Chapter 79 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Chemistry. That's what they call it when two people really hit it off, when their personalities fit together perfectly, each complementing the other, like cookies and milk or steak with a baked potato.

Chemistry. Lisa and Jim had it. It was clear from their first and only date.

They had dinner at an upscale Polynesian restaurant called Trader Flip's. It swept them away to a distant island in the South Pacific, where they were waited upon like a king and queen in an exotic, romantic setting.

Their table was in a secluded, darkened corner, with candles casting a flickering, magical glow over the table. Palm fronds hung from the ceiling, and a large Tiki statue regarded them unblinkingly from a nearby wall. Island music floated quietly across their eardrums.

The waiters spoke with thick accents, moving with slow, careful precision, asking not so much for their orders but for permission to bring them whatever exotic delights they desired. Jim and Lisa drank a powerful and exotic fruit drink from a volcano garnished with flowers. They nibbled at delicious appetizers served on a rotating round tray with a flaming brazier at its center. They were presented with hot towels, and then the main courses arrived. The waiters placed steaming plates of sumptuous foods before them, like offerings set before the Gods.

And during this whole magnificent meal, they talked. They discovered they had many common interests, that their ideas and opinions meshed together very well. They had chemistry. They felt comfortable in each other's company, they laughed at the same things, and they felt a similar attraction for each other.

After the meal they went back to her apartment. She lived alone in a small efficiency three blocks away from the Integer Avenue subway station.

Jim was very surprised by the appearance of the place. The room was barren, almost entirely empty. What she did possess seemed to be mostly packed up in cardboard boxes.

"Are you moving out or moving in?" asked Jim.

"Out," said Lisa. After locking the door behind her, she sat down on the mattress in the corner that served as her bed.

Her mood was different. A cloud had drifted across her mind.

"Where are you moving to?" asked Jim.

Lisa sighed. "If only," she said to herself.

Jim sat down next to her. "If only what?" he asked. His heart was pounding. What was wrong?

Lisa looked at Jim, her eyes drilling into his. They looked into each other's eyes for a long time. Then she looked down again.

"The timing is terrible," said Lisa. "I wish I'd met you a month ago, or that I'd never met you at all."

Jim worked hard to hold onto his composure, to keep from jumping up, from crying out, from screaming "What's going on?" As calmly as he could, he said "What's the matter?"

"I knew I shouldn't have called you," she said, shaking her head. "I knew it would just mess things up... but I didn't expect it to be like this."

Jim couldn't stand it anymore. He stood up and blurted out, "Will you please tell me what's going on?"

Lisa looked at the wall and said, "I joined the Peace Corps. I'm leaving tomorrow to live in Zambia."

Jim couldn't breathe, couldn't talk, couldn't think. He felt as if someone had clamped a monkey wrench onto his lung and was twisting it like a bolt.

Lisa stood up and put her arms around Jim. "I'm sorry," she said. "But I'm still glad I met you. I think you're really great. In some ways, I wish this hadn't happened, because it's torn a big hole in my logical thinking. But on the other hand, this evening was a magical night for me, and even if we never see each other again, I'm glad we've shared this much."

Jim was still too stunned to think, much less talk. Lisa led him over to her bed, and they sat down again. For a very long time, they just sat there, holding hands, thinking their own thoughts.

Later, they curled up together in Lisa's bed. Eventually, they went to sleep.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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