"Cory's Drafts"

I.

Cory wants to write a story about opposites. Consequently, she doesn't know where to start or how far to go.

II.

How far back should we go? Do you remember London? Do you remember grabbing an umbrella from the rack beside the doorman? Do you remember the wet asphalt smell from the passing storm? Cory remembers. She remembers the three bottles of red wine, your satisfied smile, the candles, the engraved silverware, the funny little Chinese man – Mr. Chou, maybe? – with his noodle tossing technique, how first he rolled the dough into strands, wrapped the strands around his fingers, spread his fingers and molded noodles from the dough. They were soft on Cory's tongue, sliding smoothly between her lips, sticking between her teeth for hours after. She remembers the three French waiters in their bleached shirts, black bow ties, the shiny toes of their shoes. She remembers how you settled into the chair across the table, like a giant mastiff. First with worry, one eye open. Soon relaxing your limbs, paws and ears, wagging your tail in a lazy wave.

You talked about work, politics, then religion. You were Catholic, into all the guilt that faith demanded. Cory told you about reincarnation and you chuckled the iguana chuckle – your head collapsing onto your relaxed shoulders when, your eyes that squint when amused, your deep authentic laugh, and especially your curling-up at the corners iguana smile.

III.

Cory still remembers the grinning iguana, still calls you that. Do you remember the first time you showed her that smile? It was at Grand Central Station. Stepping from the train, you tripped. She picked up your papers, piles of photocopied slides and highlighted lines. You called her a lifesaver and asked her to lunch.

Now Cory has a confession, on the way up out of the station, she looked for your wedding ring. Then in desperation, she instead searched the painted ceiling – all those stars painted onto a bruised sky. Cory imagined how the ceiling would swallow you up, both of you. Together, you'd float in space and hold stars in your hands. Gathering planets, you'd make her a necklace. She's craft you a new ring of moons.

At the station, you ate sushi from a vendor. Then, and this was her idea, you walked the fifteen minutes of MOMA. Cory grabbed your hand, milk inside your chocolate paw, and led you up an escalator to the photography exhibit. She showed you her favorites: a young woman jumping rope, an old man sitting in a lawn chair – his beer and dog beside him – a tiny black child looking at the camera from through a marble. If a photographer had taken your picture right then, you would have looked like comfortable friends – her grabbing onto your arm, you squeezing her hand. Your shadows contrasted across the ties. They spread in a dark grey V, branching from the feet as if foretelling your futures.

You took Cory to dinner at an expensive restaurant and paid yourself. She took you to an arcade deep in Chinatown. At a park around the corner from Cory's dorm, you sat on a bench and counted the stars. You wrapped an arm around Cory's shoulders. She leaned her head against your jacket. By star fifty-seven, she remembers, she'd confessed that feeling, that you'd met somewhere before.

IV.

You'll meet again someday. These days Cory likes to tell herself that, late at night when she can't sleep, when she compacts into a ball in her dorm room and pulls a pillow to her chest. She tries to believe in reincarnation.

She imagines that reincarnation flows like a stream. She crawls along its banks, spinning her toes through its current, pulling off clover heads to toss into its ribbons of water. She convinces herself that there's a rock or a log or a ledge around the next bend, and that she'll find the clover heads swimming all together there. She convinces herself that she'll find you swimming there, too – your long arms and legs stretched dark against the waves, the water pulling and pushing you in circles from bank to bank, the clover heads weaving with your field of well-gardened dreadlocks, you resting wild, pure and honest – even though you're not much of a swimmer. You'd told her that yourself. She hadn't believed you. She'd claimed that all navy men knew how to swim. You answered that sometimes it was better not to.

V.

Sometimes it's better not to know things, or not to tell the truth – like white lies about your mother-in-law's ugly lawn ornaments, or you wife's splitting of hairs, or your daughter's God-awful poetry. When the untruths grow too grand, you can always travel a world away, maybe a whole galaxy one day. And you could always bring Cory with you.

Remember the Frankfurt airport with the tall blonde security guard who patted you up and down, suspicious of your Irish name, black skin and American passport? Remember the mermaid statue in Denmark, the one with the windmills a few miles away, the one that you'd imagined to be so much bigger, but worried to show disappointment in, worried that Cory would translate it to disappointment in herself? Remember the San Francisco movie theater where you won that film about French siblings in a bathtub only because you knew that Ingrid Bergman, wither her smooth accent and virginal look, was in Gaslight? Do you remember that rainy night in London?

Cory remembers. She still sees that blue umbrella that you stole, no, borrowed from the hotel. It was a fancy hotel, across from Harrods, chocolates under the pillow, and the soft snow bathrobes waiting in the closet. Cory always re-hung the bathrobes. She always folded her towel. She always made the bed once morning woke. She'd try to be the wife and daughter that you'd left at home. She let you lecture. She'd let you love.

Cory met your wife and daughter at the funeral. She tried not to cry when she saw them. She told them that you were a mentor, how sorry she felt, that of course she couldn't understand. She sat in side aisle of your wife's Methodist church. The walls were hugely white, with only a few windows sharing a view of the highway outside. Around her, the congregation cried out along with the minister, sending their voices along the rows of benches, sliding across the windows, swelling inside your body. Cory almost convinced herself that at any moment – maybe when the voices reached their climax – that you'd push out of the coffin. Like Lazarus, you'd come back to life. Your eyes would turn wet again. You'd dust the embalming powders from your cheeks. You'd give your iguana smile to the guests. They would all be surprised, all but Cory. She'd have understood. She expected it. You couldn't not come back, she missed you so much.

VI.

She misses you, you know. She reminds herself that she'll be with you again, one day. Maybe the Chinese communists will have blown up the world, sending shards of planet across the galaxy, polluting space with particles of carbon, oxygen and whatever else that we've contaminated. Maybe we'll have grown gills and tails and become mermaids, swimming through freshwater springs, kissing with our gills, and never remembering the time that we ever had or needed feet. Maybe there won't be any Germany or Denmark or England anymore – no differences, no languages, no cultures, no obligations, just us. Maybe we'll keep a vase of flowers by the front window, and our giant mastiff will sleep at the foot of our bed, and we'll raise strong, smart and healthy children. We'll live in a warm, honest house out there in the stars, somewhere.

VII.

The stars had just peeked from behind the rain clouds when Cory and you started walking back to the hotel. You were full from four hundred dollars worth of Chinese noodles and small Chinese men named Mr. Chou, but work had paid, and despite the fullness from food, you felt free. Streetlights reflected in the wet asphalt. If you breathed deep, that wet asphalt smell would have emptied you out – and it might have.

You took Cory's hand and hurried to the middle of the street. Holding the blue umbrella out like a cane, you tap danced in the wake of automobiles: a double decker bus, those old-fashioned taxis, tiny European cars. Your eyes glinted white from the streetlights. Your skin shadowed into the night. You stretched out your legs, your pant rolling up to expose sock, and padded your leather shoes through the puddles. You whistled a song from your navy days. Your newsboy cap fell off, tumbling beside the curb, and you didn't notice. You spun across the road, then back again, your hair spiraling around your shoulders. You could taste the departed storm as it coated your teeth and made you feel young again. You could hear cars in the distance, but your song chased those everyday sounds away.

VIII.

Standing beside you and listening to your song, Cory wanted to write a story.

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