By Andrea Lavelle
It was much more matter-of-fact than she’d expected when it finally happened, last night after his work leaving do. The bosses had left to go home, the younger staff for Tinder hook-ups and house parties. So then it had been her and him, standing in the still Toronto cold, the kind that gets into the bones of you even without the wind. His body was warm, that was the trouble.
But, of course, they’d been circling the situation for weeks by then: arguments about Jedd Hughes versus Andy Hauser; private smiles when the bosses started up their noise; a pledge to avoid post-work drinks after that evening they’d stayed a bourbon too long and he’d gently, carefully placed a hand on her thigh.
Her first thought as their lips met was that he kissed just like Eric. Initially, the thought had pleased her: Eric is a beautiful kisser, after all. But now she feels disappointment: how pointless, to have kissed someone who isn’t her husband, when it didn’t even feel different. Yet, at the time, it only made an illicit kiss seem strangely correct, bound up, as it was, in the ethereal sense she has of him as being both like and unlike her partner.
He isn’t a mirror image of Eric, though his body somehow recalls him: long arms, expanded chest, pencil legs, and a tongue which moved with her own like a charmed snake. Indeed, with her eyes closed, palm pressed against his jawline, only the smell of him was different: tell-tale sour skin, cigarette fingertips.
“He’s you, only American—and with taste”, she’d teased Eric, after working her first shift with him at Vellum Vinyl four, no, five months ago. Her husband turned up the volume on some new indie band in response, the notch twisting in time with his smile.
But it was more than that. Swiftly, surely, he’d begun filling gaps—not in Eric, as such, but in herself with Eric. They weren’t pieces she’d really even noticed were missing, save for fleeting, profound little lonelinesses when a painting made her heart swell and he’d say simply “Mmm,” or a country song made her want to dance with someone who liked country songs or dancing.
Does it make her feel less unfaithful that he kissed like Eric? The thought needles her now as she sits in Lenny’s, her basket of cheese curds half-eaten, the bourbon fog clearing. She stirs her coffee, waiting for guilt to arrive, yet aware already that it’s stood her up. The problem is, it makes such perfect sense.
There’s no question of carrying it on, or further, of course. This Saturday he’ll return to his new, old life in San Francisco, summoned by a call from an ex-employer who’ll make him manager this time. And she and Eric will attend his other leaving drinks, the one his friends are organising for Friday in a bar off St Lawrence’s Market.
She can see it now, how it will all play out: the good-humoured swipes (“Swapping Trudeau for Trump, man, what’s wrong with you?”); private smiles when Eric isn’t watching; a pledge to keep in touch that neither will expect to keep.
Last night will be no less alive, but it will be smaller: a firefly flickering in the forest of their normal lives as they mingle, tease, brush past each other on their way to the bathroom or bar. She and Eric will chat, laugh, and drink proportionately, before departing at an appropriate hour—streetcar, not night bus, all the way home.
And this will not be an unhappy ending, she tells herself. Because he drinks terribly, she’s known him long enough to recognise that, and she’s beyond those days where the notion of saving someone carries its own intoxication. And even if he didn’t, she loves Eric, wholly and happily—has done since the first few months of dating, right through the last eight years. She knows she always will, too, with the exact same sense of inevitability that heralded a kiss last night.
So this feeling—whether love or something else like it—for a man who kissed like her husband, must come from, or speak of, a different place within her. It’s somewhere deep and thirsty, but out of reach now.