THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
Our night had sprung a leak. The moon was spilling in. Crouching on our skyline--all that green cheese--ours for the taking.
“We must hurry.” You said, “Make lots and lots of toast”.
“No, a cracker or two will do.” I replied.
Then, from the corner came a new gleam.
“That’s a new lock on your door I spy with my little eye.” I trembled slightly.
“You won't need to return your key.” You said flatly.
“Ahh, a kindly souvenir--how thoughtful.” Poison in my voice.
Where had all the silence come from? Had it crept in on cat’s paws?
“I’m not getting through to you.” I managed to say.
Your faced changed. The color drained. Your eyes darkened.
“We have to say goodbye. We have to stay within the scheme of things. I have to send you away now.”
I cocked my head like a Spaniel.
“Nothing I did...nothing I said made the slightest dent?”
A crack in my chest began widening into ice.
You turned your face away gesturing like a child.
“Let’s put another sticker on your luggage saying ‘Hotel Silly, U.S.A.”
Your hand swept toward the packed luggage. How had I missed seeing that?
“That bag isn’t going anyplace. I’m rooted to this spot. You along with me.” I placed a cold hand on my chest and felt the rumble.
You looked cross suddenly.
“You’re going to ruin our goodbye. Aren’t you?
“October’s obstinate. Stalled like the dog at the door.”
“It’s almost midnight. We stayed out too late. You know?”
“Your scheme--you deliberately kept us out late.”
“It was wrong. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t much care for midnight. I don’t believe in midnight. So, there!”
You clenched your jaw a bit and narrowed your eyes.
“There is no philosophy inside you to allow me to do this my way?”
“Like what? So long kid, it’s been great?”
“That isn’t philosophy. It’s Hollywood. I don’t ask questions anymore--I never like the answers. You should try that.”
“Straight out--you never once thought of letting me stay?”
Some thought climbed and fell as your lips formed soundless replies. You turned, moving toward the hallway.
“I think I forgot to pack your toothbrush.”
I reached, bending forward--my legs wouldn’t move. Grasping your wrist, I turned you toward me. You barely resisted.
“You know, standing here in this dopey light right now...all this stupid moonlight...wasted green cheese and no crackers...the thought of leaving you or you wanting me to leave can only be something I made up in my head. Why would I do that? A piano must have fallen on my head. Yes. That’s it. I’m really just lying in the street someplace right now dreaming all this. Under, of course, someone’s busted piano.”
Your eyes downcast at the floor. Your chest was heaving as though heavy furniture had been carried upstairs. We could hear leaves racing across the yard in a sudden gust of wind.
Then the church bell tolled midnight and the moonlight failed as snow began falling.
My blood was now an icy river.
“I despair. I god damn despair.” I could no longer breathe without effort. I would not let go of your hand.
Your head lifted--eyes straight ahead. Your voice played dark music to my ears.
“I need you to leave now. The time has come for you to go.”
“It’s when you love me the most--it’s the right time. Don’t wait too long or it ruins everything.”
“Because I know. I have an instinct for time. It lives all around me. What I have of it is mine. I have to use it my way.”
“You once told me time doesn’t count when we’re together.”
“You’re a silly man. It’s infectious, your silliness. I succumbed. I’m sorry. Time does count. It counts very, very much.”
The sound of a key in the new lock rattled. I dropped your hand.
The door swung wide. Cold air rushed inside. We turned to stare.
“Oh, um--sorry. Am I too early--or--I mean, too late--I’ve got all my bags with me?”
He was a nice looking fellow; a bit clumsy with his things; utterly clueless what he was walking into. The two of us just stood silent like misplaced statues as he removed his overcoat--and as an afterthought--remembered to shut the door and block the remaining leaves and snowflakes from invading the room. Finally, he beamed a ridiculous smile and spoke cheerfully.
“Hi. It’s twelve o’clock. Here I am.”
You were looking at me. Your face said everything. I didn’t care for its tone. No. I am sometimes slow about things, but not this time.
I did not like what your face is saying.
You shook your head and whispered barely loud enough for me to hear.
“I hoped you’d be gone before he got here.”
I barely nodded, not taking my eyes off you as the unwelcomed intruder made himself at home.
I shook my head and became aware of all sorts of creeping things inside me. Swarming feelings, like invasive locusts, or a nest of spiders had come alive. If I didn’t leave, I’d be devoured by them bit by bit.
Then it became clear. You really did plan for me to see him. It would make it possible for me to hate you. Yes. That’s it. You planned a clean break--my heart, that is.
The idiot was still hovering close to the door, shaking his coat as his cheeks took on color.
“That snow is really something, isn’t it? It wasn’t expected.”
Unbelievably, he plodded over to the both of us, removing his glasses and affecting a tone of jolly goodwill.
“I really didn’t expect to see you.” He didn’t offer his hand. He was gazing at me curiously, but without any emotion.
I kept looking at you with a new and wondering appraisal. I drank you in--all of you, as though you were water and I was a man about to be turned out into a desert.
The fool just kept babbling.
“I would have held the cab for you--if--if I’d known you were still here. As it was, I---”
He finally seemed to absorb the situation. He’d finally grasped it fully. He gulped.
“Look, um--you want me to go back out for awhile and come back in? It’s very easily done?”
You were staring directly at me in a peculiar way. What were you thinking? Your face took on an intensity that frightened me at first--until I realized, you too were memorizing. I was being tagged and filed away in some secret compartment inside your soul.
“I didn’t mean to make anybody feel uncomfortable. Look--I’ll just put my coat back on and go outside and--I guess...wait.”
You and I reached a silent moment of complete honesty as we stared into one another’s eyes. I closed mine and turned toward the door.
“No--wait. I’m intruding on your time.”
He was now capable of embarrassment.
“Oh heck--what’s a few extra minutes. . .”
“No. You stay. It’s my turn to go. Stay there, please.”
He instantly relaxed.
I turned toward you this one last time. You were now looking away from both of us witless men in that room. We were amateur actors who’d flubbed our parts and you waited for us to set ourselves right again in our own private way.
I approached you and placed my chin on your shoulder as my hand grasped your arm. I felt a wave of heat tearing through me and for a small second, there was something electric and mysterious in the room.
I leaned my head closer to your ear as I whispered gently.
“I’m brimful, Sweetheart. I’ve got you with me for the rest of my life. Staying longer would only run me into the hereafter. Nothing will ever take you away. I’ll remember.”
I smiled and pulled the hair away from your cheek and kissed you softly.
You started to turn toward me. I stopped you.
“No. Don’t turn round. I’ll turn into a pillar of salt.”
I let go of your arm and collected my bag, allowing the new fellow to open the door with solemn courtesy as I walk out into the wind and leaves mixed with new snow.
Barely a year later, I felt something inside--unaccountably sad--it wouldn’t leave me alone.
I asked around and found out where I could find you.
That’s why I’m here today. It’s why I’m telling you all this like the idiot I am and always was. I really did start to hate you and I’m here to apologize.
Your dad was the one who told me.
Leukemia had found you twice before and you’d beaten it twice. Just not the third time. It was exactly as you’d known. Time can be so much more important for one person rather than another.
So it was to be with us.
The third time’s a charm.