He unlocked the door and threw his briefcase on the couch. His apartment was small. It was slightly damp, ripe with a summer sting. He had one table and one chair. One couch, one twin bed. A refrigerator, a stove, a microwave.
He woke up at the same time every morning. He ate the same flavor oatmeal each breakfast. He took the same bus to work every weekday. He saw the same people, filed the same papers, and took the same bus home. He ate the same grilled chicken for dinner. He brushed his teeth. He slept in the same pajamas. He carried the same rope behind him every day, it dangled in his shadow searching for the girl he had lost. It grew from his abdomen the first time he told her he loved her, and was attached to hers until the day she left.
He sat at his desk and watched the second hand on the clock jump forward and then abruptly stop. It was a first-time-skydiver, he thought. Charging to the edge of a cliff before halting in fear.
He looked over paperwork, checked six small boxes, signed his name, and filed documents in alphabetical order. His boss stopped by twice a day for idle chit-chat. Hello, how are you, nice work, keep it up. It was always the same. There was nothing he could not count on in the office, and he liked that. He knew the receptionist would squeeze her tits together when she leaned over his desk every day at noon. She would ask without fail what he had planned for the evening. Oh, the usual, he always replied. She was a whore. He knew she slept with all the male employees. He was done with whores. He justified her behavior by telling himself she must have a rope, too, and she must be trying to soothe what was too tightly wound in her groin. But he could only see his own.
His rope was sore today. He readjusted it in his lap.
His rope appeared after he fucked his girlfr- ex girlfriend, for the first time. He told her he loved her, too. Only then it had been vibrant and blue. Now it looked dead, gray. Connected to her, it was a link between the two of them, a bond from his groin to hers. He thought it was love.
The day she left his rope fell from her inguen, and he was left with a decaying umbilical cord between the apex of his hips. It was fraying at the end, and he occasionally stepped on it which made his abdomen sore.
That bitch, he thought. She wanted money. He didn’t have it. She wanted love. He thought he gave it to her. Now this dead weight trailed behind him every day.
She had been wonderful, for a time. She taught him things, good and bad. But she took things away, too. Now he lived alone. He ate alone. He slept alone.
He got on the 5:17 p.m. bus headed downtown.
He saw the same homeless man in the same seat, with the same toothy, lopsided grin. He put his headphones in, but he did not have a phone. He did not have an MP3 player. He had not listened to music in months. She took that away, too. He knew wearing the headphones, even if they were not connected to anything, would deter others from talking to him.
He got off the bus two blocks from his apartment.
It had rained that day. As he walked home from the bus stop he took long strides to avoid puddles. He looked down as he stretched his leg over a particularly wide muddy brown pool.
He felt his rope become tangled before he saw her. His groin grew taut and he felt himself falling backward.
When he hit the puddle, he heard his splash, then another. Fuck! She screamed. He turned around to see wild red hair, a mess of long pale limbs and daunting black clothing. He looked at her and she froze.
She met his stare as his eyes flitted across her glowing cheeks. He tried to stand up, but he was pulled back down by his rope. He could see its pale gray pallor wrapped around her spiky leather heel. He watched her as she lifted her foot and detangled him from her limb. He cocked his head to the side and his eyes got wide, jaw lowered closer to the muddy mess beneath them. She was touching his rope; He thought no one else could see it. He saw her laugh, and hand it to him. It immediately relaxed.
He reached out his hand to help her up. She smirked and leapt to her feet, brushing his hand away. He introduced himself. He asked her how she could see his rope. She reached to her hair and pulled loose a rope of her own. It was more purple than his, but unmistakably the same. He immediately felt embarrassed. He wondered why her rope was coming from her head. His trailed out from the waistband of his pants. He wanted to know how she could see his rope. He worried that everyone could see it. He self-consciously moved his hands to cover his crotch. She laughed. Still holding her rope from inside her draping hair, she outstretched her other hand and pushed his arms away from where they were covering his pants. He stiffened. She told him not to be embarrassed. She told him everyone had a rope. She told him you couldn’t see them because you weren’t supposed to. She said they were personal. He asked why he could see hers, and she his. She did not know.
They walked to a café where he bought her coffee and dried her coat with brown paper napkins. She was an artist. He couldn’t stop staring at her. Her eyes were brown, but he saw purple in their depths. It was the same color as her rope.
He gave her his email and walked home.
He woke up sticky, his sheets clinging to his back. He washed the sweat from his face and went back to bed. He could not sleep and he stared at the wall. He waited for his alarm to go off. He made oatmeal. He went to work.
He sat at his desk and waited for his boss. His desktop announced itself with a ping and a small box appeared in the upper right corner. He had a message. He opened it, expecting to see the receptionist’s name precede her pathetic attempt to get in his pants. He gasped as he read the subject. Your rope, it read. It was from her. He quickly became lost in the contents of her message. He formulated a reply and waited. She responded. She wanted to meet him again. She was outside his building, at the coffee shop across the street. He told her to wait. He grabbed his jacket. He ran past the receptionist. She followed him with a dirty gaze.
He spotted her as soon as he burst through the doors of his building. She was at a table facing the window. Looking at a phone. She did not look up as he crossed the street. He tried to meet her gaze as he entered the cafe. She looked up when he sat down. She smiled. He smiled.
She gave him her phone number, but he didn’t have a phone. She pulled one from her bag and handed it to him. You won’t have my number, she said, but I have yours. She called him old because he did not have one. He told her he used to, but got rid of it when she someone left him. She told him someone left her, too. He could have guessed. He saw her rope.
The sheets were stuck to him again when he woke up. He got up to wash his face, but halted when a glow and vibration erupted from the side of his end-table. He flipped the phone over to see she had sent him a message.
She wanted to know why he was awake. He asked how she knew. She told him she felt it. He told her he thought about her while he slept. She told him she knew that, too. He fell asleep with the phone in his hand. She told him goodnight.
The sun was bright when he woke up. It was late. He was late. He rushed to make oatmeal. He ran to work. He almost did not see her leaning on the gray stone of his building. She smiled and he turned to look at her. She told him to come. He looked up to his office, then back at her. She waved him on. He followed her.
They went to a park down the street. There were benches along a path that lead to a pond. She sat down facing the pond. He sat down next to her. She looked at the pond and told him she wanted to be a fish. She wanted to swim for miles without stopping, to see the world from a different view. Her red hair swam in windy circles behind her. She was fish. A goldfish goddess. She wanted everything to be tinted blue. She told him to close his eyes. She pulled sunglasses out of her bag. She put them over his eyes. He opened them and saw the world was now a cyan hue. See, she asked him. Isn’t it beautiful?
They walked home after the sun disappeared behind skyscrapers. She reached out to grab his hand. It scared him. The rope in his groin felt weird, almost loose, almost gone. They stopped in front of her house. She had peonies in her garden. She looked up at him and bit her lip. One of his eyebrows jumped up and got tangled in his hair. She pulled his face down to hers.
He felt differently after they fucked. It was different from when he had fucked his girlfriend. He didn’t want to think about her, though. His rope grew taught when he did. He wanted to lie next to the fish woman with peonies and wild red hair. He thought about love, about making love. Maybe this is what she had been talking about. What he couldn’t give her, what she couldn’t find with him.
He woke up warm. Not sweaty, warm. He saw her red hair sprawled across the pillow beside him. Tiny twirls of glowing fishtail. She turned to face him and smiled. I know why I can see your rope, she said. He looked down at her, puzzled. She got up from the bed and walked to a dresser across the room. He could see her whole figure in the dim light of the early morning. She was soft. She was luminescent. He didn’t hold his usual disdain – being up at this hour. He appreciated the way the golden dewy light caressed her skin.
She walked back to the bed with scissors, a needle and thread. Do you trust me? She asked. He told her he did. She reached down towards his crotch and his heart started kicking. She did something he didn’t expect. She took his rope gently in one hand, and began to push it against his stomach. He flinched and she put her free hand on his chest. With both of her hands manipulating him, she pushed his rope back into his torso. He felt it growing, radiating. It filled him with warmth. She cupped one palm around his chest and began to pull. His breathing was quick and frantic. He let out a small moan. He felt his entire body being connected by this cord she was moving through him. It was exquisite. He lost himself to pleasure.
He regained his composure and opened his eyes. He saw she had pulled her rope around from her head. It now radiated from her chest. There was a damask colored cable extending from the left side of his chest. He didn’t recognize it. It was coming from his heart. He could feel her pulling it out from him. He gasped for her to stop. She just put a finger to his lips. She threaded a needle and began stitching his new rope to her heart. With each stitch his breath came more easily. Blood pooled in her lap from the stitches. He looked at her with worry. Her eyes calmed him. He sat patiently.
When she had finished with him she took her own rope and put it to his chest. She threaded a new needle and began to sew. As she attached herself to him, he could feel himself entering her. He entered her mind, her thoughts. He felt her emotions. He was engulfed by her experience. She tied off the last stitch and their two ropes became one.
As a blinding light radiated from the link between them she put a hand to his cheek and whispered, this is why I can see it.
In that moment, he felt like the second-hand sky diver. The difference between them – he wasn’t going to stop. He was going to jump.