We met in May, as lovers sometimes do in songs. On the corner of Carnival and Pearl, between the Dunkin Donuts and the dollar store. It had been raining for weeks, and I was waiting on the 87 bus. I was headed to a bar called Golden Rat.
Up and down Carnival Street, teachers led parades of children on leashes through the downpour, cursing into the collars of their parkas as they passed. You looked at me and said, There’s something fun about those leashes, don’t you think?
We were grown by then, but not grown enough to remember our umbrellas. We huddled there inside the glass cage of the bus stop with all the other bodies. When you looked at me for real, you saw at once that I was shivering.
In a way, we were perfect for each other. We were both tired of trying to be ourselves, tired of all the people we weren’t. You’d been working so late, you had to think when I asked for your name. I’d been drinking, mornings mostly.
You’d married young and nearly lost your mind. Your ex-husband was a good man, you said, but way sad. He was a Gemini, whatever that meant. You talked about him like he was dead, but he was barely thirty. He still lived out in Malden, with your one-time love cat, Ed.
I’d once spent the better part of a year in a monastery, speechless, eating bowls of rice from the Trader Joe’s next door. My mother left me 63 voicemails. Later, I sold my robes on eBay and joined a band called Nightfall. No one else wanted to play bass, so I said sure.
We moved into the attic of a yellow house that belonged to a dying man named Garth. Some nights, Garth brought us tea, and we sat up late, listening to the radiator howl, talking about everything except his cancer. After he left, I fell asleep with my nose nestled in the crook of your eye.
Love! The smallest things—clean floor, coffee cup—filled once more with meaning. Your father had been quiet like my father. Your favorite band was once Green Day; oh God, mine too. And both of us, oh wonder of wonders, had been to Chicago.
Now though: Leonard Cohen, Al Green, Nina Simone. Records from the record shop on Walnut and Macalester. The Late Greats, the Ra-Ra-Ras. You bought a jasmine candle from the candle store and placed it on the mantel.
Fridays we went dancing at a tiki bar downtown. You’d always found tiki bars tacky, but neither of us could argue with a five-dollar Bahama Mama. Neither of us could argue, unfortunately, with a drum and bass remix of “Margaritaville.”
Some nights, while we spun, my eyes leaked tears onto your collarbone while Jimmy Buffett sang it. Wastin’ away again. I was crying because I couldn’t believe I’d made it over the border that separates the small province of happiness from the vast grey country that surrounds it.
Other nights, even as I dug my fingers into the soft canyon of your lower back, I wondered if there was something else waiting for me, some other final, redeeming love. When that feeling came, I drank until I couldn’t talk. You were like that too: always saving part of yourself for the future.
Before he died, Garth had a habit: he liked to fry dozens of hot dogs at a time and then invite the whole neighborhood over to eat them. Whenever that summertime, Oscar Meyer smell wafted up the stairs, we knew his knock was coming.
We met all kinds of people at the hot dog parties. We met a garbage man who claimed he was a saint. He was waiting on the Vatican to send him his papers. We met a local politician who would not shut up about bluebirds. A kid who could solve a Rubik’s cube in thirteen seconds.
At the last party, we met a young couple. They seemed so in love. We sat with them on the rotting porch with a pack of cigarettes and the city between us. It seemed like the skyline was putting a show on, just for us. We talked until morning, talked and talked. We never saw them again.
John Miguel Shakespear is a writer and musician from Massachusetts. His writing has appeared or will soon in Split Lip, Grist, and Cincinnati Review, and his music has been featured on NPR, PopMatters, and American Songwriter. He lives in Nashville and bears no known relation to William Shakespeare.
Artwork by: Dương Nhân