“How are you?” he asked.

“I’m falling apart,” she said. “Very slowly, so that no one will notice.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He inched his hand closer to hers. She always sat like this—leaning back, arms stretched out behind her—as if reclining on a beach in the sun instead of sitting on a hard museum bench in this room full of early American furniture and stern portraiture. He always sat to the right of her, his posture erect, his hands resting lightly on the bench on either side of his body, bearing no weight.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll put all the pieces together again eventually. I just won’t look the same is all.”

“We should go look at the Picasso then,” he said. “For inspiration.”

She smiled. “You don’t like the Picasso.”

He moved his hand to rest upon hers. “We could try something different.”

She shook her head. “Why?”

He sighed. “What does Jonah say?”

“About what?”

“About your falling apart.”

“He doesn’t believe me.”

“Why not?”

“Because he doesn’t want to.”

He removed his hand. “I have to go soon.”

She turned his wrist toward her, examining the time. “Me too.”

“No,” he said. “I mean go.”

“California,” she said.

“California,” he answered.

“Allison,” she said.

“Allison.”

She kissed the back of his hand. “I know.”

She tilted her head toward him and he brushed her lips with his. Lightly, like a brushstroke in one of the watercolors in the adjacent gallery. Sometimes it was like this, like the Manet on the second floor; the one of the reclining woman in white whose direct gaze unsettled him. Other times it was like the Picasso on the ground level, her lips pressed hard against his, as if she were trying to combine their sharp angles and edges into a grotesque imitation of a whole person. At others still, those times when they slipped away to his empty condo, she felt to him like the Pollock, covering his tacks with thick drips and gushes of oil paint, coating him, leaving him incomprehensible, even to himself.

“When are you leaving?” she asked.

“Soon,” he said.

She nodded. “You’ve been leaving for weeks.”

He didn’t say anything. The movers had taken his and Allison’s belongings over a month ago. Allison had followed soon after to start her new job and begin putting their new life together in their new apartment in L.A. He had stayed behind to finish things. To get the condo fixed up and on the market. To tie up loose ends. It would take a week, he had told Allison. Maybe two. But still he stayed in an empty condo with a mattress on the floor next to the cardboard box that served as a nightstand in the bedroom where he brought Sarah to melt beneath him in a fuzzy pool of turquoise and indigo and ultramarine, the depths of which threatened to drown any water lilies brave enough to float on the surface.

“You should go,” she said.

“I know.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

She stood. “I have to get back to work.”

He caught her hand. “Come over tonight.”

She bent over and kissed the top of his forehead. His hands rested on her hips. They looked large against the smallness of her.

“I’ll try.”

“Try? It’s Tuesday.” He smiled.

Her fingertips chased each other from the base of his skull, down the back of his neck, beneath the neatly ironed collar to the point where the tag on his white undershirt met his skin. She then pulled them back upward in light strokes along his nape.

“You know, I am eventually going to have to go to dance class, instead of just saying I’m going to dance class,” she said. “I’m going to be out of practice.”

“Tomorrow, then,” he said. “Call in sick.”

She took a step back and lowered her face to his. “Tonight,” she said, kissing him beneath the surveillance of the furrow-browed, tight-lipped American forefathers on the walls.
 

 

She buzzed promptly at 7 p.m. He opened the door to admit her slight frame wrapped in a black leotard with crisscross straps in the back, hair pulled up in a bun, too-long warm-up pants brushing the floor. When she was feeling silly, she would put on her ballet slippers and dance about the empty living room, leaping and pirouetting on the dusty hardwoods. Like a Degas, he thought, but less tawdry, more joyful. When she was feeling sad, she would curl in his lap where she seemed even smaller than she was—a bird in a nest. Tonight she tossed her bag on the floor and sat on the mattress like a child, criss-cross applesauce. He stretched out beside her and lay on his back, hands laced behind his head.

“We saw the genetic counselor this afternoon,” she said.

“And?”

“And she said what I thought she would say. That I should be tested for the genes my sister carries. She kept talking like it was supposed to be empowering, but that’s such bullshit.”

“Why?” He turned on his side and covered her knee with his hand.

“Because there are no good options. There is nothing empowering about choosing between invasive screening and worrying twice a year that you’re about to receive very bad news, and deciding to go full Angelina Jolie and have both your breasts removed, just in case they try to kill you.”

He sat up and pulled her down to the mattress. They faced each other, nose-to-nose,mo and stretched out to their full lengths. Her toes ended at his shins. He was fourteen inches taller than she, yet she made him feel taller still.

“You might not be a carrier at all,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “If I am,” she paused, “If I am, I’m supposed to have my ovaries removed too, if I’m done having children.” She laughed. “If I’m done. I’m 36 and I haven’t even made up my mind to start yet.”

“Do you want them?”

She sighed. “I feel like if I wanted them, I would have had them by now. I’ve been married for almost a decade.”

“That’s not necessarily true.”

She shrugged. “Do you? Want them.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve just never had the desire,” he said. On this, he and Allison had agreed. They could work and travel and spend their money how they wanted. Her money, he corrected himself. He could hear her voice in his head: You’re not spending my money on that. It had been for the best, though he had occasionally thought that having a kid might have evened things out, might have given him someone who would have been on his side. “Your turn,” he said.

“I’m too afraid I’d be a terrible mother,” Sarah said. “I’m selfish, and I like things the way I like them.”

“I don’t think you’re selfish,” he said, inching the thin strap of her leotard off her shoulder.

“Isn’t this selfish?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, kissing her bared skin.

She shed the too-long pants and peeled off the faded cotton leotard, and the tights that were once ballet pink, but were now dishwater gray. He pulled her on top of him. Big hands, small hips. She reached down and removed his glasses.

“You’ll just be a blur,” he protested.

“But your eyes look bigger and bluer without them,” she said.
 

 

He awoke at 5 a.m., as he always did. Made coffee in the kitchen that contained a single place setting, a few wayward glasses and mugs, one pot, a can opener, a kettle, and a Chemex. He would work on the half bath today, he thought. Finish up the tile floor. Sarah would text him at some point. Something casual and funny, the kind of thing she used to say to him at work when she would pad down the hallway to his office and lean in his doorway. He hadn’t wanted to encourage things at the time, but hadn’t wanted to discourage them either. He worried that she had seen the appreciation in his eyes when she wore the blue dress that skimmed her waist and sighed softly when she walked and made his chest tighten just a bit, just enough. He hadn’t complimented her appearance, but he could not keep himself from staring at the slight swing in her walk and the zipper that ran down her back, and he thought she could tell that he found her beautiful. The only time he had traversed that hallway in the other direction was the day he had told her that he was leaving. That he and Allison were headed to California at the end of the month. That Allison had gotten a job they couldn’t say no to. Sarah had joked and made him laugh just before her face became serious—it did that, he would notice later, move from laughter to sadness in an instant. He was never quite sure whether the sadness was covering the laughter or vice versa.

“Oh, I’m distraught,” she said.

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