“There is no such thing as the present,” the guy I’m sleeping with says. He tilts my head back as though my neck is a box he’s opening. He traces lines back and forth along my trachea, like he’s looking for an invisible latch.
We’re in my tiny apartment kitchen. I’ve just uncorked the wine he brought, poured our glasses. I’ve broken so many wine glasses now that I no longer have a matching pair. His glass is the large one with the very thin bowl. It’s my favorite glass, but it’s safer in his hands.
He says, “I am not the guy you are sleeping with. I am the guy you have fucked and the guy you will fuck again in the future.”
“But this moment,” I say. “Your fingers on my skin. You standing in my kitchen. This is not the past or the future.”
He smiles at me like my sister smiles at her little girl, Juney, when Juney insists something ridiculous, such as when Juney said she was going to marry their cat and give birth to a litter of half-cat, half-human babies.
He says, “It’s something I heard on a TED talk. I know it sounds crazy at first, but think about it. As soon as my mouth pronounces a word, that word becomes part of the past.”
I notice for the first time that his right eye is slightly smaller than his left eye, like my right breast is smaller than my left breast, and now I’m picturing his eyes as tiny gelatinous breasts, his pupils their smooth, Sharpied-on nipples.
I say, “But during the pronouncing, when your mouth is making the shape of a word, that is a present action.”
“Or, to use your other example,” I continue, “What if we go to the bedroom right now and start having sex? Then you are not just the guy I have fucked and will fuck. You become the guy I am currently, at this very moment, in the present, fucking. Because otherwise, every nanosecond of fucking is a separate fuck. If we fuck for ten minutes, we’d have to say we fucked a trillion times.”
That look of certainty shakes from his face. Watching it drop away, I realize that the reason I am, have been, and maybe will again sleep with the guy I am sleeping with has to do with that particular expression of assurance. When he first asked me for my number three weeks ago, back at The Lone Palm, he was wearing it. And even though he wasn’t really my type (he’s lean to the point of angular, and has messy, voluminous hair), I said, “Sure, okay.” And he had that same expression the first time we had sex, and I thought, wow, maybe I could fall in love with this guy.
I realize all these things— the existence of that expression, and that it had real significance in the past— only now, when I see that element that made him something more desirable than his essential self slip away. It’s my own philosophical mini-epiphany. I say, “Whoa.”
He says, “Actually, before we fuck, I’d like to drink some of this wine.”
I study his formerly-smug-and-now-uncertain face, trying to sort out whether he wants wine because he’s now not that into me, or because he has a drinking problem (now that I think about it, every time we’ve had sex he’s been buzzed), or because he knows I’ve exploded his silly “there is no present” pseudo-philosophy and he’s one of those dudes who needs to feel superior to the woman he’s sleeping with, or even creepier, because he was gaslighting me, and his claim that “there is no present” was merely the first step in a series of insane falsities that will eventually unhinge my reason and turn me into a madwoman.
I’ll grant him this: the present is as elusive as a good man. It’s difficult to be in the moment when I’m already seeing what lies ahead.
On the other hand, I recognize that this is the moment when I know that I am no longer sleeping with, and will not in the future sleep with, the guy I was sleeping with.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) is out now from 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Pidgeonholes, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other venues. Her story “One or Two?” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2019. She is Fiction Editor of Atticus Review. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. www.michellenross.com