Perhaps Under Different Circumstances

Sonia Weiser is a Brooklyn-based writer. She has written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, TIME, New York Magazine, among others and runs the Opportunities of the Week newsletter. Follow he ... [+]

Image of Short Circuit - Short Circuit #09
Anna knew the bridge was a mistake before she and Henry even got there. Maybe it was because he had said he thought it was strange for full grown adults to interrupt a conversation to swoon over an animal, or maybe it was because when she asked him where he went to college, he responded with California.
Either way, she regretted agreeing to a route that lacked multiple exit points, one that prevented her from feigning illness whenever she wanted and taking off in the opposite direction after a speedy apology. 
On the dating app, she had asked him what he did.
Doing what?
Risk analysis.
Sounds interesting.
I doubt you want to hear about it.
Anna said she did, but felt badly about making him explain his job, so quickly texted that he didn't have to and she could Google it and no worries. He said cool and didn't say anything else until she texted him a day later about the dinner she made from the remainders of a Fresh Direct order in her fridge and how she should be on that cooking show with the name she couldn't remember where all the contestants had to make a meal with a mystery ingredient, except she would lose because she didn't know anything about plating, so maybe she shouldn't go on that show after all.
What is that show called?
Henry had suggested walking the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It was too cold to sit outside at a restaurant, and on weekends Prospect Park was overrun with socially distanced birthday parties for toddlers whose parents used their two-year-olds as an excuse to drink in public. He had reluctantly been to one of these already, a lavish to-do hosted by his coworker for a newborn who never showed.
So here they were, attempting to carry on a conversation from beneath their masks within the brief intervals of silence before the D, N, or Q trains shuddered up behind them, roaring and sputtering and clang clanging over anything they said.
Henry remembered reading that 75,000 cars and 320,000 subway riders drove over the bridge every weekday. He considered telling Anna, but didn't want her to think that he was some loser who sat at home researching stats about the city.
Instead, he pointed out the spot on the bridge where he once tripped and split his hand open on the pavement.
Anna wanted to tell him that she tripped all the time, that she once slipped on a wet sidewalk while walking to a job interview and had to ask the firm's receptionist for a bandage to stop the blood from pooling around the top of her shoe. She wanted to say that one of the reasons she loved New York was that someone was always nearby to help you get up and hand you back your phone when it flew out of your grasp.
But she stayed silent and gazed at the water below, contemplating what she always did when she crossed the Manhattan bridge—whether she would be more likely to die on impact or drown if she were to make the jump. She thought about asking Henry which he'd prefer, but decided a conversation about suicide wouldn't make her seem like much fun.
Do you like to travel? Not now obviously, but before COVID?
Not really. Do you?
I guess that's something we have in common. Neither of us want to go anywhere.
I'd travel if someone else were doing the planning. I can just never decide where I want to go and get so overwhelmed by all the options. But if someone said, we're going to Scotland on this day for this long and here's our flight information, then I'd be fine.
Henry did not want to go to Scotland. 
Neither did Anna.
Another train pummeled toward them. Anna cocked her head side to side in time with each chugga-chugga of the subway's wheels grating against the tracks. Henry imagined brass door hinges hiding under her scarf and thought about what he would tell his parents if someone were to lose their head on a first date.
So do you want a family?
Not really.
You'd rather go to Scotland with a person who makes all your travel plans for you.
Despite what she had written on her profile, Anna didn't think of herself as a particularly clever or engaging person. But saying she liked witty banter and posting a photo of herself in front of her friend's vintage video game consuls had earned her more matches than saying she wanted someone who was open to seeing if friend vibes could develop into something more and using a black-and-white shot of her face in the shadows.
How about you?
I think so. I really like the idea of having my wife be a full-time mom.
A train approached just as a biker swept up behind them. Anna jumped out of the way, knocking into Henry. She quickly apologized for touching him. He mumbled that it was fine and thought he heard her say something about asking consent before physical contact.
Henry clenched and unclenched his fists, wishing he had thought to bring gloves or wear a heavier coat or that he were with someone who'd notice how cold he was and offer to lend him one of her mittens or grab his hand and intertwine her fingers with his. He glanced at Anna's hands, swathed in purple polar fleece and thought of how jealous he always was of all those babies in full body sleeping bags strapped to their parents' chests, contained in their own cocoons.
The train passed.
Anna began to hum faintly.
Are you singing Tom's Diner?
Anna stopped mid-verse.
I hadn't realized.
I've actually met Suzanne Vega. I was 10.
You knew who Suzanne Vega was when you were 10?
My dad told me after.
He had a much longer Suzanne Vega story, but telling it meant telling Anna about his ex and their trip to the Newport Folk Festival and how she had broken up with him right before Suzanne Vega's set because he wanted to see who was on the mainstage and how that was just so typical of him and how he never wanted to do anything as a couple.
Henry wanted to like her and assumed their lack of chemistry was all his fault—he shouldn't have said that thing about Scotland or invited her to walk on the bridge.
It was only 4, but the sun was starting to fade, elongating their shadows on the concrete. Another subway jolted alongside them, the noise reverberating off the metal beams and steel grates. Henry rolled his eyes and pointed to the subway cars as if to say, ugh, it's this guy again. Anna's eyes crinkled. Henry hoped she was smiling.
Anna and Henry said nothing. Anna counted the lamps overhead. Henry thought about the to-go dumplings he would order once they got to Chinatown and about the chicken over fried rice that had just enough of a bite to feel like an adventure.
Anna lost track of her count and checked whether they had finally switched out the ad posted on the side of the Manhattan Mini Storage facility.
They hadn't.
At the end of the bridge, Anna stopped at the crosswalk to let a van with a giant stuffed teddy bear in the passenger seat go by. She pointed to it, but Henry hadn't noticed.
This was fun.
Their eyes met over the edges of their masks.
Anna wondered whether she would have felt more had she been sitting across from him at a café, studying the shape of his grin or the way he gripped his hands when he listened.
Henry noticed that there was a freckle in Anna's left iris.
Henry took off across Bowery. Anna checked her messages and waited for Henry to turn the corner before retracing her steps all the way home.
That night, before they put down their phones and turned off their bedside lamps, they both looked at each other's profile one more time before tapping unmatch and going to sleep.

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