Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 111 in 2006.
Because it was Monday night at Marche—m4w
When you glided into the brasserie, everything disappeared, my brain emptied, and I forgot who I was. You'd remind me of some details, as the night unfurled, and I, in turn, would start to think that there was even more the longer I was in your thrall. When I first saw you, I impulsively thought to approach you, but you were with someone. You zigzagged to your table first, and the color in the room that had left—the reds, browns, glints of yellow, droplets of violet—followed you, and I tried to ignore your date, the young artist—postmodern novelist maybe, or was he an indie film actor?—a cross between Jake Gyllenhal and F. Scott Fitzgerald, with brown Ray-Ban boxy glasses, sagaciously cantilevered. I could tell from where I sat that he was a formidable opponent. He held your gaze, riposted your parry, he made you reel with laughter, you glowed, I'd never in the five minutes I knew you seen you looking so amplified. There you and he sat, casually demarcated into orange slices by the waitress proffering specials, the busboy pouring tornado spirals of water into your glass, and your discourse abounded beneath a mottled ceiling, among a infrastructure of columns that had been gessoed with decades-faded Le Monde front pages, and glanced off of elegantly rusted shelves lined with tchotchkes, baubles, trinkets that filled an entire wall. I couldn't take any more then—panic washed over me, my body felt tangled up, I spilled out of myself like cracker jacks from a paper box. I sought a top—had I become a toddler? You made me feel like I needed something spinning on my table, but there was nothing I could reach, it was all too far from me, on your side of the great room. You didn't even know I was there, did you, you were doing your own thing, because you do what you do, there was an array of textures before you: salad and your date's vodka and your shaken gin martini with a side of olive juice to stir in—was it not filthy enough?—and sliced baguette and corrupted butter. Your date appeared smitten throughout, blissfully unaware of what did and didn't exist. I knew he was enveloped in the viscous, could maybe sense his life, because of you, had folded into itself, made a batter, worked through a machine and back out again by a churn, the machine fueled itself, was at the epicenter, was the core, continuous, sempiternal, coursing like blood through a heart, or Kafka, or infinity.
After banana crème brulee you shared, replete with the enragingly beautiful clinking of shiny spoons, I noticed the mirror, which had always been there, still above your head, beside your cheek, before your eyes. It was always there somehow, wasn't it. Between you and date, the mirrors elided each of your boundaries. You stood to leave, readied your parcels, which included the you-shouldn't-have cymbidium orchid packaged in dry cleaner paper—what a magniloquently understated flower—could it have been made prettier just from having spent a dinner beside you? Everything changed: even your date stood a little straighter, his pomaded hair cascade more prominent, as though retouched, his smile bigger, more ardent, physiognomy never could be debunked on the basis of this empirical evidence. I think his blazer even fit a little better. How did you do this? How did you manage to change him? Silly question, I guessed, as I watched the door revolve and you spun out onto the sidewalk, as suddenly as you'd first entered the brasserie, as jaggedly as you'd upended everything placid about my life before tonight, turned what was left of the circuits of my personality on their collective heads, all as you moved from outside to inside and then back outside again, this time accompanied. Or had you always been with someone? Even when your someone awaited you at a small swath of bar. I watched you last night move me, as well, watched as you took my lists of rules and strew the files across the room, as the shiny stuff in the confetti of life experience and everything I thought I'd ever known or touched or touched me or felt me or I'd felt blanketed the room.
I rose, tried to funnel my body back into cohesion, but everything inside me had shifted, moved, reorganized, and it hurt on my right side, felt heavy, distended, my left side open and empty like a hollowed out apartment building in a bombed city. What remained, all on the right side of me, what I had left then was a heart shard, a lung cross section, a kidney encased in glass, boxes of file folders accumulated, stamped, coded, cross-referenced, closed, opened, withdrawn, recalled piled beneath them. I tried to pull my heart back into shape, but you turned it into an accordion, caused it to slam down on itself, and there it remained, flattened, changed, yet beating more resolutely than I'd ever known it to have before. What was left to me? That which I hadn't yet offered to you yet, a tithe part, an offering, repayment maybe, a doubloon passed around since the Pequod crashed. Then I knew, with no uncertainty, was that I owed something to somebody, I had to repay, but what I had ceased to contain truth, a priori or posteriori, because of you, because you were the truth.
May I see you again?