Adam Dalva is a graduate of NYU’s MFA Program, where he was a Veterans Writing Workshop Fellow. He was an Associate Fellow at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. His work has been published in The Millions, Bodega, Connu, and elsewhere. Adam is an 18th century French antique dealer
I woke up alone. This wasn’t in itself unusual. I lay in bed for a while, unable to shake off the drowsiness. It was cold. Tugging the blankets up didn’t help. I wanted to recapture my elusive dream—the kind that seems to last as long as sleep itself. Time passed. I thought about her. I didn’t notice anything was wrong. I reached for my bedside water but the glass was empty. Through it, I saw that the numbers on my digital clock were vague: backwards 3s; imperfect 8s. I began to feel uneasy. I didn’t understand that I was dead.
I thought about her.
I rose to prep my three egg-white omelet. There was no food in the refrigerator. I was ravenous, but my cupboards, breadbasket, and kitchen drawers only turned out mousetraps and floor-cleaner with backward letters blurringly superimposed on the clear plastic. I needed to get food, but I couldn’t go outside until I did my fifty minutes of yoga, like she taught me. The tiled floor was too cold against my hands so I moved to the small carpet in the foyer. Its fabric seemed even colder, but it might have just been the surprise of context. My body kept recoiling from the chill and I stopped after half an hour. This was letting her down. I had promised. But I had felt no burn.
I roughed up my hair, then went to get an outfit that she would like—nice pants, denim shirt, t-shirt that color-coordinated, eccentric sneakers that seemed to go against the pattern. But my clothes were gone. Not even socks or underwear. There was only the dark blue tanktop that she had left after our one sleepover: the warmth of the couch cushion under me; La Jetée frozen on the big screen; dried red wine in lip crags; early morning sun playing across us; the laze in her voice when she told me to wake up, said that we must have fallen asleep.
Going outside was always fraught. She lived nearby. But I was too hungry to stay inside. I still thought that I was alive, remember. I pulled on her undershirt and wrapped a sheet around my bare lower half. The elevator didn’t work, so I took the stairs. Outside, everything was quiet. It must have been before dawn. The world was in gray scale. There was the sea-spray feel of imminent rain. Her tank top hugged my chest and kept creeping up my sides. It would be the worst possible time to run into her.
I turned the corner and hurtled behind a parked convertible. She was on the other side of the street, the first person I had seen. And she looked beautiful. It had been a couple of months, but the new haircut from Instagram suited her. It was long and curled down her back and showed off her forehead’s wonderful wrinkles. Her skirt was unseasonable and one of my favorites. I stayed shivering behind the car while she looked into shop windows emblazoned with incomprehensible names. The special erection that I got around her was asserting itself against the high-count fabric of my sheet. It felt like a buzzing.
Finally, she walked away. The bodega was just a block down. I tucked my resistant penis up into the top of the sheet wrap, then stood, only to hurtle back down to the grimy curb. It was her again, but her hair was pinned up, and she was with her ex-boyfriend. They hadn’t spoken in years. Had they gotten back together? Had he done what I had always dreamed of? Pulled the Harry-Sally, confessed?
I turned away in agony, but then I saw her in the restaurant where we met. Candlelight sparked, fat still slightly rounded her cheeks, and she was about to ask if I wanted to go halfsies. Her reflection was in the window behind me, and I turned. There were dozens of her. She was in a car going by driving me to the airport. She was walking with one arm around two friends’ shoulders, almost floating. She was kissing her current boyfriend, the balding gay musician. Her hair was everywhere. Her fashion fluctuated. Her arms gained and lost definition. She was twenty-three and in my apartment. She was two months ago, when I had almost told her. She was in the dream I had once when I tried to grab her breasts and my hand went into the concavity of her chest, into the shock of that void.
I finished my rotation. A gaunt, tired man was a few feet away from me. He was wearing a hat topped with laurels.
“Parli Italiano?” He asked in a reedy whisper. I responded on automatic pilot with my long-memorized lines.
“Ero a Roma per quattro mese.”
This was off-script. I pointed.
“You mean con lei,” he said, his voice flatter in English.
Study abroad. Up the street, we were nineteen and in Rome and swaying drunk down a hill and the earth seemed silent beneath me.
Tell me, what do you see right now?”
“Her. Her everywhere.”
“Well, I see Beatrice, Beatrice every way I ever knew her, and the Beatrices I heard about, and most of all the Beatrice I invented. Listen carefully. Our time together here is nearly over.
“This is a special circle, a shunt-aside made for the unrequited cowards. Your punishment is simple: in all the time to come, you will see everything but what you should have done.
“Listen.” He was fading. “Don’t make my mistake. You feel like you can talk to her, so talk to her. Then you can complete your errand, buy your breakfast, eat. Don’t do what we all do. Don’t just stand there watching. Don’t wish. Don’t hesitate. Don’t regret the future. This once, please, stand, cross the street, and tell Beatrice that you love her.