They are walking in near-darkness, following the sinuous path the park offers to them. He walks with his hands buried deep in his coat pocket. HE keeps stride with him, hands wrapped around a bottle of vermouth ensconced in a plastic bag.
“It’s so cold,” he says. It is not so much a blanket statement about a mundane, worn-out topic as it is a verbal filler. They are still in the stage where a silence is not comfortable—a silence demands to be filled with words, however matter-of-fact they might be.
“Right?” HE says. “Like, what happened to the nice weather we had earlier?”
“Tell me about it—the other week I was in the park with a friend in shorts, and now I’m fucking freezing.”
HE takes a drink from the bottle. “Well, this’ll warm you up.”
“If I’d known, I’d’ve brought something, too.”
“No worries, I just took this from the wine cellar. I’m basically trying to come off as someone who doesn’t have an alcohol problem, which is actually a fairly accurate portrayal of my life.” HE says this last part in a jocular fashion, the kind of tone one uses when saying that they’re a horrible person, when in fact they think the total opposite. HE hands it to him. “Live it up.”
“Here’s to cheap-ass alcohol,” he says before taking a swig. “Not bad.” Examining the bottle, he says, “15%? It doesn’t taste that strong.”
“I know, right?”
The road bends to the right, vanishing into the darkness. The occasional street lamps can provide only so many pools of light. The wind whistles, a long, piercing note. Their sneakers slap against the pavement.
“I need to sit,” he says. “It’s been a long, long day.”
“I feel you,” HE says. “I wash 3D glasses at the theatre.”
“Wait, is that like, an actual thing? I thought you got to keep the glasses. I still have mine.”
“Not at like, the movie theatre. Like, where they show plays and shit. You know, Anne Frank and all that. You return them at the end and I wash them and make them shiny for the next batch of customers.”
“An endless cycle.” He takes another sip, then intones, “From dust to dust, as the Preacher says.”
“Oooh, quote that Scripture,” HE says, laughing a little. “But if you want to sit, there’s a bench right there.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Seek and ye shall find, am I right?”
“It’s just, I’ve been on my feet for, what, ten hours?” he says. It’s nice to just . . . do this. Be here. Feel this. You know?”
HE nods. “Right? It’s funny to think that like, a few hundred meters away is the nightlife center of the city. It’s like some magical place out here.”
“Isn’t it?” he says. Then there is silence, but it is not an uncomfortable silence like before. Perhaps it is the alcohol; perhaps something else. But the creek behind them chuckles and the wind howls. And they are silent.
By the time the bottle is empty, it has been at least thirty minutes. “Do we carry this back with us and dispose of it like responsible human beings?” he asks.
HE pauses for a moment. “Fuck responsibility,” HE says eloquently. Then HE takes the bottle-in-the-bag and chucks it into the creek. A splash. It is enveloped in the darkness. “Shall we?” HE says.
“We shall,” he says, getting up. “Oooh, I can feel that.”
“Right?” HE says. “Almost mitigates the cold.”
“Ooh, ‘mitigate.’ You don’t hear that word much often.” He breaks into a little jog, a wavering, lurching half-run/half-trot thing. “Oh, god, I can’t even walk straight.”
“That went straight to your head.”
“I have like, no idea where we are,” he says. “Like, I think some of this looks familiar, but not really?”
HE makes a weird, breathy sound. “Just keep walking.” He also lurches a little. Their arms bump, once. It’s quick, ethereal—then again. This time it is more deliberate. Or perhaps it is just the alcohol. Their hands are deep in their pockets, protecting their fingers from the cold.
“I really need to pee,” he announces suddenly, coming to a halt at the same time.
“Same, though,” HE says. “I take the left side of the road, you take the right?”
“Done,” he says, and they go about their business. They meet again, in the middle of the path, neither of them moving. In the near-darkness, he can see HIS hair: short, buzzcut; his eyes: gray-blue; his smile: barely-existent. They are close, so very close. He can no longer just see HIM, he can feel HIM. There is an almost palpable current in the air, and he knows that HE can also feel it. But they just stand there for a second, anyways. Because maybe it is the most cliche moment in history, in literature, in television, that moment, but it suddenly opens a world of opportunity, a nascent universe bursting into existence, full of endless possibility and infinite choices; of unfathomable openness and potential hurt; of everything and nothing all at once.