ONCE I dated a boy named courage. I should have kissed him a hundred thousand more times.
THE BOY named courage told me, “I wanted my life to look like yours will. Choosing a partner, choosing her, making children.”
I let my hand fall from his shoulder to his thigh. “Let’s make children, then.”
He asked me do I want children. Of course I want them. I want children named Yes and Sure and Always. I want children with dimples like his in their left cheeks. I want children like keys on a keychain, children to hold while I’m buying groceries.
The boy named courage tied our fingers into knots. I pointed at the photos on his wall, he storytold: “Oh, him, my brother. He loved a girl, but our parents said no. He married this woman they wanted, I forget her name.”
I pointed at the boy named courage, his face, the toothpick-tracks forecasting wrinkles at his eyes.
His eyes squeezed shut. He was too afraid to look at his future, I looked for him. “The first night you sleep—” I said. He moaned, a small roadside sound. “The first night you sleep beside your child,” I lied, “you will love the whole world.”
“That’s what you saw?”
I heaved his eyelids apart like a stuck jar. I poked my fingers through his sockets, sought his eyeballs, slid behind his nose, his esophagus, his scooped-out chest, found nothing: a pair of eyeballs that looked foreign when I fished them up: too flat: steamrolled eyeballs. “I saw,” I lied, again. “I looked.”
HERE IS what I saw: The first night they sleep together—I looked—I know how soft and slow he is, I know. Can he be that slowsoft way, with a stranger? Can he be any other way?
I STOOD in the cricket-sounds outside his locked front door. My hand was the knotted shape of his hand, the shape of the key.
I thought: How can you name a boy courage, then want him to lie down and be shot in the back by the bullet of your will?
I thought: I should return to the boy named courage, climb down his throat, fill his chest with fight.
Instead, I walked to the white crosswalk hand that pointed me home. My name is not courage. I don’t even know my name. I think I’ve gone away.
YEARS LATER, I am carrying groceries when I see him again, the boy named courage. The joy curdles inside me, it has nowhere to go. It makes me know I should have kissed him a hundred thousand more times.
He is standing opposite me at the crosswalk. The wrinkles have reached his eyes, I can’t tell their shape. He is holding the knotted-up hands of a woman with a pregnant belly and of a child with a dimple in its left cheek. I don’t want to know the child’s name.
I can’t recall if we nodded hello. I’m not sure whether it was raining. I don’t know where my groceries went, or what they were.
As he walked away, I tucked his heart back inside the hole hidden under his shirt between his shoulderblades. I have had no children, I don’t think.
Courtney Sender‘s fiction appears in the Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Tin House, Boulevard, Michigan Quarterly Review, and others. A MacDowell Colony fellow, she is currently working on a novel. www.courtneysender.com