We sat back in our respective seats; me, more comfortable and relieved, him, seemingly waiting for something. I twisted the straw in my pocket and tried to think of innocuous conversation starters but felt the silence wash over us. I wondered what he was thinking. He watched the fire.
“This is the perfect time for brandy,” he said.
“May I take my shoes off?”
He turned back to me and I didn’t want him watching me. I didn’t want to take them off but they were heavy, wet. His eyes first fell to my fingernails: stubs, dirty probably, as they reached towards my laces. I am used to throwing my shoes off without untying them: hitting the back of the ankle with my other pleather toe. But when being watched I am more careful, performing the action rather than living it. I untied my left shoe slowly and he watched me. There was no sound outside so between us just a fire crackling and the faint sound of my hand lifting the heel of my boot off of my foot and the light tumble to the floor. He turned his head back to the fire. I began to untie the other shoe in stark silence. An uncertainty lay between us.
“Do you have any brandy?” I asked.
“I wish,” he didn’t look at me. ‘You drink?’
A little clunk to the floor to break the tension.
“I wish,” I raised my arms above my head and stretched my feet out, moving my toes up and down. “Moments like this I wouldn’t mind. I prefer whiskey though.”
“Oh yeah?” his eyes turning to befall my pointed toes.
“Yeah. Or wine.”
He turned his body to face me. He was attractive. Kind of like a cabin man: boring khaki colored uniform, sad eyes, full thick beard and full head of hair. Handsome without peacocking, no issues attracting women but an arrant bore and slightly off-putting with his distance. Something about him stirred trepidation in me. His house had no pictures or relics of memory, at least that I could see. Maybe he hid everything. This isn’t the time of Dionysus or chalices but to be careful and severe. And warm. I was a stranger. But he was a stranger too. I wiggled my outstretched fingers and set my feet back on the floor.
“You ever been married?”
Try not to be so short.
I coughed, “I’ve been close. Once or twice. Nothing too serious.’
“You said you just moved here?”
“Colorado?” He straightened himself and leaned forward. “Why would you leave such a beautiful place like that?”
I threw my arms up. My ankles were crossed, legs outstretched, feet yearning for the fire. I placed my hands back on the top of my thighs and sat leaning forward too so we were facing each other, fire in the background. I was on the edge of my seat as was he. What else?
“When did you move here?”
“About two months ago.”
“Where do you live now?”
“ A few blocks, on the edge of Society Hill.’
I waved my hand towards the window.
I shrugged, “To be honest, I am still learning the lay of the land.”
“What’s your address?”
Uh-uh. Timidly, I shook my head biting my bottom lip.
“Of course. You don’t know me.”
He interjected, “No, you should be careful. I can reassure you I won’t hurt you but my reassurance is lip service.”
He turned back to the fire. I looked at the floor. Ask about the painting. But I don’t care.
“Did you paint that?”
“What? That?” He pointed to the painting. “No, I bought that at an auction.”
Don’t ask him how much.
“It was 7500.”
I bit my tongue.
“Sorry, that’s tacky.”
“Oh, no, I mean, it’s large. Oil?”
We both stared at it.
I have to stay the night here.
I have to keep talking.
The fire crackled and I was already hungry again.“My name is Ava,” I reiterate. “Ava Allinger.”
“Tom. Tom Pearson. Sorry, I never said my name.”
“It’s ok. I never told you my last name. It’s nice to meet you, Tom.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Ava Allinger.”
I wish I had some wine or a joint or a friend here. I reach my hand in my pocket to touch the straw as we sit in silence, running over our stories in our head and our names. Not our names, but the other’s name. Deftly, I sit but in my mind I maunder.