“The very thought of it sets my heart aflutter.”
She repeated herself. He looked at her with his eyes narrowed and his lips curled so that they almost made a question mark shape lying sideways across his face. “Aflutter?” he asked. Really? He wanted to add but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
They were talking about their next trip. Perhaps taking the train across country: a sleeper car, the long stretches of the American prairie, Manhattan far behind them. The Amtrak eventually became a sports car—something convertible and zippy but dependable, not like that junk Fiat Spyder he’d driven as a youth, back when she knew him mostly by sight, though more than once, by the sight of him standing beside that car on the side of the road. Sure, they’d met a few times at house parties, but they ran with different crowds in high school. More to the point, she ran with a crowd, and he ran alone.
They met again at an office party for Smith, Barnstone & Richards, the law firm where her then boyfriend and his then girlfriend worked. They were introduced. There weren’t fireworks. There wasn’t instant attraction. They realized they’d gone to the same high school. There was talking. They became social media friends. There was more talking. Eventually he broke up with the lawyer. Eventually she broke up with the accountant. They talked their way through their disappointments. Somewhere along the way they kissed, first on the cheek, then intimately.
She’d remembered him as a loner, and she could see this in him from time to time—how he disappeared for a weekend and when asked what he’d been up to, he’d say Nothing. Just needed some me time. He had friends, surely, and she met them all: a small, close knit cabal who seemed to think they knew it all. With her friends he was always amiable, always engaged, though she could tell his smile was turned just a little too loud, his laugh trigger was a little more ready to fire. She was grateful for this.
She liked the way she felt in his arms the first time he’d held her not as a friend, the breadth of his body against her. Before then his arms had always seemed a little loose around her shoulders, but all that changed, and she thought of that hug, often, particularly when he was gone inside of himself. He always returned as if from a cave, eyes blinking, grateful, as if her presence was the sun itself.
Still, she was the kind of woman to say that something set her heart aflutter, and he, he wasn’t keen on such drippy sentimentality. He produced rock albums for a living, and he was known for telling lyricists that their songs needed another draft or five. He had told one gold record frontman, “You sound like you’re writing for fucking Pat Boone not 16 year olds with piercings.” He made a name for himself as a kind of alt-rock curmudgeon. That alter ego like a secret identity, she only caught a glimpse of him at times like this.
She knew it was all a pose. And she knew that to call him a poseur was the greatest insult. She knew inside he was the consistency of escargots. She knew what he’d told her about his high school sweet heart, about his mother, about she herself. This was the kind of intimacy that she felt lucky to have found, and if he wanted to hide it in some leather jacket of self protection that was his prerogative. He came home, and when he walked through that door, that motorcycle jacket was placed on its hanger, its heavy arms almost fluttering in the wake of the closet door.
Gerry LaFemina’s numerous collections of poetry include The Parakeets of Brooklyn, Vanishing Horizon, and Little Heretic. His collection of essays on poets and prosody, Palpable Magic, came out in 2015 from Stephen F Austin University Press and his textbook, Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically was recently released from Kendall Hunt. A new book of poems, The Story of Ash, is forthcoming this year. He teaches at Frostburg State University and as a mentor in the MFA Program at Carlow University.