Always


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2 min
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Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels. In 2019, he won the Harper Lee Award and is currently directing the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  [+]

Image of Short Circuit #02

They went out for a coffee and then the next night went out for dinner and the next they didn’t go anywhere but to her apartment where they had a massively wonderful night in bed. The sex was nightly after that for weeks, and when he spent the night they did it in the morning as well. He stumbled through the day half-numb, his brain filled with cobwebs. He felt like he lived far away now, in a foreign country, a world where only two people lived, she and him, and they were having sex in it all the time, and they were exhausted and their lips were raw, almost bleeding, from kissing so long and hard.

Her name was Marney.

He loved her name.

Three weeks into it they had a conversation. They were in bed staring at the ceiling, a sheet draped across their chests.  She said, out of nowhere, almost kind of laughing before she said it, “It always starts off like this with me. With a bang.”

Het let that sit there for a second. “What do mean,” he said. “’Always.’”

“What?”

“What do you mean. Always.”

She shrugged. “Nothing. Just that this is the way it always seems to happen. With a bang and then – ”

“It just – ”

“Yeah.”

He sighed. “Sure,” he said. “It can’t stay like this forever. We’d probably die. But when you said always – ”

“It’s like a character trait or something.” She kind of laughed.

“But always. That implies it happens – I don’t know – a lot?”

“What happens?”

“This,” he said. “Us.”

“Oh.” She considered it. Played with the idea for a second. “I don’t mean us. We’re not like anything. We’re us.”

“But in general. Generically. You mean always all the time when something like this happens. Just, ‘always’ sounds like a lot, Marney. When you put it that way.”

“Always doesn’t mean a lot. Necessarily. Even if it only happened twice and I’d only done it twice that would be ‘always.’”

“So this is . . . the second time?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“So then – ”

“More. I guess more. But – ”

He had one thought then, a kind of mantra. Don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many don’t ask how many.

“How many?”

“I knew you were going to ask me that.”

They lay there quietly for a little bit longer. “How did you know?” he said.

“Know what?”

“That I was going to ask you that.”

“Because. They always do.”

“They? Always?”

It was getting worse.

“I meant – ”

“I withdraw the question,” he said.

“You can’t withdraw the question. This isn’t like a court of law.”

“What is it?”

“What? What is what?”

“This. Here. What we are. Now. Whatever it is. What is it? What do you want it to be? Tomorrow, the next day, in a week, a year. What?”

She didn’t answer his question. He hadn’t looked at her while they were talking, he couldn’t, staring instead at a crack in the ceiling, but now he did. He turned his head her way. She was sad, he could tell, and deep inside of herself. He could almost hear her thinking. God, she was so beautiful. He had never been with anyone as beautiful as Marney and if something happened to them he knew he was never going to be with someone quite so beautiful again. She must have felt him looking at her, but she didn’t look at him or even seem to know he was still there. Finally, she slipped out from under the sheet and sat on the side of the bed with her back to him. Long and thin and soft, pale, maybe a little boyish with her hair the way she wore it, so short and brown, scapula like a pair of sleeping eyes. She didn’t move a muscle, but she was leaving him as he looked at her, returning to the place she came from. “You should go,” she said, and he knew she was right. He was a visitor here after all, a tourist, the guy who does the thing a tourist does: sees the ruins, then goes home.

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To Jo · ago
Wow. That final line was absolutely beautiful and solidified the entire work.

Also, just letting you know that in the beginning where the line reads "Het let that sit there for a second." I think you meant "he."
I enjoyed your story and it felt extremely real, raw, and candid. And the conversation...unfortunately I'm willing to bet so many people have had similar ones.

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