Lauren Becker

Daniel shows me his new apartment. Its empty rooms and drapeless windows. He smiles with teeth only, offering me cheer in this bare cheerlessness. I know Daniel better than that. Our mutual friends accept his offer of superficial contentment. Relieved, they look forward to his housewarming party.

We look out his large windows at the industrial area that surrounds his new home. In the loft across the way we see a naked man sitting in front of two computers. One has a very large monitor that seems to not be in use. On a smaller laptop, he appears to view online profiles. In my story of him, the man is trying to decide whether to chat with other men or whether he's just too tired. In general or from the relentless newness of fucking strangers. He clips his fingernails as he decides.

Daniel stands beside me. Close. We laugh and make a bet about whether the man will have company. Daniel is visibly relieved to discover distraction for after I leave. I watch with the curiosity of an outsider. The man across the way is television to me. To Daniel, the man might be a lifeline – a human being who displays his own separateness by sitting naked in front of an uncovered window. I can tell that Daniel wants to touch me.

Earlier in the evening, at Sailors', we drank Maker's neat and Daniel offered, partly joking, to have sex with me if I ever wanted. He doesn't want that now. Even if I wanted it, he is too overwhelmed by the realness of having left his house keys in the hands of the wife he never wanted to marry, that he married because he should, and that he couldn't protect from the pills she gave herself from stolen prescription pads.

His restless eyes and hands tell me that he doesn't welcome this freedom. I know him; his smile belies the fact that he wants to be held and assured that it will get better. I can't do that for him this time. I wish I could.

We pretend he does not want that.  We pretend he is not lonely and that neither of us is damaged.  I need to leave this sad place where Daniel will sleep tonight for the first time. I need to be home in case the source of my own misery comes back. I know he won't. We laugh and refuse to acknowledge his or mine. We can't help each other tonight.

He walks me to my car. We laugh at small things – the old woman flirting with him at the bar, his naked neighbor, my near-fall when my boot catches the sidewalk. We hug for more than a moment. He is six and a half feet, solid. I concentrate very hard on transferring some comfort to him. We stick to our quiet agreement. I step back. I need to conserve what is left for myself. For when I return to my house, filled with furniture, filled with things.

We are still laughing as I get into my car. He will call me tomorrow. I will help him choose a coffee table. He closes my door. I watch for only a second and leave.

Lauren Becker has stories in or forthcoming from Dogzplot, mud luscious, Six Sentences and Word Riot. She lives in the city where Gwyn Fisher took the photo that accompanies this story's billing on the main page. If you can guess what city that is just by looking at the photo, you win some kind of prize.

To link to this story directly:

Photo detail on main page courtesy of Gwyn Fisher.

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