It’s strange, sitting in your seat.
It isn’t my seat.
Looking at the words from your perspective.
My seat is the soft one, under the afternoon sun.
DEN: my last. A trifle. I played a lot of trifles.
Do not dismiss trifles. Every trifle is a treasure. A prize.
No trifles for you. Straight for the jugular, every time. Wonderful.
A gift. The whole universe of my devotion, poured into this little thing. This catchable, crushable thing.
I see it now—always saw it, if I’m honest. The word you were playing. But it’s part of loving someone: sometimes we pretend not to see.
I used to bring you gifts. But you showed such horror every time.
There are only so many letters in the game. A finite set. Nothing like the real world.
I could only assume it was the immensity of my devotion that horrified you. But what could I do but try again? Perhaps I hadn’t found the right color, the right texture. I tried and I tried.
So. You started with a C and an A. On top of the DEN. The A on triple word score.
And then you put the bell on me.
And there you left it. With the double letter score right there waiting for you. And two tiles on your rack.
So no more gifts. I stalk your attention instead. You sit at the flimsy table in the still room hung with ochre dust, the sun slanting in from the west, across my soft chair, and I stalk you.
I thought to myself, when I finally sat down at the game again, afterward—I don’t know how long after—
It’s a good game. We are perfectly evolved for it.
I thought to myself, CADENCE. For the longest time, that’s what I told myself it was.
Me, with my singular attention to the kill. You with your eyes, meant for catching cats at the corners of your view.
I thought, CADENCE: the beat of a drum. The thrum of an engine, the rhythm of the seasons. Married life. But that was the fog.
I remember the moment I knew that I loved you. It was the first I had ever heard of love. You were talking to the man with the snake on his arm; you were telling him about love. I listened. Maybe you caught me at the corner of your view. I listened to you talk about love, and I thought Yes, that is it; that is how one feels about one’s prey.
It took a long time for the fog to lift. Seasons. Years, maybe. It’s a blur. But it lifted, just a little, just enough to see the words again—to see what I had always seen. That’s what I mean by the fog: feeling the need to pretend I didn’t see what I saw, as though my survival depended on it. And so at last I saw.
And then, when the man with the snake on his arm had gone, when all the others had gone, you saw me.
And of course, there wasn’t a C left to play.
And then, presently, you produced the dish.
Since then, I’ve known, and I’ve let myself know that I knew. But I’ve respected your privacy. I’ve never peeked.
I was young then, and the young have no knowledge of time. They intuit one thing: that time is a series of moments. But they cannot measure the moments—neither their number nor their weight. It did not occur to me to wonder how many moments would transpire between the moment in which you saw me, and the moment in which you might produce a dish. Nor did I dwell in those moments, assessing their dimensions, their mass, because I did not think to do so. I suppose this is because I did not yet know that at the end of these moments, there would be a dish. But now I know.
S’funny, to think I cared about privacy. After all those years together.
Your attention is an elusive thing. Well worth stalking.
Not that I shouldn’t have cared about it. Not that there wasn’t some call for privacy, even after fifty-two years of marriage. But now I can see what you were seeing.
But I mustn’t be too subtle.
How I used it as an excuse.
When I was young, I placed too much emphasis on subtlety. It’s in my blood: to lurk in the tall grass. And when you are young, your blood is all you have to go on.
A justification, for why I wouldn’t—
But you learn, over years, that there are times when you have to—
In a moment, sweet one.
You see? Now I’ve caught you.
Sarah, forgive me—I’m going to finish your word for you.
Dish. My God I love that word. Dish dish dish dish dish. The sound it makes when you set it on the floor. Like the breaking of a tiny hollow bone.
You have a Z and an A, like I always knew. Even without looking.
The moment of the dish. The moment of the kill. The moment of pure authorship. If only one could be in it forever.
Your word is CADENZA.
The moment the eyes go from seeing to not seeing. The moment of the folding of the feathers. Of the involuntary spasmodic—
Merriam-Webster: “A technically brilliant sometimes improvised solo passage toward the close of a concerto.” A last bit of beauty just before the—
—end. At once animate and still.
—end. Preceded by a fermata—
A pause of indefinite length—
Infinite, in theory—
CADENZA. There it is.
Endlessly divisible. Like all moments, tragically.
Fifty points. And that is that.
If only it were possible to—YOU ARE STANDING.
I suppose it’s time.
It’s time. My God—
My God, my back.
It’s time, my God, we are entering into a moment now, into an infinitude. Listen to me, Abraham—
I know, sweet one. I know. Give me a moment.
Do you understand, Abraham? Do you understand how painful it is inside a moment?
Oy. She was so angry with me.
How infinite, how lonely—
She wasn’t always so angry. I remember once, before the war—
How full of terrible hope—
Walking her home. She lived just off Myrtle Avenue. It was snowing—
The boundless moment of the dish. The boundless moment of the wait for the dish—
The closer we got to her home, the slower we walked. We talked and we talked, and slower and slower we walked. The falling snow was wiping out our tracks.
Abraham, listen—something awful has occurred to me:
As if we could keep chopping it up. That moment together. Into tinier and tinier pieces, without ever reaching the end. Forever in the snow, never at the gate.
Consider whole numbers, Abraham. Issuing like sparrows from a tree, one after another.
The gate at the end. Her parents’ house. Goodnight.
And now consider squares. Elegant numbers, beautiful convergences, like the meeting of predator and prey. But consider—
After the war, she was angry. She said, How can a man go to war and forget about the one who loves him? All I could say was I didn’t forget. I couldn’t say more. I don’t know why. Couldn’t find the words.
Only certain numbers are squares. Most are not. Yet there is a whole number for each square, one and one only, and a square for each number, one and one only. 1 to 1, 2 to 4, 3 to 9, 4 to 16, and so on, but consider—
I’d a letter from the Red Cross. At her behest, while I was in England. Wanting to know why my letters had stopped. Given I wasn’t dead.
If you have two sets of things—let us say birds and cats, or let us say moments of waiting and moments of having—and if each item in each set can be matched with precisely one item in the other, then each set must contain the same number of items, but consider—
Twenty-three years later is the time I came closest to explaining. Why that day, I don’t know, don’t ask. I said, Don McAllister borrowed my pen. Didn’t get any further, though.
Only some numbers are squares, yet there is a unique square to match every number. The part is both less than and equal to the whole.
By that time, she was softer about it. We’d started playing the game, by that time. It was—something, at least. A way of making words together. Too many trifles, on my part, but it was something.
Abraham, listen: this means that some infinities are greater than others. It’s too terrible to contemplate.
I’m going to tell you something, sweet one. I need to tell it, and you’re the only one here to listen.
It starts over Weiner-Neustadt. I’m watching Lieutenant Arbuckle’s ship break up. Folding on itself like a clamshell. I’m looking for parachutes, but they aren’t coming: just one, then nothing. Then two men come out of the waist position. Herb Felder and Stu Lasseter, I figure. On fire, both of them. Chutes deployed, chutes on fire, then poof into the black carpet of flack. Can’t see any more—Arbuckle’s ship loses altitude and my guns are in the way. These things are difficult to describe.
Two days later, it’s Weiner-Neustadt again. I don’t know, I’m sick. Can’t go up. I don’t think the colonel believed me, but I’m credible; I’m no malingerer. Just this once, I’m sick. Don McAllister goes in my place. Borrows my pen before he goes. He’s sitting there beside me in the medical tent, trying to finish a letter to his wife, and his pen runs out of ink. I give him mine. A Sheaffer Balance: a beauty. Just to borrow. He finishes his letter, says, Well, Pal, see you tonight. He puts the pen in his pocket. He didn’t mean to take it, he’s just absent-minded. I don’t say anything; I figure maybe it’s good luck. He goes up in Lady June, my ship. Poof. Not so good luck, after all.
Your letter #23 came the next day. I read it. You told me your mother had the flu. You told me Tiny Snell was missing in the South Pacific, and Esther, his wife, was frantic. You told me the basil was growing nicely in the window.
I didn’t write back, because Don McAllister had borrowed my pen, and he couldn’t return it. Your letters #24-36 arrived, and I didn’t write. I couldn’t find the words.
However boundless the having, the waiting is still greater.
You’re confusing me. I am not her. I never met her.
Seven years it’s been—
It’s been seven years—
Since I came up that, you call it a fire escape—
Forgive me for finishing your word.
—and found you here in your apartment, with the man with the snake on his arm, and you were doing this terrible thing with your eyes, making water come out of them, and you were telling the man about love—and I love you; I would eat you up if I could—and she was already gone; she was in the moment after all moments, and the snake-armed men took her away on a board, and there was an interval, which I did not know was an infinity, because I was very young, and then you produced the dish.
It was time.
The dish the dish the dish—
These things are difficult to say.
In the cabinet, just there. To the left the left—
I wanted to tell you—
Abraham do not, do not unburden yourself—
I wanted to tell you.
I am too small; I am not the instrument. This moment is infinitely divisible; we are in this moment and there is nothing outside of it; I am the author and you are the instrument; I am the predator and you are the prey and I do—
I do love you.
Eat, sweet one.
Paul H. Curtis lives in Yonkers, New York. His writing has appeared in numerous publications including Cherry Tree, Levee Magazine, The Madison Review, Zone 3 Press, and Inkwell Journal. He also volunteers as the events coordinator and a fiction reader for Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine. Find him at www.paulhcurtis.net, or on Instagram @paul.h.curtis.