Nondescript Love Story
Lucas Mann

Sometimes she feeds me. A piece of sausage speared on a fork, the ridges where she cut it grazing my lips until I open and bite. She slides the fork out and smiles at me. Sometimes she asks me to feed her so I do. She says, "Can I have a nibble?" and then before an appropriate beat can go by she apologizes and says, "No, sorry, that's rude, eat your meal." And I say, "Please, have some, I want you to have some." And then I feed her and she says yumm if she likes it or says nothing and scrunches her face up like an anime caricature if she doesn't.

Sometimes we talk to each other in baby talk. We don't recognize that it's become a thing for us, but it really has. I read a novel last year and the omniscient narrator sneered at some of the characters for speaking in baby talk as adults and I refused to finish that book because of the tone. That's the thing that made me realize how big a role baby talk plays in our lives. We speak in speech impediments, in unnecessary W's. Sometimes I stroke her forehead and say, "Pretty face," in the way that someone will say "Pretty bird" to a bird, hoping for the bird to repeat it. Sometimes she says, "Pretty eyes," to me. I do have pretty, hazel eyes, and long, arcing eyelashes, too, and she knows that I appreciate being commended for having anything pretty about me.

Sometimes I get really competitive when we're out to breakfast. I listen to other peoples' conversations at other tables and it's just endless. They let their food get cold because they're talking. They hold their forks up with the eggs hanging off like not even eggs could distract them from the mutual train of thought that is happening. I mean, Jesus, what the fuck are they saying? Do they write lists at home? Do they practice a week of silence in bed so that they can trot out this dialogue in public? We don't like table talk. We like hushed eating. And when do I bring up topics they spiral into dark things with teeth. We talk about old friends that we've moved away from and then suddenly we are talking about all of the shortcomings of those friends, how they think they have it together but they totally don't and once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. Sometimes we talk about ourselves in the future tense and I get a little melodramatic. Then she shrugs and glares at her fingernails and we stop talking again and I swear those chatty motherfuckers at the other table think that we're unhappy or they look down on us, which just infuriates me.

Sometimes I think it would be cool if she was conservative or Egyptian or something, and then we could talk in hills and valleys about abortion or why her father would never accept me. Sometimes I wish we fucked other people and then got really mad at each other about it, or she strapped one on and made me cough as she pushed in behind me, like we could be one of those couples that are idyllic, but also revolting.

Some nights she kicks her legs under the covers and slams her fists into the pillow. She says, "I'm awful. I suck, I suck, I suck." And I say, "No, no you're not. That's crazy. You're the opposite of awful."

Some nights, I get a bit teary and she says, "Are you crying?" and I say, "No" and she says, "Tell me why." So I say, "Oh, you know, I just think I'm a piece of shit and I have no value to the world." She says, "That's so untrue."

Those are the most important words you can say to somebody, I think.

We're planning a trip to go visit any town in any state where smoking is still legal indoors, to sit at a diner and smoke cigarettes. It's such a simple plan, with four walls to it. Also, we've been watching dated television shows in bed, set in diners and we absorb what we watch. I had a dream of feeding her neon yellow lemon pie. My hair was oil black in the dream and her lips were red. It was the first dream I remembered since that one six months ago where I was running from someone through unfamiliar oil fields and I got shot in my shoulder and it made a sound like the lowest string on a stand-up bass. I woke up feeling nothing. I think the closer you get to something, the less detail it has. Until it becomes like the sound of light or the taste of air.

Sometimes we stare at the grey bunny that lives in the bushes behind our house. Sometimes he stares back. "Does he really exist?" we ask each other because he is so cartoon and plump. Yesterday we were eating baby carrots and listening to the crunch when the bunny walked up. I got the feeling that the bunny liked being around us, so I kicked off my flip-flops and walked towards him with a baby carrot in my hand. Behind me, she whispered, "Be careful" and I whispered, "Of what?" though I did feel very nervous. The bunny's ears got erect and he crouched. He was afraid. I knelt in the grass and tossed the baby carrot at his feet like it could shatter. It bounced to him and he eyed it and then he eyed me and then he fled. She gave a mewing exhalation behind me, and I said, "What?" really sharp and defensive. Then we were both silent. I stood to move next to her. We looked at the bushes, at the thing that had run away. I put my hand on the back of her neck and thought of how narrow it was, how easy to hold.

Lucas Mann is finishing up an MFA at the University of Iowa. HIs first book, CLASS A, is forthcoming from Knopf/Doubleday.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Astrid Westvang.

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