Slip of the Tongue(7)

By: Jessica Hawkins



I swallow my food, chicken sticking in my throat. That seems like a lifetime ago now. Nathan’s been cold lately. Not toward others—just me. I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t come from an affectionate family. Everything I know about love and true intimacy, I learned from Nate. It’s jarring to watch him take that away a little more each day. He’s told me never to give him space. He always said that was what came between his parents. I think he wants his space now.

“What took so long?”

I look up again, wondering if it’s pity I see in his eyes as he watches me. I sit up straighter. “You mean why did we sleep on the ground? The furniture store—”

“No, I mean what took so long to get the heat fixed? I won’t last until next month with the heater blasting like it is. I have to stop what I’m doing every twenty minutes to stand by an open window.”

I welcome the shift in subject, however small. I’d rather get wrapped up in his problems than my own. “What do you think’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t know. I’d give it a look, but I don’t have my tools.”

“Where are they?”

“Greenwich.”

“Oh.” I wait for him to explain. Instead, he takes a massive bite. Recalling our earlier conversation about the suburbs, I ask, “Connecticut?”

He nods. After he swallows, he says, “I left the tools behind in case I have to fix anything up before the deal closes.”

“You’re selling your house there?”

“It’s in escrow.”

He isn’t exactly volunteering information, but I’m curious. It is unusual to move to the suburbs on your own for your twenties and return out of the blue. “Why are you moving back?”

“I miss it. Let me tell you, it’s a tough life here in the city, but at least it’s alive, not like Connecticut. Four years I went back and forth between Wall Street and Greenwich. It’s a grind.”

“You work on Wall Street?” I set my fork down. Men in finance don’t spend their Monday mornings in t-shirts and shorts, and they don’t spend them in diners. I’m fairly certain they have more important things to do. “So you moved to be closer to work?”

“No. I quit my job.”

I tilt my head. If I was intrigued before, now I’m rapt. “You quit? Just like that?”

He sits back in the chair and wipes his mouth with a napkin. “Pretty much.”

“I thought you said you moved back to the city for work.”

“I did, but not for that job,” he says quickly, confidently. “I’m here to make some career changes. Did you know commuting the way I was costs weeks of your life each year?”

I raise my eyebrows at him. His expression is bright. “No. I didn’t.”

He nods. “Four hundred and eighty hours a year. That’s almost three weeks. Time is our most precious resource, don’t you think? What can you do in three weeks?”

I take a sip of my wine. I understand time best in segments. Eighteen years under my parents’ roof in New Jersey. Four years undergrad at NYU. Eight years bullshitting in marketing and PR. Seven years with Nate, five of them legally bound to him. Two months since he’s begun to pull away. Two months I’ve been utterly confused. Twelve hours I’ve known this man sitting across from me.

“But you can relax on the subway and read the paper while you commute,” I point out. “Or if you’re driving, listen to NPR. Maybe an audiobook.”

“It wasn’t a rhetorical question,” he says. “What have you done these last three weeks?”

It’s embarrassing how hard I have to think. I can feel the lines deepening in my forehead, leaving their mark. Another way to measure time: wrinkles. “I secured one of my clients a significant feature in New York Magazine. I finished one of the books in the Game of Thrones series.” Or watched a season on HBO. Whatever. “I took my niece trick or treating.”

“What else?”

“That’s all I can think of.”

“There must be more. They don’t have to be big things.”

I roll a carrot over on the plate. I haven’t done anything worth mentioning the last three weeks. Spending Halloween with Andrew and Bell made me happy. Except that usually when I’m around Bell, Nathan is there. He adores and spoils her. He wants to see Bell more than we already do. Without him, what became painfully clear was his absence. And how I’ve failed Nathan because of what I haven’t given him. May never be able to give him.

“What’s on your mind?” he asks. “You look sad.”

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