Bill and I went hunting today. It was quiet around us, except for the sound of grass rising up in our footsteps and the rustling of leaves. I thought Bill and I must hear quiet differently, and that thought made me sad. Then we saw the deer. It was thin and brown, the eyes shiny black. It stood there a moment, frozen in that bubble of quiet with Bill and me, and then everything quaked – the animal lost its balance and dropped to the ground. Bill smiled and slapped me on the back. I was happy for him.
I watched Bill as he approached the deer, moving far away from me, his green camouflage suit tight around his waist. He was out of breath from the walking, but as the air rasped in his throat he turned his head and smiled again. His thick hand touched the carcass.
Bill says he still remembers what it’s like to shoot a real deer, from a hunting trip with his father when he was ten. He says he can tell the difference. I don’t believe him. Today the blood of the deer smeared on his sleeve and he looked at it like a man looking at blood, and I didn’t believe him. There’s no difference.
• • •
Bill came home from work an hour early today. He dropped on the couch and it shook under him, and he put his hands on his face and sighed. I brought him a glass of orange juice from the kitchen. He took a gulp, and thanked me, and sniffed. His eyes were red.
“That jerk Mortara,” he said.
“What about him?”
“Got fit and now he looks at me like I’m trash. Heard him talking to Diane, saying some people are just lazy. And he meant me, because who else? Talking to Diane about me.”
I didn’t answer. I don’t always know what to say to Bill. Someone like me told me once, that if you don’t know what to say to them it means they’re special. I don’t know whether he meant special to you or not like everyone else. Bill is not like everyone else.
“He’s right,” Bill said. “Of course he’s right, but what a jerk.”
I took the glass from his hand. “I can help you,” I said. “You can be a fit jerk if you want.”
Bill smiled. “Okay.”
I said, “I’ll give you no mercy starting tomorrow, but tonight’s your last night of freedom. What do you want for dinner?”
“I’m tired of bothering you,” he said. “Let’s go out.”
We went to the place where the squid tentacles twitch when you pour hot sauce on them. Two tables over sat a couple, a man and a woman each using one hand to eat and the other to stroke their companion’s hand. He ate with his right, she with her left. I thought they looked fine together, two people having dinner. But Bill snorted and said, “Yeah, right. Who’s he fooling?”
I didn’t answer. Bill always makes fun of the men that buy one who’s a woman. It’s giving up, he says. But Bill and I are fine. Bill and I, it’s not like that between us.
Bill chewed the squid loudly, his lips glimmering with the oily sauce. “As if a woman like that would go out with a guy like him. She’s clearly a – you know, clearly like you.”
“You can’t tell,” I said.
“Come on, look at the hands. A human’s gonna eat with her left hand just to be lovey-dovey with him?”
“She could be a lefty.”
Bill shrugged and wiped his mouth. “Doubt it. I think I can tell pretty well.”
“You can’t tell unless you cut it open. There’s no difference. One day we’ll replace you and you wouldn’t know until it was your turn.”
For a moment he looked at me, his face quiet, features all in resting positions. Then everything quaked. He chuckled. “You wouldn’t know what to do without us,” he said.
He was right, and I pretended to chuckle too.
• • •
Bill’s date with Diane was today. I turned off all the lights in the apartment and sat in my room waiting for him to come home. I don’t need the light to see. Sometimes Bill laughs and says I’m cheap – that I can leave the light on when he’s not around, that he doesn’t work all day to worry about the electric bill. But I don’t need the light.
Still, today I only sat in the dark for an hour, and then went to the living room and turned the light on. I poured a glass of orange juice and drank it on the couch, like Bill does. It doesn’t give me a tenth the energy as the shakes, but Bill likes orange juice. I finished one of the books Bill bought last week but hadn’t read yet. Afterwards, I sat with the empty glass in my hand for a while. I didn’t know what else to do.
He came back, alone. He waved at me and took off his jacket in a light, flowing motion. He moves lighter now. He came to sit by me on the couch.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Not very good. You know, with Diane, I think maybe it never was about me being fat. Me and Diane, probably just doesn’t work.” He leaned his head back and added, as an afterthought, “We talked about you.”
“She thought it was strange. Said people should be friends with people.”
“What did you say?”
“I said she was wrong.” His gaze fell on the book in my lap. “Is it good?”
“Good.” He smiled, then reached for the remote. “I think there’s a game on tonight. You want to?”
“Sure,” I said.
We watched the game. If I wanted to, I could tune out the cheering and the sportscaster, and hear only the steps of the players on the grass and Bill’s breathing by my side. I was glad it hadn’t worked out with Diane.
Louis Rakovich writes literary and speculative fiction. His work has appeared in Phobos Magazine and Bad Dream Entertainment. He grew up in Jerusalem, Israel, and currently lives in New York, NY.