The Moment

“What if you knew, with certainty, that your love life was behind you. That you would never make love again. No, wait, more than that – that you would never even kiss a woman, or hold her hand. What would you do with that knowledge?”

He looked at his friend, the seriousness in her eyes betraying the question as one she had already asked – and answered – herself.

“I’d spend the rest of my life trying to prove the uncertainty of certainty,” he said. She didn’t flinch.

“Even knowing you would fail? Because you understand the premise, right? It’s not going to change. Ever.”

He brushed a cherry blossom from his shoulder, glanced up at the tree as if to ask a question, then looked at Holly again. She had the wrong color eyes. They were blue. The color of faded denim, she would argue, but he thought they were darker. “I think they’re more of a sky blue,” he had said. “But I want them to be denim blue.” “Okay.” She had wanted to be taller, too.

“Yes. Even knowing I would fail.”

Holly found Jack on a dating site. Eight men ago. But they had never dated. In Jack, she had found the girlfriend she’d always longed for – the person she could tell anything to without fear of judgment. Sometimes she called him that. Her girlfriend. The first time, he responded with uncharacteristic verve, offering claims of heterosexuality so outrageous she half-wondered if he was a homophobe. He wasn’t. He was just being funny.

Sometimes she felt bad teasing him. She knew about all of his insecurities. Some she’d discovered by observation, others he’d just spilled onto the table like a woman emptying her purse. She laughed at this thought, filed away the words for a future teasing. She liked watching him squirm. There was something compelling about Jack’s discomfort. A strange beauty revealed itself in his vulnerability. She would never tell him this, though. He had gotten the wrong idea once when she’d offered an unguarded compliment. Something about his way with words. Moments later, he had his arm around her. They were at the movie theater he called "theirs." The movie was
Titanic. In 3D. She had turned to him and stared through the plastic glasses with such a curiously furrowed brow that he knew immediately he’d done something wrong. When he said, “Sorry, I thought you were Rose there for a moment,” she had nearly regretted the unvoiced complaint. He returned his arm to the armrest and she wondered then, for the first and only time, what it would be like to hold his hand. Perhaps if they’d been further along in the movie – the scene where Rose poses for Jack – she would have done it. They never talked about it.

“Why?” she asked. A reflected ray from the setting sun touched her face then, and her eyes did seem a lighter blue.
Faded denim. Maybe she had only ever seen them in such light? No. Though she rarely wore makeup – an observation that always prompted a familiar ache – she would surely see her face in the mirror every morning, every night. Her bathroom had no such magical light. It was a dim, dark, windowless place. He had seen it just once, but the picture had stuck with him, a puzzle piece that didn’t fit with the woman he knew as an infinite source of sun-bright energy and shadowless optimism.

He’d only spent that one night at her house, after a party she invited him to turned into a drinking competition. She had won. He had lost, but only by virtue of having not played. She asked him to drive her home, and he did. Then she had slurred an invitation to spend the night because of the long drive, which he not even for one second imagined meant sharing her bed. This was before they saw

“I don’t think I could handle living the rest of my life without the hope of love, the possibility of it,” he said.

“But you’ve given up on love. You've given up on hope, too. You said that. Didn’t you mean it?”

Her smile was somewhere between curious and coy. He thought of reaching over and pulling down the left side of the smile to erase the coy. It wasn’t meant for him. But they didn’t touch one another that way. They had only hugged once. Awkwardly. The coy, the sexy, the wanting – those were always meant for Michael, the lover who got away. The lover she sent away. The lover she always talked about between failed relationships and sometimes in the middle of moderately successful ones. He’s in South Africa now. Or New Zealand. She pretends not to know which, but it’s always the first she mentions. The second is merely an attempt to dilute a poorly-hidden ache.

“I meant it when I said it. I still mean it.” He didn’t need to tell the story again. She’d heard it a hundred times. But he paused anyway, to give her time to recall it. The desire, the bliss, the deception, the emptiness, the loss, and his own poorly-hidden ache.

“So you’d rather be alone, than with someone other than her.”


“But you hate being alone.”

“Look who’s talking,” he said. Another cherry blossom landed on his shoulder. He didn’t look up.

“What if the closest I get to the moment is now,” she said.


“It’s from a song. ‘What if the closest I get to the moment is now.’ Katie Herzig.”

“Should I listen to it?”

“You will. Over and over again.”

“I’m going to hate it, aren’t I,” he said.

“No. You’re going to love it. You love all the things that break your heart.”

A waitress came by to smile and drop off the check. He took it before she could reach for her purse. It was their only dance, and he always led.
Her best girlfriend.

“Oh, you need to see this,” she said with her words, her hands, and her eyes all at once. “Come sit on my side of the table.” He obeyed without hesitation. The patio lights dimmed just as he stood. He dragged his chair across the tile floor, sat next to her, but not so close as to fear the accidental brush of his hand against hers. Together, they looked out over the city at a fading day. The sun’s escape was painting a yellow and orange and red halo above the mountains.

He had seen thousands of sunsets, of course. Every one broke his heart for all the right reasons. The last few thousand, for those reasons and one more.

“You see her everywhere, don’t you,” Holly said, her voice softened by the night.

“Everywhere but next to me.”

She took a sip of her wine. Red. Always red. “I hope you can do it,” she said.

“Do what?”

“Prove the uncertainty of certainty.”

He smiled then. A kind, sad smile that would have made a sound like a sigh. Then he spoke, his voice strong, confident.

“’Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’”

“Dylan Thomas?” she said after a respectful pause. “I love that you know poetry.”

“I don’t know much. That’s the only part I remember,” he said.

“If Michael had known even one verse of poetry…” Her expression darkened, and he saw what she must see every morning, every night in the bathroom mirror. Someone she didn’t want to be. The darkness only lasted an instant, and she was back, sparkling denim eyes and bright spirit called to purpose by sheer force of will. “Well, I don’t now about you, but I’m going to rage every single day,” she said.

Holly looked over at Jack. He continued to stare straight ahead. She wondered what he saw in the color and the light. Then she realized she already knew.

“I think I will go gently,” he said, finally, this time with uncertain voice.

Somewhere in the distance, a car alarm sounded, a dog barked. Behind them, the rattle and scrape of tables being cleared. The patio was nearly empty when a breeze stirred the cherry tree. Blossoms fell like snow then, pulled to the ground by gravity and the first chill of autumn.
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