{ Drop Dead, Gorgeous }
by Mark Tavani

dashboardAnd she said, Do you think I'm gorgeous?
   And he said, Drop dead.
   And she laughed because she knew how he talked, enjoyed his mastery of double meaning, appreciated that his wit was a gentle form of wildness, his own modest and brainy rebellion. And also because she knew that he did indeed find her gorgeous, that he was bordering on being addicted to the tiny softness of her earlobes, the fiery brown suns of her nipples, her cigarette-scarred whisper.

Wound loosely around the grey steering wheel, his fingers felt like rubber bands sliced at a single point-thin, weak, incapable.
   And she said, Do you think I'm gorgeous?
   And he thought, Of course, and, How could I not? and, Please don't ask me that anymore. and, How could you be so cruel as to ask that, to throw this in my face when you know how hard I'm trying to end this, to push you away, to keep at least a small part of me safe from you?
   His chest rattled with anger and two bursts of steamy air shot through his nostrils. He didn't try to push the anger away because just now he needed it: just now he was relying on it for strength.
   And he said, Drop dead, ducking behind the joke like a small boy at a picnic behind his mother's summer skirt.

He eased the steering wheel to the right and the Chevy crunched its way over the various-sized stones of the parking lot. A Rolling Stones' song thumped like a suffocating heart inside the pub, punctuated by sounds of drunken enjoyment and aggression. His hands were a big teepee in his lap. She considered reaching across, taking his hand in hers, started to do so, ended up leaving her hand directly between them, a dead seal at the end of the inexplicable tether of her arm.
   So, hey, he said, everyone's here, or...?
   He nodded stiffly. This was his way, she knew: excessive rigidity at moments of awkwardness or high emotion or discomfort, as if maybe, if he sat up straight enough, his admirably vertical spine might become a ladder, by way of which he could escape.
   He said, And....
   He cleared his throat. And I guess he'll be here.
   It amused her as it always did to think that, in his mind, she was engaged to marry a pronoun, that her fiancée was a part of speech. He had never asked a question, had never made a comment, had never begged a comparison. He had no knowledge of hair color or penis length or date of birth or ethnic heritage or social security number, and she had found that his lack of interest left her simultaneously grateful and deeply disappointed: of course she didn't want to talk about it, but she wouldn't have minded the occasional question, the infrequent sign that he was at least capable of jealousy.
   She said, Uh huh, and glanced over to catch his reaction, which was this: he nodded his head once-down and then up-and then grimaced. She sighed.

He nodded because there wasn't much to say about it. Or, of course, there was plenty to say, too much actually. Lying in his bed every night for the last few weeks, he had practiced the speech he would give at this very moment: I'm sorry. I'm sorry he doesn't satisfy you. I'm sorry he doesn't tell you you're beautiful every day, every hour, every minute. I'm sorry he doesn't know what he has, what he risks losing. I'm sorry you have to ask if he's still in love. I'm sorry you need stupid me to remind you that you're desirable because he can't or won't do it. I'm sorry he doesn't kiss you like he means it. But I can't do this, do you see? I can't put myself out there like this. I can't risk like this anymore. If I if I could only know somehow that you want me like I want you, I'd wait. I'd wait forever. If you would just leap from this ledge, I swear I'd be there to catch you. Do you see? Say the word. Just say the word and I'm yours. Do you see?
   But, as dumb as he was, he was smart enough to know that it was useless, desperate. There had never been any serious words between them and now was not the time. He sensed that she saw in him something very unlike that which he saw in himself: that is to say, she thought of him as funny and quiet, strong and philosophical, detached, slightly mysterious. He, however, thought of himself as stuffy and sullen, morose and self-pitying, and was therefore thrilled by the possibility of her high opinion. And he was just self-aware enough to admit that leaving her impression of him unblemished might be more important to him than anything else.
   And Mick Jagger said, I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse.

And he said, Listen. He said, We can't do this anymore.
   And her throat tightened as if gripped by a fist. She felt her eyelids go down and up and then down and up again. Suddenly she was very hot, sweating even. She took a breath and looked down and saw her right hand, the fingers wrapped around the door's handle. And she thought, I knew this was coming, didn't I? I must have. I'm sure I did.
   And she said, Yeah.
   And then, as if she hadn't spoken, as if she hadn't just agreed, he said, I mean, I can't.... We just can't....
   And she said, I know.

And then he decided to speak, to say all the things he had planned to say, and, beginning, he said, I'm sorry.
   And she interrupted him, saying, You have nothing to be sorry for.
   And he said, No, I'm...I know. But I'm sorry.
   And she said, Don't be.
   And then he decided not to speak, decided he had been stupid for thinking it would be a good idea.
   So what are you gonna do now? she said. And of course, she meant now, right now, what are you going to do right now, tonight? But for a moment he believed that she meant, What are you going to do now that this is over, now that our grand affair has ended? Toward what bleak future will you walk without me? What will you do now that you've got this me-shaped whole in your heart? The arrogant bitch.
   And he shrugged and again he said, Drop dead.
   And again she laughed and he listened to her laugh and thought about how much he loved the sound of it, the strength of it, the ridiculous and unnecessary volume. And then the laugh trailed off, shrunk into a sigh.
   Well, she said, okay. Thanks. Guess I'll see you at work.
   And he said, Yeah.
   She nodded and opened the door and stepped from the car. He turned and watched her stand and she got blurry and he got mad at himself and pushed an impatient sleeve across his eyes. Without looking back, she walked straight toward the door of the pub. He hoped she would turn, hoped she wouldn't, decided not to wait and see, put the pickup in drive, listened to the tires spitting stones up at the bottom of the truck. Fuck, he said, for leaving so soon. And then, Fuck, he said, for having stayed so long.


Standing at the door of the pub as if waiting to be let inside, she stopped. She wanted to turn and watch him drive away, wanted not to turn and watch him drive away. She thought, Could it all really have happened that quickly? Could that really be it? And she wondered if this made things simpler or more complicated and decided she wasn't sure.
   She took another moment, pictured going inside, the circle of glassy eyes and big-toothed grins shifting to make room, the Hey, didn't think you'd make it, the Yeah, working late, you know how it is, the blah blah blah, and the blah blah blah. And suddenly a thought she had had before came back to her, but it was more complete now, more important than she remembered it being: the evening awaiting her was like the sea—for all its glorious immensity, just a finite puddle sprinkled with salt and sea anemone, the same collection of droplets it had always been, the same gathering of conjoined molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. But he had been like the sky—far away, unreachable, but the very thing that gave the sea its life and hue, that caused the sea below to thrash and speak, the only thing that prevented the sea from laying colorless and still and quiet.
   She turned quickly, her eyes rising to the road, but all she caught was a quick glimpse of his brake lights, two fiery tears fading around a bend, and the ever-wise Mick Jagger said, You can't always get what you want.

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