“Do you have to know something to ‘get it’”?
Without even turning to her, I get it: ’S the beginning of the the beginning of the end. Why, exactly, I can’t tell you, but I get it. ’S what she’s getting at I’m getting at, after three days of a small vacation of rain with a heavy tremolo.
“What I mean is,” she says to my back, “can you get it and not know it? Even—”
I get it—what she’s going to say but never does:
—“can you get it because you don’t know it? As if knowing something gets in the way of getting it?”
“In the way, say,” I mentally subjoin, “of a whisper in the brain?”
We’re silent for a space.
I don’t need to turn to see the focus of her eyes lengthen and her brows lower. Besides, if I do her look will cut me like a whip. I get it.
I study the raindrops streaming down the window. Inside my pockets my hands worry the silver sixpence coins she once gave for me for good luck.
I prefer them as usual, her wide set eyes I mean, large and full and joyfully suffused. The raindrops as well. How she prefers them I don’t know—the raindrops or my eyes. She’s never said, and I’ve never asked. Now I wish I had.
Shrewd, melancholy, meditative, obstinate, even kindling—my eyes look. So I’ve been told, but never by her. They’re set deep in bone rimmed sockets, that I can see. And weary of late, yet restless, I can see that, too. But then again, an eye can’t see itself, can it? Only its face reflected in the looking glass, un—
She’s grown to dislike that. “Looking glass,” I mean.
Me—I’ve always preferred “looking glass” to “mirror.” I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s my preference for “through” over “in”—y’know, as in “through the looking glass”? I don’t know. Of late she’s taken to calling me a prepositionist—y’know, like a sexist or an ageist? Imagine. “You know what else?,” I return in my defense, “I see them,” my eyes, I mean, “as if through a looking glass.” “Hmm,” she goes, “rum, definitely, rummy.” “Odd,” she means, “peculiar,” in the British sense.
Once she thought it was charming, my English cousin did, coming, I guess, from an American and all, “looking glass,” I mean. Now she calls it—
—unshaven and creased from a sleepless night, as if down and out in London. Deaf-looking eyes, are they, their blue fading fast in the looking glass through the looking glass.
I don’t need to face her to see her eyes snap and her head sink into her shoulders, as the rain taps against the glass.
At length, “You know,” escapes her, breaking the throbbing silence. “You know—” she hesitates just long enough for me to get that her lips are quivering and her jaw is working thoughtfully—“you know, that I can never think of you as a friend?” Her words are gentle enough to rub the down off the wings of a butterfly.
I turn from the rain beaded window and say to her with slackened voice, “That’s what lovers always say.”
She shows me the girlish line of her back and the back of her curly shingled head. I get it: She’s hiding a dim and dilatory smile and eyes that look like broken glass. “You mean, don’t you,” she goes on on the same note, “‘I’ll always think of you as a friend’?”
My pocketed hands quit the coins and tighten spasmodically. Of a sudden, I’m not quite sure what I mean, what I get—what lovers always say. Does it even matter? Or is it the only thing that matters?
Outside the wind is whistling like air through a chest wound.
After retiring from a career teaching philosophy, Vincent Barry returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad, most recently (2017): Dime Show Review , Mulberry Fork Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine,The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Broken City, among others. Barry lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara, California.