The Fiction

Gargoyles

From the Christmas, 2004, issue 

(No. 13)

Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Darla Griffith threw back her head and laughed—a shameless, throat-baring laugh. She laughed so hard her wine spun around in its glass and spilled all over her hand. She laughed so hard her gown, which was red and vintage and treacherously tight, threatened to blow its seams.

She laughed because Richard Finch had told a joke. Richard, with his big brown cow eyes and chiselled jaw, had told a joke. It had something to do with the groom’s father, the way he looked in his tux when he danced. Darla wasn’t sure exactly, because it wasn’t really the joke she was laughing at. She was laughing because she was full of medication and sparkling wine and prime rib, and she was really, really happy to be alive.

She set the wineglass down, wiped her hand on the tablecloth, and reached over to touch the sleeve of Richard’s tailored grey suit.

“You’re bad,” she said.

“I am bad, it’s true,” Richard said. “I’m a bad man.”

“Wayward and misguided.”

“A hopeless case.”

“Do you have a light? ”

“I do.”

Richard reached for a candle in the centre of the table. Darla pulled a cigarette from her pack, leaned forward, and, with cunning strategy, placed her cleavage directly under Richard’s nose.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

“The pleasure is mine.”

It was a sleet-soaked Saturday evening, the middle of February. The place: the East 3 Reception Hall of the Westchester Inn, on Wellington Road. The occasion: a joyful one—the fairy-tale wedding of what’s their names, the uptight blond and the rich, affable dork. What were their names? Darla couldn’t remember. But the consensus among the guests was that it was the most beautiful wedding anyone had ever seen, the bride the most radiant, the ceremony the most touching, the reception the most joyful. Whatever. Darla was here for the free bar.

“So how long do you give them? ” Richard asked.

“Give who? ”

“Tim and Tanya.”

“Tim and...”

“The happy couple.”

Tim and Tanya. Those were their names.

“Five years,” Darla said.

“That long? Really? ”

“Why, what do you give them? ”

“Two at most. Knowing Tanya, that’s being generous.”

“Why is that generous? ”

“Let’s just say,” Richard cleared his throat, “she thrives on novelty.”

Darla didn’t know the bride, had never even seen the bride before this afternoon. She didn’t know the groom, either. Nor, for that matter, did she know or recognize any one of the three hundred guests who had attended the wedding, aside from her date—who wasn’t really a date, just a friend she occasionally slept with who needed some arm candy—and Richard. Richard Finch, with his eyes and jaw and perfectly cut suit. She’d been sitting with him at the reception hall’s darkest, most isolated table, drinking, secretly smoking, and trashing the other revellers for the last hour and a half.

“You ever notice,” Darla said, “that brides are kind of creepy-looking? ”

“Now that you mention it.”

“All the makeup and frills. They look like nineteenth-century call girls.”

“Sounds about right. Sounds like Tanya.”

Darla clawed at the air. “Meow.”

“What? ”

“Aren’t you a friend of hers? ”

“Since college.”

“Is this the way you talk about your friends? ”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Darla watched him as he spoke, watched his mouth, his hair, watched the way he pulled at his wedding band as he gazed around the reception hall. It had been eleven years since she’d set eyes on him. Eleven years since high school. She didn’t remember him being this attractive in high school, but, truth be told, she couldn’t remember much about him at all. He was a zero, a nonentity. He wasn’t a nerd or a jock or a stoner. He was nothing, completely unremarkable. Still, when she’d seen him earlier today, in one of the church pews, she knew immediately who he was. She recognized him instantly, and with that recognition came a corrosive feeling of regret: She’d never fucked him. She’d never even thought to fuck him. And look at him now.

“So, do you mind if I ask you a stupid question? ” she said.

“The stupider the better.”

“Where’s your wife? ”

“My wife? ”

She nodded at his ring finger. “Your wife.”

“Oh. Melissa. She’s not here.”

“So I see.”

Richard poured himself another glass of wine. “I’m appearing in pro per. She’s at home. With the kid. She had work to catch up on.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’d like to meet Melissa. What does she do? ”

“Lawyer.”

“Ooh. A two-attorney family.”

“Aren’t we impressive? ”

“I’m totally impressed.”

“That’s right. You could put us on a postcard.”

“And what about your daughter? ” Darla said, pressing a finger into her temple. “What’s her name? ”

“Emily.”

“That’s a beautiful name. A beautiful name for a... for a...” But Darla couldn’t finish her sentence because she suddenly felt very weird; her eyes lost focus, her limbs went limp. She sagged in her chair, let the cigarette fall from her fingers.

“Darla? Are you O.K.? ”

“A beautiful name for... Of course I’m all right,” she said, but she wasn’t entirely sure about that. Wasn’t sure she was even saying it or whether this was just another one of her messed-up dreams.

“Darla? Can you hear me? ”

“It’s the light,” she said.

“The light? ”

The reception hall was full of shifting light. In the centre of the room the guests danced in a pulsing green pool of it. Over their heads, a mirror ball pelted the walls with little red and blue diamonds. On every one of the forty-odd tables, cheap scented candles flickered and guttered. What this translated into, inside Darla’s head, in the traumatized space behind her eyes, was a kaleidoscope of broken, flashing reflections.

“I’m not so good with light anymore. Since the accident. It makes my head throb. It’ll pass in a second.”

“Is there anything I can do? ”

“You could put your arm around me. Would you mind? ”

“Um, yes, sure.” Richard pulled his seat forward and scooped an arm around her waist. “Is that better? ”

“Much,” Darla said, laying her head on his shoulder. “That’s much better.”

“Should I try to find a doctor? ”

“No, no, it’s O.K. It’s just a spell. It’ll pass in a second. Really. I swear.”

Richard Finch despised weddings. Despised the ministers, the hymns, the smell of the church. Despised the receiving line, the handshakes, the painful smiles. Despised the centrepiece candles, the cake with the little figurines. Despised the cummerbunds, the silk-satin organza gowns, the orchid corsages. Despised the quality of paper on which the invitations were printed. Despised the dowager aunts, the dorky little brothers, the ugly sensation of having intruded on some other family’s desperate dreams. Despised the tearful speeches, the tossed bouquet, the string of inoffensive pop songs from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Despised everything about it, start to finish. The bride, the groom, the guests. The unendurable boredom.

And yet.

For reasons he hadn’t quite given himself licence to contemplate, this wedding, Tim and Tanya’s, was turning out all right. Yes. This wedding was turning out to be kind of interesting. Even though the ceremony had been almost an hour long, even though the reception was being held in the strip-plaza hell of Wellington Road, things were turning out almost O.K.

Part of the reason for this, of course, was Richard’s prodigious consumption of rye and Cokes in the parking lot of the church. He’d brought a Thermos of it down the 401 as insurance against his boredom. Part of it was the after-dinner sparkling wine. But the other part, he was starting to understand, was currently nestling her scented blond head against his shoulder.

Darla Griffith—it really was her. After all these years. The Darla Griffith.

“How are you feeling? ” he said.

“Nnnn,” she said, into his chest.

“Would you like an Aspirin or something? ”

“Nnnn.”

He bowed his head, breathed in the smell of her shampoo. She’d been a superstar in high school—a dancer of promise, a gymnast of accomplishment, a student of distinction. When he’d first set eyes on her, in Grade 9, her curly blond hair and her dark eyes and her skin like cream had literally made him stop in his tracks and gasp. He knew that if he couldn’t have her he would wither away and die. Over the next five years he never tired of the way she looked, never became desensitized. Of course he never had a shot; the only guys who got within a ten-metre radius of her were the very wealthy and the very muscled.

And then, when she was eighteen years old, the gargoyle entered her life and everything changed.

“Are you sure you don’t want to lie down? ” Richard said.

“You’re sweet,” Darla said, lifting her head. “No, I think I’m O.K. now. I think it’s passed.”

“Would you like some water? ”

“Some wine would be great.”

It happened the summer after high school, on a warm, stormy afternoon one month before she was to leave town and start university; an event so random, so implausible, it could have come from a Warner Bros. cartoon.

A gargoyle, set in rain-pocked masonry on the top of a building on Dundas, was caught in a sudden gust of wind. It had perched there, more or less solidly, for the past hundred years, but now, prodded by the wet wind, it started to lean. It started to lean, then lean some more, and then, caught in a second gust, it broke free from its moorings and took the long plunge, end over end, to the sidewalk—where it found its fall broken first by a pale pink umbrella and then by Darla Griffith’s skull.

That was it for the old Darla, the Darla he had loved; she went to sleep for three months—and woke up brand new.

“Something’s going on,” Darla said. The music had died off and the guests were standing expectantly under the green lights.

“Oh God,” Richard said, “here it comes.”

The D.J., a large, large man with a tiny personality, took the mic and asked the bride and groom to grab a chair and take their places in the middle of the dance floor. Then he asked the men in the crowd to please step forward.

A group of men in wrinkled suits and loosened ties gathered together, smiling awkwardly and clutching their beer bottles.

Still following D.J. instructions, Tanya took a seat in the plastic chair as Tim, kneeling in front of her, raised her gown above her knees.

“I can’t watch,” Richard said. “This is too painful.”

“You’re a pussy.”

“I am, I am. I don’t deny it.”

Tim pulled a blue garter from around Tanya’s thigh, and the crowd hollered its appreciation.

“You know,” Darla said, “she seems like a bitch, but she does have nice legs.”

Richard had heard horrible stories about Darla over the years from friends who’d stayed in town. Stories about dissolution. Stories about stasis. While Richard’s own fortunes had gone skyward—a gratifying job in a big city, a blond, accomplished wife, a well-adjusted kid—Darla’s had bottomed out. This beautiful, pop-ular, formerly imperious girl would now go horizontal for almost anyone. The biggest losers in town—guys she previously would have mocked or pitied or, more likely, completely ignored—suddenly became visible to her. She started drinking beer with the local rock bands. She developed a thing for bass players, bouncing like a pinball from one pathetic, stringy-haired soul to the next. Richard used to imagine the contents of her dresser drawer: the antibiotics, the antifungals, the birth-control pills.

“Can we go? ” Richard said. “I can’t take it anymore.”

“Go where? ”

“Anywhere. There’s a games room down the hall. Let’s go shoot some pool.”

Darla smiled. “That sounds good.”

Her smile was the same. Many things about Darla had changed in eleven years, but her smile was the same. Her body was bigger, her skin bleached out from years of vice, but her smile was the same.

Darla knew what people thought about her. She knew some people—the guiltier ones, the kinder ones—felt sorry for her. They felt sorry for the new Darla, with her hovel of an apartment and her endless parade of boyfriends and her sad little job assistant-managing the Forest City Wholesale CD Outlet, and lamented the Darla who never was, the Darla that was never allowed to be born, with all her gifts, all her promise.

She knew also that certain other people—guys she’d slept with, mostly, and guys she’d refused to sleep with—considered her a joke. They made jokes about her.

“What did Darla say when the gargoyle landed on her head? ”

“Oh my God! Skull fractures are so six months ago!”

They made jokes because they were boorish and cowardly and mean, it was true. But that was only part of it. They also made jokes because they found her unnerving. They made jokes because, if the gargoyle had dropped five seconds sooner or five seconds later, her life would have gone on as before. It was the five seconds that bothered them, the five seconds that gave them night sweats. They were at the mercy of random, thoughtless forces—they could feel it. So they made jokes.

Richard was racking up. “Care to break? ” he said.

“You go ahead.”

Darla and Richard were now loitering around the East 1 Game Nook, a small beige room with a dropped-tile ceiling not far from the reception hall. Most of the floor in here was taken up by two pool tables covered in bright purple felt. A couple of video games stood in one corner, a pop machine in another. Darla felt the urge to be depressed by this room, with its bland, institutional decor, but finally decided to ignore it; there were other, more compelling issues to deal with.

“What are you smiling at? ” Richard said.

“Was I smiling? ” Darla said.

“You were. And, if I may say so, you have lovely teeth.”

“Stop. You’re making me blush.”

“Then quit smiling and take your shot.”

Darla stepped to the table and frowned down at it, studying her options. “Stripy yellow in the side pocket,” she said.

Her shot went wide. It went comically wide, as a matter of fact, and far too fast, plummeting across the table, rebounding off rails, careering wildly back and forth. By the end of it she’d sunk three balls, none of them yellow and none of them striped.

“Whoa, mama,” Richard said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.” He strolled around the table, inspecting the carnage.

“I missed,” Darla said.

“I see that.”

“But I would like to take this opportunity to point out that it’s not my fault.”

“There is no fault being assigned here.”

“It’s my head. I have no depth perception. Another fun little hangover from the accident.”

Richard stopped and looked at her. “Wow. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Hey, not your fault. But it makes life an adventure.”

He hesitated, then went back to the table. He put the nine in the corner, the five in the other corner, then missed as he attempted the three.

“So, Darla,” he said.

“Yes, Richard.”

“Do you have a lot of these... physical things? ”

“A few,” she said.

“Like what? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Well... there’s light—you know about that one. Depth perception... let’s see... colours. Certain colours kind of smoulder around the edges, and other colours look weird... I get lots of head-aches... I can see the future... there’s a constant tingling in my hands and feet...”

“You—O.K., stop there,” Richard said.

“Tingling? ”

“Before that.”

There had been lots of little surprises for Darla in the weeks and months that followed the accident. That she had even managed to pull herself from the swirling murk of her three-month coma—that was the first surprise. Then came the long, slow process of discovering all the things she couldn’t do anymore. Reading, for example. While her friends were off at university, getting their degrees, going to parties, thinking about careers, Darla was at home with her parents, learning to make sounds out of letters. Speaking was tricky, too, and so was walking. But there was one thing, one freak talent she found she now possessed that she hadn’t before. She found that if she happened to be in a receptive state of mind, and if she happened to touch someone, she could see the events and outcomes of their lives. Just like that. It would come at her in a jumble, this information, and could take days to sort through, but it would all be there, spread-eagle in front of her: the marriages, the babies, the job promotions. It was a gift, she knew. She understood it to be a gift. But unlike, say, a DVD box set or a new pair of flannel pyjamas, this particular gift was almost always upsetting and horrible.

“You’re a psychic? ” Richard said.

“Actually, more of a clairvoyant than a psychic. Not to split hairs.”

“What’s the difference? ”

“I can’t read your thoughts.”

“Oh,” he said, his face relaxing. “Right. So what can you do? ”

Darla explained.

“So then,” Richard said, after some consideration, “what’s a person’s life like when you see it all at one time? ”

“Depends on the person. Some people have successful, satisfied lives. Some people’s lives are just tragedies. But most... most are complete mediocrities. Their rock bands will go nowhere, their dream businesses will fold after a year or two. Their lives will be spent in small, sad cities working for insurance companies or discount department stores... I don’t know. It’s not much fun to talk about.”

Richard went quiet for a while. He stared down at the pool table as though contemplating his next shot. Finally he said, “Will you read me? ”

“No,” Darla said. “No way.”

“Why no way? ”

“Because.”

“Because why? ”

“I don’t know. Are you going to play pool or what? ”

“It’s your turn. Why no way? ”

But she really didn’t feel like explaining why no way. Because the why no way was: what if someday your daughter, little what’s her name, dies of a drug overdose? What if schizophrenia slowly snakes its way around your wife’s brain? News like that could kill tonight’s vibe and prevent her from getting laid. Richard, the poor thing, Richard didn’t know what she knew. Didn’t know that none of it really mattered, anyway. That no matter how much he achieved or didn’t achieve, in this life, no matter how much wealth or love or reputation he amassed or failed to amass, it all amounted to just one thing: nothing. It would all be forgotten in the end. He couldn’t possibly know, and she wasn’t going to tell him. He still had hope.

Darla raised her hands to her head. “I think my headache is coming back.” She went over to the vacant pool table, picked up her purse, and rummaged through it. In a second she pulled out a black plastic film canister, a lighter, and a pack of rolling papers.

“You’ve got weed,” Richard said.

“Do I now? ”

“I like weed.”

“Is that right? ” Darla pulled out a paper, laid it on the table, then popped the lid of the canister. “Well then,” she said, smiling, “what a happy twist of fate.”

The car on Richard’s right, a burgundy Corolla, was spattered with road salt. For a long time—seconds or hours, who could say anymore—he stared at the patterns that drifted across the doors and along the wheel wells. Fractal swirls of salt collapsed in on themselves, creating still smaller designs of greater complexity and convolution. Richard felt his mind being drawn into them, falling into them, endlessly falling, into great cities full of white spires and vast sodium lakes. Voices without bodies, silvery female voices, floated pendulously to the ground like leaves, calling him by name.

“Richard, baby,” they said, “it’s your turn. Richard? Richard? ”

“This is lovely pot,” he said.

“This is wheelchair weed. We shouldn’t smoke too much.”

Richard turned toward the voices and saw Darla standing there, a beneficent smile on her face. She was reaching out to him. Her body seemed very far away, but her voice was right inside his head.

“Take it,” she said.

He took the joint from Darla’s outstretched hand. The tip was cold and wet from her saliva.

“Look at me,” Darla said. “Corrupting a lawyer.”

A pleasant numbness spread through Richard’s body and with it the sensation of seeing everything through several panes of glass. He looked out over the parking lot. The weather had tapered off, but now a white mist hung in the air, and the cars and the pavement were covered in a thick sheet of translucent slush.

“Hey, Darla,” he said.

“Yes, sugar? ”

“Do you want to read my future now? ”

“No, sugar.”

“I promise I won’t be angry or upset if the news isn’t a hundred per cent positive.”

“Nope.”

“Please? ” he said. The more she refused, the more urgently he had to know. “I’ll do anything.”

Darla narrowed her eyes and looked at him for a long time. “All right, then,” she said. “Kiss me.”

“Pardon? ”

“If you’ll do anything. Kiss me. On the lips. For an extended period. With tongue.”

Well now, an interesting development. But if Richard were to be honest with himself—and he almost never was—not an entirely unexpected one. Darla Griffith, the Darla Griffith, wanted him to kiss her. He looked at her now, in the ambient half-light. Beads of ice were melting in her hair. There were dark circles under her eyes from too little sleep or too much alcohol, lending her a sexy, depraved kind of look. He found that he could, without much effort, picture her naked, lying beside him in a dark room, her pale skin glowing.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Those are the terms.”

“Hey, I’m a married man.”

“All right.” Darla took a last drag from the joint and dropped it in the slush. “But are you a happily married man? ”

“No, well, yes, no, I’m... that part’s complicated.”

“I’ll try to understand.”

“I’m never happy,” Richard said.

“Never.”

“Basically never. That’s why I’ve accomplished so much.”

It was a difficult thing to explain to people. Richard had worked hard to get what he had: first the LSATS, then law school, then the big soul-drain of his sixty-hour workweeks. He’d worked hard, and he’d been rewarded. He loved his wife. He loved his daughter. He loved his appallingly overpriced house in North Toronto. He loved it all. He possessed happiness, he really did—the problem was, he couldn’t access it.

“Are you kidding? ” Darla said. “You’re twenty-nine years old and—”

“Almost thirty.”

“You’re almost thirty years old and you have everything you ever wanted. Of course you’re unhappy.”

“Of course? ”

“Of course. You’re thinking, ‘Well, O.K., fine, I’ve got everything I want. What now? ’ You’re thinking, ‘This is what my life has amounted to, and it’s great, but it’s not that great. It’s not, you know, winning-the-lottery, frolicking-with-mermaids great.’ And that part of you, and this is important—”

“Yes? ”

“That part of you wants to lose everything.”

“No, no, no.”

“Just listen. And then the other part of you, the part that honestly values all you’ve acquired, that part of you is terrified of losing these things. That part of you wonders when this incredible good luck is going to end and worries that something, some unknowable thing, could sweep it all away. And that part of you, and this is also important—”

“Uh-huh? ”

“That part of you wants to lose everything, too, so that you don’t have to worry about losing it anymore.”

A single pellet of freezing rain wobbled from the sky and smacked Richard on the back of the neck. What huge distance had it crossed, high up in the ionosphere, in order to do that? He gazed off toward Wellington Road. Cars shuttled past in both directions, kicking spray into the orange arcs of the street lamps. On the other side of the road, beyond a huge expanse of lawn, the old veterans’ hospital was in the throes of demolition, its black, hulking profile barely visible in the fog.

Darla Griffith said he wanted to lose everything, and Darla ought to know. Of all people, Darla ought to know.

“O.K.,” Richard said.

“O.K.? ”

“Yes. O.K. I’ll kiss you.”

For the next ten minutes their lips and their bodies were suction-locked together. For the next ten minutes Richard could hear no sound but the sound of her breathing, could feel no feeling but the warmth of her skin. Her breath smelled like his breath: like cigarettes and alcohol and hydroponic pot.

When finally they came apart, Darla stood there for a second, looking dazed and unsteady. “O.K.,” she said.

“I kissed you, like you asked,” Richard said.

“Uh-huh. I noted that.”

“With tongue.”

“Also noted.”

“So.” He looked at her meaningfully.

Darla reached for his hand and closed her eyes. Richard watched her face, looking for a sign—any little flicker—that might tell him what was going on inside her head, but there was nothing. Soon she opened her eyes and regarded him with—was it pity Richard detected there? Sadness? Or was he just being paranoid?

“So,” Darla said.

“What is it? ” Richard was suddenly alarmed.

“Nothing. Don’t worry.”

“When someone tells me not to worry, that’s when I start to worry.”

“You’re going to be fine. You’re going to be fine.”

“Are you sure? ”

“Capsule review: you’re going to lead a stupidly successful life. You’ll never have any disappointment or failure. Your children, all four of them, will love and respect you. Your family will be attractive, healthy, and athletic, and you’ll die peacefully in your sleep at age ninety-nine.”

“You’re... putting me on, right? ”

“Nope. Success... it really is destiny with guys like you. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it. So relax and enjoy yourself for a change.”

“Nothing I do will prevent it? ”

“Uh-uh.” Darla pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. “Barring any gargoyles, of course. There are always gargoyles.”

So there it was. The news was good, and it confirmed something Richard had already suspected: he was bulletproof. He should have felt relief. He should have felt happiness or at least some small satisfaction. The news was not bad. But he wasn’t really thinking about what Darla had said; he was thinking about Darla herself and about the softness of her lips. It had felt cheap and sad and unspeakably titillating, this encounter, and he wanted more. He wanted to touch her. He wanted to take her somewhere and undress her, to sleep with her in creative ways, to record their sex on video and send the tape to his wife. Now that he knew his life was unalterable, he wanted more than anything to turn it to ash and start again with Darla—a life of obscurity, lost forever in this small, sad city. His faded hometown. It felt perverse, yes. It felt so perverse. But it also felt right.

“I’d like to continue this discussion with you,” he said.

“Would you? ”

“Yes, but,” he shivered theatrically, “it’s awfully cold out here.”

“It is. It is.”

“And it’s awfully loud in there.”

“It is.”

“Maybe we could... I don’t know. Where could we go? ”

“I don’t know.”

“Would you like to get a coffee? ”

“Not really.”

“Then where could we...? ”

“I really don’t know,” Darla said. “Why don’t we just grab our coats and think about it on the way out? ”

At fifteen minutes and thirty-two seconds to four, Darla thrashed herself awake. She gave a little scream, stretched out her arms to cushion herself, and came crashing into consciousness, her pillow soaked with sweat, her sheets kicked into hot, sticky heaps.

She’d had the same dream she’d always had: a dream about high winds and crumbling ledges, about tumbling end over end to a pavement that never quite materialized. But now she was awake. She was O.K. Darla took a deep breath. Her blood was pounding, her body throbbing, but she was O.K. She was in her room. Safe and snug in her very own room. She lay in bed, staring into the granulated two-dimensional darkness, trying to orient herself. There was her bed. There was her dresser. There was her window.

She sat up, perched herself on the edge of the bed, and began to piece together the evening’s events. She’d gone to a wedding—that much was solid. And... yes, that’s right... she’d met her old schoolmate Richard Finch, to whom she’d burbled and cooed all night. What else? She’d played some pool, smoked some grass, and then—Oh God—she’d given in and read Richard’s future, and then—Oh God—they’d kissed, and then—Oh God—they’d got into a cab together, and then... Oh God.

“Richard? ” she said. She groped around on the bed, but the passenger side had gone cold. “Richard? ”

There was a shuffling in the corner of the room, near the floor: an adjustment, a shifting of position. Then came a more organic sound, a clearing of mucous from the throat.

“I just cheated on my wife,” Richard said.

Darla stared hard into the darkness. She could make out the shape of him—even his shape looked well toned, looked cared for—but there was only so much information her eyes could give her. She wanted high-resolution. She wanted colours and contours. She wanted textures, scents, salt on her tongue.

“I love my wife, but I just slept with you,” Richard said. His voice was a monotone, full of amazement. “What’s more, I’m considering sleeping with you again. I’m considering sleeping with you on a regular basis.”

The glowing red numbers that floated above Darla’s night table read 3:49, then 3:50. Everything was calm. The only sounds were the hum of electricity in the walls, the tapping of sleet on the window.

“Well, you’re an adult. You can make your own decisions,” Darla said. “But aren’t you, you know, afraid your wife will find out? ”

“Hey, nothing bad can happen to me. You said it yourself: stupidly successful, athletic kids, and so on and so on.”

“That’s right. Barring any gargoyles.”

Darla watched Richard’s shape get up off the floor, yawn, and stretch, his fingers almost touching the ceiling.

“I feel great,” he said. The light from the window cast a strip of blue across his chest. “I feel vivacious.”

Now she watched his shape turn around, come toward her, and crawl back into the warm, mammal-smelling bed.

“I think,” Richard said, draping an arm across her middle, “that given certain circumstances and variables... I mean, what we have here is, is, is so sui generis... and... if things continue in this vein, we may have something approaching... I think maybe I could fall in... I think maybe...” He sighed. “I’m not saying this very well.”

“You’re drunk,” Darla said. She tried to sound casual, but inside, everything was lurching. Did he just say...? She needed a moment to think. Just a quiet moment to string a couple thoughts together. But her heart was drumming and her mind was skipping—and there was Richard’s body, right in front of her—and there didn’t seem to be any quiet moments for the taking.

A life with Richard Finch. Maybe it wasn’t as stupid as it sounded. Maybe, after some time had passed, he might leave his wife and start something with Darla. She tried to imagine how this would play out: the confession, the trial separation, the vicious and protracted divorce. And then? Their own engagement, probably, and their own wedding. This part of it she could see in vivid detail: the garter toss, the mirror ball, the silk-satin organza gown. And then, just as vividly, she saw a kid, hovering over them like a ghost. A beautiful kid, half Richard, half Darla.

Maybe it was... maybe it really was possible.

She pressed a hand to her chest and concentrated. She’d never had any luck reading herself before, but tonight might be different. She shut her eyes, trying hard to suck out some information—an image, a feeling. But nothing was there. Everything was black.

“We could meet up a couple times a month,” Richard said. “I could come down here once a month, and you could come up to visit me. We could make this work.”

“Just give me a sec,” she said.

“Because now that we’ve found each other—”

Darla reached out and pushed him onto his back. “Could you please,” she said, “just shut up for a second? ”

She got up onto her knees and straddled him. He looked small and fragile, lying there beneath her. She liked him like this. He looked soft-skulled, easily smashed. Just another high-school boy who wanted her attention. A pebble of sweat rolled from her lip and landed on his stomach. She felt alive, perfectly alive—full of sweat and blood and snot and piss. The future wasn’t set in stone—not for her. It was pliable and willing. It was wide open and waiting.

“Twice a month? ” she said.

“Or more, if you wanted. Or less.”

She smiled, then sighed. For a second she rocked, lazily, back and forth, side to side—until, laughing shamelessly, baring her throat, she let herself drop.

David Whitton lives in North Toronto. His debut collection, The Reverse Cowgirl, was released in 2011 by Freehand. His short story “The Eclipse,” from Taddle Creek’s summer, 2005, issue, was long-listed for the Journey Prize. He has contributed to the magazine since 2003. Last updated Christmas, 2011.
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