At dinner she told me we were going to a precipitation-themed party. I’d picked the restaurant, as per our agreement, and the party was up to her.
Our waiter was funny. He had this game going where he pretended the kitchen was some kind of war zone, and when he brought us our food, he did so by crawling on one hand across the floor, the tray raised high in the other. Once the final plate made it onto our table, he feigned a last breath and curled up beside our feet, eyes wide and blank. I tried feeding him a bite of crêpe, but his mouth didn’t open.
“I know,” she said, then got down on the floor and shouted in his ear, “You are alive!”
The waiter sprang up and took a series of rapid breaths, leaning against the wall for support.
“Thank you,” he gasped.
After dinner she led me to a graffitied door in back of an old building with a row of umbrellas lined up next to it. She picked one up and knocked on the door, answered promptly by a suited man wearing an umbrella hat.
“Cheating,” she hissed at him playfully.
With our hands overlapped on the umbrella handle, we stepped inside the entryway and were directed to the dimly lit room beyond, filled with people huddled close underneath their umbrellas, talking and dancing. A stereo sat in the middle of the room, emitting simulated rain sounds. We strode onto the floor and began to sway, her second hand on my shoulder, my second hand floating towards her hip and closing around it. I asked about the bowls of water placed at the corners of the room and she explained that they were there for realism; if anyone stepped outside the cover of their umbrellas, they could dip their fingers in and dab themselves on the head. It was an honor-system type of arrangement.
After another slow dance, she whispered into my ear and we threw our umbrella to the floor and began dancing in scattered, ecstatic motions. Everyone pointed in faux-disapproval and called on the hose to be employed. A minute later, the man with the umbrella hat, a red fire hose in his grasp, called us to the center of the floor and told everyone else to spread out. Our violation constituted more than bowl dabs, he declared, and we had only ourselves to blame for what was about to happen. We nodded bravely and told him to do what he must. The water shot out in a mighty gush and flooded us for a good five seconds, soaking us through. We wiped our eyes and our mouths shivered with laughter and our bodies shivered with cold and a clash of thunder boomed on the stereo as we leaned together and kissed.
We held hands and walked through a series of narrow backstreets with Chinese lanterns strewn low across the night, glowing soft and amber just over our heads. I felt buoyant, as if my every move was taking place within an abstract painting, the world made malleable. I mentioned in passing that I needed her phone number, and we paused as she took a piece of chalk out of her pocket and scrawled it on the wall, eliciting a buzzing noise from her bag.
“My phone’s on antique mode,” she explained, “it only responds to written dialing.”
I dug around for a gum wrapper in my pocket and copied down the number. Her bag hummed again.
“And if it’s really important–” she said, then added an exclamation point after the number on the wall. Her phone reverberated louder. I laughed and took the chalk from her, tacking on three exclamation points and a question mark. The buzzing was raucous, with a hint of uncertainty.
“I don’t want to be like other people dating,” she said as we went along.
“Me neither,” I agreed.
“How can we stop that?”
I considered. “For starters,” I said, “I won’t ask your favorite food, or favorite music, or favorite anything.”
“I want to know the food you are most neutral about. The music you don’t hate or love. What makes you swell with indifference.”
She thought. “Eggs,” she said. “Punk. And stainless steel appliances!”
“Good,” I said. “I’m getting to know you in reverse.”
“By process of cancellation,” she added.
We stopped in front of a door in the ground and she fished a key out of her bag, kneeling down and turning the lock to reveal a small black hole in the earth. I followed her down the ladder that hung within until we reached her living room, a dome-like space bordered on three sides by rows of people sitting in theatre seats. They clapped and whistled upon seeing us and she sighed and went around to each section of seating, pulling over long red curtains.
“Ah c’mon!” someone shouted.
“Kiss!” someone said.
“Do more than kiss!” added another.
She returned to me and frowned apologetically.
“I was born with an audience,” she said, blushing. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I shook my head slowly, then put my hands over her ears and kissed her again.
“The bedroom is better,” she said, her voice free of innuendo, as if she was simply stating a fact. Jazz music swelled as we approached her door, erupting into a chorus of trumpet, saxophone, and bass when she opened it. I nodded at the band standing on the stage within the wall before she closed another curtain on them. They cut the song short and began to play something slow and melodic, piano-heavy.
We sat on the edge of her bed, which felt rubbery and viscous, wiggling beneath us like electrified gum. She rubbed her hands on the mattress, then ran her fingers through my hair, causing it to stand on end.
“A gag gift from my friend,” she said. “It prevents the quick departure.”
She guided me down with her staticky palm and our bodies molded together as if we were clay, limbs playing to the tune of a horny puppeteer.
When it was over I found myself stuck to the mattress, which had twisted into a C-shape during the course of our sex, both of us now pinned firmly to the arch at the top. She laughed at my surprise and brushed her hand, the only part of her that she could move freely, across my cheek.
“It will wear out in a few hours,” she said.
The jazz band had gone quiet, but at one end of the wall I could see the edge of a tuba peeking out from the curtain.
“If I could live in this night forever,” I said, “I would.”
“Don’t,” she whispered. “Store it away somewhere, then live another with a thousand different details.”
“But one same detail.”
“Kittens are disgusting.”
I thought. “Love is a myth.”
“Do you really think that?”
“No,” I said. “Process of cancellation.”
“Right,” she nodded as best she could.
Hours later, our bodies broke from the bed and fell onto the lower arch of the C before the mattress unfurled. In the living room, the audience applauded from behind the curtains as she followed me up to the top of the ladder, where I leaned over the hole and said goodbye. I closed the door and stood as the last drop of water fell from my jacket and my clothes went dry.
Timothy Day enjoys bad puns, stuffed animals with ambiguous expressions, and the sight of abandoned furniture in natural settings. His fiction has appeared or is upcoming in magazines such as Menacing Hedge, Jersey Devil Press, Burrow Press Review, The Apple Valley Review, WhiskeyPaper, and others. Thanks for reading his story. On an unrelated note, Timothy almost left the house without socks on today, but then he got cold feet.
Lead image: “first date” (via Flickr user yumikrum)