This Line of Questioning Will Have To Be Sufficient
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Destitute"
Originally featured on 05-28-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

“Do you remember his first words to you?”

-silent nod-

“Tell me.”

“It was, what are you doing? And it was shouted across the Sandy river.”

“Why was he shouting at you?”

“Because he was across the river.”

“And where were you?”

“Paddling a kayak.”

“He was standing on the bank of a river and shouting at passing boats?”

“I wasn’t passing anything. I was paddling against the current and standing still.”

“Why were you doing that?”

“That’s what he wanted to know.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I didn’t tell him anything. I asked him if he’d ever been to a gym. He nodded yes. I could see by the look on his face that he knew where I was going with the analogy.”

“And he was amused?”

“Are you?”

“This isn’t about me.”

“Should it be easy to tell when somebody is amused?”

“I think we’re getting off track.”

“Why? Because the conversation isn’t moving forward? Don’t you find it pleasant to move your lips like they’re on a treadmill? That’s the point; people jog on machines to pretend like they’re outdoors and going somewhere. I was doing the exact opposite, and he thought that was funny. I liked him for thinking that was funny. Thing was, I wasn’t being funny.”

“So you continued shouting across the water? Or did you go ashore?”

“Neither. I kept on paddling, and let him watch me. I forgot he was there. I didn’t look for him on my way out. Wasn’t until a week later that I saw him buying cat food.”

“He recognized you or you recognized him?”

“Does it matter?”

“Who approached who?”

“You’d get a stickier story if you stopped asking me stupid questions.”

-nothing-

“He had these sunglasses in his shirt pocket. Same ones he was wearing at the Sandy river. Now he’s walking to the door, he’s got a ten-pound bag of cat food cradled in one elbow, and he uses the other hand to put on the sunglasses. Thing is, he doesn’t put them on before he opens the door, and he doesn’t put them on when he’s already outside. It was this intricate, calculated maneuver, looked like he did it a hundred times a day; there was not a discernible instant when he was indoors with the shades on or outdoors with them off. Totally instantaneous. And he didn’t slow down as he got to the door; not even a little. If you want to know the moment I fell for him, it was in that non-moment, that zero span of time in between being inside with glasses in hand and outside with his eyes shielded from the sun. I walked out right behind him and said what are you doing?

“What did he say?”

“He didn’t have a chance to say anything. I was hysterical by the time I got outside. It wasn’t the fact that my bike—which I parked right in front of the store—was stolen. I’ve had bikes stolen before, I buy a new one, whatever. It was the lock; the broken chain was still there, on the ground, wrapped limply around the pole like it had just…fallen, left there. Kind of like when someone comes out of the shower and shrugs off their bathrobe to go tend to some emergency, and the robe is just there tangled on the floor—I can't stand looking at things like that. Things that are meant to go on other things. The worst is when it's a lock. Well, maybe some things are worse. Although it's not so much the fact of it, but the sight of it, when I say it's the worst. The way it lay there, the insult brought to life- not a deliberate thing like a scalp on a wooden spike or anything like that, but even more vulgar in a way. I picked it up, held the chain in my hand. Probably cried. I don't remember. Swung it around. Felt my shoes vibrate when the end of it whiplashed the sidewalk. He saw it too. He just stood there, still holding the cat food, didn’t shake his head or make any demeaning gesture. Just looked at me through those sunglasses of his and said…”

“Said what? What did he say?”

I’ll drive. We didn’t drive anywhere. We got in his car and we just kissed.”

“Based on what I've gathered so far at this premature stage of the examination, would you like to know what my hunch is?”

“No.”

 

-after four more days of no signs of his reappearance-

“Do you remember the last fight the two of you had?”

Of course I do. Do I remember what it was about? Not so much. I remember washing dishes after he slammed the front door and his truck tires flung dirt. I washed this one bowl for what had to be twenty minutes, just scrubbing and scrubbing it, looking out the window at nothing. I was afraid when I looked down, it wouldn’t be a bowl anymore; it would be something else, maybe a human skull. Maybe his skull.

I’ll drive.

 

I look at myself in the mirror. I don't stop to look at myself in the mirror. I just look at myself. He left me behind, wherever he was in such a hurry to go; I walk around like a broken lock someone left tangled on a sidewalk.

The most comforting thing I know is standing still and accomplishing motion. I wish I could find that funny.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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