The Subtle Persistence of Gravity

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Tina sits on the floor of the hotel room, hair damp from the shower, dressed but in bare feet still. Our only plan is to take our cameras and go walking, and that is plan enough for now.

“We should have got more pineapple,” she says. She has been eating slices of dried fruit from a plastic bag that we bought at a gas station halfway through our drive. “All this is doing is making me want to eat more of it.”

“This is a town, you know,” I say. “I’m sure if we walk far enough, we’ll find a market or something.”

“As long as we don’t drive,” she says. It’s one of our rules for the holiday, that we won’t so much as start the car until we are leaving town. Tina wants to walk every inch of the area, and to shoot as many photos as she can while we are here. She’s borderline obsessed with the idea.

“Of course not,” I say. I sit on the bed and start putting on my shoes. “No driving today.”

I try not to think about how she has not kissed me yet, like she warned me she might. She made no promises, but when we are alone together in the room, and when we are in the same bed at night, when she is asleep next to me and I am laying still and staring at the ceiling in the dim glow of the lights of the parking lot which creep beneath the bottom edge of the curtains on the window… that’s when it’s hard not to wonder what all of this is, this thing that we are in.

Tina stands and takes the pillows she has brought with her from home off the bed, so that the housekeeper won’t take them to be laundered. She puts them on top of the suitcases at the top of the small open closet, tossing them high where she can’t reach, and then doing it again when they both fall to the floor the first time. “I want to get wet today,” she says. “I haven’t gone in the water yet.”

“It’s going to be cold,” I say.  “You might want to reconsider.”

“I don’t care. I want to get in the water. I need to.”

Tina is never one to be talked out of anything she decides she will do, so I give up arguing. I will let her lead the day, and I will do what I know is what she wants, which is to take photos of her in the sea. I have a picture of her in my apartment from a trip we took to Carmel one summer, when her hair was short and she hadn’t yet decided if she was going to smile while in my presence or not. She is in a white dress, so thin that it is almost transparent, and standing in the surf which is around her ankles, frozen at the moment of the shutter’s press. I don’t think I was in love with her then, and I’m not even sure if I’m in love with her now, but I know that when she taps her finger against her lips, she is thinking about cigarettes, and that when she sleeps, she sometimes whispers words to herself like she is casting a spell, and that is enough for me.

Her hair is long now, and she ties it up while I wait. She has talked about dyeing it, perhaps some cotton candy color, but I know she never will. That’s more Rivi’s sort of thing than Tina’s.

“At least bring a change of clothes,” I say. “Can’t have you freezing to death on me.”

“Okay,” she says. “I’m too young to die anyway.”

The first time Tina was undressed in front of me was that trip to Carmel. We had shared a room then, but not yet a bed. I was in mine, reading a Dan Simmons novel, when she walked out of the bathroom, wet from her shower, and no towel covering her. She dripped and gathered her clothing from her suitcase while I tried desperately not to look at her, while also trying to appear nonchalant about it. She never made an issue out of it, and so, after my heart stopped racing, I didn’t either.

There are reasons for why we have never come closer together than we are right now. My reasons I know, but Tina’s are a mystery. She doesn’t tell me about any men she has been with, but she does tell me that she isn’t with one now. She never explains any further than that, and I can tell that she doesn’t want me to ask her about it. Some things we leave at the bottom of the dark and frozen sea.

“If you’re going to get into the water,” I say, “then I want to take photos of you before you do. That’s the trade. I want pictures of you dry first.”

“That’s fair. It’s your holiday, too.”

All my holidays are worthwhile when Tina and I run away together. There is a feeling of being untouchable that only comes when we are gone from our respective lives. The lack of responsibility is a welcome change. Also, the lack of accountability that goes with it.

Tina slips into her shoes and stands. She lifts her camera bag from the room’s only table and puts it over her shoulder. “Ready?” she asks me.

“Yeah,” I say. I put on my jacket and get my own camera bag. I put the hotel key into my pocket and take a last look around the room to make sure there’s nothing I’m forgetting to bring with us. We will be walking most of the day, and I don’t want to have to come back for anything. “Alright,” I say. “I’m good.”

We go to the door, and I open it, holding it for Tina to walk through first. At the threshold though, she stops, turning to me and saying, “Wait.” She then stands on her toes, putting her hand against my chest, and puts her lips against mine. The kiss is brief, and it is over before I am fully aware of what is happening. “I told you I was going to do that,” she says. “If you aren’t careful, I might do it again.”

I don’t know what to say, so all I do is smile and mumble, “Okay.” She walks for the stairs without waiting for me, and I think about Carmel, and the subtle persistence of gravity which pulls us along paths unseen, and steers our futures into currents which had only before existed in our dreams.

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