Like Most Things Easy
by J David Osborne
The man pulled the heavy metal door back from the chipped frame and stepped into the smoke and the dark and the bearded cowboys turned and squinted and looked back at the fireworks bursting on the television screen. Having been let go from work early he wandered there, the evening stretched out in front of him and his searching calls going to voicemail. He ordered a cheap beer and studied the graffiti etched in the industrial cable spools converted to tables. Them in the blue played darts by the slots and he leaned back in his chair eyeing posters advertising cheap beer and a picture of Johnny Cash behind the bar with the words “CASH ONLY” written in sharpie. He took out his phone and frowned at it. The door opened again and he looked up and felt his throat go hoarse.
The woman took a seat at the end of the bar, too pretty for the place and herself staring down the section of dark before sleep. The man couldn’t not look at her, the way she turned her can slowly above the wet coaster, and after a few drinks he worked up the nerve to go speak to her and they both found the conversation to be easy like most wrong things. At the end of night he was full of her smile and her laugh ringing in his ears and he paid his tab and the two of them exchanged numbers. When she gave it to him the sequence set his teeth on edge and for a moment he thought he was being played. Told her, that’s my phone number. She said, no, I promise that’s me. He picked up his phone and dialed his own number and sure enough there in her hand lit her phone casting them both in a pale glow. They both laughed and couldn’t stop and at her car she did what she’d never done and kissed him, this stranger.
He went home and showered and couldn’t make sense of it but didn’t care. The universe being made as it is of an infinite number of realities those two happened to overlap into one. He climbed into bed and couldn’t stop thinking of her aquiline nose and her teeth slightly crooked in her smile. He thought about it and thought maybe he was crazy but on a quantum level everything is as you want it to be. Light acts as a particle or a wave depending on what the viewer wants. And so it was here: all of her friends with her number saved got her on the line when they dialed. His friends got him. Whomsoever they wanted to call, they received.
The next day after he cut trees he gave her a call and she answered on the third ring. They agreed to a beer and met outside and swatted flies from their food and missed not a moment between speaking to catch the other’s eye and feel that easy deep in their blood. Him perpetually lonely, wondering at the makings of the rocks and leaves below his feet. Her picking up her heart out from the mud and still dusting it off, figuring it out, turning it over. They immediately took up residence in each other’s minds.
At the early end of the night she told him to get in her car and they drove to her place where she picked out a crooked box pregnant with beer and they took it and drove out along Highway Nine to the lake where they parked and wandered through the dark to the pier stretching out twenty feet over the lake loud with fish cresting the calm waters. He set the soles of his feet right there at the top of lake and they leaned back and looked and he could swear he saw the purple galaxies dusted over the stars. She drove him back and he slept.
The next morning woke him calm with a grey sky coaxing him from his bed. He liked the overcast weather. He went to work and hummed a song. He got off and they met up again and watched television on her couch and fell asleep. The days repeated in this fashion, them waiting for the moment to be with each other, one or the other calling their own number and getting another voice on the other end.
They shared time. They invented names for things and laughed at their luck and when they held hands it felt right, natural. They felt their feelings rise to a point where they could see for miles and the lines became so crossed that each other’s friends began reaching the other when they attempted to call. The man’s best friend would call the woman and ask to go out for beers and feel embarrassed to hear a woman at the other end, asking who is this. The woman’s exes reached the man and demanded to speak to her, thought he was screening her calls. The two universes formed a helix and as they neared closer and closer, the time spent sharing burgers at the neon lit deli and playing videogames against the big boxes shoved against the skee ball machines and laughing wild into the night there in front of them became a pressure existence couldn’t stomach and began to reject like most things easy.
As time moved forward the man began to grow distant from the woman. There wasn’t anything he could put his finger on that did it. There was the time they watched the loud band play in the smoky brick bar on the corner and exchanged not a word, them both buried in the pale blue light of their phones. There was the time they sat in the park on the curved steps of the ampitheater with not a soul around and he felt lonely instead of whole. And there was the time sitting over untouched food she mentioned the past like it might still happen. It became so that separating didn’t ache. It became so that the times when the man only wanted to smell the woman’s day in her hair faded and he remembered those times the way he might remember kissing the girl by the water in the snow when he was three people younger and singularly a part of the knowing world.
One day he awoke from a dream and blinked it away and ran lukewarm tap water over his face and set the coffee to boil. He had work in an hour and the sun peeked over the park by the train tracks just outside his window. He knew he had sweat to give and life to share and he now felt the day after the day stretch on in a way that made him feel like he was inside of something white hot and sharp. He thought about the fish jumping beyond his feet placed delicately upon the surface of the water and called the woman and hoped that he still loved her. When he hit the call button all he heard was his own voicemail speaking back to him.
J David Osborne lives in Norman, OK with his wife and dog. He is the Wonderland Award-winning author of BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS and LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY. He is the editor-in-chief of the new crime fiction imprint Broken River Books, which is currently undergoing a Kickstarter project to get five killer books out by November.