IT WAS A MISTAKE. This was a mistake. It is always a mistake.
There she is, sleeping very slightly on her back. The sweat creating a patina over her with beads of it slowly creeping down the valley between her breasts. A sweet cluster of hair is plastered on her forehead, and I can hear a slight whistling through her slightly-parted lips.
God it’s hot.
It happens more often than you’d think in a city of this size. New York City. Running into people you know. That she lived only five blocks from me meant it was more likely, of course, as happened an hour or so ago. I’d gone to the corner kiosk to get a copy of The Times and grabbed a coffee and cinnamon-raisin bagel with butter at the coffee place halfway down the block when there she was. She always made a good first impression, and she didn’t fail. She somehow looked cool in a bright sundress and sandals. She always did like hats, and this morning’s didn’t disappoint, straw with a thin brown band and a wide brim. Not the man’s fedora type. A real woman’s hat that you could imagine flinging like a Frisbee across a field of sunflowers if you were in the south of France.
We weren’t in the south of France. I’d never been and I doubt she had either. I mean, it might get really hot there, but not sweltering like it did here each August with the park or a movie theater or museum or bookstore being the only respite from the heat for those who lived in pre-War brownstones without air conditioning. I lived in just such a place. So, last I heard, did she.
Me: How are you?
Her: I’m good. You?
Me: Great. You look…very good?
Her: So do you.
This last bit, which is what she said, was bullshit. The former, which I did, was an understatement. It always was with her. Every time I saw her, I had a physical reaction to seeing her. I looked “all right” at best. I was never at my best, of course, when I went out just to get the paper and coffee and a bagel, especially when it was this damn hot, so I had on a race t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. A Mets cap on top and I hadn’t shaved. There was always the chance, long as it was, that I’d run into her and I still hadn’t shaved.
In the right light, though, I guess I could look good.
She smiled and lifted her left hand, stretching and wiggling her fingers.
“Nothing,” she said. She’d noticed that I had checked, and I felt compelled to lift my own, bare left hand and say, “same.”
We turned towards my street.
“Have you gotten a/c yet?”
“No, course not. You?”
“One of these days one of us is going to have to get an apartment with air conditioning.”
“What, and lose the charm of a sultry New York August?”
“’Hot time, summer in the city’?” she quoted as without another word we started down my block where at least the trees gave some measure of shade. We joined a flow of people heading to the park and a few runners doing the same, passing by in the street.
“You always loved a nice piece of ass,” she said as she slapped my arm when she caught me admiring a pretty young thing in boy shorts and a sports bra heading east, her blonde ponytail dancing left-to-right, right-to-left like a pendulum.
“I’ll do no more than admit that I’ve always loved yours.”
She laughed. This always happened. The magical moments when we’d run into each other, a flow of Bogart-and-Bacall banter. (Or Harry-and-Sally in these parts, though Bacall did live ten blocks to the south when she was a grand old dame).
It was so damn hot and it was only going to get hotter and the noise from the avenue hung over everything just like the humidity did and neither of us cared. We never did, these brief encounters.
And we didn’t this morning as we got to my place. A fumble for the key for downstairs and then the keys for my one-bedroom place. Once inside, I said I hadn’t asked if she had plans, where she was going.
“No plans. I just wanted to get out and…and there was always the chance that I’d run into you.”
This last part was punctuated by her right hand gripping my waist and pulling me, all of me, toward her.
I wasn’t lying when I said I always loved her ass. My own hands reached and grabbed it and as always happens and as night always follows day, we were in the hot, unmade bed making love and, as always it was glorious and delightful and fun in equal measures.
It was also so hot and sticky. The window was open with the screens in. The sounds from buses driving and taxis honking up and down the avenue came in and so did the voices and laughter of people going to or from the park and when we were done it was as sublime a space I ever knew.
Yes, one of these days one of us will have to get a place with a/c but seeing those beads of sweat flow slowly down to her stomach, which is rising and falling in a wonderful rhythm, and telling myself how much this is a mistake, I run a finger to touch the wetness and kiss it from my fingertip.
It rouses her, and she turns on her side to face me. My hand quickly brushes that bit of damp hair from her forehead. When it is back on my side, she asks, “Why does this keep happening? It’s like fate or something.”
“You admitted that you thought you might run into me if you ‘happened to be in the neighborhood.’”
“I did, didn’t I?”
She smiles and turns back to lay naked on her back. Her hand reaches over, awkwardly going I knew not where but I take it in mine and place it on my stomach and hold mine over it.
“I like feeling you breathe,” she says.
“I like watching you breathe,” I add.
I ignore this. We both know how true it is.
“Seriously,” she says, now turning to look straight at me. “Why do we always do this? And nothing more?”
“We tried ‘more,’ remember?” I remind her. “It was a disaster.”
She turns a little further and is now leaning against me with her lips not far from my ear and our sweat once again mingling.
“I remember. We’re in one of those relationship in which the sex is the thing that doesn’t ruin everything.”
She pushes away, and we’re beside each other on our backs.
“You want to take a shower?” I ask. She’s silent for several beats.
“I really don’t have anything else to do today. Can we take it together?”
“You know how small it is.”
“You’re talking about the shower, right?” she says to the ceiling. I can hear her smile; she is such a bitch. “What did you think I meant?”
She’s waiting. It really is a mistake. It is always a mistake.
“If we get real close to one another, I think we can fit,” I finally say. Then, I imagine but don’t say, maybe we can go for a walk—after I shave—and see how things go from there.
I turn to face her. Her finger runs down my nose and across my lips. I kiss it.
“I know you can fit,” she says, and her eyes have a bit of a twinkling and her tongue runs across her upper lip though I doubt she realizes it.
And so, not caring that the neighbors across the street can see us, we dash to my little bathroom off the kitchen, and she stands beside me, holding my hand, her arm leaning against mine, until I get the water just right for the two of us.