He came home from work to find her, almost unmoved, on the carpet in her gym clothes: baggy sweatpants and a long-sleeved microvariance polyfiber top, both vanta black. Next to her lay a small whiteboard, on which she had scribbled the words, “I refuse to pretend to be.” His heart accelerated, his impulse was to reach for her and hold her close; keep her safe from herself.
She blinked, and he grinned. The days always felt long when he was away from her. Never had he cared so much for anyone’s safety or smile, and of all his lovers, she was the most troublesome to care for. Always going out at night, insisting on being alone, and returning home covered in scrapes and bruises, like she’d been in alleyway fights all night. Once he’d asked what she’d been up to, and she’d answered, matter-of-factly, “Punching in the moon so the sun will appear.” So queer.
He thought to go to her; she was only a few steps away, but he knew that she would come to him when she wanted. Instead, he carefully peeled off his bomber jacket and hung it on the back of the door next to her scarf; 100% lamb’s wool. Doing a quick look around the room, he surmised that she had not had anything to eat all day. Yet in front of her lay simply the whiteboard with those scary words. What could she have been so busy with, he thought in wonderment, it must have been terribly important to her, whatever it was.
“I’m going to the theatre, want to come?”
She looked up at him suspiciously, and he noticed that in her hair was a tiny feather that must have fallen out of the pillow they shared.
“Uh, Mad Max,” he said, thinking quickly. She liked cars – she drove a red Ford Mustang, a loan from a friend.
She scowled, “Really?” But she got up and started layering herself up. It was early summer, but she put on sweater after sweater till her figure bulged in all the unsightly places. “Let’s go.”
He left the room to retrieve his bike, freshly painted in luminous paint. She appeared in the kitchen, tapping irritably on her phone, a mini Samsung Galaxy that a friend in Silicon Valley had laser printed for her; the size of the pebbles used to decorate zen ponds. Without looking up, “Helmet”, she said. He was touched, no matter how busy or grouchy she was, she never forgot to remind him to put his helmet on.
They walked out the house, and by the lilies. The smell seemed to cheer her up – she inhaled deeply, again and again. “Good idea, the lilies,” she said, still tapping and swiping on her phone with determined focus nailed onto her eyes. “Good job,” he said. She looked up, straight into his eyes, and it was so sudden he gave a small start. “It wasn’t me,” she said sharply, “You do know that other people live here, too.”
A Tesla X pulled up, and she waved at the driver.
“You ordered an Uber?” he asked, following her to get in the car.
She pushed him out, closing the door with the intrepid force only she was capable of. The window glided down, her head stuck out, “Go ahead and ride,” she said, “I’m thinking.”
He arrived at the theatre, on his knightly bicycle. She was already there, her head bent so he could only see the crown of her soft mousy hair. Flick of her head and she was aware of him standing there, but her eyes were back on her phone, swashbuckling it with her fingers. With loose jingling change in his jeans, he bought popcorn with extra butter, and the tickets. As he checked the seats on print, she appeared beside him, suddenly excited.
“I love the theater,” she said, with terrifying sincerity, “thanks for bringing me.” She reached for his hand, and could feel his big furry heart stroke her senseless, through the steady beat. Her worries fell into her back pocket next to her phone.
The theatre was located at the top of a steep and narrow flight of stairs, and she had to let go of his hand to start on it. Suddenly, she was exhausted – she had spent all day clearing Tinder of bots. It hadn’t been easy when she first took on the mission, but now she was getting the hang of this one. Double click to approve of the user’s authenticity, swipe up to get rid of the bot. She liked dancing with her fingers, and now she leant on the railings, peaked out.
He put a warming hand on the small of her back.
“Right behind you,” and somewhere a clock chimed.
Taking their seats, the curtains pulled open and to their surprise, there lay a screen, ripped in half right in the middle, the two pieces flapping carelessly in the invisible current that charged the air. The whole auditorium fell silent, and the light that fell on that brutal piece of vandalism prickled.
Her body shook and she turned to him to find tears running down his cheeks.
“Are you okay?” She asked, immediately berating herself for having asked. Of course he wasn’t okay, but she did not wholly understand what had hurt him so badly. She didn’t care about the movie, about the silly torn screen, about the people around them; she just wanted to take him home and nurse him back to happiness.
They were out of the theatre, and walking side by side, she slowed her step easily to fall in behind him. She knew he did not like her to see him cry. They found themselves in the Dinner Ghetto, a small dense gathering of restaurants with representatives from every continent.
“Taiwanese chicken cutlet?” she asked.
Eating the strips of limp fried chicken with long satay sticks, he grew in color again.
“Why did you write that on the board?” he asked, chewing adorably.
“Oh, well, I had actually written: ‘I refuse to pretend to be sane’, but got so fed up with the concept of sanity that I crossed it out. I mean, you need to use the term to deconstruct it, but sometimes I really hate some words.”
“Oh,” he laughed, and the sky danced to his voice.
“Did you really want to see that movie?” she asked.
“I’m quite enjoying it,” he said.
“Me too,” she said.
“Looks like it’s about to rain,” he said.
“We’ll get caught,” she said.
“I’m not afraid,” he said.
“Funnily enough,” she said, “neither am I.”
“Walk on?” he said.