Home > Love in the Present Tense(11)

Love in the Present Tense(11)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

We make that initial eye contact, and I can tell it’s not quite that bad. Not this time. And I breathe. And then I sigh. I haven’t even hit my office door yet and already I’ve been fatally distracted.

“You gotta talk to him, Mitch,” Mona says. “It’s getting worse. It’s getting crazier. All the time. I’m so scared I’m going to lose him.”

Me too, actually. But she’s clearly come to me for comforting. And that would hardly qualify. “You want me to try to talk him out of the glider.”

“Mostly. Yeah. But there’s been some other stuff, too. And I just don’t feel like we’re getting through to him. Not like you always did. You could always get through to him.”

To be polite, we both briefly pretend that wasn’t a hard thing for her to admit.

I’ve noticed, too, lately, that Leonard has been dancing weirdly close to the edge of danger. Real, physical danger. He makes it sound like some kind of spiritual quest. But he is a human being, Leonard. Somewhere deep down he has the same makeup, the same basic urges as all of us. He just has this thing about transcendence. Doesn’t want too many earthbound connections.

This makes me edgy because I get the sense that this is just a stopover for him, that he has no real plans for staying. Like if a guest came to my house and refused to unpack his suitcases. I might tease him about it. I might say, hey, loosen up and stay awhile. But the statement of intent would be pretty damn clear. That’s Leonard’s approach to life itself. He refuses to unpack.

“Is this about Pearl?” I say.

“Everything is about Pearl. You know what he thinks, don’t you? I mean, he tells you, right? That he thinks Pearl is still with him?”

“He’s learned not to talk about it around me,” I say. “Because he knows he can’t make the sale.”

“When Pearl died—”

“If Pearl died,” I say, more vehemently than necessary. Noticing how much vehemence I have gathered on this sore subject over the years. “If she died. No one knows for sure that she died. No body ever turned up. Leonard just decided she died. If you ask me, Pearl dropped him on my doorstep and took a powder. Can’t you understand how important it is to him? Not to believe that?”

Mona decides to sidestep this entirely. She says, “He’s getting pretty reckless, Mitch. He’s so damn set on proving this theory about Pearl. But you see the danger, right? Because until he’s dead, he won’t know. I feel almost like he’s trying to get closer and closer to that line. Talk to him, Mitch. Would you? He doesn’t listen to me.”

He doesn’t listen to me, either, but I don’t say so. “What do you mean, proving the theory?”

“Well, you know.”

“If I knew I wouldn’t ask.”

“It’s like he thinks this whole thing about dying…this thing everybody says about going into the light? Well, he thinks it’s true enough, only he has this theory that it’s…sort of…optional.”

“Optional?” I say. It sounds stupid. I can’t stop it from sounding stupid.

“Optional,” she says. She has deep circles under her already dark eyes. “He thinks if you don’t want to go, you just don’t. You stay. With somebody. Like he thinks Pearl did with him.”

I want to ask what she believes, but then I decide it doesn’t really matter. “Forever love,” I say. Because that is something Leonard and I do talk about. He’s been trying to teach me about forever love since he was five years old. I’m a slow learner, and he’s patient.

Her face lights up at having finally found a common ground in this conversation. Something that we both understand that we both understand. My stomach lurches around almost painfully at the idea that Leonard is so hot to try this out.

“Okay,” I say, steeling myself to say things that need saying. “Okay. Let’s say, God forbid, the absolute worst happens. Worst-case scenario.” I can’t let myself spell it out any clearer than that. “Who is Leonard planning on hanging around to love?”

Mona’s eyes go wide. Like she can’t believe I wouldn’t know. And I guess it embarrasses her to have to be the one to tell me. And also, it hurts her, because she wants it to be her but it’s not.

She looks away again. “Well, you. Of course.” Then, while I’m trying to swallow this meteorite of information, to dislodge it from its sticking place in my throat, she says, “Talk to him, Mitch.”

And in a sudden fit of hopeless idiocy I agree that I will.

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