Spring again, and soon to come, my holiday from work to be spent visiting Adam. Our phone calls had become weekly, and there was a note of longing in both our voices. The silly train-of-thought conversations turned into verbal caresses, the words innocuous, the intent as charged with heat as a bed of coals.
One night at the end of February, I dreamed about Adam, some vague images of his shoulders and neck, and of reaching for him in the moonlight. I awoke with agonizing frustration, so sexually aroused by the fleeting dream that my body hurt. Rubbing my feverish arms across the cool, achingly empty sheets of my bed, I knew that I would make frenzied love to him the very next chance I got.
I called him the next day, Friday (it being my turn, he having called at the appointed time, seven-thirty in the evening on Friday the week before) and told him the dates for my long March weekend. "I was thinking about flying down on Thursday night after work, instead of taking the bus, so we could spend more time together? And then get a later flight back Sunday evening?"
"God, that sounds wonderful. I can´t wait. That´s Thursday, the 19th? Do you have your tickets yet?" Oh, that mellow, cello voice, and the rasp of anticipation in it making me burn.
"No, I wanted to hear what you thought..."
There was a longer pause than usual; neither of us knowing how to get to the real question. He was cleverer than I, but his voice still caught on the first word, as though his throat had gone dry. "Do you...want me to make reservations for you at the usual motel?" He was forcing his throat into trying to sound light and easy.
My chest was so tight I could hardly speak aloud. "What do you think I should do?" I whispered.
"I think...we could talk about it here? I could make you supper at my apartment?" A pause, waiting for me to refuse. But I was simmering in a vat of desire, and would not tell him no. "Maybe -- spaghetti?"
I swallowed, wrestling with a desire to moan, and breathed, "What, no souffle?"
There was a relief in his voice, and now a gaiety, too. He had his answer. "You know, I´ve always wondered what was in those things. Have you ever eaten a souffle?"
Drunk. Dizzy. This is really going to happen. "I think they have about a dozen eggs in them."
"Really? What color? Brown or white eggs? Are you talking about the ones where you throw out the yolks and just use the whites? Or is it the other way around?" Off we go again, the real business resolved, waiting out the hours and minutes with silly chatter until the world would change.
On towards sundown, I decided to go outside. The idea of dying indoors was repugnant to me; I wanted to face Death in the open air, free, unashamed of my fear. I wanted to look this death right in the face, not receive the Unwelcome Guest secondhand from falling bricks or churning smoke.
We were all going to die; there was no escape. On a pretty summer hillside, with the oblivious birds swooping from tree to tree, chirping and calling, and pink-tinged cumulus clouds in the robin´s egg sky, Death sat waiting for the appointed hour.
Six months before, the evening news had announced an astronomical event the likes of which the world had never seen. Better than a comet, better than an asteroid, a whole planet never before seen was passing through our solar system, and would be visible from Earth. Anyone with a pair of binoculars would be able to see it as it passed!
Instant speculation: will the gravitational effects cause greater sunspot activity? What part of the sky should be searched to see the passing stranger? Is it a planet with life? Will the stock market fall or rise?
A month passes, and not another word from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or NASA. And another month. And then, through phone calls and e-mails, a different kind of news about the passing planetoid. It will be too close for comfort.
The government was besiged day and night by phone calls demanding an end to the silence. Where are pictures from the space station? From the Hubble telescope? Preachers lashed their congregations with demands for repentance to avert any calamity. And then the government spoke. "We know that the planetoid commonly called "The Traveller" will pass through our solar system. Studies indicate that it will pass relatively close by the Earth, but we are not certain how close, and we do not yet know what effect the passage of The Traveller will have, if any. We will keep you informed of any developments."
A defector from NASA went public. "This thing´s going to either hit us or pass by us so close it won´t make any difference. I´m sorry, this is the end." And then he went out under the stars that night and blew his brains out with an automatic weapon he had duct-taped between his teeth, not wishing to even chance survival.
A panic of buying as people stocked up on water, gas, firewood, rice, ammunition. Prices rose as people gouged from their brothers and sisters every penny they could get. Spices, gold jewelry, antibiotics, all in short supply. Four-wheel drive vehicles were selling like hotcakes; Cadillacs sat in the lots and gathered dust and rust.
By the time the great astronomical event was four weeks away, the world knew that it was doomed, at least those who had access to radio and television. Many still hoarded their hoards, but many more put down their swords, their plows, their pens and their calculators, and looked about them at all the people they had never bothered to know. It was important now to hear everyone´s story, to touch them, to hold them, to receive their tears, to give tears back in return.
And this was the very day. Death was here, in my garden, in my kitchen. I put my dog Gabe on his leash, and we began to walk. We walked through the streets of the city, and the streets weren´t empty; people were still going to each other´s houses, and congregating in bars or churches, depending on the persons´ viewpoint, and Death was smiling fondly at them all. Gabe and I paused in front of a bar called "Danny´s", where music and shouting blared loudly past the red neon lights. I stood there, listening to the sound of People, for a short time, but tired of Death tapping his foot to the beat, and then my big black dog and I climbed the hill that overlooked the city, watching the northern sky lit with the westering sun´s rays.
"My boy," I said to Gabe as I stroked his great dark head. "I loved you so. You´ve been a good, good boy." I took off his leash and collar, though I held on to his thick neck fur to greedily keep him close for as long as possible. I sat on the cool grass, and pulled him close, kissing the top of his head and treasuring the soft sweet ears.
In silence, a great shape began to move across the sky. I could see the sphere of The Traveller moving in, moving more quickly than I thought it would, a world colored by clouds of its own, swirling pastel colors, hazy as it began to push our atmosphere. The gravitational effects were beginning, and I felt lighter, as if I could leap into the air and sail fifty feet. Then, swirling bits of torn leaves and scattering the birds, the wind began to rise.
I awoke with tears of grief streaming down my face.
I bought my plane tickets for my flight to San Diego the day after I called Adam, and shook while I signed the check, and shook when I put the tickets in my purse, and shook all the way back to my apartment afterwards. I drove to San Francisco that week and shopped for beautiful lacy underwear and a gorgeous black nightgown. A soft, golden beige dress with a black safari pattern and a woven jute belt, and high heeled sandals. I went to a Clinique make-up counter and had them make me over so that I could learn how to be as attractive to Adam as he was to me. And of course I shook all the way on the short flight from San Franciso Airport to San Diego a couple days later.
I scooped up my carry-on, which had in it all that I needed, and walked up the chute to the terminal. Will he really be there? Am I making a big mistake? Please, let him be there and I will make this mistake right up to my eyebrows!
He was standing, waiting for me, focused on the departure gate like a bird dog who knows the quail are in the grass before him. And simply, simply the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. He was wearing a slate blue shirt with a slightly lighter tie, and grey slacks. Do I even remember how to loosen a man´s tie? We were both like Christmas presents, wrapped to feast the eyes and heighten the eagerness to tear all those wrappings off. His blue eyes were dark with the reflection of his shirt and with hunger, but I knew that it was not for the afore-promised spaghetti. As I drew close to him, his gaze refocused to include admiration. "You look gorgeous." He took my bag from me and slung the strap over his shoulder, and took my hand. Oh, this was as good as any fairy tale.
In his car, conversation was strained, small wonder, and he drove a bit too fast. By the gleam of oncoming headlights, I could see a sheen of sweat on his forehead, and was glad that Adam could be as affected as I was. His right hand was on my left thigh, and every so often he would move it a little higher, a little lower, and both our breaths quickened.
At the door to his apartment on the second story, he rattled his keys trying to find the right one. The door opened; we stepped inside the dark room. "Here," he said, putting down my little carry-on bag, "Let me get the light."
I put my hand on his arm. "No. No light. Not now."
The city lights cast a faint illumination through the windows that faced down town. His face was turned toward me, his lips parted. I put my hand on his waist, and felt his arms move around me. We kissed, and revelling in the taste of his mouth, I was thrilled to feel him trembling with his desire. Then he bent quickly, to my surprise, and picked me up as if I weighed nothing, and carried me in the dim light to his bed.