Here is the finished product, with an ending I wasn’t planning on until a day or two ago. This began as my effort for the February Seven Day Story Challenge over at We Drink Because We’re Poets. After four days, I knew pretty much where this was going and I wanted it to go there. I stopped using the daily words after that. Yes, I cheated and did not complete the challenge. But, I wrote a story. Let me know what you think.
Spaces After the Period
When we first met I wasn’t so impressed. I had always gone for the prototypical bad boy. Tattoos and wild hair, leather jackets and a Harley, nonchalance and indifference. I hardly knew how to act when you were so nice to me. Holding a door open, offering your hand to help me out of the car. In those initial moments, though, all I could see was the physical you. Two inches shorter than me. Hair already thinning. And a button down shirt.
I couldn’t believe my sister thought we could be right for each other. And when you started talking about your mother’s corned beef, it was all I could do to stifle a yawn and claim an impending illness to cut the night short. Something held me back. I gave it a shot. I gave you a shot. This strange thing happened by the end of the night. After dinner, while we walked along the river, you slipped your hand into mine. Suddenly, it was just there. And it was warm. And right. No man had ever held my hand before. Not like that. All those Zachs and Codys and, yeah, Joe, my god, Joe. They held my hand in the throes of mind-blowing sex. It is one thing those tattooed losers have going for themselves.
But they never held my hand just to hold it. To provide comfort. And you did. I didn’t even realize I needed it until that night. It was one of those things you taught me, usually without a word or gesture. It was the way you were. The way you could just touch me and I could then see things in a way I had never seen them before.
I should have run that first night. I mean, seriously. You, a quiet Jew, who was comfortable with your G-d. Me, a snarling and assertive atheist, scornful of believers in anything. See what I did there, I spelled it your way. To honor you.
You were eight years older than me. All those bad boys had been, always, younger. Some of them barely legal.
You had a job. I had art. You paid your bills. I didn’t know how much mine were.
You were an anchor. I was a kite.
So we walked and we talked. At the end of the night, we parted ways. I went back to my apartment where I would have to move the drop cloths and dried brushes to find a place to sleep. You, back home to your mother. I shuddered when you told me that, but your hand was still in mine so I couldn’t go far.
When you pulled lightly and brought me closer to you, I almost laughed as you closed your eyes and brought your face to mine. There was something about your innocence and purity that sucked me closer while screaming at me to flee. The peck on my cheek, not on my lips, that first night, oddly kept the screams at bay.
I cursed my sister for what she had gotten me into. What horrible misfortune was going to befall me if I saw you again? Would I be sucked into a world of quiet dinners with the folks, afternoons at the symphony, and semi-expensive sedans that I would have laughed at in my prior life?
You called me the next day, but I couldn’t find the phone so you left a message. “Ummm. Hello, this is Mitch. Mitchell Steinbaum. Ummm … I was just calling to say hello and thank you for a wonderful evening. Ummm … I’ll call you later?”
I never deleted that message and I listen to it now when I need to hear your voice. I still laugh, even through the tears that are falling, that you had to tell me your full name. As though I had gone out with more than one Mitch the night before. It was that uncertainty and the uncomfortable hesitation in your voice that pulled me even closer.
I thought about waiting for your call, but I couldn’t. We talked again while I lay in my apartment eyeing the wall of white where only the week before I had begun to apply the colors of a falling sun, and you pushed paper across your desk while filling my head with your words. Hours passed.
And then days. And weeks. And months.
We didn’t see each other again for five days and by the time we did, I ached. I couldn’t’ believe it. How you had wormed your way into me with such simple, small gestures. I cursed my sister again. I called her and asked her what the hell she was thinking. She just laughed and said, “I knew it.” By the time you picked me up, I felt like the lone survivor of a shipwreck, rescued after days of hunger and thirst.
Halfway through our second date, you fed me your line. Only I knew it wasn’t a line. For you it was the truth and it was heartfelt. Dinner was wrapping up, there was only another swallow of wine left in our glasses, our dishes had been cleared, the bill had been paid, and you leaned forward. “You know, we’re like the two spaces after a period.”
“What?” I leaned forward too, bringing our faces perilously close. “What are you talking about?”
“You and me. We could be like those spaces. You know, a sentence ends with a period and there are two spaces. We’re those two spaces waiting for the next sentence to begin.”
I laughed then. “But there’s only one space after a period.” I couldn’t help it. You said it so earnestly, I needed to make a joke. So early and so unexpectedly, you committed to the idea of the two of us, being a connection in the midst of a story. Inside, I took a breath and thought maybe, just maybe. I decided to see what the next sentence said. I held you with my eyes and leaned further in, but this time I closed my eyes first. I tasted the sweetness of the wine on your lips and the gentleness that was you.
I never ever wanted to be one space again.
We began the next sentence that night, but as with everything it was slow and quiet and respectful. You were always a gentleman. There was no rush. No expectations. Nothing other than letting the words of our story flow naturally and as they would. When we parted ways again, you left me at my apartment door with a hug that swallowed me into your world, letting me know that there was much more than a single sentence in our future.
You taught me to love the symphony. I only fell asleep during a performance once. I strapped you into a raft for a trip down the rapids. You didn’t scream. Much.
You admired my falling sun, while perched gingerly in the only clear spot on the edge of my sofa. I fell in love with your mother. Over corned beef and cabbage – and yes, it was excellent – I saw how much you loved her.
Just like a man can look at a woman’s mother to see what she might be like in thirty years, I say to see how a man will treat his wife, look at how he treats his mother. A man who cared for his mother as you did could only be a blessing for a girl like me.
Our sentences began to flow out and form our story. Painstakingly, we began to weave images and memories that created our slow-building tale. I have no doubt an outsider looking in, a reader of our imaginary sentences, might have been bored. Mightily so. But, it was the pace and delay, the anticipation that built, the sense of rightness that was what we were becoming that made it all work. We were writing our story and not racing to the end to meet another’s objectives.
Then your mother died. You cried in my arms the way men do. Even you could not let it out easily. You shuddered and fought your tears, before letting them fall in a river of pain finally released. And that night, we made love. For the first time.
Your fingers along my neck. Your hands on my breasts. Your hot breath on my skin. The intensity of your eyes as you stared deeply into mine. How you quietly took all of me in and then released me. It all left me feeling at the end like I had been handcrafted just for you. You molded me and formed me that night and I had never, ever felt love as pure and deep.
If there was any doubt before, it was gone. In the quiet night that followed, with your arms around me, I felt complete.
We began to speak of things like a home. Together. You never suggested I move in with you because your mother was gone. Instead, with your first words, you said what was necessary. “Let’s find a home for both of us. An office for me. It doesn’t need to be big. But we need white walls everywhere.”
“Why?” I asked.
“For you to paint,” you laughed. “And plenty of cans of white paint in the garage for when you want to start over.”
“I love you,” I replied and you held me closer. I didn’t need the words from you. I knew. Your actions. Your touch. Everything about you told me all I needed to know about how you felt.
You sold your mother’s home.
We found a little place down by the beach. Two bedrooms. One for us. One for you. Vaulted ceilings that provided for grand walls for me to work. And a breakfast nook that looked out over the ocean.
Whenever we needed a moment, that’s where we would meet. With the ocean crashing on the rocks below, we could talk. Or not. Deep conservations about our pasts or about our future. Deeper silences when we might sit side by side, the table pushed back and our chairs facing the windows. Your feet up on the sill. My head on your shoulder and my legs curled under me. We would sit and watch. Uncountable moments would pass with nothing more than the sounds of our breath, the beating of our hearts, and the quiet rush of time passing by.
There was this moment one day when I began to wonder whether that was it. Our simple life. You, with your job and the bills paid faithfully each month. Me, I had those walls and I had you. We had the ocean and we had time. Was that it?
That night, while we watched the falling sun as it disappeared beyond the ocean’s edge, you pulled me to you and, quietly, you asked, “Will you marry me?”
“Well, duh.” I slugged you in the shoulder, my nagging doubts dissipated with the beauty of those four simple words. “What took you so long?”
And so it was. You promised to be mine. I promised to be yours. Our union was blessed by the State and by your G-d. I didn’t need any of it. But I did. We had our home. We had our view. We had our hands entwined and words of love. We had the words and sentences that continued to tell our story. Somewhere along the way, it had come time to start a new chapter. You knew it and turned the page. Thank you. For always knowing when it was time to wait and when moving forward was needed.
You know, though, that sometimes the pages turn and new chapters begin without your control.
We were going along, comfortable with our lives and with each other. You gave me my space while holding me close. I’ll never know how you could do it. One day I realized something had changed. I went to the drug store. I went to the doctor. And then I waited in the nook for you to come home. On my cell phone, I listened to that old voice mail and began to cry. Tears of joy at the thought that we would soon become three spaces after the period. With a whole new story to tell.