The Emerald Light in the Air

Free The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim

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Authors: Donald Antrim
couples supposed to laugh together? Sniffling, he said, “What do I know? I’m sorry.”
    â€œDon’t apologize,” she said, and whispered, consolingly, “It’s all right. It’s all right.” Then she confided, “I wear a beret.”
    â€œNo, you don’t.”
    â€œYes, I do.”
    When they kissed, the metallic taste that he remembered from the bench by the Hudson, and which he’d found himself worrying over up in his room, was gone. Maybe it had been neutralized by the fish. They set their plates on the floor beneath the window. He’d expected her to be nervous with him—at what point might she leap up and end the evening with some excuse or other?—and this made him vigilant and clumsy as he unbuttoned her blouse and felt behind her back for the hooks fastening her bra. She helped him with the hooks and her shirt’s bottom buttons, and she raised her arms, allowing him to unwrap her. He grabbed her hand and one of her ankles, twisting her toward him. She clutched his shirt, yanked its tail from his pants, fiercely untucking him. Behind her was the big window with its skyline view. What would it be like to come home to that?
    They got up on the bed, on the pillows, and could hear Siegfried and Brunhilda snapping at the food they’d left on their plates. It was obscene, he thought, this noisy feline licking, and yet he feared that getting up and clearing the plates to the sink might be interpreted as an act of antiseptic fastidiousness, explicitly anti-sexual. He pinned her shoulders to the mattress and leaned down to bite her nipple. Though he did not yet know her body, what pressures to apply, where to linger and for how long, he managed, in spite of his worry that she would find him awkward, to hold her in a way that felt—this was something he sensed—soothing to them both. That said, it was true that she, too, passed through moments of dread. It had always been this way with her. Her heart raced, her skin got a prickly feeling, and she was forced to concentrate on breathing deeply.
    Right before he pulled out and came, he looked down and caught her gazing out the window at the Empire State. He brushed her hair off her forehead, lowered his mouth to her ear, and whispered, “Are you with me, Jennifer? Are you there? Are you there, Jennifer?” This got her attention. His quiet murmuring so turned them on that it immediately became repertoire, their version of “Fuck me, fuck me.”
    Afterward, she told Christopher some, but not all, of the truth of her childhood. She was afraid, though without having a clear idea why, that if she confessed too much, if she reported in full her memories of her father coming drunk into her room at night, she’d lose him. He’d sat in his underwear in a chair beside her bed, her father had, or, she said to Christopher, sometimes right on the bed, and he’d told her again and again how he loved her, and how he wished the two of them could pack their things, right this minute, and drive away together to some remote place where she’d never hear vicious fighting from the other side of the door. It would be simple. But she had to choose. Would she come with him? her father had asked her, before leaning in close and putting his arms around her neck and weeping. She would always remember the smell of his breath when he’d been drinking.
    Christopher listened politely, then, sighing—his turn, once again, to show her that he could face up to his own history—confided in a whisper that he had never been anything but a goddamn disappointment to his family, and that no matter how hard he’d tried, he’d never escaped or really even understood his role as a clown, as a fool, but that he’d finally made up his mind that it didn’t matter, that their opinion of him wasn’t going to bother him forever. She asked him, then, whether they drank, his parents, and he,

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