Shannon reached up and pressed her thumb against the bridge of Daniel’s nose, directly between his eyes and she held her hand there like that for several long breaths. Her eyes were closed and she smiled faintly before relaxing again, letting her hand fall away from Daniel’s face and rest on her collarbone. Daniel, who had just then finished, rolled off of Shannon and lay on his back next to her, grinning in response to the song that his nervous system had just finished singing.
“I don’t think my legs work anymore,” he chuckled nervously, hurriedly covering up his nakedness with Shannon’s pale blue bedspread.
“You can’t leave,” she softly exhaled the words up towards the ceiling. “Please don’t.” Shannon extended her hand upwards once more, thumb-first, but when she touched nothing her hand went limp and fell away.
Daniel turned. Her eyes were still closed but now her chin was bunched and quivered. “Hey, I don’t know where the heck else would I possibly want to be right now,” he purred, in an attempt to bring her smile back, but to no avail.
Shannon continued to frown with her eyes closed.
The condom came off with a loud snap. Daniel eyed the teaspoon’s worth of ten million diverted disasters contained within the latex reservoir tip. Wrapping the mass up in a tissue he’d pulled on Shannon’s nightstand, he dropped it in a nearby wicker bin that was, Daniel sincerely hoped, appropriate for that kind of garbage. The muffled sounds from an episode of Wheel of Fortune that was being watched by one of Shannon’s neighbours drifted through the walls. The slide whistle of bankruptcy blew for one unlucky contestant.
“Good thing that didn’t happen thirty seconds ago, eh?”
Shannon’s eyes clenched tight, as if she had just fallen into water.
A soft hum.
The late afternoon sunlight could not be held back by the venetian blinds and the air inside Shannon’s bedroom was wet and heavy. Sweat from Daniel’s exertions had soaked into the matching set of pale blue sheets. Their clothes were scattered on the floor, his shirt draped over the chair and her dress half covered the mirror of the vanity that stood next to the door. A red blur glowed on top of a dresser. Daniel put on his glasses and focused on it.
There were children in the street outside the window, six or seven it sounded like, all playing and laughing with abandon, enjoying every last second before they would have to go home and eat their dinners. Daniel removed his glasses and stroked his nose where Shannon had touched him. After a few deep breaths he let himself relax. Suddenly the room began to spin, causing the pool of alcohol in his stomach to churn violently. When his eyes shot open the spinning ceased but closing them again, Daniel noticed, only caused the speed of the room’s rotation to increase. Daniel groaned, his eyes drifted, and the children outside continued to laugh.
Earlier that morning, just before eleven o’clock, Daniel had been informed by the company he worked for that, unfortunately, they were going to look at outside sources in order to fill the position of Assistant Developmental Director for Online and Direct Mail Marketing, the position that he’d been gunning for so hard and for so long. Devastated and with his hands clasped in his lap, Daniel had politely asked to know exactly what it was that he lacked as a viable candidate, but only received stock HR platitudes in response. After having thanked the hiring director for her time, Daniel returned to his desk and sat there for ten minutes without moving before he faked a cough and asked his supervisor for permission to go home.
Growing up, Daniel had never really understood the appeal of alcohol. All it ever did was make him make a fool of himself and then it gave him a blinding headache the next day as a reward for all his trouble. But after leaving work that day, he found himself parked in front of a building that had the word BAR written on the front of it in large neon lights and the word was flashing so bright and clear, even in the afternoon sun.
At that early hour the only people in the bar were blank-faced retirees. Some of them were watching television, some were doing crossword puzzles, but all of them appeared as if they wanted to be anywhere but home. Daniel sat down at the corner of the bar and pointed at random to one of the branded tap handles which prompted the bartender to fill a glass. Daniel took a sip and then another and then he felt a hand lightly touch his left shoulder.
Behind him stood a woman with auburn hair and blue eyes that seemed to be focused on nothing in particular. She asked, “Do you mind if I sit here with you?”
As usually happened, Daniel instantly fell apart, never knowing what to say whenever a woman, attractive or otherwise, spoke to him directly. Only once was Daniel able to keep calm long enough to get a woman to like him back. However, after a little time had passed, this relationship had ended with such intense humiliation that for years afterward he would lie awake at night and dwell on the ending from every conceivable angle until he fell asleep again.
Daniel stammered, “OK. Yes. That’s fine.”
Instead of standing up and moving his stool over, Daniel remained seated and hopped both himself and the stool to make room for her. Seeing that the woman was now eyeing him with a slightly puzzled expression, Daniel asked himself why on earth he’d done what he’d just done, his face flushing.
“Yes, please. Have a seat.”
The woman leaned in and, as she sat down, her lips brushed his ear, “Old people make me feel bad, you know? Is it the same with you?”
“Oh, right, me too. Yeah, they’re pretty awful to see.”
The woman paused to sip her drink. She was clutching at her purse with her left arm. Her eyes were red and slightly swollen. She took a second long sip from her drink and her face brightened at once. “Sorry. Can I buy you a drink? Please? I’ve never done that before for a man at the bar. It’ll be fun.”
“I can buy you one,” Daniel answered instinctively. “I mean, I should buy you one. It’s not right. It’s not gentlemanly, you know?”
Gentlemanly. Daniel covered his face with his hand.
“Sure. That would be nice,” he stammered the muffled correction.
“Don’t look so upset all the time.”
The woman moved Daniel’s hand away from his face and then, with her thumb, touched the bridge of his nose, right between his eyes, pushing his glasses up against his forehead. Startled, Daniel jerked back, nearly spilling the remainder of his beer.
She laughed. Her smile took up most of her face, “It’s a sign that you’re special, that’s all. Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Oh,” Daniel straightened his glasses and took another long drink. “Sorry.”
“See?” The woman touched his face again. Daniel thought that her hand was trembling. Or else was it him who was shaking? Being so nervous, it was difficult for Daniel to tell.
Daniel smiled and nodded, forgetting to introduce himself in return. Instead he took another long drink of his beer.
Shannon had been in the washroom when Daniel had walked into the bar, sitting inside the stall furthest from the sinks. She’d been rereading the pamphlets that had been given to her by the neuroradiologist. The reason she had been trembling so uncontrollably, it had been outlined to her that morning, was due to several unfortunate inherited defects in her genetics. The doctor had remained passive as she described the way in which Shannon’s nervous system would deteriorate as time moved forward, how she would eventually need to purchase a wheelchair that would be operated by a system of straws that she would breathe into, and how there’d come a point where she would no longer be able to breathe on her own. The pamphlets were page after page of horrifying descriptions and images of the future of Shannon’s mind and body.
After having finished filling out the necessary medical forms and leaving the futuristically gardened medical campus via the local bus, Shannon found herself standing in front of a building that had the word BAR written on the front of it in in big neon letters. She’d ordered several gin and tonics, trying hard not to look at the old men lining the windows like cats. She could feel them eyeing her, imagining what it would be like to be with her in bed, young again.
She would never be old.
Once, not long ago, a man named Paul had asked Shannon to grow old with him. Paul, who loved the stars. Paul, who had loved Shannon just as much and who was now gone. Paul, who had proposed that they should get married sometime next spring. Paul, whom she’d refused. Paul, whose face had remained neutral while Shannon struggled to explain to him that the future, to her, felt like a terrifying ocean that she was afraid to drown in. Paul, who had nodded and said that he understood. Paul, who was just a memory.
Shannon wondered who was going to wipe her ass for her when the time finally came? A stranger she’d have to pay? Pay with what money? Would it be done by a machine? Does such a machine exist? Shannon clutched herself and wept, her sobs bouncing off the metal walls of the stall.
It would have been Paul who would have had to wipe her ass for her, if Shannon had said that she truly did love him and that of course she would marry him. Shannon rammed both fists into her thighs and crumpled up the pamphlets into balls, stuffing them into her purse.
After having left the ladies room, Shannon had spotted at the bar a man who looked so sad. She walked up behind him. He smelled a little like Paul and had the same broad shoulders, but his sagged with sadness. She didn’t mean to touch him but she did it anyway. His face was familiar somehow. Then she’d touched the bridge of the man’s nose the same way she used to touch Paul’s nose.
Daniel had no idea how his foot had ended up touching Shannon’s shin, or what on earth had happened to encourage his hand to slide underneath the bar and touch her knee and to rub the pad of his thumb against the texture of her nylons. Soon enough Daniel gave up on trying to solve any of these fantastic mysteries because Shannon was laughing at the jokes he had no idea he knew in the first place and the sound of her laughter, to Daniel, was like music. Their faces moved closer together.
The retirees tried not to look at the two of them, focusing instead on their word puzzles and the television above the bar.
Shannon asked if Daniel owned a car. When he said yes, she then asked if they could maybe go somewhere else. Daniel decided to lunge forward and kiss the beautiful woman and when he did, she kissed him back. Grinning, Shannon thanked Daniel for being oh so very gentlemanly when he had opened the passenger door for her.
When Daniel opened his eyes again they were in bed. The air was liquid and Daniel didn’t care if he was a bad kisser or not.
As Shannon’s bedroom continued to spin, Daniel knew with absolute certainty that if this relationship was going to become something real, something wonderful, it was imperative that he not allow this beautiful girl to either see or hear him vomit. Daniel hoisted himself out of her bed, clamped a hand over his mouth, and gathered up his clothes. Shannon had curled herself up into a ball. Her legs were perfect. The curve was something Daniel had never seen before. Life. He covered up her nakedness. Gentlemanly. Daniel wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt before putting it back on. A worried voice asked what Shannon might think when she woke up and found him gone. .
Bile filled his mouth as he scribbled on an envelope:
didn’t want to be sick in front of you left my licence so you know my name and that I’ll be back want to have coffee and ride a roller coaster with you If you want please call me you have my number you have my address
Falling into his car and hosting himself up by the steering wheel, Daniel shifted into reverse, failing to notice that he’d nearly backed over one of the happy children playing in the street. Daniel tried to imagine the future while he breathed in deeply, hoping it might help quell the nausea. Fifty feet down the road he stopped the car abruptly and voided himself on the asphalt.
There were two voices in Shannon’s head. Everything was black and gold. The memory of Paul’s weight pressed down on her. Children were laughing somewhere far off in the future, maybe. Shannon asked if that was the point of it all? Children?
Paul, who loved the stars and who would’ve had to wipe her ass for her: Did you know, Shannon, that when the sun finally burns out and collapses, all that will be left is a giant diamond? But there won’t be anyone on Earth or any Earth at all left to see it. Can you imagine what that would look like? An enormous diamond floating there in space?
Paul, who had pulled a ring from his coat pocket.
Shannon reached out and touched the bridge of Paul’s nose.
I don’t think my legs work anymore, he said.
You can’t leave, Shannon breathed. Please.