Seth went back out to his garden, and I…
I made waffles.
This is the order of things.
He had gotten up, gotten dressed. Put on his blue cardigan.
I knitted that cardigan. Years ago. I like to think that he wears it so often because he is attached to it, because he is attached to me, because he likes the thought of something of my making so close to his heart.
His garden is visible through the windows, and he is there with his cardigan and his khakis, bending down to tend to his plants.
I’d asked him if he was hungry. He said no. But I was. And I was unsettled. Restless. So I made waffles.
I look at the hair on the back of his hands. His fingers move softly and slowly over the leaves of his plants, and I shiver.
The clock on the wall behind me chimes. It’s late. Too late for waffles really, but I needed them. It’s not every day that Seth looks up from his work, that he notices me. That he touches me.
I remember his fingers sliding across my skin, and I shiver again.
I put the rest of the waffles in the refrigerator. Maybe Seth can have them in the morning, if he wants.
The clock ticks. The refrigerator hums.
I have to get out of here.
The sun is almost down now. Crickets are chirping, children are squealing in the park, and it smells like someone is cooking out.
I listen to the crickets for a while. I try to ignore the children.
I want to hear his voice. I want to know that this afternoon was real, that it wasn’t a dream, that it was really him, his fingers and his skin and his mouth, and not the shadow flowing over me as I slept.
I feel the tiniest bit of chill. I think about telling him about it. Years ago, before the fire, he would have laughed. Offered me his cardigan. I would have joked about his secret internal heater.
He’s never cold.
On the outside, anyway.
Sometimes I imagine vast caverns of ice hidden inside that blue cardigan. I imagine myself walking through them, my breath a puff of smoke on the air, and the walls glisten and I slip on the frozen cave floor, and always ahead of me I see his shoes, his pants, his cardigan, his brown hair. I run and run through giant rooms of ice, around stalagmites, past small cave trolls with candles on their heads. But I never reach him.
Also the small cave trolls keep yelling “You no take candle!” I’m not sure what that part means.
I say his name, and my breath doesn’t show on the warm evening air, and I wonder if he will turn to me and say “You no take cardigan!”
He stands up and turns to face me. His eyes are clear.
He’s looking at me. He’s seeing me. He even looks a bit happy.
I’d take that damn cardigan right now except there are people in the park.
I realize I hadn’t planned what to say. I just…I wanted to know that he was real, that I was real. I wanted to know that the shadow was not real.
I wanted out of the house.
“So, umm. Did you want to go out tonight?”
He looks down. He doesn’t say anything.
I’ve broken him.
I should have been satisfied with this afternoon. I shouldn’t have asked for more. I should have stayed inside, with the clock and the refrigerator, and the shadow would have been there but it would have been my shadow, not his. He could have stayed out here with his plants, happy, and then later he would have come in and maybe he would have said things to me, nice things, and maybe he would have kissed me good night. Maybe his shadow would have stayed away.
I start babbling.
“It doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy. I saw a special in the newspaper today. A discount on a mixology class. We could go! It could be fun! You could learn how to make a Morcubus Molotov! I think that’s where you hold the glass, like this, and then you kind of shove it into a rag soaked with kerosene, and there’s napalm involved somewhere, and then you set it on fire! That sounds fun, right?”
He says, “Why would one drink napalm through a rag soaked in kerosene and then set on fire?”
I breathe out. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath.
“It does sound fun, but I can’t go out tonight. I’ve got an experiment that will be ready in an hour.”
I can’t help it. I try to hide it, but I can’t, and he sees my face fall.
“Does this mixology class happen again tomorrow night?”, he asks, his voice tender, and I shake my head no.
“Well, maybe we can do something else later this week, okay? And if you do still want to go out tonight, I need something from Aleister’s. You could go get it for me.”
The alchemy shop. I’ve never been there.
I want to mope and be petulant. I want to put out my lower lip. I want to make him leave his experiment and come to the class with me. But I know I can’t. I can’t risk breaking him. I haven’t heard him use a tone of voice like this in years.
I look up at him. He’s looking at me, my Seth, the one I remember, and I can see on his face that he cares, that he’s disappointed too.
So maybe I don’t get to drink napalm through a burning rag with him tonight. Still, I get this. I get to talk to him. I get to see him look at me like he used to, before the fire.
And I get to go out, and not be stuck inside with the clock and the refrigerator and the emptiness and the shadow. And maybe later this week I’ll go out again, and he’ll be with me then.
“So,” I say, “what do you need?”
“Kerosene, napalm, matches, an old rag, and a nicely shaped bottle,” he answers.
I look at him, and he laughs. He laughs.
I imagine the ice caverns breaking apart. The cave trolls dodge the falling stalactites, clutching their candles. I stand in the middle of one of the giant rooms of ice, my arms held out, and he comes, and he doesn’t disappear, and he holds me, and the ice cracks and breaks apart and recedes, and the caverns disintegrate around us.
My Seth. Mine.
Back where he belongs.