A middle seat. Closing the book when they dim the lights, to be crept upon by the certainty that this movement, the rapid hurtling of the plane towards California, is wrong, that it is a mistake for me to be going there. When the lights turn back on, it is easy to subjugate my mistakes beneath those of Anna and Vronsky, with every turn of the page, their fates drawing to fatal close. The lights dim again, my decision rises to meet me. California rises to meet me.
The girl with blue hair and the hooded cloak and the ordinary looking friend get picked up, and I am alone in the baggage claim. I could wear a hooded cloak. Have an ordinary friend. Past 4am, I am waiting. All the shops gated. Devvon. This is a mistake. California is rising to meet me. Devvon’s smile encloses me, the coconut oil in her hair covers the stale airport scent and she destroys my impulse to flee.
Three kinds of salsa on the table. Two kinds of cactus in a pot. Sharing roots. I lean over the bar, getting warm. The hard taco shells getting crisp in the oven. The soft getting softer in the microwave. The refried beans slide slimy out of the can. What do I want from this. There is a beautiful full-bodied human in front of me who is fixing me dinner. She is fixing her lunch for tomorrow so she won’t wake me at 6 in the morning when she goes to work, leaving me asleep in bed. I will be awake anyway, watching her move in the half-light, wondering.
By Saturday, I beg like a dog. A waffle, please. She stares down at my prone body, bemused. The empty bottles of last night collected into her trunk, we drive through sleepy LA morning to fulfill my desire. Past the Kardashian boutique and the caged tattoo parlors.
She speaks to the café owner in Italian. He tells me, “You both are very beautiful. She is very beautiful. I ask for her number every time she comes here, but she will never give it to an old man like me.” Devvon laughs. She is very beautiful. A tiny dog approaches and licks her exposed ankle. Everything is designed, down to the foam in the coffee.
When she drives, I already miss her, put my hand on her thigh as the volume rockets higher into the LA heat. Driving and missing. Two parts of the same feeling. The silence of not belonging. I think of Devvon’s life when I am absent. Of the ghost whispers being begged for not being mine. I think of returning to New Jersey. To be back where palm trees are mythical. The ordinary of rice and kimchi. The waiting for what you want to hear.
My phone fills up with one-sided conversations. My sister. My brother. Friends. Exes. These people who I shared a history and a tenderness with would be so easy to appease, to string on, to convince that I know what it is I’m doing here, that this will all be okay. Is that what is deserved here? What is owed. The messages go un-answered as do their fears. They will hold this against Devvon, but she has no idea. This is me.
Southern California is flooding, unused to this much rain. It stopped raining only briefly. Devvon, direct into my ear. A trip to San Diego. Let’s fall in love with someone new. I think you’ll like them too. A plural suggestion. She’s asking me not to use my return ticket, the closest Devvon can ever get to admitting to something like a wanting me, wanting Min, and not just life itself and everything. The sex we have is different—violent, crushing, sad—though when we finish we are sweet and soft as ever until we fall asleep.
The next day, I’m in the Las Vegas airport, clammy and pale and sick to my stomach, resisting the urge at every trash can to stop and vomit up the coffee and scone and cranberry juice with which I tried to cure the clawing feeling in my vagina this morning, the middle-aged woman’s gaze fixed on me, certain she knew what was wrong, me with unwashed hair, chattering teeth and hunched shoulders, silent streaking tears—of course I’m in Las Vegas. Where else for disappointed gambles, risks taken that don’t pan out.
Susannah Betts lives in Rochester NY with her partner. She is the fiction editor for The Fem lit mag and her art and writing are scattered across the world-wide web.