from The Fall

Chance encounters, she whispers.

They are standing together close enough for him to hear her whisper above the din of onlookers crowding the street, and though, among them, he feels the edge of his attention—the heads just out of focus craning to see past him to the body on the sidewalk beyond—luring him to look away from her mouth, something about the thin curve of her lips holds him there, suggests she does not care whether he believes she has said this for him. Her eyes are glazed. The threat they pose, he thinks, remains hidden, dormant within. You will, you will not let her in.

Behind him, the gurney is loaded. Beneath the cloak, the body is thin. It is not for her, she feels, this body, this aftermath, this fallen man. Her attention is set squarely on him. She feels his silence as an assurance. His expression has not changed, and yet the constancy, the steeled eyes, the staid brow, his tightly drawn lips, awakens within her the pleasurable desire to wait for a place inside him to open so she can seep in.

I won’t sleep with you, she whispers, if that’s what you think this is.

He likes the way her smile suggests she saves it for moments like this.

The sirens have quieted. Lights flash. Red flushes alternating on her face and his.

Sex and death, he says. Sex and death.

Heat rises in the stem of her throat when he repeats it.

Have I forgotten to ask if we’ve met?

His smile is sheepish. It is enough for her to get past this.

She looks at the gurney to avoid what she feels of his eyes. The hosing of blood off the sidewalk. The sound it makes at the drain. To get away from yourself for a time.

That sure was a trip.

He likes the nonchalance of her tone, the fast times and flippancy beneath this.

A fall, really, he replies.

His straight face, enigmatic in a way she likes. The intimation of sociopathology beneath its surface, drawing her always, the live wire she feels running through that long line of men.

Not so sure he was committed to dying, he says.

She gestures to the spray of the hose, feels herself letting go as she watches the blood in dilution stream over the curb’s lip.

How can you fake a commitment like that?

He has not taken his eyes off her. Watch yourself, she thinks.

Commitment is for the trees and the earth, he says.

We are rootless, he says. We have no means to commit.

The flash of self-consciousness he feels at having so soon laid it on so thick.

For a time, they stand silently before one another, he and she, in the street, and then the halo of space that surrounds them is broken as together they press through the crowded scene. What they had been, set apart, is lost among the bodies of strangers straining to witness the gurney as it is taken in. The doors of the ambulance open. The cloak shivers on entry. What is beneath appears thin.