In a Nutshell

        Two hours into the party, Jesse felt sufficiently lubricated by alcohol and microdosing with ecstasy to hold forth and work his conversational charms on a thirtyish woman who acted amused by his banter, by his clownish flirtation mixed with self-deprecation.

        “So what do you do?” Amelia tilted her head, as if studying him askew might crack the enigma of identity.

        “You mean now, or at any given moment?” He sighed. “I can't answer that.”

        “Sure, we're not defined by our jobs. But in Manhattan, where and how we live is.”

        “I stare at a computer all day.” Jesse smirked. “Okay, advertising. But is that going to convince you to leave this party with me?”

        “You must be high.” She chortled. “I didn't come here to go home with anyone...”

        “Of course not. We suffer these parties filled with bogus festivity to feel alive, to have our jokes laughed at. We briefly imagine a better life ahead, instead of the same one continuing--day after day. A long, but not long enough slog toward death.”

        “You read much Samuel Beckett?”

        “And your profession?”

        “Publishing. I'm an editor.”

        “See? We're killing our possibilities word by word. On paper, there is absolutely nothing sexy about an advertising guy and a female editor.”

        “Seriously?” Amelia frowned. “So what do you propose?”

        Jesse guzzled his gin. “I propose to describe our future together as I see it. Game?”

        “You're insane. Well, if it's not too depressing.”

        “We flirt here, and I'm extra funny, so you laugh a lot, and we drink more than we planned since we're enjoying whatever spell our commingling words have created. I suggest continuing at my apartment. You say no, let's go to your place, because you can control things, and there's a Senegalese doorman who'd protect you if my happy-go-lucky demeanor turned psycho. Once on your couch, we're making out, but you insist you never do this and we should call it a night, so I prepare to leave, but we kiss at the door, thrusting, practically grinding our pelvises into each other's. At that point, we stagger sideways into your unmade bed—which you apologize for—however, I've been imagining you undressed since we met, erections rising and falling like lost empires. By the time we claw at each other, naked and laughing, my launch sequence is engaged. Within two minutes or less, I'm done: limp and distraught, while you're stunned, aroused, confused. I try to salvage matters with my fingers, but overall, the night ends in disaster.”

        “Really?” Amelia laughed. “Then what?”

        “Voicemails and texts follow. You consider us unsuitable partners, though you see friendship potential. Somehow I wrangle another date. After dinner, the night builds to a brilliant performance by both of us. Unbeknownst to you, I cleared the snorkel in the afternoon, so I wouldn't jump the gun, then swallowed Niacin to keep my blood flowing. Afterwards, we tell jokes, sing bits of songs, and when approaching the brink of sleep, we have at it one more time.”

        “A month later, you move in to my place, because you like the zip code and subway proximity. Our honeymoon period stretches to six months and though I had been considering asking, you say: isn't it time we get serious about this? I turn silent and moody for a week, just for drama, then I propose at a trendy spot on Union Square, where our red wine turns to champagne toasts.”

        “That's sweet.” Amelia smiled.

        “We soon become comfortable in marriage. Too comfortable. You gain fifteen pounds and eschew makeup altogether, while I let my hair grow out stringy and unflattering, and harvest a sizable beer belly. We argue over Netflix and HBO shows. I admit that castles and dragons really aren't my thing, then you snore loudly when I watch Swedish crime series with subtitles. We both write novels, but our relationship has turned so routine we aren't even writing about one another. We take separate vacations hoping absence will make us yearn to be together. My sperm count is low; your eggs aren't fertile. Children are out of the question unless we adopt. I want an Asian boy because I joke he'll be smart and make money--”

        “That's crass.”

        “Exactly what you'll say,” Jesse replied. “You would prefer adopting a Nigerian girl. We agree on neither. Our parents die, relatives come and go. We're both unfaithful. My affairs mean nothing beyond a mid-life crisis. You, on the other hand, fall in love while editing brilliant writers who are cads like me. They use you and return to their lovers or wives, or even to celibacy in pursuit of literary perfection. We separate, move to opposite coasts, but reunite years later realizing that no one else understands our idiosyncrasies or gets our sense of humor. We end up an elderly couple holding hands on benches of traffic islands on Upper Broadway. College sweethearts and young marrieds pass by, secretly hoping that one day they will in fact become us, never knowing what it took to get there.”

        “Wow.” Amelia's eyes widened.

        An African American woman approached and put her arm around Amelia. “The Uber's outside. Ready to head back to Brooklyn?”

        “Jesse, my partner Sharise,” Amelia said. “Amusing anecdote. Quite an imagination.”

        Jesse pondered her words. “Do you take unsolicited novels?”

        Amelia waved while moving with Sharise toward the front door.

        Jesse joined the dwindling guests at the bar to swallow the last finger of gin from a Tanqueray bottle. A waif-like woman with a pixie haircut watched.

        She laughed through her nostrils. “What's your story, dude?”

        “Can I tell you about our life together, starting from this very moment?”

        “Frank needs to hear this too...”

*

        Jesse woke up outside in the drizzle before dawn, head throbbing, body sore, and memory uncertain regarding his recent past.

End


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Max Talley was born in New York City and currently lives in Southern California. His novel, Yesterday We Forget Tomorrow, was published in 2014. Talley's short fiction has appeared in Del Sol Review, Hofstra University - Windmill, Gold Man Review, and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Fiction Southeast. He is a contributing editor to Luna Review.