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The Gap Year
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It was late, well after midnight Beth supposed, and she was trying to sleep but Matthew was in the kitchen folding origami, the steady whisper of the paper giving itself over to form all she could think about as she lay there in the middle of the night in their empty house—in the middle of their half-over and suddenly empty lives. It was how Beth thought of their lives now, now that Darrin was gone and she could no longer say whether half over was such a bad thing. When Darrin was young, Matthew had also stayed up late making origami, flitting from shape to shape, a turtle followed by a crocodile, a cat, a fish. These he hid inside their son’s favorite cereal and in the meat drawer of the refrigerator because Darrin had a soft spot for cold cuts, both he and Beth enjoying the pleasure of watching Darrin discover a swan snuggled with an elephant, there atop his bologna.

Matthew did not mix animals, not anymore, for the whole point was to give himself, his hands, over to repetition. These creatures were not made in anticipation of a son’s delight; they had no purpose, no future either. For even as Matthew created them, his hands were already anticipating their destruction, finishing the final fold, then delivering them onto the pile that would become their funeral pyre. This was their morning routine now (and hadn’t Beth always liked routine?): Matthew sweeping the pile into a paper bag, taking it to the back patio to be burned, lighting it. He left the sliding door open, and the smell of burning paper wafted in, becoming their new morning smell, the smell (like coffee or bacon) that told Beth to face the day.


They met at a gay bar on the west side of Albuquerque, both of them straight, and later Beth wondered whether Matthew came up to her that night simply because in a gay bar, straight people could pick each other out the way that gay people were said to be able to find one another in every other crowd. In fact, she had never asked him why he approached her that night, perhaps because she never quite got over needing to believe that he saw her there with her friends—the Sapphists, he later called them—and thought, Now that looks like an interesting person .

She was wearing glasses with owlish frames that did not flatter her face, for that was her goal back then—to be seen as the sort of woman who conspired against her own beauty. Matthew approached her as she stood at the bar trying to get the bartender’s attention. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you near or far?”

He’d meant her eyesight, but she just stared at him, wondering about his scar, a simple white line that emerged from his left eyebrow and continued upward.

“To what? From what?” she said at last, and he pointed at her glasses and said, “Your vision, Four Eyes,” in a teasing, playground voice. “Are you near- or far-sighted ? I’m twenty-twenty, but that, too, can be a burden.” He sighed, as though struck by the ways that his life had been made more difficult by perfect vision. She was just starting graduate school in linguistics, and she thought about how the Japanese and Chinese looked at a character and arrived at the same meaning yet articulated it with completely different sounds. She recognized all of the sounds this man was making yet had no idea what he was trying to tell her.

“May I buy you a drink?” he asked, and he ordered her some sweet, green concoction involving Midori and pineapple juice. “It’s awful, isn’t it?” he said gleefully after she’d taken a sip. She nodded because it was. “But very tropical, don’t you think?” She nodded again. “When I graduate next year I plan to travel to lots of tropical places, so I’m getting myself in the mood.” He paused. “Maybe we’ll go together,” he said. The pause was what kept her from walking away right then...

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