We sit around the conference table waiting for the brainstorming to begin. I tell them how yesterday, waiting at the bus stop, I saw a pigeon crushed under the wheel of a bus. How the bus rolled up slowly, great tires crinkling on the hot asphalt, the engine unusually quiet, stalking. How the pigeon was missing a toe and had a broken wing and didn't flinch. How the pigeon popped audibly, splashing a heap of organs and blood onto the street. How we all gasped and how one man said, Oh, shit, pausing between the words like they were two separate thoughts. How he laughed, and then we all laughed, the nervous laughter of people who do not know whether it's too soon.
Erin laughs, too. She tells us how a few years ago, they were all walking out to get lunch and they heard a gunshot and ducked down in fear. They stayed down for a few moments and then one of them discovered that it wasn't a gunshot, that a man had jumped off the roof of the building with the liquor store, that the sound was just his skull exploding on the sidewalk, like that pigeon, harmless. We all laugh nervously, since maybe it will always be too soon to laugh about this. In the sigh that comes after, I tell Erin, I wish I'd been there, and I mean it.
At the Urinal
I walk past the espresso bar on my way to the restroom. I notice the owner watching me. She smiles. I don't know whether I'm smiling back. She is in her forties, and I hear her speaking Italian. At the urinal, perhaps primed by the simple act of holding my penis, I imagine being with her. In this morning's fantasy, my wife and I have an open relationship, but I skip to the part where things go wrong. The coffeeshop owner appears in our doorway. She cries. She throws something. She leaves, but I can hear her in the hallway. I plead with my wife. She's Italian. This is just how it goes. This is the most realistic part of the fantasy: My wife asks why I would knowingly subject us to this. I thought they were only like this in the movies! I say. And I am essentially watching an Italian movie now, which is why the owner is like this. She comes back into the apartment, and my wife leaves. She begins shouting. In this movie, I am Mastroianni. I slap her. She slaps me back. I am Massimo Girotti. She raises her hand again but I grab her arm. You can have me one more time, I say through my teeth, clenching her wrist. I am Eastwood. Deal? When I emerge from the restroom, the owner catches my eye again and she seems less attractive. Maybe, in the brief span of my evacuation, my memory has already had time to distort her, to amplify her allure for the parallel sakes of story and egotism. Or maybe I am no longer attracted to her because she evokes now only the sour taste so many ex-lovers do.
The Space Between Us
We stand in the rain, you and I, but only one of us has an umbrella. I feel a pang of guilt. I consider offering you some corner of my small shelter. I consider the possibility you might think the gesture creepy, despite or perhaps because of my wedding ring, in plain view as I hold the umbrella aloft.
When I was in college, a series of rapes on nearby campuses gave rise to a fear that settled in the Happy Valley, so called, like a night fog. Winter came, Massachusetts winter, and even on the windiest days I did not cover my face with my scarf or my balaclava, did not turn up my collar, because these were things the rapist did and I didn't want to scare anybody at the bus stop or in the parking lot or on some dark path across campus.
But you don't know any of this. You don't know about the rapist, you don't know that I'm considering you, here in the rain, and you cannot know that I am trying to remember Rihanna's lyrics and The Hollies', desperate for guidance on how to handle the space between us.
All you know is that I glance at you twice. I am looking for clues you could never give me as to your expectations of my behavior here: Is chivalry alive, for you? Do you live in fear of encounters like these? Do you even know that it's raining, or care?