Blue in Green

Photo of Terrance Manning Jr.

Blue in Green is a short story from Terrance Manning Jr., a 2014 graduate from Purdue’s MFA program in creative writing who won several awards at the English Department’s 83rd Annual Literary Awards: the Booth Tarkington Award for best short story or novel excerpt by a graduate student, the Purdue Federal Credit Union Award for best creative nonfiction essay, and the Budd and Betty Knoll Award for Best of Contest.

He recently received first place in the Boulevard Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers and The David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction, as well as the 2012 National Society of Arts and Letters Literature Competition. His work appears or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, Southwest Review, and other magazines, and he has been selected as a finalist in such contests as the Cincinnati Review awards, Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize, and the American Short Fiction Short Story Contest. He lives and writes in Pittsburgh, PA.

We spent our time together in a car—an ’88 Chevy Beretta. I bought it for $285 from a guy who had bought it for his girlfriend.

“She hated it,” he told me. “Said ‘That what I’m worth? A green shopping cart?’” He smiled when he said that, as if he hadn’t almost ruined the sale. But it didn’t matter to me. I had a car. A green Beretta. Green like grass, like summer leaves, like river water, innocence. Needed work, but it shone beneath the rust, the dirt splashed back just above the tires. I could clean it.

I took that Beretta down to the DMV and stood smiling while they switched the title to my name. I said, “Yeah that’s right, 285—clean money, clean ride.” I don’t know what that meant, but I said it. The lady handling papers seemed to understand.

It was 2002 and I was seventeen. I had my license for six months, and now my own car. No more borrowing Dad’s ’82 Chevy Celebrity, the one that stalled at stop signs and lost power steering on the cold mornings. I wouldn’t have to hear him shouting up the steps after every lazy start of the ignition, every puff of smoke from the exhaust, screaming that I’d ruined it, I’d driven too fast or like a maniac, and now he’d have nothing to drive my mother to cashier at the grocery or to stop after work at the water company to meet his friends for beers. I could drive, now, anywhere I wanted. I could drive to see Emily, to touch her for the first time, since I’d only known her from a picture, a thousand phone calls we’d made over the last months.

My cousin, on my mother’s side, had set us up. She went to school with Emily in Virginia and thought we’d be a nice match, a funny match, a, Trust me, she’s so much like you match.

When I called Emily and told her I bought a car she asked, “So you’ll be out to see me?” Incredulous. “You’d really do that?”

I knew how much having a car could change things, could lessen the distance standing between us like thick glass, so I told her, “Baby, I’d come see you if I had fifty-pound blocks on my shoulders.”

We laughed together over the phone, but her laugh was different, as if uncertain or frightened or that my driving out there somehow meant that all the, If only we could run away together talk had become so suddenly real it almost hurt.

I left Pittsburgh the morning after classes ended at the high school. I told my parents I was leaving, taking a drive, wouldn’t be back until late, if I was back that night at all, and my father grunted. My mother said, “Oh baby, we can’t pay for gas.”

“Of course,”I said. “I didn’t ask you to.” And I walked out the front door, hardly pulling it shut behind me—my heart aching to leave the city, the neighborhood jumping in the mirrors as I adjusted them and pumped the gas pedal just enough to keep the engine running.

-- Continuation from THiNK Magazine --

At a gas station, a mile from my house, I picked up flowers for Emily. “How much for the flowers?” I asked the kid behind the counter. He was tall and stringy with a nose that curled almost over his top lip. Every time I came in the store, he’d sit up from his seat, bend almost in a bow, and smile gently, as if he pitied all those outside his world. He was odd, but I liked him. People who knew him said he’d dropped out of college before finishing a degree in chemistry, and because of that, he seemed a little mystical or unreal to me—to work for something so important and quit.

“Take ‘em,” he said.

“For free?”

“No, steal ‘em,” he grinned. “Just take ‘em.” His eyes moved to the flowers all red and yellow and pink. “Soon, they’ll wither. They’ll die in that pot.”

I stared at the flowers, too—felt obligated to. Like I might be doing something rude watching him watch flowers, so I stared and pictured the flowers dying, withering.

I wanted to say, This is awkward, or ask, What’s your deal? but instead, I said, “So yeah,” taking a slow breath, exhaling, “Thanks a lot.”

He sat down. I reached to shake his hand and he jumped, rattled, took my hand, smiling, “See ya, buddy, see ya,” with his soft fingers trembling beneath mine. I couldn’t help feeling sorry, the way he haunted that counter, stuck there, stuck in our city; he’d given up. There was something dreadful about that, his aimlessness, wasting behind a counter, and it pushed me out the door.

Walking toward the Beretta, I could smell the flowers in the wind—clean, fresh. I imagined Emily might smell like those flowers. Her skin the crescent edge of the petals. Her hair the smell batting against my nervous face. And as I pictured handing them to her, watching her face all lit up, all, This is perfect; you shouldn’t have; only you, Jonathan, I didn’t stop to think at the time that maybe I should’ve known if she was a flower girl. That says a lot about a girl—if she’s a flower girl, a mix-tape, picture-frame, or I’m-here-be-thankful girl. I should’ve known that from all the nights we spent tucked beneath our own blankets in our own beds, on the phone, talking about the things we’d do if we could be together, if we could close that seven-hour gap between us—how she’d brush my neck with her nose, kiss my chin, touch me a thousand ways that exhilarated me.

The whole way down I-95, I listened to songs about broken hearts or moments born in flames, songs without words, the nervous knock of a drum, the sliding cry of a steel guitar, methodical, blue in green, just enough to speak without speaking. I pictured Emily’s face from the picture I had of her, the only one she agreed to send before we met: her smiling pink lips stretched from dimple to dimple, her head tilted, hair a wild blonde nearly white, a purple cast on her forearm from a broken wrist playing softball. That had become my image of her: standing, a smile, skinny left arm hanging helplessly as it disappeared into the cast.

I hoped the flowers wouldn’t wither before I could touch her petal skin in all the ways I’d imagined, all the melodies I’d dreamed up in my new bucket seat as I ripped down the highway humming along to songs I’d never heard before.

* * *

The first day I met Emily in person, nothing unfolded the way I’d imagined.

I pulled up to her house, the one that looked greener in the picture, taller, more like a fantasy in the background of her smiling face. She, too, seemed or looked a little different in person. Her hair was darker, for instance, much darker than the picture, but I figured maybe the photo was taken under brighter sun on a brighter day. Maybe I looked different from the picture I’d sent: me standing by my dad’s old ’82 Celebrity. Maybe my smile seemed more uncertain now, less proud. Maybe my eyes were giving me away, saying, I know it’s not much; I know I’m not much, but I’m here; I came for you. I stepped out of the car and took her in my arms, noticing the lack of purple cast from her picture. I tried to balance squeezing her too tightly and too awkwardly—trying to find the line between I can’t let go and What am I doing here?

We hugged that way for a while—pulled close, squeezing and unsqueezing—but mostly laughing. I think I laughed because she was laughing, or because I didn’t know what else to do. Words had spilled from us on the phone, across wires, as if behind the phone I was hidden, and she was hidden; what we said didn’t matter yet.

“What is this?” she kept asking, smiling. “What is this?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m here.” I laughed, but I could feel it. We both seemed to feel it—a strangeness. Until finally I said, “Let’s go for a ride.”

But that first ride together was quiet, some tension mixed with apprehension, a little, You look different in person; isn’t it different in person? We fought to find things to talk about. Pointed out objects around us. I love that tree. Has that tree always been there? Oh yes. My great grandfather planted that tree. That’s a nice tree. They don’t make ’em like that in Pittsburgh. No, no we have the best trees. Emily pointed often, said, Turn here, and I drove, thinking she’d take me to some special place, some corner in the road with more of those trees, some dead end to make out, some high hill with a cliff that looked out over the city, some place to watch the sun sink away. I’d peek at her when the car grew quiet and hope to find her looking back, but each time I found her eyes searching the car as if she’d moved into a new house—inspecting, deciding. I guessed that was a good thing. Anything she did was a good thing. I thought of playing music, but couldn’t bring myself to ask what she liked, because I should’ve already known.

As we drove, I considered how much we’d amounted to over the phone. Like Great Lovers separated, yearning for one another. She had said things to me I’d never heard before. Things I couldn’t forget. If I could only touch you. Things that crackled and sizzled in my stomach in the night, Only a whimper; I like to whimper, that dispersed unexpectedly throughout the day, cutting grass, or on the bus, in the shower, in bed, rushing up like a breath, I’d lick your skin. And I’d remember things I said, too, things that could only be said behind the phone, beneath the blankets, and in the dark.

In the car, though—in person—we weren’t touching.

“So this is it?” Emily said.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking of talking sexy to her, the way we’d done on the phone, telling her something that might burn her up the way I’d burned right then. “Yeah,” I said. “This is it.” And the thought of almost saying anything sexy made my face turn violently red, the kind of red that stretches into the forehead, back onto the scalp so far that sweat beads up around the hairline.

We were so quiet, I swore I could hear myself breathing, unrhythmically, like a bad song. I hoped she couldn’t hear it, too, the horrible rhythm of my breath. She might relate that rhythm to my song, and when she thought of that song, she’d think, That’s a bad song; he’s just a bad song. I wanted to touch her. Just her hands between mine, her hair maybe. I wanted to feel her, see if she felt as real as I hoped she’d feel. I wanted to say, Just kiss me. I’ve waited so long for you to kiss me. I swear I’m singing good for you.

“I brought flowers,” I said to cover up my breath, to steer her attention from my red face. “Stupid. They’re ugly, I know. I shouldn’t have brought flowers. What is that pot?” I laughed awkwardly, self-loathingly for how bad I’d destroyed every ounce of intent that I’d stored in those flowers.

“They’re not,” she said, smiling into the backseat, examining the flowers, the seat cover stretched and folding behind her. For the first time, I noticed a blotch of freckles splashed over her cheek, her chin, down her neck a little, separated in places, some darker than others, and only on her right side as she flooded into the back seat. I was shocked, even frightened at how many freckles covered her face. Then she turned back around and stared out the passenger window, watched the trees fly by, her beautiful Richmond trees.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, “Just—for now—let’s drive.”

* * *

I made it back to Pittsburgh near six in the morning the next day. As I drove past the city, I could see buildings lying over the night, glowing against the sky, barely lit with morning light, as wind rushed hard into the car through the open windows, lashing everything, in and out of my hair, keeping my eyes open. No music. The sound of the seat cover flapping in the wind.

Emily and I had driven most of the day away. We talked when we could, but tried mostly to let our worry dissipate somewhere along the line, on those back roads of Virginia, or in the wind or a creek along the road. At some point, we stopped at a gas station that seemed far away from where I’d picked her up.

She sat in the car tying small knots in her shirt, twirling them into tight-wound bunches, letting them unravel slowly. I pumped gas, watched her through the window. She looked stunning there, her hair down the side of her face, the outline of her lips pale but dark as sun poured through that side of the car. I wanted to get back in and kiss her, as if we’d been together for months, even years, or as if I’d re-realized suddenly how beautiful she was, but knew, more than anything, that I couldn’t exactly do that. Despite the conversations, despite everything we’d said and promised over the phone, nothing seemed the same in person. Like we’d only just met, or had never met before. I kept looking for that smirk, that kiss-me-if-you-want feeling in her eyes, but it was missing, lost maybe in the smell of gasoline—the sheer richness of it, the way it occupied that space—ubiquitous. It might’ve defined what it was we’d become, or what it was inside of me that day—this rich, invisible yearning—but I couldn’t find it, the idea of us.

Turning into my driveway at home, the sunlight bringing the neighborhood back to life, I thought about Emily, a little disappointed, afraid, excited and not excited. I kept seeing the way she’d stepped out of the car when I dropped her off.

“Right here,” she’d said. “Right here is fine. It’s late.”

I had wanted to tell her that I’d come back again, or ask, Can I see you again? But she smiled and shut the door. “It’s late,” she said. “My dad is home tonight.” And I was all, Okay, okay, driving off and waving, disgusted with myself, as if the shirt I wore was stretched, or I smelled like I hadn’t showered (even though I really had showered); I only needed to be away, back home in Pittsburgh. So I wiped my eyes with my open palm, kept them covered for as long as I safely could, and drove on, every mile turning the memory of her face into something even more unreal or imagined than it had been before I’d ever even seen her.

* * *

The Beretta kept stalling, breaking down at red lights, in parking lots, a mile from my house. Wouldn’t change gears. Puttered out. My mother said she was worried for me driving and my father said something about “converters,” or “starters,” or “damn gaskets,” but neither knew anywhere to take it or had anything to say when I told them I couldn’t afford to fix it.

I couldn’t stand being carless. I couldn’t ask my father to take his, not that far anyway, so I let the Beretta sit outside on the street, green fading a little more each day. I kept calling Emily, saying I’d get it fixed, that my buddy Steve had taken auto-shop in high school and owed me a favor; he’d know what to do; after that, honestly, just after that, I’d be back to see her. We could drive all night, watch trees. We could laugh again. “Remember how we laughed,” I said.

Steve met me outside of the donut shop a few blocks and a highway-cross from my house. When I reached the lot, he was already leaning against the brick smoking a cigarette. He’d grown heavier every year since we met, but his arms were always muscular, like he could twist metal or tear a bumper off a car. He waved when he saw me, didn’t smile; he never smiled. Type of guy to shake your hand often, and too tightly, though he was soft-spoken when he talked, and gentle, as if he could love despite his lack of smile. Sometimes, he’d even pull me in for a hug mid-handshake, pat my back and ask, seriously, Big boy, you been fine?

“Jonny,” he said, grabbing my reaching hand.


“About time you bought one.” He waved me on. “What year’s it?”

“’88 but—”

“You’re an idiot,” he said.

“What’s fourteen years?”

“Too old.” We ducked out of the parking lot through some bushes and across a few yards—the back way. “How long’s it been?”

“Not long,” I said, steadying as I grip-toed down a grassy hill. “I met a girl,” I said, and he followed behind. “A good one. Not like these girls—not here. Pretty, man. I mean not-around-here pretty. You know, just a good girl,” I said, no specifics, like how I’d met her through my cousin or how she lived so far away. He’d never laugh at me, never make a comment or try to talk me out of it, but still, part of me felt afraid to say more, embarrassed. I didn’t want to remind him, somehow, of the year before, when I’d spent a week’s worth of grass-cutting cash and took a bus into Canton, New York to find him, because he, too, had met a girl. And in New York, I’d found him in a place with people I’d never want to see again. He didn’t say much; he walked out with me; we came home. People from high school talked, created stories, like that Steve was doing heroin, and that after the girl left, he’d had sex for money—with anyone, with dealers. I never asked, didn’t have to, or want to, because I’d seen the place I found him, but I stuck up for him, lost friends defending him. So together we hated our city.

Still, a year felt like a long time in Pittsburgh.

We reached the Beretta outside my house. The sun laughed over the street. The car was faded. Tires flatter. Steve slid his thick hand across the hood. “Nothing like a green Beretta,” he said.

“Clean,” I smiled.

He lit a cigarette. He was seventeen. His back was thick. “They’re always clean,” he said and kicked a rusty spot by the door, caving it in. Rust dropped in patches onto the street.

“Been stalling everywhere. Up the street, putt, putt, done—I’m walking. Three-hundred dollars for this. Two-eighty-five, but I mean that’s two-eighty-five.” Worth every penny to drive out of the city.

Steve popped the hood, stared.

“Can you fix it?” I asked.

“Can’t put too much in,” he said. “Have to remember that.”

“It’s worth it.”

“Some are.”

“The Beretta is,” I said.

“Some are,” he said again and smoked his cigarette.

“It can run. It has to.”

“Some will,” he said through smoke. “They always will.” He slammed the hood. “Mr. Wolff will let me bring it in the shop over school. He works all summer. We’ll get it running.”

I smiled, smacked the hood. “How long? Thursday? I don’t care. I mean tonight is best, but Friday? Like I said, whatever’s best—don’t matter.”

“I’ll pick up the parts,” he said. “I’ll call you then. Next time, you buy the stuff, though.” He looked at the car, flicked his cigarette to the street, put it out with his foot. “Can’t put too much into it. I can say that. Never put too much into these things.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“I’ll call you,” he said. “I’ll do what I can. Don’t go expecting something great.”

“I’ll be all right,” I said.

After he left, I stood in the sun-lit street staring inside the car: tan seat covers, ceiling liner peeled back like a hanging belly, crack in the windshield, dirt on the floor. I called Emily to tell her I’d be out to see her over the weekend. She said she was happy, “But don’t get out this time. My dad’s home again. Wait around back. Park up the street. Stay there until I’m out.”

* * *

I reached Emily’s at nearly dusk and parked around the corner from her house. I planned to wait in the car until night, but the moment I put it in park, I jumped out—ran into her back yard, keeping near the perimeter. The lights were on in the house. All the windows were open and shining in the twilight. No blinds.

In the back, I waited, feeling nervous, something different now than, Hope she’ll like me. More like, What the hell am I doing? I crouched down by these tall weeds, shifting leg to leg when my feet grew numb, thinking of Emily. I kept going to the picture I had of her, the dimples, tilted corner to corner, green house in the background. I tried to outline her face in my mind as I looked into every window, every empty but lighted room, waiting to find her.

An hour passed and everything turned dark. The sky was moonless. I could hear Richmond trees blowing in the wind. I hoped the car was okay all alone and unlocked. I didn’t realize how quiet it could be in the dark. Even Emily’s house seemed silent, unmoving like a stone, like it could wait for years without action or anything but rows of shining windows.

I moved closer to the house, wondering if I’d misheard Emily. Maybe she hadn’t said to come. Maybe I’d twisted her words into something I wanted her to say. Maybe she’d said, Don’t come out this time, my dad is home. Wait to come back. Willed me to stay away. Listen to me: don’t come back; we’ll figure it out. I was making myself ill enough to leave when—reaching a lower window of the house—I stood in a thin beam of light from the kitchen as a man swept into the room with an envelope in his hand, a towering man, clean-shaven, high-and-tight haircut, military blues straight to the floor. I thought of running, but dropped instead to the ground. Then, for a second, I imagined shaking his hand—a salute, Pleasure to meet you, sir. I imagined rattling off all the old-fashioned courtesies I’ve ever heard or seen in a movie: Yes sir, no sir, of course sir, it’s my pleasure sir. Anything to look good for this man in the window, but I was just a kid lying in the dirt. I lay frozen until he left, then I popped up and ran back into the yard.

“Jonathan,” I heard from the house. When I turned, I could only see those empty shining windows. “Up here.” Until standing there—on the roof—was Emily, smiling as she inched her way out to the edge of the shingles.

“Be quiet,” I tried to whisper shout. “He’s there. Your dad, Emily, he’s—”

“Shut up, Jonathan.” She took hold of a terracotta downspout that followed the inside corner of the house. “Meet me in the street.”

But I couldn’t move. I stood, lit by the light from the windows, and watched Emily grab the terracotta downspout, head tilted toward the ground, her hair hanging beside her, feet planted against the house, and leaving dark streaks in the green siding as she descended.

I wanted to cheer for her—go, go, go—and we’d run off laughing together and later I’d say, Remember how we laughed, but shouting, then, seemed out of the question. When she hit the ground, we both started running, into the Richmond trees, into the darkness lining the street, and I remembered a story she had told me once: that this one year her grandmother went missing and they’d searched the woods all night, her mother, her father and her uncles, searched with flashlights, frightened, and Emily cried, she told me, As many tears as a little girl could cry, but by morning they found the woman asleep in her basement, And we laughed, Emily said, I remember we just laughed, and so did we, Emily and me, though it was never really funny, and the night in her yard, as we ran together from her house, I was exhilarated with fear, but—for some reason—so damn sad.

We parked in a field a few miles from her house, a place that stretched as far as the state line. “There’s nothing,” Emily promised, “Like this field.”

So still breathless, still calling her crazy, still feeling like we didn’t know exactly what to do now we’d gone this far, I switched off the engine. I wanted to ask about her father, tell her how he looked nothing like the man she’d described, the man who came home and stomped around the house, boots clomping against the hardwood, sometimes sober, but mostly drunk, and angry, screaming her name, looking for reasons to fight. I’d pictured a hard, but frail man—weathered, a shirt unbuttoned, miserable—a man like my father, yelling about starters or engines or slurring so much his words melted away inside his mouth. Not the man from the window—sharp, magnanimous. Though maybe she’d never even told me that, never described a drunk, or the fear she felt when he walked in at night. Maybe those were my stories—something I’d tried to give her like a gift she didn’t need or want. I wanted her. I wanted to ask about her, but there was a tension spinning in the car, a feeling that we couldn’t sit much longer. Asking about her life—what she wanted, what she loved—seemed so far separated from us.

“So funny,” I said, wishing to say anything meaningful, anything that mattered, that made us closer than the hollow conversation spilling between us, but I said, again “This is so funny!” and Emily kept dropping her face into her hands laughing.

I adjusted the seat. She looked out the window. Everything fell more silent as our breathing slowed.

“We have the darkest nights,” she said.

“And the best trees,” I said. Then, “Will he look for you?” fell out of my mouth like a burp, a bad question.

Emily wiped her hand across the dashboard. We gravitated toward the center of the car. “I should be sleeping by now,” she said, smiling. “He knows that.”

I felt like revealing something about myself, something I couldn’t say over the phone, that I could only say sitting next to her with the smell of her and the idea of her around me. Something brilliant, something smooth or cool. I wanted her to have that: a piece of me. But I asked, “Should I kiss you?” and we kissed. For a while, we kissed. I wanted that, enjoyed it, but tension kept spinning, like we should stop kissing. I should take her shirt off. She should undo my belt. And that happened, too—very quickly, it happened. I didn’t much enjoy it, how foreign it seemed, how Emily’s hand shook as she undid my belt. Nothing felt right in the car, in the ’88, the two of us parked in some steel-black field, her father a clean-shaven man, and as we kissed clumsily, violently, I felt her shaking and kept opening my eyes and watching her fall into me, the dirty car around us, everything covered in darkness, the sound of our lips, our clothes rustling, me thinking, Tonight I can just hold you, but we kissed instead, struggling for truth in all of our promises, lies we’d told like throw-away lines from hundreds of miles apart, trying to hide ourselves, squeezing and unsqueezing now, fighting for closeness, until we leaned into the steering wheel and sounded the horn—a terrifying sound, a blast. An explosion of silence. Like a horn after an accident. A vehicle crushed and the long, eerie, hoooooornn that echoes for what seems like forever into the streets.

“Shit,” I said and jumped away. “That scared me.” Emily quickly pulled her shirt back on, looking away. I did the same, a little self-conscious with my pants lying open, unzipped. I fumbled to pull them back up and for some reason started the car, flicked on the lights, watched them stretch along the grass, a bright beam splitting that empty field.

“So this is it,” I finally said.

“Widest field in Richmond,” she said, buttoning her shirt. “We have the best fields.”


We sat for a moment, watching the night, straightening our clothes.

“We should go,” she said. “Anywhere.”

“Somewhere,” I said.

“I don’t mind being somewhere.”

“We can drive,” I said. “I’m okay to drive.”

* * *

A mile from my house, I pulled into a gas station, barely awake from driving all night. I stepped out and stretched at the pump, breathing up the stale gas fumes and morning. Felt good, real good to me to stand there, outside of the car, and home.

Inside, a middle-aged woman was working the last stretch of her shift. She had short dark hair, a mole on her cheek. She took my money without touching my hand, avoiding my eyes and mumbled a quick, “Out of twenty?”

“Thanks,” I said, and—as I pushed the swinging door open—thought of that boy who’d sold me flowers the first time I’d gone to see Emily. Then I forgot him.

Outside, all pumps were empty but the one where I parked. The Beretta filled the lot, or it didn’t fill it. It kind of sat looking lopsided, a little less green in the morning light, and two kids my age were near the air compressor on skateboards. They weren’t talking, and the sound of their boards turning, arcing, slapping against the street echoed in the air, a weird harmony of discord, though I might’ve just been tired. Maybe anything sounded good or like music. One kid hummed a tune that sounded like, Deeda la doo, dah dah, ba dah, and I struggled to find words for it, like I suddenly needed to, like a Bat da, deeda la do da dah, ba dahh with the long h, a rasp, a whisper undertone in his voice—good music, like morning-time-should-be-sleeping music, and I thought, I really should be sleeping.

I pumped gas and the smell of it, the fumes, the taste in the back of my throat, reminded me of Emily’s, the fields along the highway by her house, the gravel in the road, her pretty eyes filling me up, pouring into me as I left. I couldn’t see it that morning, or smell it in the gas or feel it in the haze, but in the days that followed, I wouldn’t figure out if I’d left her or if she left me, or if we left or gave up on each other. She’d call and I’d let the phone ring. I wouldn’t take my eyes from it, seven rings and her name on the screen apparently enough to arrest me, though not enough to make me pick it up. I’d call back for hours. I’d let it ring just to hear her voice on the answering machine, cursing myself for not answering. I’d imagine she was watching that phone, or hope she was watching—the way I’d watched, arrested, hurting and not hurting, though more from having nothing to say. We both had run out of things to say. We had run out of that something, the same something that carried me miles from home, that helped her tip-toe from her window, down a drain, and into the car, a old green ’88 Berretta, and we would lose that music, the good music, looking always for words to the song, and to all the songs we wished we knew, looking for words more perfect than the sound, more harmonious, more beautiful than the deeda la do dah, ba dahh that we understood or believed in the first place.

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