What Changed

Christmas, 2000 / No. 4
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

After all, they were a man and a woman. There was no reason for them not to fall in love.

When the man fell, the woman fell, and when the woman fell, the man fell. It is hard to say now who fell first.

As they were falling, other things happened in other places, but where they were it was just he for she and she for he, and that very night they went out for pasta.

They could barely order, which irritated the waitress, but it was only because they were so much in love, and so leaning over the table, and so fondling each other’s hands, and so fondling each other’s arms, and so staring into each other’s eyes, and so smiling dopily.

They were doped. Or they were falling in love.

He said, “Come away with me this weekend. I must have you and only you and no one else around.”

And she said, “Oh, that’s a fantastic idea. Let’s do it.”

And so their attention shifted from each other’s face and hands on to where they would go, where they would stay, how they would get there, what he had to clear up first, what she’d tell her family.

That night they kissed passionately on the front porch of her parents’ house, but she went inside alone. And she thought of him when he was not there, and he thought of her when she was not there as well.

When the weekend came he picked her up in his car and they drove east down the highway, and she giggled and laughed, and he just laughed, and she squirmed in her seat and tried to touch his body, and their bags were in the back, and the sun was out, and the windows were open, and she sang songs that were playing on the radio, and she was so joyful and he was damn happy.

They made a stop to get some lunch and kissed each other’s lips and tongues right outside the restaurant. She kept her eyes open to see who was looking, and he kept his hands on her.

Back in the car she felt sleepy, so they stopped again to get her a coffee so she would not fall asleep, so they would not miss a moment of their weekend together.

When they arrived at the place where they were headed, she sat in the car and looked around while he got a key from the concierge, and he picked up the luggage, and she carried the fragile wine bottles. Together they hiked down a path through the trees and she said to him, “Have you been here before? ”

And he said, “No. My brother told me about it.”

And she was happy, and he felt O.K. too, and though the lie was unnecessary, it made things better.

That night they got drunk and did all those things, and in the morning they got up and did all those things. As he was cooking breakfast with the groceries they had brought, she called out from the bed, “I think we’ll never fight. I could never see fighting with you.”

And he called back over his shoulder, “You could never make me mad.”

She wiggled gleefully into the covers, and he felt a loving rise at her high and musical voice.

In the afternoon they went for a swim, and, swimming, he tried to pull off her bathing suit, but she coquettishly swam away, batting her arms and legs at him. She called out, “Keep away, you madman! I’m being raped by a madman!”

And while this initially jarred him, he quickly relaxed and decided he liked her impetuous thoughtless ways.

In the evening he made a fire, and everything was perfect and had been going perfectly, and she lay back in his arms and thought, It’s picture perfect. It’s just like we’re in a movie. And she said to him, “Doesn’t it feel like we’re in a movie? In some made-up fantasy land? ”

And he said, “Mmmm,” and kissed the top of her head, and it was even more like a movie, like everything she had seen and heard about love, and she was involved, and it was with him.

She said, “I wish this weekend would never end.”

And when she said that, in a way, it made his arms just clutch her tighter, and her face withdrew into thinking about Monday, and the ride home, which would be worse, and he felt her thinking, and he starting thinking too.

She tried to brush it off, to cover it up, as if she hadn’t said it, as if it wasn’t true at all, that of course they would be at that cabin forever, and she said to him, to make it all better, “Truly, it’s like a dream.”

But it wasn’t like a dream. Not really. And they got drunk and did all that and fell asleep, and when the woke in the morning she felt crummy and he grew irritated.

Because he had to pack their bags and clean up everything while she lay in bed just watching him. She had said, “Just let me watch you. I just want to watch you.” And he had said, “Well, you’re watching me,” in a joking sort of way, but he did not want to be watched. He wanted to be helped. And she flopped back into the pillows, into the covers, and she said, “I wish we could stay forever.” And she said, “You take the first shower. I can’t get up.”

So he did.

And while she was in her shower he opened the door and stood there watching, but she cried, “Get out!” And though she was joking, sort of, she really did need her privacy in the mornings, especially in the bathroom, so he left to pack the car.

“One last swim? ” he asked when she emerged, drying her hair with a towel. And she said, “No, the water will be too cold.”

She said, “I’ll make you breakfast. Sit down.”

And she made them cereal with bananas cut into it, and she apologised, laughing, saying, “I don’t know how to cook.” Yesterday he had made her gourmet omelettes with salad and juice and had squeezed the oranges with his own bare hands. She just opened the box and poured in the milk. But the bananas were a nice gourmet touch.

He said, “It’s one o’clock.” And she said, “I never want to leave.” And they took one last long look at the cabin, so as never to forget it, and they walked out to the car, him leading the way.

The ride home took five hours, and she lay back in her seat and looked out the window, and the sky was dark and wet, and he was tired, and he kept his eyes on the road, and they talked little, and when they did it was only to reminisce about Saturday.

As they were driving into the city, she said mournfully, “I hate this city. I hate my job. And I don’t want to go back to my parents.”

And he said, “I have a damn early morning meeting tomorrow and I have so much work to catch up on.” And he said, “We shouldn’t have gone.”

But he didn’t mean it that way.

When they got to her house, he unloaded the bags and carried them to the door and dropped them on the stoop, and they stood there looking at each other, but he seemed impatient. And she made her eyes both melancholy and bright, and said, “I had such a wonderful weekend. Thanks.”

And he said, “I did too.”

And he said, “I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.”

And he thought about the work he had at home, and she thought about her parents sitting around the table and how she’d have to talk to them, and they kissed, and he went back to his car, and as she was unlocking the door, he drove off and away.

Sheila Heti lives somewhere in Toronto, apparently. She’s so hard to keep track of. Her short story collection, The Middle Stories (Anansi, 2001), has been translated into four languages, published in the U.S. by McSweeney’s in 2002, and hailed by the Globe and Mail as “stylish genius.” Her latest book is Ticknor (Anansi, 2005). Her work has been published in Toronto Life, Blood & Aphorisms, This, and McSweeney’s. Last updated summer, 2006.