David Fishkind

She turned the burner on a pot of water and sat at the table facing the hallway. He emerged, looked past her, eyes widening, picturing what she saw of him, standing and staring, seeing her head propped up on her hand, elbow resting on table in the periphery. She stood and stirred in the oatmeal.

He closed his hand into a fist. He lay back in bed. Now I will have only six hours of sleep, he thought and coughed as if he hadn’t decided if he was going to start weeping. ―Now I will have only six hours of sleep.

From the kitchen, ―It’s okay. Just, you can go to bed early tonight, okay?

He grunted and closed the door with his foot. He wrapped the blanket around his legs and rested it on the radiator.

At first he didn’t hear the car alarm going off. He kept his eyes closed, counting to twelve before it quieted. His breathing slowed. He opened his eyes and looked at his phone as it began the ersatz marimba of his alarm.

The oatmeal was on the stovetop, warming. ―Don’t put anything in mine.

―I didn’t. She was at the table, her laptop illuming an article on a foreign war, eating.

He drank a cup of orange juice, filled the cup with water. He observed his throat in the bathroom mirror and hawked. She stiffened.

It was as if he pitied them, she thought. Waiting for the subway, she guessed he would fantasize about the library not existing when he arrived. He would pause on the sidewalk, facing where it once stood and guide himself through the negation, slowly and with increasing joy, walking past the invisible turnstiles, through the invisible book drop and absent stacks, immaterial archives and computer labs, and he would ride the train up to see her at the lab, and things would be like before. Except he hadn’t really made a habit of coming to the lab before.

And he would have been happy enough to be fired. He told her as they passed over the bridge, light gleaming from the glass facade of the financial district. He transferred to a second train in Chinatown. She said, ―See you… several seconds before the doors slid open. Onto the platform, he was away.

She gripped the bar and put in earbuds. A few stops later there would be a seat available and then her own transfer, the streamlined, hands in pockets, fingers turning over her keys and ID card, several dozen blocks farther uptown.