“It was a cold, dark night,” he begins, and I stop him right away.
“Wait, wait. Wait.” I say.
“Are you kidding me? A cold, dark night?” It’s been months since Mark and I parted ways. He called me up late one evening and begged a get-together. Underneath his usual droll tone, I noticed a certain weightiness to his request, so I agreed to meet him.
“Well, it was,” he sniffs, offended. “60 degrees, at most. I had to buy a scarf, even,” he fingers the purple ribbon-like scarf wrapped around his neck. “From one of those tourist traps. Can you imagine?” He rolls his eyes. He doesn’t understand why anyone would live in this city. What a freakin’ dump, he says. He also thinks he’s slumming it if he drops the “g”. “As I was saying…”
“It was a cold, dark night. So dark, I could see the stars in the sky, even though there was the usual light pollution from downtown. Like tonight.” He pulls out his phone. Scans Facebook. Snorts. “I swear; Maria is going to be one of those crazy cat ladies.” He’s teasing, but there is no mirth on his face. He seems pensive now that he’s started the story. I figure he’s gonna tell me that Robert has proposed, and is worried I might still have feelings. I might.
“Oh fine. Dark and cold, yadda yadda. Robert said he was going to take me to this posh seafood place by the pier. Instead, we wound our way toward the middle of the city until we landed in a cramped alleyway. There were mounds of rubbish everywhere, and I was like, what the hell, Robert? But he just pulls me to his chest and shuts me up with a kiss,” Mark sighs. He stands with his back propped against a street light; his jaw silhouetted against the hazy ocean view. He almost looks like a dapper ship’s captain. Or a pirate. He glances at me. There are circles under his eyes. “Let’s walk,” he says. “Bum me a cigarette.”
“How’d you end up with such a romantic?” I grin, tossing him a smoke. We walk along the boardwalk. Trash from the day’s tourists overflows from the waste baskets scattered along the wood planks. Soon the beach rats will come and pick through the refuse like grannies at a second-hand store. The skin on Mark’s hands are so pale and white; they almost glow in the dark. “Robert might as well walk around with a royal red cloak and a crown on his perfectly coiffed hairdo; a rose placed between those gleaming Prince Charming teeth.”
Mark doesn’t laugh. “More like a black cape and a widow’s peak,” he says.
Mark flicks the unlit cigarette out toward the sea. “Nothing,” he says. Frowns. “I guess none of us are ever what we expect each other to be.”
“How oddly introspective of you,” I joke. I reach over to pat his cheek and pull my hand back quickly. “Jeez, you are freezing!”
Mark stops to look down at me. He stares into my eyes until I feel woozy and uncomfortable. He clamps his fingers around my elbow. “You’re right. Come. I know where we can go,” he says, pushing me to the left, away from the ocean and into the city. He strides with sudden urgency, and the change in pace makes me light-headed, buzzy. “Okay,” I say, giggling in a way that sounds unfamiliar to my ears. “Lead the way, Oh captain, my captain!”
“That’s a mourning poem,” he tells me, as the road we follow twists and turns until I’m not sure where we are anymore. “Lincoln’s assassination.” His nails dig into my skin. They are pointy and long, too long.
“I’ve never been to this part of the city,” I say, trying to pull my arm away. But Mark holds tight, steering me in front of him like a captive. We come to an alley full of clutter and trash and the most abhorrent stench. Mark stops me short. I can sense his lips close to the nape of my neck. “Your story….” I say. My voice is thick and dreamy. “You didn’t finish your story….”
“Yes?” He says, and I cannot feel his breath on my skin.
“A dark and cold night?” I ask. My eyes tear up. Through blurred vision, a form approaches. It wears a cape.
“Yes?” He says.
“The ending?” I whisper.
“Yes,” he says.