Remember, back then? How we always lied?
Oh, I know, she said. She smiled, then laughed. It was horrible.
Wasn’t it? Jesus. I couldn’t take a piss without lying about it.
I couldn’t manage it either. She shook her head, smiling. Remember that time? About your sister being sick?
He laughed. I remember.
No, she said, I’m the one who remembers!
We both remember, he said.
I remember more.
Well, he said. He looked at his hands. You’re maybe right about that.
I don’t hold it against you, she said. Not anymore.
Thanks. I was worried.
He smiled. She smiled back.
He picked up his coffee and took a gulp, then crinkled his face and sucked in some air.
You know, there was one timeâ€¦ She stopped. She picked up her coffee, swirled it around in the cup.
He lifted his cup and blew across the rim, then took another gulp.
Damn, still too hot, he said.
I did it, too, she said. You knew, right? I thought you knew.
I did know.
We were too young, she said.
I was too young, he said. You were too beautiful. I couldn’t convince myself I deserved you.
She cocked her head to the left.
Is something ticking?
A clock somewhere?
He scanned the walls.
Behind the bar there? But you can hear that?
Big ears, she said. She smiled.
The waiter came to the table. He said something in German.
She looked at him. Do you want anything else? she said.
How about some wine?
Wine? At this time of day?
Oh, I don’t know what time of day it is.
Ok. But white? It’s too early for red.
Sure, white, perfect.
She looked at the waiter and said something in German.
I can’t believe you speak German, he said.
Not well, she said. But I get by.
I can’t square it, he said. Aren’t you Jewish, for chrissakes?
Ha, she said. Call it a reckoning with history.
The waiter came back carrying a small tray with a carafe of white wine and two squat stemmed glasses. He set the tray down and said something in German. When she responded, her mouth moved itself into unfamiliar shapes.
It sure is funny, he said.
It’s necessary, she said.
She poured the wine, spilling a little on the table. She wiped it with a napkin, then raised her glass. He clinked his against it. They each took a sip.
They sat for a while, watching the street through the window. There were some people on bikes, a few children walking, a dog running free. They finished the first glass and she poured some more.
So, he said. Maybe you’re wondering?
Well, she said. Not wondering, exactly. I was surprised. At first. But then it didn’t seem like such a surprise after all.
Even after all this time?
Even so. There wasâ€¦ something different about us.
Uh-oh, he said. Are you getting cosmic on me?
Not cosmic, she said. She smiled. It just didn’t endâ€¦ like an ending, I guess. And I’ve still never met anyone whoâ€¦
Well, he said. Me either.
Yeah. Plenty of fish and all, but-
I know, he said.
I bet you do. She tipped her glass to her lips and drained it. She poured again.
No wine this early, huh?
You bring it out, maybe.
Yikes, he said.
I’m kidding, she said. Really.
He smiled. She smiled again, but something looked different in her face this time. She twirled the glass a little, rolling her fingers around the stem and then sliding her thumb around the base.
Your hands look the same, he said.
No, my hands?
She held them out in front of her face and ran her eyes along their contours.
Old, she said. Like elephant skin.
I’m serious, he said.
Me too, she said. They look old to me.
Nothing about you looks old to me.
It does to me, she said. You too.
I look old?
Sorry. I don’t lie anymore.
Ha, he said. He looked into his glass.
I might still sometimes, he said, but not as much.
Well, she said. It’s an improvement.
Baby steps, he said.
I don’t know, I was thinking you might-
No, she said. Not today, but-. She stretched her arm out, turning her hand in a circle.
Oh, he said. Well, he said. He cleared his throat.
Well, he said again. I was thinking of playing that by ear.
She looked at him, slowly and closely, like he was a painting. She looked at his eyes, first one, then the other. Then at his nose, then his cheeks, and then his mouth. She looked at his chin, then back up at his eyebrows, then higher still, at his hairline.
She pressed her lips into a tight pucker.
Well, she said. I don’t know.
You don’t have to.
Their glasses were empty. She poured again, emptying the carafe.
Maybe it was too early. My head feels fuzzy.
Mine too, she said.
It’s ok, she said.
Oh, he said. Yeah.
So what now?
You could show me your place.
Subtle, she said. She smiled.
Ok, or not.
It’s ok, she said. It’s not far.
They finished the wine. She beckoned the waiter with a few fingers and said something in German. A minute later he came over to the table with a large black leather wallet. She handed him some money and said something. The waiter handed back some coins and said something back and smiled just a little.
She stood up and slid into her jacket. He stood, too.
Your clothes are different.
Well, she said. Germany.
Plus I’m older, she said.
You don’t look older.
So you said, she said.
So I did.
They left the cafe and started walking. There were a lot of leaves on the ground, and their feet made crisp shushing sounds as they shuffled through them.
It doesn’t look like fall here, he said.
I know, she said, not like our fall.
A bike-bell rang behind him, five times in succession, getting nearer. She reached out and grabbed his arm and pulled him toward her.
You’re in the bike path. See those red bricks?
Bike path. How European.
Please. America has bike paths.
Some places. But those places are usually referred to as European, too, aren’t they?
She smiled and dropped his arm.
They walked a little more and then she stopped in front of a pair of green double doors at least twice as high as he was and three cars wide, set into a rough and crumbling concrete facade.
It’s right through here. In the back. Get ready, there’s a lot of stairs. It’s on the fifth floor.
Oof, he said.
She turned her key in the lock and heaved the door open onto a paved corridor with mailboxes on the right side and a small stairway on the left.
Straight through, she said.
The corridor opened onto a ragged courtyard surrounded by buildings on all sides. There was a small barren garden area in the back left, and near it, a bike rack overflowing with a jumble of bicycles in various stages of wear and disrepair. An absurd number of trash bins butted against the edge of the right-hand wall where the corridor met the courtyard.
What’s with all the trash?
She shrugged. Recycling. Did you know Germans produce 50% less waste per capita than Americans do?
Huh, he said. Good for them.
Save the Earth, she said.
She led him to a narrow door in the back, near the garden, and opened it to expose a steep staircase.
Here we go, she said.
She let him go first. They climbed the stairs slowly, without talking. By the fourth flight, he was huffing.
I know. It’s a hike, she said. But it’s a great apartment.
She spoke easily, no sign of labored breathing.
At the top, she pushed ahead of him and rattled her keys in the lock. After a few turns, the latch gave a weighty click and she pushed the door open onto a small entry hall made even smaller by the towering bookcases that lined it on either side.
Still a reader, he said, wiping his hand across his forehead.
She smiled and kicked off her shoes, then set them on the bottom shelf on the left.
Shoes, she said, pointing toward his feet, then toward the shelf.
Wow, you really are European.
He slipped his shoes off, looked at his socks, then stowed his shoes beside hers. He stepped toward her.
She smiled and patted his cheek.
Not yet. Let’s smoke something first.
She led him into the next room. It was small and not very bright, though there were three large uncurtained windows that looked out onto the courtyard and the rooftops surrounding it. The roofs were covered in corrugated red tin. There were candles on most of the surfaces in the room-on top of the TV, on the small dark wood writing desk, on the slim glass table in front of the overstuffed sofa. She walked around the room, lighting some, even though it was only midday.
When she finished, she went to the writing desk and took a small wooden box out of the top drawer. She moved to the sofa and sat in the middle, motioning for him to join her. She opened the box and pulled out a baggie and a small packet of cigarette papers.
Still remember how to do this?
I think it’ll come back to me, he said.
They both smiled.
She rolled a thin joint and set it on the table, then put everything back into the box and put the box back inside the drawer. She came back to the couch with a small glass ashtray and a lighter in her hand. She set the ashtray on her knee and handed him the joint and the lighter.
Guest of honor, she said.
He lit the joint and pulled deeply. He held the smoke in for a few seconds and then let it out in a rush.
He passed the joint to her. She took it from him and took four quick pulls in succession. Her chest expanded a little each time she inhaled. She held the smoke in and passed the joint back to him. This time he held the smoke in for a long time. They passed it back and forth a few more times. She held it out to him again and he waved it away. She nodded, exhaled noisily, and stubbed it out in the ashtray. She tucked her hair behind her ears.
Drink? She said. Her eyes looked heavy.
She went into the kitchen and made some clattering sounds. She came back with a glass of orange soda in each hand a bag of chips tucked under her left arm. She stood in front of the coffee table and flapped her arm, dropping the chips onto it. She sat back down, close to him, and smiled, passing him a glass.
Thanks, he said.
Fanta, she said. She took a sip and set her glass on the table.
He gulped his down and set his empty glass beside hers.
She reached out her hand and rustled his hair lightly. She looked into his eyes.
I haven’t fucked an American in a long time, she said. Then she climbed on top of him and pressed her mouth to his.
He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth and reached up under her sweater, unclasping her bra and sliding his hands around to cup her breasts. He ran his thumbs over her nipples and she leaned back, pressing her crotch against his and pivoting her hips. He lifted her sweater over her head and tossed it to the floor. Her bra hung from her arms, trapped in the bend of her elbows. She shook it off and leaned forward, biting his neck while reaching between her legs to fumble his belt and zipper open.
She reached into his boxer shorts and grabbed ahold of him. He knotted his fingers in her hair and closed his eyes. She pinched his bottom lip between her teeth and he groaned. She stopped and stood up. She unbuttoned her jeans and slid them to her ankles, then stepped out of them. She slid down her underpants and tossed them on top of the jeans, then walked naked in her socks into another room. She came back with a towel.
Stand up, she said.
He stood. She spread the towel on the couch. She reached out to him and yanked his pants and boxer shorts down. He stepped out of them.
Sit, she said, pointing to the towel.
He sat on top of it.
She climbed back onto his lap and reached down and put him inside her, letting out a sharp little breath when he slid in. She put her mouth on top of his and moved purposefully against him, sliding her hips back and forth slowly and steadily. He felt for and found the raised mole on her right hip and circled it with his thumb, then dug his fingers into her hip and pulled her tighter against his lap. She pressed in even harder, gripping his hair with one hand and his neck with the other. They each made small noises but mostly there was just breathing.
Come inside me, she said, biting his earlobe.
You sure? He said.
Uh-huh, she said.
She moved faster and he bent his neck down and took a nipple in his mouth and played with it with his tongue and in another minute his legs tensed and then trembled. She stopped moving.
He wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her against his chest. She rested her face against his neck. They sat still for a while and then she moved away from him. She stood and left the room. He looked out the window. He could see into some of the other apartments. A few birds were circling the courtyard, swooping and diving. She came back wearing a pair of sweatpants and a loose sweatshirt. He stood quickly and pulled his pants back on.
She sat back down and picked up her soda and took a big gulp.
So, she said. That was nice.
He looked at her. Her face was composed and her skin looked fresh.
It was, he said.
He put his hand on her leg. She looked at it.
I- she said.
Something buzzed and they realized together that it was coming from the floor.
She hunched over and grabbed her jeans. She pulled a cell phone from the pocket. She looked at the screen and her face opened wide and bright. She held up a finger at him and brought the phone to her mouth and said something in German. She got up and walked to the window, standing with her back to him. She was quiet for a few minutes, then ran a hand through her hair and laughed. She started to talk. The words were filled with hard consonants and strangely pleated vowels. He watched the back of her and kept listening, combing the swells of sound for bits of sense. Her voice was so familiar. Who could blame him for believing that, if he only listened long enough, he would begin to understand?