Molly's Boyfriend

Travis Price


I am a little nervous about meeting Molly's boyfriend. She told me about him the other day, said she had something she wanted to share with me. She didn't exactly begin with the phrase I have good news, but that was the sense I got. I'll admit the whole thing was somewhat unexpected.

She's since described her boyfriend in loving detail. He grew up in one of those war-torn Eastern European countries and got out just when it was getting really bad. His upbringing explains some of his more extreme views about which countries actually deserve sovereignty. Molly suggests that we avoid politics until I've known him for a few months. She's had me practice his name, though I may never be able to pronounce it correctly. Fortunately, Molly's boyfriend is used to Americans raking over the soft vowels, or stopping, befuddled, when they reach the l with a line through it. He has learned to be understanding.

Molly's boyfriend is eager to meet me—the two of them have talked about me at length. A nice boy, Molly calls me, a kind soul. She says I shouldn't be so old-fashioned. Her boyfriend is shy at first, even if he conceals his insecurity under what some might describe as a cold demeanor. I should not be so delicate as to let this ruffle me.

Molly's boyfriend is interested in military aircraft, but mostly from an aesthetic standpoint. He likes to watch NASCAR races in their entirety; he does not cheer when the drivers crash. Molly's boyfriend is a self-avowed feminist and is not afraid to say that to anyone. He owns all four of Fiona Apple's studio albums, his favorite being The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do—even if the critics saw it as a step back. Molly's boyfriend usually wears his straight-brimmed Detroit Tigers hat facing forward, but Molly prefers the occasions when he turns it around backward, usually during sex. The hat is a product of Major League Baseball's Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, and is the pink of carnations. It's a lot of information and I try to take it all in.

The whole thing feels perhaps a little like an arranged marriage. Molly chose him, and then Molly chose me. Maybe because Molly's boyfriend and I complement each other, but also maybe because we don't. She says it means I don't have to be everything for her, that we'll spend time together as a trio, rather than in pairs. Molly's boyfriend is now my boyfriend too, and the sooner I can accept that, the better.

Molly and her boyfriend are related, but not closely. We're not first cousins, is how Molly put it. Then she sketched a rough graph with a rapidly descending curve to show me that she and her boyfriend fall below the relatedness threshold that everyone freaks out about so much. Molly's boyfriend usually doesn't feel obligated to contribute to group discussions. He dresses based on how he feels and not on the weather, and then puts the pink Tigers hat on top. The only sensation Molly's boyfriend experiences when watching a sunset is staggering boredom. He sleeps by the Caromé method—thirteen minutes every hour—and feels refreshed and alert all the time because of it. Molly says it's comforting to wake up in the middle of the night to find her boyfriend writing at his desk, or pacing around the small room, or sitting bolt upright, motionless beside her in bed. Molly's boyfriend calls all raccoons "possums," and I shouldn't correct him because Molly is waiting for the moment when he encounters an actual possum to see how he'll handle the dissonance.

The truth is that Molly is the sweetest girl you'll find and I'm lucky to have her, even a part of her. She has a big heart that knows no bounds, and that's certainly not a crime. She's always taking pictures through the rectangle of her fingers and claims to have a photographic memory. She sometimes lies in the grass for hours, transcribing birdcalls, letting insects crawl all over her without complaint. She talks to strangers, and sings when she's on the toilet. She loves me, and she loves her boyfriend.

Molly tells me that a three-person relationship is the strongest type. But Molly also has a habit of singing the theme song to "Three's Company," only each time she increases the number. "Four's company, too . . . five's company, too . . ." I can hear her from the bathroom, and she gets all the way to eleven before she laughs.

Nothing really feels settled anymore.

Molly keeps telling me that she wants the circumstances to be just right when I finally meet her boyfriend. Knowing Molly, she's not going to warn me in advance. We'll be in the park or out to dinner and there he'll be, wearing his pink hat, grimacing unevenly in an effort to smile. And that'll be the beginning—our beginning.

But then—it's odd—the image in my mind flickers. The carefully constructed picture suddenly eludes me. I begin to wonder if Molly's boyfriend is really her boyfriend. If he's real at all, or if she's made him up, if a tri-amorous relationship is just a fantasy she pretends to live out. I don't know why in these moments it feels like something hard-won is being taken away from me, but it does. And then I think about me and Molly, on our own, sitting around on some rainy afternoon, and I start to worry. What if there is no wrinkle on the horizon? What if, after all this, we're just like everybody else?

I try to conjure him up again. I try to put him back together, piece by piece. How can I miss someone I've never met? What does it mean if the real world, with its capacity for the infinite—its pygmy elephants and cowboy presidents, its great wars and perfect games—is nevertheless unable to accommodate someone like Molly's boyfriend?