By Bill Gillard
She throws my keys off the narrow steel bridge into the shallow river that splashes under this sharp moonlight, saying now you can’t leave, not now, not ever. She dares me to object, to get angry, to stomp back the three miles to campus in the misty nighttime. She dares me, legs splayed and defiant, the red corners of her lips pull like a fitted sheet over her teeth never quite all the way to a smile. This woman I had known in passing since September, who met me after work tonight as if by coincidence, who bought me a midnight pizza and asked for a drive to see the world because she had no car. The black trees silhouetted against the black North Country sky, all life in this northern town gone black, abed, and here we are asking the month of May to create the conditions where we can best become ourselves because we have no language to frame the question even in our native tongues. The sky brightens in the east. I think, that’s what Montreal would look like under nukes. It is not something I say out loud. Please, not the dawn I think, I hope, as we splash in the spring-thaw waters of the Grasse looking for the keys (truth be told she had splashed a stone not the pocketed keys but this she did not tell me), she touching my forearm and she pressing her cold cheek to mine and she laughing without mediation and she smiling at me through wet bangs. I thought, oh, let it be nuclear war and not the dawn. I’m not ready yet for the dawn let it be nuclear war and not ever the dawn. It’s only Montreal, a small price to pay for the wonder of her and me soaked in fallout’s first light, and I’m praying for a much slower apocalypse. But then a car passes and then four, and the day explodes above us on that narrow steel bridge, and we are ourselves again to crawl from this muck to walk upright as surprised strangers to my car for the silent ride back to campus where we slink, soaked, in different directions from the lot where we parked what might have happened but never ever did, as young people often do.