Stephen Carson

Principal Consultant, Digital Education Concepts LLC

In This Late Hour

Janice is planning her life without me again. In the passenger seat of our ten-year-old Toyota, she has the road atlas open across her lap, and she turns her head slightly as she glances from Colorado to Connecticut, then flips the page in a slow arc. “I could move to DC,” she says. With shoulder-length brown curls tucked behind her ear and glasses resting high on her narrow nose, she looks detached and professional about selecting the best place to further her career. Behind her glasses, I know, are eyes so dark I can’t make out the pupils–Gypsy eyes, unreadable. I should probably listen more closely to her, or at least try to stay focused on these unfamiliar Boston roads, but I am distracted by how the early afternoon sun falls across the old brownstones we pass. The shadows are dark and precise, and throw the facades into dramatic relief. Light here is so different from Pittsburgh–I don’t know how much of Boston we will see on this quick week-end trip, and I want to get my camera out of the back, ask Janice to drive, but she’s in no mood.

In front of us, a car cuts across two lanes to catch an exit, and I brake to avoid it. Janice doesn’t even glance up from the map. “Maybe I could work in Boston,” she says. “Garland could use a friend in town.” Garland was Janice’s roommate in school. This visit will be the first time we’ve seen them since they moved to Boston a year ago, and Janice is worried about Garland, but she won’t say why. She did tell me that last month, on the phone, Garland said that Payne wasn’t sleeping with her anymore, and she thought he might be screwing someone from work. I told Janice he wouldn’t, that he wasn’t the type to mess around. And what exactly is the type? she had asked me.

Janice knows I slept with Garland, though we’ve never talked about it. It was before Janice and I lived together, the night before Garland moved up here. Garland and Payne had been married three weeks, and Payne was already in Boston, working. The three of us–Garland, Janice, and I–had gone out to a bar. We talked about Garland’s move, and about Janice and I finding an apartment together, and by the end of the night, Janice had gotten pretty drunk. When we got back to their apartment, I put her to bed and came out into the living room. Garland and I talked some more, and had another drink. We talked about how many things were changing in our lives. Maybe it was that feeling, or maybe it was that I knew she was leaving town. I think now I was worried about moving in with Janice. Whatever, after two more drinks I came on to Garland, kissed her and, for a minute, she kissed me back. Then I put my hand on her breast and she told me to stop. I kept on and she struggled against me, and I began to pull away. I told her I was sorry and went to get up, but she pulled me back, pressed my body to hers. We had sex there on the floor, in between all of the things she’d packed up for her new apartment.

I drove home terrified. As soon as I got there, I called Garland, told her Janice could never know. She said it was her mistake, too. That she should have stopped me. Friendships just sometimes cross boundaries they shouldn’t. She said she’d never tell. But I know that Janice and Garland have talked about it; it comes out in hints and insinuations, like Janice’s question. Our year of living together has spun around the weight of that night, and the things we won’t say about it, and even now I can’t tell if we are pulling together or apart.

We met two years ago, when she was a platform diver and I was a photographer for the school’s paper. I covered a meet, and up close I was amazed by her quickness and power, by the sound of her–wrists locked–punching holes in the water. I took hurried pictures as Janice coiled her body on the edge of the platform and flung herself into space, spinning, twisting through the ten meters to the water, then unwound into a slim dart and slipped beneath the water.

After the meet, she asked if she could get copies of my pictures. She said she was fascinated by photography, that she’d always wanted to learn, and I invited her to help develop the prints. We spent our first evening together in the darkroom, leaning over vats of developer as image after image of her body emerged, darkening out of the white paper: first hugging her legs to her chest in a tuck, then arms extended and reaching for the water, and one of her caught at the peak of her jump–a reverse layout–her arms spread and her head back, anticipating the drop. You can’t imagine, she said, you stand on that edge and just go, just let yourself go. You don’t think. You’re beyond thinking. You just do. I told her that heights had always bothered me. How can you not think about what might go wrong, I asked. You just accept that you are giving yourself over to gravity, she said, and you commit.

Three months later, she took me up on the ten-meter platform, told me to jump. I stood on the edge and the water below slipped and spun, rushed forward and receded. Nausea seized me fiercely. I grabbed for the ladder’s rail to steady myself and Janice laughed. Then she stood with her back to the fall–just her toes on the edge–and waited. A slight smile grew on her face as she saw me torn between holding the rail and reaching for her, and when I finally reached, she went over backward into a one-and-a-half reverse tuck. The pool hissed up at me after she went in; I backed away from the edge and went down the ladder. It was later that same night that she introduced me to Garland.

Janice knows I would never leave her, but she is a risk-taker in ways I am not, and if I can’t find a way to defuse this thing, I know that she might leave me. We’re in downtown traffic now, and I’m trying to remember Garland’s directions. Janice looks up from the atlas. “I get the couch,” she says.


“If I move,” she says, “I get the couch.”

“Sure,” I tell her, “You get the couch.”

* * *

“As soon as I’m drunk enough–” Garland lifts her wine glass for emphasis. “–I’ll get up, climb over the rail, and just jump right off.” I laugh at this. Payne does not. His eyes don’t meet Garland’s or mine. Janice stares off into the distance. Garland looks down between the vertical iron bars of the railing, ten floors to the sidewalk below. “I’ve thought about it. We’re high enough here. I’d probably pass out before I hit bottom. That would be sufficiently dramatic, don’t you think?”

At seven o’clock, Payne has just come home from work. We’ve been drinking with Garland since four. Payne looks older than I remember, and it’s not just the suit and tie. The lines on his face are deeper, and there’s more gray in his sandy blond–but it’s something more, a heaviness. He’s tall and he’s always been bulky, but tonight he seems stooped, not smaller exactly, but more dense, imploded. He moves slowly.

He brought Chinese home with him, and on this first warm day of April, he pulled the tarp off the porch table and brought the folding chairs out of the closet so we could dine on the balcony. The apartment has a wonderful view of the trees and lawns of the Common, and the buildings that rise beyond. I can tell that dinner was set to show off the scenery. After all the set-up, though, they have served the food in its white take-out cartons, and Janice rolls her eyes at me to say she finds it tacky. The brown paper bag, crumpled and bruised with grease, sits in the center of the table.

Garland and I sit nearest the edge of the balcony, Payne and Janice toward the plate-glass windows of the suite. I lean over and look down at the plunge Garland is proposing. “Yeah,” I say, “it looks like enough of a fall to me.” The bars of the railing look reassuringly sturdy, but the height makes me dizzy, and I look out over the Common to calm my stomach. People stroll along the walks in the park below, and the lights lining the paths flicker like fireflies behind the swaying trees. Leaves are the merest fringe of green on the tips of branches.

“I know it’s high enough, Kevin.” Garland giggles. “What I want to know is: Would it be dramatic enough?” Payne stares into his glass of wine, moves his hand behind it, watching the refraction of his fingers through the amber liquid.

I say, “It would have drama all right, but it would lack class. I mean, some sanitation worker’s got to mop you off the sidewalk afterward.”

“You think?” Garland feigns seriousness. “Wouldn’t it be a coroner or something?” She hiccups, holds her hand to her mouth. Behind her, in the distance, the letters of a sign glow atop a building: Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge. The first “o” in “Motor” is out, and it flickers once, weakly, just behind her ear.

“Who knows.” I shrug. “But that’s getting away from my point. If you’re going to do it, be neat about it. Have some class.”

Garland gives an I-know-what-you-mean-nod. Janice seems to be pointedly ignoring the whole conversation, and I wonder if she thinks I’m flirting. Payne pours himself another glass of Chardonnay. He stares past Garland and me at the city. Even though I know it’s why I’m out here, I find myself admiring the view, the office buildings that ring the park below. I comment on all the people working late.

Payne sets down his wine. “If you two weren’t in town, I’d probably still be there right now.” He points at a building. Garland’s nod confirms this. She turns away from him, out to the open expanse beyond the railing. Her face is Janice’s negative–a harsh, brittle beauty. The lines are drawn sharply, chin and nose angled, hard cheekbones under blue eyes. Garland works as a fashion consultant for a downtown boutique, a job that pays well, demands little, and is absolutely over by three o’clock. Her dyed blonde hair is cut just below the nape of her neck, the Beacon Hill Bob she’d called it, standard-issue for professional women in this neighborhood.

Payne pulls something out of his pocket, a new camera, an expensive miniature. Garland too has been showing off her new things–Mazda, gold bracelet, a small bronze Rodin reproduction–but she has always done this. It’s new from Payne though; he’s always been content with whatever he’s been doing, never one to look for attention. In the half-hour since he’s come home, he’s already shown me his new camcorder and the GPS system he bought for his boat. The way he holds out the camera now is like he offers it up as evidence, the proof of a thing even he’s not sure really exists.

The camera does have my attention though; I still buy photo equipment constantly. I have a drawer in my cubical at the Department stuffed full of lenses, light meters, and cable-triggers. If Janice had any idea how much I’d spent on this in the past year, she’d kill me. Every once in a while, if I think she’s going to be in a good mood, I’ll bring something home, pretend that I just bought it. It’s going to take me years to bring home everything this way.

I ask Payne about the tiny camera’s film and he pries the back cover off to show me. He shows it Janice, but she’s beyond even faking interest. She’s thought Payne was a dolt since the day they met, when he’d told her she was nothing like he was expecting. Janice jumped on this, imagining the horrible things I might have said about her. He was only trying to joke that she seemed too nice to be with me, but when it came out wrong and she got defensive, he couldn’t explain himself. He’s not stupid, really–he just isn’t very articulate. He is an engineer and his world is one of calculations, strengths-of-materials, structural integrity. Words and emotions for him are dangerously imprecise.

The phone rings and Payne lurches to his feet. Garland begins a rant about Payne’s work habits and the incessant ringing of the phone. “And if it’s not the phone, it’s the fax… It’s almost better when he’s at work through dinner. At least then I get some peace.” She finishes her wine and pokes a chopstick at the carton in front of her. Through the plate-glass, I can hear Payne’s voice. The words he uses are indistinguishable, but his tone is solid and sure-of-purpose.

Garland hiccups again. “Hold your breath,” Janice tells her, and Garland says she’s been trying. They talk about the different cures they know, and I am half-listening.

The dusk is turning to night, and the city lights behind me are reflected in the windows of the apartment. Garland, Janice and I become dark silhouettes, voids in the glow of the buildings and the waning light. The red of sunset outlines the city’s reflection, and I am tracing this with my eyes when Payne turns on a lamp inside, striking a balance between the light in the apartment and out, a double-exposure of the cityscape over his form standing beside the phone. The outside light is slowly failing, and I watch his form grow more opaque, wait for the precise moment when the two images are in perfect balance. I am calculating shutter speeds and Ä-stops when I notice that Payne has hung up and beckons for me to come inside.

I step through the sliding glass door. Payne has settled on the couch, and I sit next to him. Garland’s new sculpture stands on the coffee table; it is The Kiss–kind of an obvious choice, but that is typical Garland, tasteful but devoid of inspiration. Payne traces the bronze leg of the woman with his finger. He starts to speak, then stops. He lets out a long, slow breath. Then quickly: “Does Garland seem okay to you?”

This is the familiar pattern of our late night barstool conversations–a pensiveness, a halting attempt to reach the topic, a question that is not quite what he wants to say. The night he told me he was going to propose to Garland, he asked me first, in a dozen different ways, if I thought she was seriously interested in him. Does she really like me? Does she tell Janice things about me that she doesn’t like? In the end, he’d been so excited when he pulled the ring-box from his pocket that he fumbled it across the bartop, and we both came off our stools after it.

He gets up, stands with his back to me.

“What happened, Payne?”

He grips the back of his neck with one hand. “I don’t think Garland should be talking like that.”

“The suicide thing?”

The two bronze figures entwine in front of me, the man reclined with the woman in his lap, her body at an angle to his. She twists at the waist to meet his lips. The man’s burnished hand on the woman’s leg pulls her. She reaches up to him.

“She took a bunch of pills last month,” Payne says. “Sleeping pills.” He stands, takes two steps, and stops with his back to me. “It wasn’t enough to hurt her. The dose was too low. She got sick though, threw up all over the living room.”

I wonder if she really thought the dose was enough, or if she was just trying to scare him. Whichever, I’d guess she took enough to scare herself. The first powerful push of her diaphragm would make her realize she might actually die. I wonder if she tried to make it to the phone. I glance around the room, imagine her crashing into the chair, the coffee table, collapsing onto the floor, the little pills heaved onto the pale carpet like half-dissolved tablets of Easter-egg dye.

Then Payne says to me, “I just–I don’t have time to deal with her hysterics now. With the highway project and the new sewer contract–”

The phone rings again.

Payne answers, mouths the word “later” at me, and launches into another conversation. I watch him speak into the phone, his voice changed, confident. He’s moved on from Garland to this next concern without missing a beat, and I see what she has become to him–another piece of business, something else to be managed. He begins to lecture on a fine point of pouring cement bridge pilings, and I escape back out onto the balcony.

Garland is leaning on the guardrail with her forearms, her glass of wine out over the edge. One of her feet is up on the bottom crossbar of the railing, between two vertical bars. Her eye seem fixed on the horizon.

She is speaking to Janice as I sit down. “I wish the boat was in the water.” She hiccups in the middle of ‘water.’ “It would be a great night for it.”

“Why isn’t it?” Janice asks.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Garland says without looking over her shoulder. “Payne’s always too busy and I never go to the marina alone.” She takes a sip, and hiccups.

Payne’s voice reaches us once more.

Janice sits back and closes her eyes. The carton of lo mein in front of her has been stirred a bit but not emptied at all, and greasy noodles dangle over the edge. Now I know why she has been so tense about this trip–Garland must have told her about taking the pills. I’m sure they guessed what Payne and I were talking about.

Garland hiccups.

Payne steps into the doorway, his bulk filling the opening.

I expect him to say something, but what I don’t know. We have backed one another into corners by who we have confided in–Garland in Janice, Payne in me–and who we haven’t.

Janice opens her eyes, stares at Payne.

Garland hiccups again.

Payne puts a finger to his lips and moves silently behind Garland. I think he is going to try to scare the hiccups out of her, but he clamps his hand over her face, pinching off her nose and mouth, and wraps his other arm around her waist. He’s surprised her completely, and she lets go of her wine glass out beyond the rail. It tumbles end over end, spilling wine in a glistening shower, until it disappears on the sidewalk in a spray of shards.

Garland straightens up, kicks out against the railing, drives both of them backward. Payne outweighs her by a hundred pounds though, and she can’t break his grip.

By his grin, I can see that Payne is pleased with how well he surprised her. Garland looks at me and then at Janice, tries to gauge her situation. I am at a loss. Janice starts forward in her chair, looks over at me.

Garland twists violently one way and then the other, but Payne holds tight. My hands tense around the armrests of my chair.

“Kevin–” Janice says under her breath. She seems ready to leap, deciding what she might do against Payne’s bulk.

Garland reaches up with both hands for Payne’s head, and he ducks away without letting go. A maniacal Jack-in-the-box, his grinning face reappears over her shoulder.

She strikes at his arms, and her feet come up off the ground–Payne is holding her entire weight with his arm around her waist. She kicks backward at his shins with her heels. Tears run down Garland’s face and onto Payne’s hand, and she is going pale.

Janice comes out of her seat, pushes around the table toward them, upsetting the white cartons of food and spilling a tangle of noodles. “Payne stop,” she yells, and he lets go.

Garland collapses, and he sees he’s been too rough. “God,” he says.

Janice kneels, and Payne stoops to put his hands on Garland’s shoulders. She shrugs them off. Garland’s chest heaves as she tries to get her breath back. Janice helps her into a chair, pulls another one over for herself.

Payne drops into his seat and clutches his head. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to–” he says.

I want to say something, but I don’t know what. Down on the sidewalk, a drunk investigates Garland’s wine glass. He kicks some of the fragments, glances around for a moment, but doesn’t look up. No-one on the balcony says anything. Garland has some color back in her face and her breathing has calmed. Janice has an angry stare fixed on Payne. He ignores this as best he can, watches Garland wipe her eyes. Behind her, off to the left, the “o” in the Howard JohnsonÕs sign gives a sudden flicker and returns to a void.

* * *

Janice is sleeping with her head on my chest, and I feel the rise and fall of her breathing. We are splayed across the livingroom floor. Light from traffic passing on the street below swells against the dark and recedes. The small of my back aches, and I can tell I won’t get any sleep.

We started the night on the fold-out Payne opened for us, and after he and Garland had settled and the apartment was quiet, Janice rolled over on top of me, pulled her tee-shirt over her head. She moved desperately, powerfully, as though our lovemaking were some ritual to ward off whatever possessed this place, to break the spell that held these people. Her weight pressed my back into the metal bar beneath the thin mattress, bruised me.

We folded up the bed afterward and spread the mattress on the floor. Janice has been asleep for an hour and I don’t want to wake her now. But I can’t stand the ache anymore, so I lift her head gently, slide my body out, and replace it with a pillow. I put on my boxers, dig through the suitcase for the bathroom kit, the bottle of Motrin inside. I move toward the hallway, heading for the bathroom, when I see her: Garland is standing in the hall, watching me.

Her arms are folded across her stomach, her hands grasping her elbows. Her cheeks are wet with tears. I wonder how long she has been there, standing in shadow. From her stillness and her blank stare, I guess she might have watched Janice and I making love. Her lips part as if she is going to say something. When she doesn’t, I step forward, speak her name softly. She looks down, and I touch her chin, tilt her face back to mine and wipe off the tears with my thumbs.

“I just had to get out,” she says. When I don’t respond, she adds, “Of the bedroom.”

I nod, and she moves closer. Her breath moves across my skin. Then, standing up on her toes, she tries to kiss me, and I grab her arms and stop her gently. Her lips draw closed. She puts her palms flat against my chest, her touch cold, and shoves me away. She whirls around and disappears into the bedroom, closes the door behind her, leaving the hallway pitch dark. I feel like I should go after Garland, but I can’t imagine what I could do. I imagine Janice like this, roaming the darkened rooms of our apartment late at night, and I wonder if we will ever come to this, fleeing each other in our own home.

I drink water from the bathroom tap with my hands to swallow the painkiller. In the mirror, I can barely see my own reflection. Back in the livingroom, Janice has not stirred, not noticed my absence. I step over her and slide the balcony door open. Out on the porch, the air is cooler, the breeze strong. Only a few of the brightest stars burn through the city lights’ haze. I am almost completely sober again–I can feel the stirrings of a hangover–but the distance to the sidewalk is still dizzying. People are leaving the bar down the block, and they knot up and disperse like the swirling bits of garbage in the street below.

“Kevin?” Janice’s voice is sleepy and alarmed.

“Out here,” I call softly over my shoulder. I listen to her inside the apartment, the brush of sheets, the soft suction of the refrigerator, the cork popping out of a half-empty wine bottle left from dinner. She steps onto the porch behind me, slides the glass door closed. She stands at the rail, one hand holding the wine and the other clutching the sheet around her body. She drinks, then offers me the bottle. I shake my head.

“Insomnia?” she asks.

“No.” I rub my back. “You’re leaving bruises.”

She sets down the bottle, massages my back with her free hand. She stops to wrap the sheet around her, then uses both hands. I lean on the cold rail, bow my head and close my eyes, concentrate on the feel of her fingers moving over my skin. She works across my back for a while, then wraps her arms around my waist, presses her body against mine. I take a deep breath, open my eyes and look out over the undulating trees.

Still holding my waist, Janice looks around me and down at the street. “You should have stopped Payne,” she says softly. She says this simply and without anger; in her mind, I know, it is a statement of fact, not an accusation.

“He didn’t mean to hurt her,” I say.

She lets go of my waist, steps to the rail. “But he was hurting her.”

“Christ, Janice, he wasn’t going to kill her in front of us.”

She walks away, down the porch beside the rail. “I’m not talking about them, Kevin. I’m talking about you.”

The traffic below grows louder and subsides. A car honks twice. In the park, two men come together away from the lights, make an exchange in a brief flurry of hands, then move apart. Branches shake above them, tossed by the wind.

“You didn’t do anything, Kevin.” She turns toward the rail, puts one foot on the bottom crossbar the way Garland had done before. “You never do anything.”

Janice pulls the sheet from around her body, and before I can stop her, she climbs up and over the rail. She turns around on the thin strip of cement outside the fencing and faces the apartment. Her hands are on the iron handrail and her feet are under the bottom crossbar.

My stomach reels at the thought of the drop beneath her, and I have to stop myself from lunging. I don’t want to startle her. “Janice.” I ease toward her. “Stop fucking around. You’re drunk.”

She moves away from me. “Believe me,” she says, “I’m not fucking around.” She straightens her arms, leans out over the sidewalk ten stories down.

I turn away, unable to watch, and face the plate glass. “I’m going inside,” I tell her.


“Janice,” I say, “don’t be stupid.” I should go; without an audience, she would climb back over the rail and come inside. But the thought of her falling holds me, and I watch her reflection in the window. She is dark against the city lights.

“Kevin,” she says in a warning tone, “turn around.”

“Goddamit Janice.”

In the reflection, Janice pulls herself upright again, and that small concession makes me think I should go ahead inside, let her follow when she is done fuming.

Then, in a moment like the shift from looking at the surface of a pool to looking at the bottom, I see Garland on the other side of the glass, beyond Janice’s reflection. First her head and the lightness of her hair, then like a developing print, the outline of her body.

“Janice, stop it.” I turn around.

She stares through the hair blown across her face. “I want you to come out here. With me.” She has not seen Garland.

I laugh.

“I’m serious,” she says. “Climb over the rail.”

“Come on.”

“If you do, I’ll get right back onto the porch with you.”

I can feel Garland’s stare from the other side of the glass behind me.

“Do this for me,” Janice says. “I want you to do this.”

I step to the rail.

“Just climb over and stand next to me for a minute,” she says. “Please.”

The railing is cold beneath my hands. Flakes of paint and rust grate against my palms. I tighten my grip and turn toward Janice, lift one leg up and rest the foot atop the rail. Trees across the street spin one way, then back the other. The sidewalk below slides back and forth unsteadily.

“Don’t look down,” Janice says. “Look up at the porch.”

I do, and the swaying stops. I am sweating and the cold wind turns the dampness to chill. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

She moves closer. “I don’t want you to think.” She tosses the hair out of her eyes. “I want you to come out here with me.”

I lift my foot off the railing and bring it down on the thin margin outside, balancing astride the bar. I am more stable this way. I try to look at Janice, but the buildings behind her do a sickening dance, and I snap my eyes back to the porch.

“It’s safe out here,” she tells me. “It’s just high.”

I don’t move.


I give myself over, trusting. With my other leg across, I turn to face the apartment, mirroring Janice’s stance. My knuckles ache, and I relax my hands a little to let the blood flow more freely. Next to me, Janice is smiling. “See,” she says, “it’s safe.” Her face is flushed and the skin of her body is ruddy from the constant wind. Behind her, the buildings sway more slowly, but the motion still makes me sick, so I turn back to the porch.

In the glass of the apartment, our reflections stand opposite us. They are dark shapes before the city, and beyond them–no behind them–stands Garland. Janice turns to look where I look, and Garland lifts her hands to the glass, palms stark white in the dark reflection. Janice draws a shock of breath. “Garland.”

I know, I tell her, I’ve seen her there. Janice starts to climb back over the rail and I want to reach for her, but I can’t let go of the bar, and so I say, “Janice, no.”

She stops with on foot atop the rail, the way I had a moment earlier, and looks from Garland to me and back. She steps back down beside me. “What, Kevin? What?”

I don’t say anything, just wait. But Janice does not move and Garland does not move and they each watch me in their own way from the glass–Janice in the reflection and Garland from the other side. And between them, I feel the weight of my own cowardices. I am out on this ledge now because Janice has needed me to take a risk for her, any risk.

So I do. I say to her, “I’m sorry Janice, I’m so sorry. It should never have happened.” I make spoken for the first time this thing we have both known, this thing that has grown between us. I hate myself for doing it, I say. I tell her I love her, that I don’t want to lose her, that I want to plan our lives together.

When I am done, she climbs back over the railing and picks up the sheet. “Garland needs me,” she says in a low, even tone, and goes into the apartment.

I am alone then, on the far side of the railing. I tremble in the cold wind; I should go back in now I know, but instead I force myself to look down. The sidewalk is empty of people below, and a few cabs stray down the street. Over my shoulders, I can see the buildings that ring the park, still quite a few lights left on at this hour. I hear for the first time the gentle clatter of branches from the park below, and I turn to them, and realize that everything I see is steady.

I climb back over the rail. Garland is gone when I come inside, and Janice has wrapped herself in blankets and stretched out on the floor. She stares at the ceiling, and when I lie down next to her and whisper her name, she says nothing, just turns away.

I get up, walk over and sit down on the couch. Cars go by outside every few seconds, and I listen to their ebb and flow as Janice passes from silence into sleep, her breaths growing slower and deeper.

The darkness around us seems not quite able to cloak the room entirely–a darkness vibrant with distant energy, as though the city has a minimum of light it requires, a base level necessary for everything to function. I imagine the light dwindling too much, the city lights snuffing out one by one, office lights, whole street-fulls of street lights, billboard lamps, gaslights and stoplights. And the signs–first letter by letter, then whole words lost to the encroaching dark.

But this will not happen. The cars will become more frequent in the early hours as night collapses in on itself, grows less dense and begins to dissipate. Light will pale into the room, a soft even light without shadow, diffusing over Janice in the blankets, and our clothes and bags. On the table in front of me, the bronze figures will be entwined together in their frozen moment, and the gathering light will illuminate their embrace.


Appeared in Volume XXIX, 2001, of the Amherst Review.