Bench interlude

''What's wrong?'' she asked. ''Nothing,'' he answered quickly. Two cars passed. A bird sang.

''Why won't you tell me?''

''How can I tell you something is wrong when nothing is wrong?''

She smiled and touched his cheek. ''You're cute,'' she teased him.

He smirked helplessly, pleased and irritated.

''Is it despair again?'' she asked.

''That's immature,'' he said.

''What's immature?''

''Calling me cute.''

She looked at the way his nose angled nicely down like a tiny ramp for a skateboard.

''OK,'' she said, ''you're ugly.''

''This isn't working.'' He shook his head.

''Our relationship?''

''Right.''

''I'm working at it but you seem unemployed.''

''I'm thinking.''

''No you're not. You're sulking.''

''My face is sulking. My thoughts are coalescing.''

She giggled but tried not to.

''See,'' he said, ''you never take me seriously.''

''I apologize,'' she said, ''seriously.''

He tried not to laugh and didn't.

Three cars passed. Another bird sang.

''Well,'' she sighed, ''if the government collapsed tomorrow what would you do?''

He shook his head hopelessly.

''Or if your house burned down, where would you sleep?''

He stood up. She stood up.

''Where are you going?'' she asked.

''Nowhere,'' he said and sat down. She sat down.

''I've just decided something,'' he said.

''Oh good,'' she said brightly. ''The coalescing.''

''I've decided to lie.''

''Really?'' she said, intrigued. ''About what?''

''Despair.''

''Despair?''

''Yes, despair.''

She waited. A bird did not sing, a car did not pass.

''OK,'' she said impatiently, ''lie.''

''I've got to make it just right,'' he said, ''really horrible.''

She stood up.

''Where are you going?'' he said

''I'm getting ready to run.''

''Sit down,'' he said, ''please. This is the moment of truth.''

She sat down. He squinted his eyes. She closed her eyes.

''Despair,'' he said in a deep voice, '' . . . is . . . the . . . one . . . burden . . . that . . . will . . . weigh . . . on . . . me forever.''

''Oh, how utterly pitch black!'' she exclaimed.

He looked relieved. ''There, I've said it.''

''And you don't believe it?''

''No, an abashed lie.''

She paused. ''Then why say it?''

He shrugged. ''Mockery. Pantomime. Sweet ridicule. I feel better.''

''This is good,'' she said.

''But,'' he said, leaping to his big feet, ''what is the truth?''

She raised her hand. ''I know.''

''I know you know,'' he said, holding up his hand to stop her, ''but it's my despair.''

She waited.

''Now, let's see,'' he said, searching his pockets, ''the truth, the truth. . . . '' He took out his wallet, his change, his keys, his unpaid bills, his mortgage, his long list of regrets, his broken promises, his wounds (self-inflicted and otherwise), his unanswered questions, his short list of people he could not ever possibly like under any circumstance whatsoever, and he took out his dreams that glowed and hovered just out of his reach. . . .

''I love you,'' she whispered.

''That's it!'' he yelled.

A car passed. A bird sang.

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