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excerpt > Ben Nickol > Adherence: A Romance

I can know Bradley’s arrival in Chicago without having seen it.

The air is gray, interacting with gray concrete, the grayness of pigeons, and is potent, for him, with far more than rain.

He walks off the platform at Washington Street and follows Wells to the river, where the traffic is a sweeping hush and Merchandise Mart, in its hulking splendor, presides over dark water, his view of it flecked with birds.

Cab fare should be out of the question. Bradley has no money, nor will ever—even when eventually he makes money it will bead like oil and roll from his hands. But he flags one, and they cross the LaSalle bridge, tires thumping beneath them. Like a child, Bradley cranes his face at the window, the city flitting by in a gray variance of lateral speeds, the near velocity of traffic against the farther stroll of pedestrians, the towers churning south at a rate just perceptible to his eye, like a migration of shadows. The city vanishes, and they bend through the park. He slides to the other window to see it, then slides back and watches the shore, the white breakers crashing against it.

They take Fullerton and sail along the harbor, the boats in that grayness battened and still, as if their owners had moved on to other lives, forgetting sunlit days on the water, with their children near, forgetting Chicago. Bradley’s apartment, which he hasn’t seen before today, is a studio in a stone building on Diversey. He leased it after seeing photographs, its high windows and rickety pipework, its claw tub and radiator, striking notes in that lovely minor key Chicago must already have registered for him, the key he scaled his life against, or else he wouldn’t have moved there. There should be luggage, stacks of boxes—he’s moving in. But he has only the frame backpack he wore earlier that year, when he walked forty miles to the lakeshore and camped in the dunes instead of prepping for exams. For cash, he has what remains of his student loans, minus the twenty he peels off for the driver.

The cab departs, and Bradley stands at Diversey and Pine Grove, leaning into his pack. Traffic streams by, some cyclists coursing through it like fingers of surf. Pedestrians veer wide of his pack and continue up the sidewalk, the wind in their skirts, their hair. It’s begun to rain, and connecting all of it, all the city’s breath and synchronicity, the gray light falling to deeper grays, the dark stone of his building, is a membrane of poignancy Bradley knows only by its pressure, its swelling.

He drops his pack in his apartment, then waits out the rain at a bar in the basement, asking strangers about their lives.


I don’t see him until days later. At Dominic’s downtown, at a table on the patio, he sits with his hands in his lap, watching the lunch crowd pass on the sidewalk. I observe, as I cross the patio, his sandy hair and freckles, his checkered shirt, the arm of his sunglasses folded over his pocket. Bradley dresses like a child, and appears a child, against that sea of shirtsleeves and ties. But like anything on a sea, he floats, he is above. He spots me, his chin lifting, followed by his hand, his wave hello not unlike a wave goodbye, a man saluting taillights.

I reach for my chair, but he’s out of his. He steps around and slips an arm under mine. I may be the only suit in Chicago that morning, and certainly am the only suit on that patio, to be lifted off his feet, his laces dangling.

“All right,” I say.

Bradley jostles me a little, like an admiring uncle. “There he is.”

Nowhere I place my hands—on his chest, his shoulder—is anything but effete, and so I let them hang, which is oafish and no less effete. The other tables watch, or pretend not to. He jostles me again and I laugh. “Put me down.”

He smooches my cheek, then sets me down and swipes a hand at my rumpled shirt. We take our chairs.

“You made it in,” I say.

Instead of acknowledging that, Bradley lifts his gaze at the glass towering over us, somewhere in which floats my office. “So this is it, this is the place.”

I know what the building looks like, but with Bradley studying it I pivot in my chair and study with him. The tower’s impossibly high—to take in its breadth I have to lean back against the table—and of a blueish glass, off which tumble shards of light. I turn back around. “That’s it.”

“It’s the real deal now, isn’t it? You’re one of the skyscraper guys.”

“I guess so.”

Bradley shakes his head, astonished. And now I’m astonished with him. In that way, and maybe in all ways, I’m susceptible to Bradley. Whatever he feels seeps out from him and carries me off like a river. But it is, it’s astonishing. I’m a financier in this city, I’m one of the skyscraper guys. I never thought I’d be anything else, but that I’ve actually become it, that I am this thing, is incomprehensible. It must be how dying feels. You know all along that’s where you’re headed, but then you’re there, it’s the moment, and you can’t comprehend.

But I’m not thinking about dying. It’s remarkable I’ve become a banker. It’s remarkable Bradley’s here. I say, “So what’s the plan? You’ve got your summer.”

“Well,” he says.

“You’ve got most of it.”

“They stole it from me, Drew. They took five weeks, but somehow they took all of it.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“I’m a damaged man,” he says.

The waitress appears, a pretty Indian with eyes and teeth of a living white. I order coffee. Bradley echoes that, but then calls to the waitress as she walks off. She returns, and he’s wearing a smile both abashed and fearless. “Only I don’t know,” he says. “What do you think?”

A smile ignites the waitress’s features. “Me?” In even that single word, that clipped syllable, I hear her delicate accent. “I don’t know,” she says.

“The thing is…” Bradley spreads the drinks card before him. When he lifts his face, his eyes remain on the card until the last moment, and then lift to her, which also is the moment brightness shines through his features and I know he’s won this stranger, without meaning to and perhaps without realizing it, though he must know something’s there—the girl’s smiling so broadly she has to bite a lip to restrain it, and then can’t restrain it, she’s beaming at him.

“What?” he says.

“You’re funny.”

“I haven’t said anything.”

“But you’re funny.”

Bradley laughs, his gaze fastened on this stranger. He’s forgotten everything now, the drinks, the time of day. “What’s your name?” he says.

“Kavya.”

“Kavya,” he repeats, as if weighing the name’s aptness, tracing its derivation from the woman standing before him. Kavya withstands his scrutiny, dimming an eye without looking away.

“Well, Kavya, here’s the thing.” He looks again at the drinks. “I want gin.”

“Okay,” she says.

“It’s not too early? You won’t judge me?”

“I didn’t say that,” Kavya says, and he glances at her. The laughter between them’s still there, but has gone aground. “Well,” Bradley lays the card aside, “two gins. Just cold, we don’t care how you make them. And forget the coffees.”

Kavya leaves, and he watches her walk through the tables.

“Look at you,” I say.

Bradley keeps watching her, then watches the door she disappears through. In anyone but my friend I’d find this pathetic, but he has capability. All his life, events of exquisite improbability have coalesced around him, and become actual, like gathering weather. This waitress thing could happen.

“So how was it?” I say.

Bradley’s gaze finally returns to me. “Mm?”

For the last five weeks he’s been in Philadelphia, training for his job with Alternate Futures. In the Fall, he’ll teach English at one of the schools on the South Side, one of the broken ones. “Philly,” I say. “How was it?”

It’s like I’ve punched his gut. He winces, breath billowing his lips.

“Yeah?” I say.

“Andrew, these people.”

“The kids?”

“The kids are fine. They’re kids. These A.F. people.”

“What about them?”

He thinks it over. “They want to make me a teacher.”

“Well. How dare they.”

“I mean but a teacher, Andrew, one of these education people. They want everything empirical, they want flow charts.”

“Okay.”

“Assessments, learning plans. Andrew, I’m not implementing the latest pedagogical scholarship. That’s not me.”

“Do you have to?”

“I don’t know.” He looks off. “They want me to.”

“So what’s going to happen?”

“I don’t know,” he says.

Kavya appears and unloads our gins. Bradley lifts his face to her, squinting against the sky. “It’s hard, you know?”

She smiles. “What?”

“They try to make you something you’re not, Kavya. You can’t accept that.”

“No,” she says.

“You’ve got to protect what you are.”

“You’re your own bird,” she says.

Bradley wrinkles his nose at her, his smile widening. She walks off.

“Well,” I say. “It’s over.”

“With her?”

“No,” I say. “Philly.”

“Oh.” He sips his gin. “Yeah.”

“What about writing?”

“What about it?”

“Is that still…?”

“Absolutely,” he says.

Besides Bradley, I know of no one who wants to be a writer. That’s just not something people do anymore. Yet as unusual as writing is, I knew within hours of meeting him, before he’d said anything about careers or ambition, that romance of some kind figured in his plans. His recklessness, the knife he swiped at the world, announced it. We sip our gins. “Well, you’ve got your summer,” I say. “What’s the plan?”’

“Oh,” he says. “We’ll see. I’ll look around.”

Over my objections, he buys the drinks. Afterwards, chatting on the sidewalk, I’m in no condition to return to work, and yet lust for work, for the sunlight dappling my desk, for the cars sixty stories below moving as lethargically as frigid insects. Bradley’s given me this. He’s fixed me in a known existence, I’m a banker. Nothing can touch you when you’re in that state, when you’re aware of the life containing you, and for a while such security, such immunity from touching, can feel like the highest grace. “What about Kavya?” I say. “She could be part of your summer.”

“Who?” Bradley says.

It winds up being Elyse, an attorney he meets at a bar, and not Kavya. But that’s later. The afternoon after meeting Bradley at Dominic’s, I’m at home with Laura. Our place is west, in Roscoe Village, where a moment can sift through the trees, clear to the sidewalk, undisturbed by shouting drunks. We didn’t know where we wanted to live when we came to Chicago, but knew we wanted that. After all, Chicago for us wasn’t about Chicago. The life we wanted we had all picked out, the two of us, a home and family. Chicago just was where we’d set it down.

Laura carries tea to the sofa, where she sits with a leg beneath her. “How’s he look?” she says.

“Bradley? How do you think?”

“I don’t see how he does it. He drinks like a lunatic.”

“It’s something about him.”

“Did he drink today?”

“What do you think?”

“Did you?”

I laugh.

“Andrew,” she says.

“Tell me one time…” I say.

“You can’t drink at breakfast.”

“Tell me one time with Bradley you turned down a drink.”

“I know.” She sips her tea.

“You should’ve seen him with the waitress,” I say.

“No. . .”

“People swoon over him. It’s magic.”

“God,” she says, “he’s helpless.”

I’m drinking tea, too, but now go to the kitchen, stepping around some boxes we haven’t unpacked, and pour wine instead. Laura flops her head back. “What’re you doing? Is that wine? I want some.”

I return with the bottle and another glass.

“So what, he’s just…what’s he doing? How was Philadelphia?”

I pour her glass full. “He hated it.”

She laughs.

“I don’t think he’ll do it for long.”

“Well, he has to.”

“I guess.”

“He doesn’t have money.”

“He has some.”

Laura lowers her glass, a finger staunching the wine at her lip. “From where?” she says. “What money?”

“He took loans.”

“That’s not having money, Andrew.”

“No,” I say, “it isn’t. But he can spend it. I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

“He’s got to be careful.”

“I bet that’s not what he’s thinking.”

We drink our wine. I don’t know what I’m feeling then, but it’s a kind of restlessness. I’ve been feeling it a lot in Chicago, since we moved in and stacked all these boxes everywhere. It’s been months, and we’ve only vaguely unpacked. The blender, while plugged in, still has its manufacturer slip inside of it, and the dishwasher we use not just to wash dishes but to store them as well, like a cabinet. Also, and more importantly, something’s happening between Laura and me, and we’re not sure what it is and are scared and

not talking about it. The light’s draining from the window. I pour, and drink, a second glass of wine.

“Are you all right?” Laura says.

“Sure.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

We sit awhile, but what was restlessness becomes restlessness under observation, and I can’t take it. “Look,” I say, “it’s fine.”

“What is it?”

“I just feel like…I don’t know.”

“Tell me,” she says.

“I want…” I say, but what do I want? I want capable hands. I want the light not to be draining from the window.

“Andrew,” she says, and I guess I’m crying.

“It’s fine.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m going to bed,” I say.

Are they hard to remember, those first years in Chicago? Not entirely. It was our first taste of money, for instance, and there was splendor in that, in wearing our buying power like the wide skirts of a stagecoach baroness, extending every direction, bumping into things. There was nothing particular we wanted, but gliding together through clothiers and boutiques, bistros, running our fingers over upholsteries and cottons, admiring prints, was a kind of deliverance, as if we’d traveled together into the heart of some foreign land, perhaps a primitive land, where we lay in our mosquito-netted bed, in our cabana, the night shrieking with birds. And we were young, we were healthy. I look at photographs from those years and am astonished at my skin. It’s delicate, and my cheeks slightly pink, as if my mother’s roughed them with a towel. One particular morning, though I have no idea why this persists in my memory, Laura and I jogged through the predawn streets. We went clear to the park and down the shore, where the lake was still and the towers, arrayed before us, had stretched their necks into the red blade of sun folding over the continent.

Other mornings we wait on sidewalks, sipping coffee, for a hostess to appear with menus and call our name. She does, and we pass through the crowd. It’s the two of us, or more often a herd, all friends from school, packing now into a booth by the window. Bradley appears, usually late, and raps the glass, before coming inside and barreling into the booth, the group’s shoulders scrunching, coffee sloshing. A year earlier, brunches like these were an unreasonable expense; two years from now, they’ll be meaningless. This is the liminal time, when hours at a restaurant are both affordable and precious.

Afterwards, the sunlight takes us, this throng of friends easing up the sidewalk past bars open early for football. Here and there, some of us detach and drift home, until it’s just Laura and I, my hand on her side, the two of us strolling quiet streets. At home, we open laptops for work, only to abandon them and go in the cool bedroom to nap. They aren’t hard years to remember because they were an auspicious beginning, and remain an auspicious beginning, even if the seeds of what followed must already have been sown there, beyond our comprehension if not quite beyond detection. Or they weren’t. I don’t know. It’s possible those years were entirely magical, and I’ve simply, retroactively, sutured omens into the cloth. In any case, our home now is a legitimate home up the shore, with everything unpacked, and when I work in the kitchen Sunday mornings, Laura comes out, silently, and sits across from me. What we’ve lost I believe she’s taken from us, and now we wait while the remainder crumbles.

Some days, and more often lately, she says, “Andrew, this doesn’t have to be the end.”

And I say, “Well, you should have thought of that,” or say nothing at all and keep working.

After our drink at Dominic’s, it’s weeks before I see Bradley. I maybe was expecting this. For long intervals, and without notice, he’ll sometimes go aground. It isn’t alarming, and in fact isn’t so noticeable. The life Bradley lives I’ve never firmly distinguished from the life I imagine him living, and in the absence of one the other flourishes.

His studio, as I imagine it, is a luxuriant mess, a wreckage of patrician carelessness, where he wakes with the blankets cast aside, his body damp in the sheets. He sits upright and stretches, smooshing a palm in his eye while his other hand reaches above, like a child awaiting a gift. The curtains flutter, revealing the building’s stone and a section of fire escape. They’re cream colored, his curtains, and capture in their lace every gradient of morning sun, from a yellowness at the fringe to a hot white center, some average of which saturates the room. It’s seven o’clock, he’s naked. Wafting up from the alley, as if marking his drowsy pulse, are the beeps of a garbage truck.

On his feet now, he strolls through heaps of jeans and castoff shirts, the curtains lifting again, brushing his calf. Urinating, he knuckles his back and swivels left and right, his stream snipping the porcelain. He’s been awake five minutes? Ten? In the kitchen, he nibbles an apple. Dishes are piled in the sink. Time for Bradley isn’t a thread unspooling, so much as a compartment folding open, annexing texture and detail, until a moment’s achieved. The apple rolls from his hand, settling on the part he’s eaten. From the heaps, he selects jeans and a t-shirt. In one of the pockets he finds crumpled money.

Chicago for Bradley. He walks out into shadowed avenues and lurching buses, the ancient masonry soaring above like redwoods contending for daylight, and sometimes I believe the magic he feels is just my magic projected onto him. As if I alone sensed in this city a concealed possibility, a pending elegance. It isn’t so. My magic is my own, the broad lawn and whirling leaves, a sedan at the curb. That’s my romance. With Bradley, I share only the falseness, the moment on the sidewalk one glances over his shoulder. He’s heard the wind, perforating his world as if it weren’t there at all.

He finds a diner, and inside finds the clamor of silverware and conversation. In their arrangement against his plate, the eggs, potatoes and bacon take hold of the gathering day and endow it with meaning. His Tribune’s spread over the table. No one, not even old timers, reads a paper anymore, but Bradley can’t look away. In its filmy paragraphs he discovers the germ of drama: pain engendering action, action engendering folly and tragedy. A man in Calumet Heights strangles his children. On the platform at 35th and Archer, another suicide, a teen. It irritates Bradley that such desperation is so indifferently reported—the articles are merely filler, lacking bylines or photographs. They’re stuffed like packing peanuts around the day’s weightier stories, exposés about politics and culture, as if any of that were central to even one human life. When Bradley does write, it’ll be an unearthing of that desperation, so that the reader observes it whole and intact and aching and struggling for breath.

The diner’s coffee is swill. He drinks it to a point, but then tastes it suddenly, and peers in his mug. It’s as if a housefly is swimming there. Cash counted onto the table, a wave at the waitress, and he’s gone, he’s strolling in sunshine, his Tribune discarded like a map he’s memorized and no longer requires. At a coffee shop of stark art and delicate fixtures, its patrons somehow derivative of those fixtures, like shadows cast by the lamps, or notes of the music, he orders a cappuccino. Down the counter, herself reading a paper, is a girl wearing thick glasses, a dark-haired girl. A canvas bag lies at her feet, an earbud dangling out. The girl’s hair, the wave of it, is like the moment after a championship when streamers descend from the rafters, and watching her, Bradley believes the ten feet separating them contains a full world; if they closed that distance they’d capture that world. The girl glances at him and he doesn’t avert his eyes. Embarrassed, she returns to her paper. Perhaps she can’t read it now. She feels his eyes tracing her skin.

The words he’ll say to her gather in his chest, like a voltage. They’ll leap to the other post. Except the barista needs money. Bradley roots his pockets, counting out change. Another barista asks questions. Wet cappuccino, dry? The line moves him on. Melanie, he decides the girl’s name is. She’s out of reach now. He collects his coffee, but when he looks again she’s an absence, a shape passing through shapes, some glare off the door, on the sidewalk a vanishing stride.

From the coffee shop, Chicago unfurls every direction. Bradley walks to the Park, which at that hour is deserted, the trees filling with wind, like lungs. A harsher wind, a bludgeoning hiss, and they lean and recover, shadows racing the grass. By imperceptible degrees the sky falls gray. He passes gray statues, playwrights. Grant rides his horse, on his rusticated pedestal, in the first spitting rain.

Or, foregoing the Park, he walks to Lincoln Avenue and starts south towards the city. There’s a bar. For Bradley, there’s always a bar. Within, sunlight fills the room, lighting shafts of dust. His beer holds an insolent radiance, as if lit from within, the carbonation ascending like sparks.

Or he crosses the Park to the beach, where he removes his shirt and lies in the sand. Or he visits libraries or museums, or rides trains to the end of the line, where he explores forgotten precincts, 211th, 217th South.

When I do hear from Bradley, it’s late one Friday as I’m finishing at the office. The air around me crackles with something, like radio interference from high-tension wires, and I know an evening’s gathering. The phone rings, and he tells me when and what bar.

Laura and I have dinner plans, but when I call her she likes the Bradley option better. This isn’t surprising, even if she doesn’t particularly like Bradley, because like him or not, he captivates her. She wants, I think now, to witness his collapse, not that either of us understood that then. All we knew then is we both were drawn to him, everyone was. We were like a hatch of moths. It’s just that some of us required his light, and others his flame.

We walk into the bar, Laura and I, an Irish place under the Brown Line, and while we can’t see Bradley we know immediately where he’s sitting. Near the back, at the farthest booth, is a throng of strangers. It’s like they’ve crowded around a heart attack. “Jesus,” Laura mutters.

“He’s got an audience,” I say.

“Did you know,” she says, “in olden times, it was the fools that entertained people?”

Laura’s said this before. She’s basing it on Shakespeare.

“Has that changed?” I say.

“That’s what I’m saying. Look at him.”

We catch a glimpse of Bradley, established in the booth’s farthest corner. If he’s a fool, it’s hard to see. Fools, even in Shakespeare, didn’t occupy the throne. I start for the bar. “What do you want?”

“I’m coming with you,” Laura says.

I don’t know her yet, but it’s at the bar I first spot Elyse. She’s farther down, standing with friends, a blonde woman in a slender dress, her face, I remember thinking, remarkably expressive. Her friend’s talking, and every word of it registers in Elyse’s features, like the levels of a stereo. She’s beautiful, though the kind of beautiful I can’t find attractive, for its comprehensiveness. What flake of her might I peel away, to see inside?

Not that Laura sees it that way. She’s caught me looking. “Yeah?” she says.

“What?”

She scans for the bartender. “Whatever.”

I glance again at the woman in the slender dress. “Her?” I say, and laugh.

“It’s fine,” Laura says. She’s not hurt, it’s playful. But then she says—and I remember this vividly, because it’s a joke that for Laura and me won’t always be a joke—“People fall in love, Andrew. It happens.”

We carry our drinks to the booth, where Bradley’s finishing a story. We have to edge our way in, like peasants scrumming to hear a royal proclamation. “It wasn’t even a rat,” Bradley says. “He thought it was a rat, it was a chinchilla.”

“Oh, shit,” someone says.

“So he’s beat this fucker to death,” Bradley hammers the air with an empty glass, “with a fucking shoe, and it was his little Down Syndrome cousin’s pet chinchilla.” It’s like he’s fired laughter at these strangers, like a Tommy Gun burst, and they’re falling against each other, spilling drinks. “Jesus,” Laura says, but she’s laughing, too. When Bradley spots us, it’s like a salvation, like being heaved into the lifeboat. “There they are,” he says. “Hey, let these guys in. Make room.” No one complies, so Bradley climbs onto the seat and totters over laps to reach us. In one motion, he sets Laura’s drink on a table and sweeps her into his arms. She’s laughing, he’s kissing her cheek. Occasionally, she’s told me, she feels guilty. Bradley loves her so simply, and she’s always sniping him from the wings. But that was then. We didn’t get it then, but Bradley never simply loved anyone. He just treated us simply, which I assure you is not love.

Laura in one arm, Bradley wraps his other around me and kisses my cheek. “What shall we do?” he says, leading us away from the strangers. They appear lost without him, like apostles after a crucifixion, ready to scatter. He brings our heads close, so he can speak in our ears. “We’ll do whatever we want,” he assures us. “The night’s ours.” And there is that sense. In Bradley’s presence, whatever’s blessed him spills onto you. You study your hand; your skin’s become its color. He sets drinks before us. Another friend appears, a college pal, and Bradley slaps the bar. A fourth drink arrives. He’s cloaking us in something, an eminence.

Though it takes only a moment, a glance, to realize you’ve been left behind. Bradley stops his drink at his lips, the whiskey poised in his glass.

“What?” I say.

“Who,” he says, “is that?”

I follow his gaze down the bar, to where a beautiful woman, her dress slender, is laughing with friends.

“Her?” I say.

The glass drifts from his lips; it’s escaped his mouth’s orbit. “Andrew,” he says, and what Bradley says next already is part of it. It’s the brash insistence any love in his life requires. He says, “Buddy, that girl’s going to change my life.” As a pronouncement, it’ll prove both clairvoyant and ridiculously mistaken.

“Okay,” I say.

He doesn’t hear me. I’m not part of his world now. His whiskey discarded, he walks around the bar, revealing Laura on the other side of him. She watches his departure. “Where’s he going?”

I don’t hear what Bradley says, but I see the exchange. He approaches Elyse not as a man introducing himself, but as a messenger. He draws her aside, and already they’re conferring seriously. She needs to know something, he says. I, he says, will change how you think of the world.

Whatever he says, Elyse laughs. This man is ridiculous. But he’s not laughing, and soon she isn’t, either.

Laura moves down next to me. “What is this?” she says.

“I’m not sure.”

We watch them talk.

“I think it’s what it looks like,” I say.

Elyse says something and Bradley looks past her at her friends. One of them waves, and he waves back. Do they know? I imagine him saying.

Know?

About us.

Elyse is laughing again, and he’s laughing with her, but shaking his head. No, his face says, this is serious. Don’t laugh.

Laura sips her drink. “I don’t get it. How’s a girl go for that?”

I look at her.

“Okay,” she says. “I get it. But she’s an idiot.”

The woman, unbelievably, takes Bradley’s hand. Or maybe it is believable. She draws him toward her friends, but he resists, he won’t go. When she looks back, he hesitates only a moment before bringing his lips to hers. “Jesus,” I hear myself say. Her hand lifts, and it’s possible she’ll slap him. But the hand only floats a moment, confused, before settling, soft as ash, on his neck.

“That fucking guy,” Laura says.

They’re in their own space now, foreheads touching, the darkness whirling past like a stream parted at rocks. In the window, trees shimmer in streetlamps. What’s passed between these two is a solemn pact. Their hands, clasped, might as well have been nicked with razors, an oath in blood. Like bashful newlyweds, late to breakfast, they rejoin her friends. Eventually we’re waved over, and added to that gallery of others. It’s Elyse and Bradley, and everyone else. Even watching us, they stare at each other from the sides of their faces.

When Elyse takes a call on the sidewalk, I sit with Bradley at the bar. He’s watching her through the window. “Everything’s different now,” he says.

He’s said it to me, but isn’t quite aware I’m there. “Yeah?” I say.

“Things are the same, but they’re different.”

“It’s like in a dream.”

“Mm?”

“That’s how things are in a dream.”

In the cab later, Laura and I are tired and drunk. The city clips by, a wash of bar lights and dark apartments. A Shins song is playing. I’m thinking she’ll make fun of Bradley (it wouldn’t be hard), and maybe she wants to. But when she opens her mouth, her head resting against the window, she says, “I wish we had that.”

“I know,” I say.

“I don’t mean being in love. I know we’re in love.”

“I know.”

“I mean…” She tilts her face to see more of what’s passing. “I don’t know what I mean.”

“He gets what he wants,” I say.


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Ben Nickol's stories and essays have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Redivider, Boulevard, Fugue, CutBank, Canoe & Kayak and elsewhere, and his previous book is Where the Wind Can Find It (2015), a collection of short fiction from Queen's Ferry Press. He's the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council, and his nonfiction has been cited as notable work in Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Montana. Learn more about Adherence: A Romance.

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