When I was fifteen, I had a friend who never looked when he crossed the street. He didn’t wait for walk signals or breaks in traffic. He just wandered out into the roadway, staring straight ahead, daring cars to hit him, knowing full well they’d stop. It took me many years to learn that kind of recklessness, that disregard for my mortality, but once I did, it was a lesson I never forgot.
This girl I used to see, Sarah, once brought me to a party some of her actor friends were throwing at a penthouse downtown. It was full of artists and musicians and writers; some whose work I knew, others that I didn’t. At some point in the evening, a guy stood up, walked over to the piano and, without saying a word, began to play Brahms. After several seconds, Sarah leaned to my ear and whispered, Have you ever fucked on ecstasy?
I told her I hadn’t.
Once you have, she said, you won’t want to fuck without it.
This struck me as sad.
But at dawn, alone on the balcony with the last of the bourbon, I watched the sun rise above the lake, floating up over the buildings like a child’s lost balloon, and understood.
I was in bed with Annabelle a few nights ago. She’d been sensing my distance for a while, so I tried hard to be there, just there, with her, but couldn’t, and after a while, I rolled onto my side of the mattress.
What’s wrong, she asked.
Nothing, I said. Just wasn’t feeling it, is all.
She said, I wish you’d talk to me, maybe that way I could understand. She said, I’m really falling for you, Charles.
I stared at the ceiling through closed eyelids.
I said, Don’t say that to me when you really mean it for someone else.
She said, I don’t mean it for someone else, I mean it for you.
I said, Maybe what I meant then is that I mean it for someone else.
I looked over at her searching eyes. She said, That’s not true. She said, I know how I feel, and if I feel it, then you must.
I shook my head. I told her things don’t really work that way. I began another thought I didn’t finish. Then we laid there a while until I stood and fixed myself a drink.
And what did I say when I finally turned back to face her, as she sat up against the headboard, pulling the dark comforter over her smooth chest?
Let me tell you a story.
Eric Lutz is a writer of fiction, journalism, and essays in Chicago. His work has appeared in Newcity, the Chicago Reader, and Paste Magazine, among other publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is an adjunct in the English Department at Elmhurst College.