Chloe N. Clark
His date had neon pink shellacked fingernails. Lance couldn’t stop staring at them. The glare off them from the overhead lights was almost blinding. It reminded him of headlight beams bouncing off a rain-slicked road.
“And Matt was very much about himself, you know? He had this thing where he would tell me about all of his past relationships whenever he got the chance. And, okay, I’m okay with being open about our past experiences but sometimes I just need to not have some information, you know? Like I don’t care that Stacey cried at wedding commercials or that Breann was into all of this very, very kinky stuff. Or that—”
“What kind of stuff?” Lance asked. Then he realized that while he was asking her to clarify the word she had said before “stuff,” he had just figured out that the word was “kinky” and his question was probably not going to go over so well.
She stared at him, eyes narrowing slightly. “Kin-ky stuff. Why is that something you’re into? God, why is every guy just like my last boyfriend—Rodney?”
Lance was about to interject, explain his innocent confusion, but she continued. “Did I tell you about Rodney? He was like all straight-laced, tie wearing just the right kind of knot, and I think, okay, this guy is perfect. He’s clean, he’s neat, you know? Then, of course, he has a fetish.”
Lance went back to staring at her fingernails, hoping the waves of light might hypnotize his ears into deafness before he found out what Rodney’s fetish had been. The light bounced in rays off of the pink, like the sun off water. A river under sunlight. There were waves. He should shield his eyes. Look away. There was so much reflected light. Bouncing and coming towards him. For a split second, he thought he heard someone scream. He saw the light swimming through the air. Pink ribbons of glowing light.
Lance opened his eyes. The ceiling seemed farther away than it had a minute ago. He was on the ground, and she stood over him. A waiter was on his other side, holding a glass of ice water.
“What, um…” Lance began.
“I think you had a seizure,” the waiter said.
“Oh my God, this is such a flashback for me. Matt was almost a hypoglycemic,” she said. She leaned over him and he realized that there were very few women who when leaning over someone looked good. Distance and shadows: her face creviced, her teeth glinted.
Lance sat up and a dizzying jolt leaped from his spine to his skull. He steadied himself by placing a hand on the floor. The waiter pushed the glass of water to him and he took it. It felt ice cold in his hands; he took a small sip. It tasted faintly of chlorine. He swallowed and could feel it sliding down his throat.
“Should you, like, go to the hospital? I could take you to the hospital?” she asked. She leaned closer to him, and he could smell her perfume, taste it on his tongue; it coated his skin. It smelled of roses and laundry detergent—the bottle advertised it as “Fresh Laundry” scent, which he’d always felt was like making a vortex in the universe when he thought about the name too hard.
“I think he’ll be alright,” the waiter said. The waiter only spoke to her and never looked at Lance. “He should drink all of that water, though. He could be dehydrated.”
“Okay, he’ll do that,” she said.
She looked down at Lance and he began to drink the water; if he gulped he couldn’t taste the chlorine as much. He finished the water, and the waiter took the glass. Lance’s hand was wet from the condensation. He closed his fingers to form a fist, then relaxed them, then did it again. He felt tingly all over for a second, and then it passed. He stood up, carefully, using a chair as support.
“So, should we get dessert?” she asked.
When Lance got back to his apartment, his roommate was in the kitchen. Kiera was a dealer on a riverboat, and she often practiced card tricks when she was home alone. He wondered if that was something entirely kosher, knowing how to manipulate cards when dealing them honestly was one’s job. He had never asked her about the ethics of this. She had once told him that she could throw a card at 40 miles per hour. Don’t make the card thrower angry seemed as good a motto as any.
Lance listened to Kiera snapping the cards against the kitchen counter. It sounded—if he closed his eyes and covered one ear—almost exactly the same as a knife chopping vegetables.
“How was the date?” she asked. Snap.
“It was okay,” he said. “ I had a seizure, I guess.”
Snap. He saw her jaw clench for a moment at the word seizure and her eyes narrowed. She didn’t look at him. “Wait, what?”
“I had a seizure or I fainted or something. It happened really fast.” He looked away from her. He imagined that he knew what she was thinking about: the last time that he thought he’d had a seizure. He wouldn’t mention it if she didn’t, though.
She took a breath and rolled her shoulders. “Oh, so it wasn’t one of those slow faintings I’m always reading about?”
Lance could sense the eye roll without even seeing her face. The joke made everything seem safe again; the routine back in place. Kiera left her deck on the counter and walked over to him, where he leaned against the kitchen doorframe. She peered at him. “Do you feel alright?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, it was weird when it happened. But, it didn’t hurt and I don’t feel dizzy now or anything.”
Kiera gave him one last once over and then walked back to the counter. She swooped the deck of cards up and then tucked it into the front pocket of her jeans. “But, what about the date itself? How was it?”
“Um, I don’t think I’ll see her again.” Lance didn’t need to elaborate.
He turned to leave and heard Kiera say, “Told you not to join a dating site.”
Lance had joined the site, LoveQuest, a week earlier in a peak of optimism. His mother kept telling him that it was time. “It’s been two years, Lance. You can’t be alone forever. Do you want to punish yourself? Is that what this is really about, Lance?” His mother was a psychiatrist. She specialized in children, especially her own children. He decided on online dating because it felt safer, easier. He figured that if he—a sane and relatively attractive man— could join then, by all logic, sane relatively attractive women might also have joined. He had set up his dating profile under the watchful gaze of Kiera. She had said she wanted to keep him from accidentally appearing like a creeper. Her suppressed laughter said anything else.
Lance had gotten his first hit, or “love-token” in the parlance of the site, only a day after joining. That had been pink fingernails. She had described herself as contemplative and thoughtful.
He lay down on his bed and for a second the ceiling seemed to spin. He wondered if he should have drunk more water.
Lance had a dream about his last girlfriend, Alice. She sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her hair. He sat up and watched her. There had always been something innately sexual about a woman brushing her hair. The tenderness, the long strokes, the tiny gasps if she hit a tangle.
As Lance watched her, something dripped down the side of her face. He leaned closer; it was blood. He jolted back, eyes flicking to the brush; she was digging into her scalp with it. He suppressed an urge to vomit and tried to grab the brush from her. As his hand wrapped around hers, cold and wet, he woke up.
It was morning. Light streamed through the blinds. Lance’s mouth felt dry and his body ached. He was undressed, under his covers, though he didn’t remember undressing. He had dated a woman once who sleep-walked. She never went anywhere, though; she just got redressed and then would get back into bed. He wondered if that was what he had done. Could sleep dressing be passed on from partner to partner like a Sexually Transmitted Neurosis?
Lance got up and went to the bathroom. In the mirror, he looked normal, refreshed even. Although, he thought maybe a little paler then he should be. He took a shower and let the hot water scald him. In the steam-covered mirror, his body appeared to shimmer for a moment, almost go translucent. He looked closer, but now he was back to normal, just reddened from the heat of the shower. He hoped he wasn’t going to faint again.
In the kitchen, Kiera was drinking a cup of coffee, the size of a mason jar, and reading the newspaper. She glanced up at him as he walked in. “How you feeling?”
“Much better. I think I was just dehydrated.” Lance said as he went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of orange juice. He poured a glass. “Do you work tonight?”
Kiera nodded as she took a gulp of coffee. ”You have another love match or whatever they’re called?”
Lance nodded, taking a swig of orange juice. “A new woman.”
Kiera finished her coffee and stood up. Lance tried to remember, for a moment, how they had ended up being roommates. They had been friends for years, but at what point had sharing a living space been an idea voiced between them. It was like it just happened, spontaneous roommation. Kiera looked at him, as she set her cup in the sink. She seemed to be considering something for a moment, then shook her head as if banishing the thought.
“Drink lots of water. I can’t imagine fainting makes a good first date impression.”
At work, Lance tried to come up with a hook for a new client. It was a chewing gum company. He had a hard time believing that an entire business could be built around chewing gum. They had a new type of gum coming out which used crushed Szechuan peppers that somehow had their heat removed but made your mouth tingle and feel like the edge of numbness. Lance hadn’t voiced his opinion, but he wondered at the type of people who would find that sensation actually pleasant. The first slogan he had thought of was “Like a trip to the dentist—without the pain!”
The firm’s secretary, Mira, walked in as he spun in his desk chair. Lance had always liked Mira, not necessarily in a romantic way, just in an all-around sort of like way. She was short but curvy and kept her hair always tightly piled atop her head. She had been at the firm for just under two years and didn’t know the way that Lance used to be, Alice-era Lance. He liked that about her, too. She also often made jokes that took a minute to think about, something Lance appreciated.
“Still working on the gum?” she asked. He nodded. “All the slogans I can think of would be kind of dirty.”
Lance laughed. “Not sure that’s gonna fly, Mir.”
Mira shrugged. “This client’s kind of a move to the big leagues for you, huh?”
“Nah, or at least I don’t think so.”
She wrinkled her forehead in mock consternation. “Did you even bother looking at their sales figures?”
Lance shook his head and took another spin in his chair. Mira sighed. “They’re huge, Lance, like set-to-be-a-major-national-corporation huge.”
He stopped spinning. “Do gum-makers ever become major national corporations?”
Lance sat up straighter in his chair and reached for the company’s file. He would have to look over their sales figures. “Okay, well, I had not thought of that.”
Mira rolled her eyes, letting out an exaggerated sigh. “The firm is totally giving you a chance on this one, Lance. Try not to mess it up.”
“Says the woman who wants me to use an NC-17-rated slogan,” he replied.
She smiled and turned to leave. “Just keeping things interesting.”
Lance watched her walk out and then let the panic sink in. He had never been assigned to any of their major clients. He had always thought of himself as a bench-player: decent enough for garbage time, but not someone you would want to rely on to score. He had come up with alright slogans in the past and even designed one fairly successful ad campaign. But it had been for something local and fairly low-key as well. Alice had always lamented his lack of ambition. “It’s like you not only can’t make your life better, you’re not even willing to, Lance.” He hadn’t ever really thought about it, but he did like his life the way it was. He lacked ambition because he was happy at his current job level and there shouldn’t be anything necessarily wrong with that feeling.
Lance worked until five. He studied all of the information on the company; he even began to research past gum slogans that had been big hits. He found the Orbit woman attractive in a strangely creepy way and knew he had to leave for the day when he caught himself singing the Doublemint jingle under his breath.
The date that night was at a restaurant that he had never been to before. It was getting great reviews and was supposed to be Italian-fusion food. Lance had no idea what that meant, but he thought it sounded suitably impressive for a first date.
The restaurant was set-up with retro looking booths—red and white checkered tablecloths and the big glass shakers filled with flakes of Parmesan cheesestuff. Lance’s date had arrived before him. She was a petite blonde in a light pink dress that had the disconcerting effect of making her look slightly washed out, like a photograph just beginning to fade.
They made small talk while waiting to order. The waiter that came up to them wore all black, including black leather pants. Lance surreptitiously glanced around, noticing that all the waiters were in leather pants. He wasn’t sure how that fit into Italian-fusion, but assumed it did somehow.
She ordered the Pasta Giapponese, and he ordered the Pizza de Favola. Lance had never taken Italian and had no idea what he was ordering. He thought maybe it would be a pizza with fava beans on it, though he wasn’t sure he was completely behind such an idea.
“So, you work in advertising?” she asked. “Your profile said that.”
“Yeah, I do. I—” Lance began.
“Oh, wow, that must be so interesting! What‘s the salary like on that? Is it all glamorous? Do you ever get to work on commercials?” The questions piled out of her mouth, and he wasn’t sure which to tackle first.
“It’s okay work, I guess. I’m not like an advertising executive or anything.”
“But, still, you could be one day, right? Aim big!” she said.
“Yeah, I guess, I’m not sure—” Lance began.
“I bet advertising executives make a lot of money. I mean, that just sounds like it should be high-paid. Executive.” She pronounced every syllable in executive, carrying each one out for a few seconds as if the word tasted particularly good in her mouth and she didn’t want to let go of it too soon.
“Well, I know an executive associate at a retail store, so…” he said.
The food arrived, mercifully. His pizza was the size of a dessert plate and had a thin crust with artful drizzles of olive oil, a few smears of mascarpone, and a single shaving of truffle in the center. He glanced at her pasta. It was a nest of wheat noodles with crumbled flecks of something green strewn about and what appeared to be tentacles. “Are those tentacles?”
She nodded, delighted. “Squid!”
Lance took a bite of his pizza. It crunched, filling his mouth with flakes of crust. He stared at her fork twirling as she dug out a few strands of noodle. One of the tentacles jiggled and the light caught it, for a second making it appear animated, alive. He stared at the quivering tentacle. It was wet looking, slimy. It trembled. He stared at it. It seemed to be unfurling, growing longer, reaching towards him.
“Lance!” Her voice came as a peeping sound, like a baby bird.
He looked up; the room swam, swirling around him. He felt momentarily as if he was looking up at the sky from underwater. He had to swim towards the light, break the surface, get air.
“Your nose is majorly bleeding,” she said. As she said it, he felt the blood and snapped back into the reality of the room. His blood felt hot, sliding down his face.
“Excuse me, I’ll go, um,” he mumbled. “I’ll go to the restroom.” He stood up, and the world tilted beneath his feet like he was on a boat. He stumbled his way to the restroom. Uomini the door read, luckily over a picture of a man. He went inside, bracing himself against the sink as he looked in the mirror. His nose bled in a slow but steady trickle. It was the first nosebleed he had ever gotten as far as he remembered.
He studied his reflection; his skin had paled, and his eyes looked slightly unfocused like when people who were supposed to wear glasses didn’t. He turned on the cold water faucet and splashed his face a couple of times. He held a paper towel to his nose until the bleeding seemed to have stopped. He tried taking deep breaths in and slowly exhaling them out. His mother had once told him to do that, whenever his thoughts became too much: “Just remember to breathe in and breathe out. Don’t think about anything but your breathing.”
Lance waited until he felt more steadied before returning to his table. She was delightedly twirling pasta around her fork still. The tentacles were gone, presumably eaten and not escaped. He sat down across from her.
“So, does that happen to you often?” she asked.
He shook his head, sending sharp jolts of pain into his temples. “No, never.”
“I had a friend who had a cousin who got nose bleeds. Then they found it was a brain tumor.” She took another mouthful of pasta. “He died.”
“I don’t think it’s a brain tumor,” he said.
“That’s what my friend’s cousin said,” she replied.
They didn’t get dessert.
Lance got back to his apartment and sighed at the sound of music playing from the kitchen. He had hoped Kiera would still be at work. He peeked into the kitchen and she stood at the counter staring at some cards laid out. She was frowning, intense.
“What are you doing?”
Kiera jumped. “What the fuck? Make some noise when you come in or something.”
“Sorry, what are you doing?” Lance stared down at the cards. A queen and four jacks were laid out in a row.
“It’s this trick. It keeps working,” She said, scowling down at the cards.
“And that’s a problem because?” he asked. He went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer.
“Because it’s working even when I purposefully make mistakes.” Kiera mumbled, scooping the cards up and shuffling them into the deck. Lance admired how she shuffled cards, eyes not even needing to be on them, as if her fingers knew the way without needing to be directed.
Lance pointed at her. “You’re just that damn good.”
“That’s not how it works, idiot.” Kiera said as she walked past him and pulled a beer out of the fridge for herself. “How was your date? You look awful.”
“Thanks. I got a nose bleed. The date was…You know, it was unpleasant actually. I had a terrible pizza. Pizza de favola.”
She raised an eyebrow as she took a drink. “Pizza of fable? Where the hell did you go?”
“That new Italian fusion place.” Lance took a drink of beer and it tasted odd, bubbly and a little like burnt caramel. He looked at the label—the normal kind. He took another sip, swilled it in his mouth, trying to discern where the difference was coming from.
“No wonder you got a nosebleed. I’d have gotten one just to get out.”
“It was weird. Maybe I should see someone with that—on top of the fainting?” he asked. “Could it be a brain tumor?”
“Wow, someone put on his cloak of darkness today. You’re probably anemic or something.” Kiera shook her head at him, one last time, and walked out of the room. Her footsteps pounded the floor.
Lance took his beer to his room. He checked his computer— two new love-tokens. He examined the profiles of the two women. He wondered, sometimes, about dating sites and the people who developed them. Were they themselves alone?
He wrote the women back and set up dates with both. He lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling, remembering back to years earlier when he had met his last girlfriend for the first time. His best friend, Colin, had introduced them. Colin was dating Kiera, who Lance had been friends with for years. They’d all go out as a group. One night they had a picnic out in one of the state parks. They set up battery-powered lanterns and laid out a blanket. He could still taste the food they’d eaten, though it had been simple things—sandwiches, cookies, pieces of fruit. They’d all been laughing. He remembered Alice’s laugh. It always made him happy in a way he found hard to describe, like tilt-a-whirls and rock bands that used accordions.
“How are you feeling?” Kiera asked from his doorway. “I’m sure you don’t have a tumor.”
“Do you think about Colin a lot?” he asked. Kiera walked into the room, flopping down onto the bed next to him.
She stared at the ceiling as she spoke. “Yeah, of course, but not as much. Sometimes I hear someone talk and it sounds exactly like something he would have said, some dumb joke, and I’ll feel for a second like I can’t breathe. But, it can’t always be like that. You know?”
“Do you think he’d still be thinking about you every day?” Lance asked. He rarely pushed into Kiera when it came to talking about Colin. The rules may have been unspoken, but they both respected them. She never said anything about Alice, either.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t want him to be. It’s been two years, Lance. I’d want him to be happy. Alice would want you to be happy too, you know,” she said. Her voice had lost its usual edge, sounding not softer but less full of life.
“I’m sorry,” Lance said. He turned his head so it rested against her head.
“You don’t have to be sorry,” Kiera replied. They lay like that until they both fell asleep.
There was a sound coming from the kitchen— someone talking. Lance got up and walked to the kitchen. He wasn’t sure what time it was, though it felt like early morning. Alice stood at the counter, stirring something on the stove. She was wearing one of his shirts, her hair wet, like she had just gotten out of the shower and hadn’t squeezed out the excess water. She was talking to someone. Colin sat at the table, reading the newspaper. He looked up as Lance walked in and smiled.
“Hey, your lady is making pancakes,” Colin said.
Lance sat down at the table. “I’m a lucky man.”
Alice laughed behind him. He heard her flip a pancake. It landed back on the pan with a soft thud. Colin was already eating pancakes covered in red jam. “Is Kiera still sleeping?”
A plate appeared before him. Alice had set it down. The pancake in the center of the plate was shaped like a heart.
Colin said, “I wonder what she’s dreaming about. I think sometimes she dreams about me. I’m under water and she’s trying to reach me and she keeps grabbing onto my hand and it keeps slipping out of her reach and she knows that I’m dying and that she has to act fast, but she just can’t hold onto me.”
Colin was dripping with water. Blood oozed from a gash in his forehead. Alice coughed up something into the sink. Algae, emerald green and disconcertingly slick. She struggled to pull it from her mouth. Lance studied the pancake; he used his fork to cut into it, and the heart began to bleed red syrup across the white of the plate.
He opened his eyes. His alarm clock was buzzing. He sat up and shut it off. Alice and Colin were gone. Kiera was gone. He got ready for work.
In his office, he kept thinking about the feel of the blood dripping from his nose the night before. He called his doctor to schedule an appointment. There were no openings until the next day. He thought about cancelling his date for the night but decided against it. The chances of something happening again seemed somewhat preposterous.
Lance worked on the gum slogan. Check out the buzz and feel the tingle. A new sensation in gum. Numb not dumb. He was getting nowhere except worse.
Lance left work earlier than usual. His date was at a sushi place, though he didn’t like sushi. The woman had picked it. He arrived early and drank sake while waiting for her to arrive. She was late and walked in looking like the sort of person who enjoyed keeping people waiting— dressed in a deep wine-colored blouse, a low enough cut that it could be used as a nursing garment, and tight jeans with carefully placed rips.
They both ordered. He got California rolls and she got something he couldn’t pronounce but that he guessed she had pronounced perfectly.
“So you work in advertising, huh?” she asked.
“Yeah, I do. And you’re in graphic design.”
“Freelance. I basically design just about anything people want me to design. I’ve created tattoos. That was an experience. I’m not necessarily against tattoos, but I think they need to have some kind of aesthetic value in order for you to want to keep one permanently on your body. You know what I mean? And this person was very-very, like, picky bitchy. Like every design choice I suggested was not right, and it was finally like why don’t you just design it your damn-self? But, you know a job is a job, and sometimes you just have to go with the customer is always right mantra. Who invented that, do you think? I mean, obviously someone who didn’t have a job.”
She spoke with no pauses. There was no room for Lance to do anything other than occasionally nod.
“I mean, it’s probably like that in your job. You design something and then the customer— do you call them customers?— totally has a final say on it and it doesn’t matter if you’ve done your best work of all freaking time because they have that final say. There was one woman who wanted me to design a tattoo with a picture of the river. Like the whole river. She wanted it to start at the base of her skull and go down to the heel of one foot.”
Lance listened to her words. They hit him like water, like a flood. He felt them washing across his skin. They bulleted their way through the air. It was like getting closer and closer to the surface of water, knowing it was about to smash into him. Each word was a different color. He stared at them as they flew from her mouth, spinning and twirling. He felt them barrage his face, tiny shards of glass. One word spun even faster than the rest. It was the word river. It hit him and he felt himself falling backwards.
Lance looked up, blinking. He was on the floor.
“Holy heaven, are you alright? Did the chair break? Are you having a seizure? Can you hear me?”
He sat up, putting a hand to his head. His whole body ached.
“That is so weird. Are you alright? I mean you were sitting there and then you were falling. Are you okay?”
“I…, I think I should call it a night,” he said.
The apartment was dark in the main room, but he could hear singing, a beat. The music came from Keira’s room. It was Sam Cooke, that unmistakable voice. Her door was open a crack. Lance watched her as she was folding clothes, her back to him, and her body swayed with the music. She sang along, under her breath. I try to forget, had no regrets. This love could always start anew. Her voice cracked there, the smallest bit, and Lance felt himself flinching. Another unspoken rule. They didn’t let sadness show in front of one another; it was like that game, Jenga: pull just one wrong block and the whole thing would come tumbling down. He turned, as quietly as he could so she wouldn’t know that he had seen her, and walked away.
He took a shower. The water felt odd against his skin, like it had solidity, like ice rain feels. He glanced at himself in the mirror for a moment and, for a split-second, he could have sworn he simply vanished and then reappeared.
He didn’t bother getting dressed and fell asleep.
Lance woke up to his alarm. It buzzed next to his ear. He turned it off with a well-placed swat. He was going to see the doctor and get to the bottom of the whole thing. He wondered if it was a tumor, some fast-growing thing pushing its way out of his skull.
At the doctor’s, he sat on the raised patient cot. The paper covering crinkled like gift wrap under him. The doctor came in and had on look of practiced concern. “Have you had seizures before, Lance?”
Lance thought about it. “Uh, they thought I had one once. About two years ago.”
He didn’t remember the seizure. He remembered the road wobbling in front of him for a second, the sound of voices amplifying in the car, and then he didn’t know anything until the water hit.
“But, you weren’t diagnosed with any sort of seizure disorder?”
Lance shook his head. The water had been so cold. He had felt it surrounding him. He remembered the panic. The seatbelt not coming undone right away. He remembered rising through the water, his body going upwards. “I never really followed up on it, to be honest.”
“Well, your blood tests are all normal. I’d like to schedule an MRI, though. There’s a good chance you have a seizure disorder. With the MRI, we could pinpoint where in the brain it might be occurring.”
He went to work from the clinic. He felt slightly dazed. The doctor had been reassuring. Lance wondered if he had seizures all along. If they could have been diagnosed at some earlier point. If he could have known that one would come. If there could have been signs to look for.
Lance sat in his office and stared at his blank computer screen. He was never going to come up with a slogan. He didn’t have it in him and never had.
“Hey, Lance, you doing alright?” Mira stood in his doorway.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
She stepped inside of his office. “You’ve been looking kind of pale.”
“Just tired, I guess,” he said.
“Hey, so, this may sound presumptuous. But if you’re not doing anything, tonight, would you like to get dinner? There’s this new restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try and I have this weird thing about eating alone.” Mira’s words came out fast, nervous.
Lance thought about it for a moment. He wasn’t sure he should. He looked up at Mira and she was smiling. He had always liked her smile—a sweetness that attempted to hide behind a mischievous twist. “I’d love to. That would be great.”
“Great! We can talk about slogans, if you want,” she said.
“Let’s please not.”
The restaurant was a small one. It was supposed to be a mix of French and Scandinavian foods. They sat across from each other in a booth. They talked, nervously, at first. Mostly about work.
A woman walked in. It was the date with the pink shellacked fingernails; she held hands with a man. They were smiling at each other, laughing. The man turned, and Lance saw his face. The man looked almost exactly like Lance. He was dressed in a nicer suit than Lance would normally buy, his hair more purposefully styled. They stared at one another. The man broke eye contact with Lance first, following the woman to a booth at the opposite end of the restaurant.
Mira didn’t notice. Their food had arrived, and it smelled delicious. “So, I don’t mean to pry, but I know there’s been talk around the office about your last girlfriend. I don’t like to gossip or anything. It sounds like it ended badly. I know you’ve mentioned your ex before—”
“She’s… I say ex, but she’s not.”
His words felt weird in his mouth. He always called her his ex or his last girlfriend. He had never wanted to explain, hadn’t wanted the finality of saying what was real.
“Oh, you’re still together?” Mira asked. Her voice quieter.
“No, she… There was a car accident. She died.”
He said it. It hung in the air between them. He had said it. Had he ever said it before? He remembered the rush of the water. They had been laughing moments before. Colin was on the phone with Kiera. Sometimes Lance imagined that Colin was telling Keira that he loved her. That would have been something good to remember at least. There had been light reflecting off the river. It had dazzled his eye momentarily and then he had refocused on the road. Lance had looked at the bridge; for a second everything had waved and blurred. Then nothing.
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked, that was none of my business.” Mira seemed mortified.
“It’s okay. It’s alright.” He realized that it was alright. He could say it out loud.
Mira stared at him. “What was her name?”
“Her name was Alice,” he said, and the name floated in the air for a second. It shimmered and shone and then fell like a star. He watched it, trying to think of a wish he could make.
CHLOE N. CLARKE’s work appears in Booth, Drunken Boat, Gamut, Hobart, and more. She teaches college comp, writes for Nerds of a Feather and Ploughshares, and can be found tweeting about baked goods @PintsNCupcakes.