She talked about him a lot, the ex. Like an instruction manual for how to treat her, but in a different language. Woman Language. If I could figure out what went wrong with him, maybe I could be the one.
The sex came unexpected and I didn’t initiate it. She got up and started going through the fridge, looking for something. It sounded like she was starting the coffee. She came back and picked up the alarm radio, set it for 4:00. She had this thing about the number 337, it kept coming up again, that sequence. Twice in a row she got assigned that number in the Boston Marathon. How weird is that? Now, it started coming up for me, too.
She did things in two’s in the apartment, that was because she was a Libra. She didn’t go in for that astrology crap, but still, things came in sets. Maybe for balance. I fixed myself a coffee and looked out the window, across the lake. You could see traces of the running trail over there, occasional figures in and out of the trees. She was on that trail somewhere, training.
Her note directed me to a bagel and was signed “K” – no hearts or anything. A quick note, functional. I pocketed it. I had a CD with me and put it in her boom box: 76 minutes. If she came back before the CD was over I’d be there still. If she didn’t, I’d be gone.
The apartment was tidy and sparse. I thought about going through her underwear drawer because that was the obvious thing to do, but I didn’t. It was a fine moment, to sit there in her nook, looking out the window, thinking what would come next.
I left her a note and walked home. There’d be more of her tomorrow: we worked in the same office, and it was easy to see bits of each other without being too obvious. Sometimes in the elevator, sometimes out on walks. I walked, she ran. Always running.
The other guy was a climber, a famous climber with a nick name: Gator. I hadn’t climbed anything, but we were planning to climb the biggest mountain in Washington, Mount Rainier. I started running, to get ready. I ran without socks to break down the skin there, to harden my feet up. I mentioned it to her but she hadn’t heard of anyone doing that before.
I started taking cold showers too. Someone said you could reset your body’s tolerance to cold by taking cold showers, so I tried it. I yelped and choked in the stall, and rarely had time to lather, but got used to it.
We batted email back and forth like ping pong, trying to outdo each other, trying to find the right combination. I made overtures and she backed away. I spent a lot of time in the apartment waiting for the phone. Then, I started my walks on the trail.
I could see her apartment from the other side of the lake, about the size of my fist. After some time concentrating, I thought I could make out her windows: one set for the nook, one set for the living room. Where I sat, that first morning.
“What are you doing?” It was her, in her shorts, sweating.
“Taking a walk.”
“Why didn’t you call me back last night?”
“I did, I left a message.”
“I don’t know, six.”
“I think my machine’s not working.”
“Get a new machine.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Well, I’m getting cold. Enjoy your walk.”
That’s how it went. I thought I was supposed to be the dick, but she stole all my lines.
We were into May, and I started having to draw the shades to block the sun out, to get some sleep. Every night, another goddamned sunset. A message on my machine, a message on hers.
She started warming up after I told her I was done. She thought I was bluffing at first, but if you want to know stubborn, try me on for size. Then came the sketches: a still life with a couple of pears, a poem. The long messages, the spaces between the words, the hurt. She really had it in her, but just needed a good shove to let it out.