In the cafeteria, homesick, I poked at my carrots and dragged a hunk of oily chicken through a lump of stuffing on my plate. You sat beside an oaf named Kent and when I looked at your face my hands shook, and my food tumbled down the tines of my fork. But that night, at the Freshman Dance, you sat beside me and told me my shoes were all wrong. Later, you kissed me beside the statue of Henry David Thoreau on the steps of the library and said, I like you Barry Fields, and I said, Harry, and you said, Harry Fields? and I said, My dad’s sort of an asshole.
Our dorm overlooked the Charles River, and in the winter, after sex, and it wasn’t great and I apologize for that, we’d smoke cigarettes and watch the skaters. We’d talk in whispers and cup the ash in our hands. Cars lined the riverbank, headlights on. Couples wearing long wool coats and mittens mingled in spotlights, or at least that’s how it seemed, beside you, on the fourteenth floor of our dorm. We were freshmen, and most nights you slept beside me in my T-shirt with the words Billy’s Boats written in block letters across your chest. We could never sleep through the whole night, entwined, but we tried because that’s what people do.
At the New England Aquarium, late March, we drank too much and argued in front of the stingrays. And then we squabbled in the train on the way back to our dorm. You talked about your sister, and how badly you felt for her children. All those drugs, you said. Our elevator got stuck between the eighth and ninth floors, and you kicked the door and shouted, Move, move, move, and I said, It’s not the door’s fault, Julie.
In spring, Ralph and Eddie hauled their gigantic speakers to the roof, and played Motown records until it got dark. Across the street, the transvestite prostitutes opened their windows and danced along. We slow danced to Smokey Robinson, and we groped the way we used to grope. We knew it was over, or we knew it would be over soon, or maybe that’s just something I tell myself now to excuse the way I acted, back then.
We only took one class together, photography 101, and in the Commons, you snapped a few hundred pictures of couples in spring, on blankets, on swan boats, sharing food. You called the series Mirage but later when I saw your pictures lined up on the wall, I saw nothing but the dreaminess, the gigantic moons, the curved hands on homely faces. In my favorite picture, two women stood with their foreheads pressed together. They looked like Siamese twins, separated by science, longing for reattachment.
Jeff Landon’s short fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Crazyhorse, Another Chicago Magazine, phoebe, Other Voices and other places. He has also published many shorter pieces as well as two short books: Emily Avenue (fast forward press) and Truck Dance (matter press). He lives with his family and teaches In Richmond, Virginia.