re ready. But can we always try to tell each other the truth?”
“We can try. I just don’t know if I can. I won’t lie to you but sometimes I find it difficult to talk about things. Do you see the picture on the wall?”
“The couple with the faces covered?”
“Yes. that one. What do you think it means?”
“Hmm.” Glory furrowed her brows as she pondered the meaning of the painting. I wanted to kiss her. “I’m not sure but I like it. Who painted it? Duchamp?”
“Rene Magritte. The Lovers. It’s my favorite painting.”
“Are they dead?” she asked. “Is it the death of love? They don’t want to reveal their identities. Why? Ashamed of affection? What do you think? Catholic guilt?”
“Magritte did a series of these with different people embracing one another with their faces obscured with shrouds. I don’t believe he ever said what it really meant to him. Some presume that it has to do with his mother’s death. She committed suicide and was found in the river where she had drown with her dress or nightgown or whatever, up and wrapped around her face.”
“Heartbreaking. Absolutely tragic. Poor boy.”
“I look at this a lot and I think, and this is only an opinion, but I think it is an observation of relationships. It shows the truth about them. We are all covered up, guarded, masked, and we never truly reveal ourselves to the ones we love. We are never fully open, we close ourselves off despite being intimate.”
“It could be that. It might also not be that at all. Why are you so uneasy? I can feel the tension in you. Are you always this uncomfortable?”
“Relax,” she said, touching my face. Glory tried to switch gears. “That’s a nice suit.”
“Thanks. That is my first real suit ever. I bought it two weeks ago. And the only reason I got it is to have something to wear at my mother’s funeral. I’m incapable of having contact with her but she is sick and I fear the next time I see her I will be wearing that. That was me being unguarded and telling you something no one else knows, but I don’t want to talk about it. Not yet anyway.”
“I’m sorry about your mom. Are you sure you wouldn’t want to let it out? It’s safe with me.”
“Yes. I appreciate that.” I used to be so angry at Hattie for telling people anything about us. Who was I to judge?
“Want to take a picture?”
“We can do whatever you want.”
Glory grabbed extra sheets from the coffin and set up the timer on my camera I had on my desk, a camera I didn’t know how to use, I didn’t even know it had a timer. Pangur Ban showed no interest.
“Take off your glasses,” said Glory. We knelt before each other and wrapped the sheets around our heads, though we could see faintly through the fabric. In each other’s arms, naked and illuminated by the nightlight and the flash of the camera, captured by the light as our mouths released heat and dampened the cloth between our faces. “What would the people in the painting say to each other?”
“I suppose, if the title is Les Amores, they would tell each other I love you.”
“Would they mean it?” Glory asked.
“Does anyone ever?”
“I love you,” said Glory. She definitely did not say that.
“I love you, too.” I didn’t say that either, but I wanted to.