Ken Zuroski

When I first saw her, she was walking through the park on a warm summer day. She was wearing a long dress and a small piece of multicolored twine around her wrist as a bracelet. I was alone, watching people in the crowd. She was surrounded by her friends and didn't notice me.

Half a year passed; we were introduced through a friend of a friend. Then one night as I was working late, the phone rang. I picked it up and it was her, asking me to dinner in a wobbly voice.

"You know," I said, "I think I'm going to take you up on that."

Over dinner, she told me that she didn't believe in God and that her favorite singer was Dylan. She had been in a terrible motorcycle accident when she was young, and now she didn't drive. She was studying to be a biomedical engineer. Also, her Walkman headphones weren't working and did I think I could fix them? I told her to bring them by tomorrow and I'd have a look.

I grew accustomed to waking with her body next to mine. She would always entwine herself about me, her head on my chest. Late at night, I would lie motionless, listening to the sound of her beating heart; somehow I was reassured.

"Who will love me when I'm old and bald?" I asked rhetorically, one day, gazing grimly into a mirror at my receding hairline.

I felt a kiss on the back of my head. "It's good luck to kiss your lover's bald spot," she said, laughing. And, after a moment, I laughed too.

At a bar one time, I sat on a stool, fidgeting nervously and watching as she, with sublime nonchalance, beat an astonished steelworker at a game of pool: one ball after another vanishing into the pockets in rapid succession, the challenger standing there furious, his swagger evaporated, his pride depleted.

We visited some friends who owned a cabin in the mountains. The hour was late, but she was anxious to begin the return trip; she had an exam to study for the next day. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but we climbed into my truck, pulled onto the highway, and headed for home.

She fell asleep immediately, her head in my lap. I drove alone through the empty country roads. The panel-lights glowed yellow- green; outside the truck, all was darkness.

I grew tired. I could barely hold my head aright. The truck was swerving and the lines on the highway blurred; I had to pull over to sleep. I switched the engine off, and the night was very still. I lay my head back and closed my eyes.

She stirred, and I felt a kiss on my knee. "Someone cares," I heard her sleepy voice say.

I peered up into the sky. Overhead, the stars blazed furiously -- hundreds, thousands, billions. "I care, Sue, very much," I said, and stroked her hair; but she was already asleep.

Then one day she came to me -- it doesn't really matter where. She hesitated for a moment, and then said uncertainly: "I don't feel the same way I used to."

I stared for a while at the tabletop, then at the floor. Then I stormed from the room, slamming the door open with the flat of my hand. I strode away with giant, prideful steps. I heard her call my name, but I didn't look back.

We had one or two more telephone conversations after that. Toward the end of the last, she began to cry. I was astonished. I said: "Why are you crying?"

"Because I love you," she wailed.

"If we love each other," I said, "then we can work it out." But she hung up a moment later.

Ken Zuroski is currently completing the requirements for a Ph.D. in Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon, where he is studying the "folk psychologies" of graphic designers. He steals time from his thesis to write works of lugubrious fiction. (Bio last updated in 1992.)

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Ken Zuroski.