By Aura Martin
I met him before the pandemic. I met him before everything we knew changed.
He drove us downtown. There were no signs of COVID-19 at the time. It was mid-March. The restaurants were still open in St. Louis. People walked around on a Friday night. No masks. We didn’t have to worry about staying away from others. The virus was a problem elsewhere.
He nudged me at the gelato shop. He held out his hand and I grasped it.
We went to a bar and played shuffleboard. He pulled my purse strap towards him and looked at me. With his black pen he inked my arm. An infinite triangle. He held my hand in the bar with neon lights and graffiti walls.
We decided it was time to go.
It was time to go, but I wanted to walk around and talk some more. We arrived at another park. It was nighttime. We got out of his car and walked on the gravel sidewalk. We were close together.
He touched my back and gently turned me to face him. His eyes softened. He hugged me, held me. Then he kissed me.
I was an awkward kisser.
Pucker your lips.
I laughed and walked on. We stopped then made out some more by the trees and street lights. The parking lot near the boat house was empty. The river glittered close by.
We passed the garden not yet in bloom, and we were holding hands.
We were holding hands then he kissed me. It was daylight, and we were going to the pharmacy. This time we were more conscious to stay away from people. It was a week after we first hooked-up.
Back at his place, he picked me up and put me on his bed.
You’re beautiful, he said.
He looked down at me and smiled. Our foreheads touched, then he kissed me.
Hold onto me, he said. Breathe. Relax.
What do you think of my body, I asked quietly. I was facing away from him. His arms were wrapped around my chest.
You have wide hips, he said. And you’re flexible. That’s hot.
I fell asleep as he held me.
He texted that restaurants and bars in Illinois were shutting down.
I’m freaking out. What will I do for money?
I don’t know.
I’m hungry, what should I eat?
I’m hungry for you.
We weren’t always in his bedroom. He wanted to go hiking.
Soon I will have to stop seeing him altogether. My family was asking when this would end.
He was holding my hand on the drive down. We went to the park that had granite boulders.
I wanted to make out. He was smiling and caressed my back with his hand as I walked ahead of him. Leaves crunched underfoot.
He finally sat down and we made out. He was leaning against the boulder. He asked if he was covered in lichen and I brushed him off. We walked on. We found larger rocks and more people.
We started climbing. We were slipping on our sneakers, but neither of us fell. We made it to the top of the slabs of rock. We avoided getting too close to people. He laid down, and he grabbed my hand. I laid down beside him.
We got up to see how far we climbed. We didn’t touch the wooden railing that overlooked the hills and trees. We were afraid of getting sick.
We wanted to wade in the stream but the water was too high. He didn’t want to risk getting in trouble because we wanted to return someday. We were at a different park. Once again we were surrounded by trees. There were large grey stones buried in the hills.
If the sirens blared, we’d have to run because of falling rocks. If it rained hard.
We walked up the wooden stairs. There were some tourists and we kept our distance. When we were alone he leaned in and kissed me. He held me above the rushing water.
When we got coffee, we could only order inside and then we would have to leave. In southern Missouri there was already change. It was the first time I saw chairs up in a restaurant, and nobody was inside eating. He looked anxious.
We talked in the car, then he fell asleep. I drove with one hand on the wheel, and the other holding his hand.
We skateboarded in the park near my house. He was comfortable on a board. As we rode along for a while, I pointed and said we should stop by the pool.
We sat on the wet hillside on our boards. We watched the sunset, my head on his shoulder. I liked the quiet. I liked being alone with him.
Anxiety kicked in again for him. I saw fear return to his eyes. Silence scared him. It allowed his mind to wander back to the virus.
Couldn’t we just run away someplace? Get a cabin for six months? With internet of course so you can write.
Do you mind if I start calling you Ernest?
I was sleeping on my bed and he was holding me. He stirred and woke me up.
Hey, he said.
It was eleven at night.
I need to get going.
He held me then said come on let’s go. We walked outside.
I’ll see you, he said.
We kissed, then he drove into the night.
When I saw him last time, he was tired. And stressed and unsure. His green eyes a forest before the storm.
He had sketch paper and two black pens. We shared a table at the pavilion. Both of us inked our pages. We were closer than six feet. I played Russian roulette and risked my family’s health to see him. A risk I took because I hadn’t seen him in what felt like years. I wanted to be close to him. I still loved him though we are not a couple.
I wrote a letter and handed it to him.
He looked up after a spell and smiled.
You look bright, he said.
It’s the sun, I said. The day is almost over.
Right. He laughed.
It was time to go. He stood several feet away from me. Hands in his pockets, but his eyes were soft and inviting. His green eyes a meadow in early spring.
See you, I said.
Soon I hope, he replied.
He waved, and he was gone.
There is no seeing him now until all of this is over. A year. A year and a half.
So we text. And call and chat. But it’s not the same.
I am clutching sand that’s slipping through my fingers. I try to memorize as many details as possible before everything is lost to memory. His eyes. Face. Body. Granular as this. His voice. Smile. Laughter. Something to hold onto if it rained hard.
What would he say if he could see me now and what has become of me. Listless. Distracted. Alone.
I don’t know why I am telling you all this.
Maybe one day we will go back to the stream in southern Missouri. We will pull off our shoes, roll up our jeans, and wade ankle-deep into that blue water. I will feel my way with bare feet.
Maybe he will be close by. Maybe he will look over at me and smile.
Aura Martin (she/her) graduated from Truman State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She is the author of the micro-chapbook “Thumbprint Lizards” (Maverick Duck Press). Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in 3 Moon Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, and Variant Literature, among others. Find her on Twitter @instamartin17 and Instagram @instamartin17.
This piece is a part of DISTANCED 2.0.