Sometimes his apartment smells of mold, soured milk, dirty socks, the piles of laundry, but really it is the forest-animal musk of a man who has lost some power. I add soy wax candles, my underwear in corners, a wood-handled hairbrush, and dozens of DVDs—Eraserhead, John Waters—things he hates to watch.
We met on the set of a community theater production of the Wizard of Oz. Half of us were on acid, our eyes crazy, wide and dilated. I sewed orange and green Munchkin costumes for the elementary and middle-school choirs. He played the Tin Man.
One day, he came into the prop room, and I measured his inseam. As I went higher, he said, “Oil can. Oil can.”
I smoke and work on a clothing line, drawing and cutting pattern paper. He drinks and paints landscapes where the ground is yellow and the trees red. He paints people gray as ghosts. The main rule of our relationship is this: We sleep together at night, but live in separate apartments, separate spaces to make things. The main rule of our relationship is we both need to breathe.
If I have ever loved anyone it isn’t him. But I know this man, know of his dead father, his distant mother. I know his smooth brow, his tender ways, know the big fingers that wrap themselves into a cup so he can drink water from the shower-head.
We drink Coors Light in the dark, in his car. We listen to jazz and Memphis blues and soul, throw streaking cigarette butts, smash beer bottles on curbs like dissonant percussion. We drive miles between the dark holes left by neighborhood streetlights.
He calls me Bonnie, but I never call him Clyde.
One day, he drives us out of the suburbs, into the hilly country where hills twist into grassy plateaus and back again. We watch the sun set and the sky grow amber.
About forty miles down Highway 30, he takes one turn after another until we come across some land where we can see a mountain in the distance, a field wide around us.
He parks on the narrow gravel shoulder, the nose of his car almost in the ditch.
We spread the quilt he keeps in the back of his car, out in the middle of some man’s field, and he sketches in a book with his expensive colored pencils while I roll joints.
The light turns from amber to purple. I light one joint, hand it to him. Then I light another for myself. We sit together on the quilt, our shoulders touching, and we look at the mountain, turning purple, dead silent other than the deer and voles, the rabbits and squirrels and birds, the possibility of a lone bear.
We drive home n the dark. In bed the next morning I ask him what he believes: Are we different every day, every day different people, or are each of us just the same person over and over again? The same plodding, selfish person?
We lay like that for a long while, thinking our private thoughts.
His back is turned toward me, and I study the back of his head as the sun rises pink, and I wait. I do not love his seashell ears, his rounded shoulders, the wild untamed hairs on the nape of his neck. Each second we lie there, I wait to hear him say, stay.