Numbers

[10 years old] Twenty-five years ago. They sit on the railroad tracks, across from one another, their small sneakers pressed up against one another and their hands clasped tightly, trying to push each other off of the metal track. He held on to her but didn’t squeeze too tightly. He would never hurt her, even a little bit.

[19 years old] Sixteen years ago. They part ways to go to their respective colleges, their luggage sitting in their respective foyers in their respective homes. His shirt neatly ironed, her jean shorts cut with a pair of orange scissors on her bedroom floor. The night before, they sat in the parking lot of their former high school, eating cheeseburgers and French fries out of a single paper bag. He traces a French fry from her forearm up to her lips. She eats the fry. He lets her rub her greasy fingers on his shirt because they forgot napkins.

[25 years old] Ten years ago. She is moving into a new apartment. He is moving out of his old one. She has broken up with her college boyfriend. He is engaged to a girl he met on the Internet. She is going backwards. He is moving on.

[28 years old] Seven years ago. She has moved to Wisconsin to help troubled teens on a farm. He is living alone. She starts smoking. He is working twelve hours a day, every day. He plays music at two a.m., although he is not very good. She is lonely. She goes on a website where people look for romance. She types in his name.

[30 years old] Five years ago. He quits his marketing job to play music. He is better at it, now. She has moved to New York City, for work. She is dating, some. He is dating, some. They meet for coffee in Brooklyn. He looks so different. His hair is graying prematurely. She looks the same.

[32 years old] Two years ago. He tells her he loves her. She tells him she loves him. He moves into her apartment. It is only one room, except for the bathroom. She cooks breakfast. He makes dinner. He pulls her close to him at night, feeling her everywhere. She feels nauseous. He holds her closer.

[32 years old] Eight weeks ago. She goes to the doctor. She goes through a series of tests. She is sick. He makes breakfast and dinner. He sobs in the bathroom.

[32 years old] Four days ago. She doesn’t go to work today. She thinks she will have to quit, for a while. He wonders if she will get better. She knows she won’t. She holds him, even though it hurts when he presses against her at all. She makes him orange juice, with real oranges, before falling asleep on the pull-out.

[32 years old] Two hours ago. She sits in the park. He holds a piece of paper, ripped from her notebook. She grasps the pen in her hand, feeling him through the words transmitted. She reminds him she’s sick, that she’s got no energy left. He loves her. She loves him too. She knows she won’t be alone. He moves out. He doesn’t want to hurt her, not even a little.

Lee Matalone is a writer based out of Virginia. In 2011, she was awarded a grant from the University of Virginia to compose a collection of short stories under the editorial guidance of writer, Sydney Blair, whose novel Buffalo won the Virginia Prize for Fiction.

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