On their first date he took her to one of Mount Royal’s look out points to enjoy the view of Montreal and the water beyond. He asked her to visualize what it would look like to stand there as an enormous sea creature rose from the water to destroy the city. The sounds of the creature’s roar reaching them a half second later, weakening their knees, preventing them from taking even a step back.
To her credit, she didn’t walk away right then. She asked insightful follow up questions instead.
He was in love and so was she.
Months later as they finally admitted to each other how they felt on that date, their recounting differed but the result was the same.
He was nervous. The first time he remembered seeing her was on her student association campaign posters. He voted for her without ever having read her campaign platform. He kept that from her on the first date. She talked about her work. He didn’t regret his decision to vote for her. Either way she had lost.
He took the lead on planning the date since he was the one who asked and she enthusiastically said yes. He wanted it to be simple. Coffee at a nice café and a long stroll. If the date was going well, he wanted the opportunity to decide on the spot between a number of pre-determined activities. He chose one of those coffee houses where they didn’t serve drip coffee, all the chairs and tables were different and local art covered the walls. He was pleased that the selection was appreciated and that he was able to recommend a beverage. He ordered two macchiatos. They spent two hours there and the only thing that broke their conversational run was that she had to go to the bathroom. When she came back out, he was standing with her jacket in hand, ready to suggest a walk. It was a deliberate choice. He was trying to look decisive. He thought she would be impressed.
The walk was pleasant enough even though it was cool out. The hike up Mount Royal was a last-minute decision. She wore sensible shoes. They continued to speak for another half hour then walked back to her place, where he respectfully declined to go in but made definite plans with her for the weekend so she wouldn’t take it as a negative sign.
She was looking forward to a night out. She hadn’t had one since deciding to run for the student association’s vice presidency. She spoke about the work but stopped as soon as she realized what she was doing. She liked this guy from the brief conversation they had but knew little about him. He was quiet but she felt he could be brought out to play and she intended to see if that was something she wanted to do.
The choice of coffee house and a long walk was a great one. The coffee was a bit strong but not unpleasant. Her left eyelid vibrated from the heady mixture of caffeine, fatigue and nervous excitement. She couldn’t stop talking and she couldn’t stop looking at his hands.
He spoke more during the walk. His ideas were interesting and though his thought process was sometimes strange, she decided early on that she would take it all seriously. What was the point of trying to get to know him if she didn’t give value to his ideas?
She went along with the hike up the hill but kept a bit of distance between herself and her date. She maintained a healthy skepticism of the intentions of all men so sacrificing a bit of that safety on date number one was as big a gesture as she could imagine. In that same spirit, as they stood at the door of her apartment, she invited him in. She knew she made the right choice when he politely declined.
When they kissed for the first time, when they allowed themselves what they had delayed for weeks, it was aggressive. He held her by her shoulders and the longer the kiss lasted, the harder he squeezed. Her mind was racing but she was very conscious of his grip and how it stayed just south of discomfort. She didn’t understand how he knew to do it or why she liked it as much as she did. He had no idea he was doing it. He only knew he never wanted to let go.
Six years later, they bought a fifty-year-old two-story farmhouse together, with the intention of fixing it up. It was a steal for a reason, but they had the time and inclination. She was happy to have this physical structure that represented a possible lifetime of growth and comfort. This was her new home and she applied herself diligently from week one to making it everything she envisioned. They moved in on June first and two months later, just a few weeks ahead of her first teaching assignment, an intro level political science course, the house was in working order and more than she could have expected.
Music played constantly throughout the house, but she spoke over all of it. She couldn’t help herself. She was overflowing with ideas about work, the house, what they would grow in the garden, but mostly, she spoke because he, since moving in, said so little. Where she felt the excitement that comes at the start of something, he was acting as though something had ended. Seeing him at the door of the house that first time, she saw that same fumbling young man at the lookout from so many years ago, his head full of monsters. He worked hard but seemed intent on not being in the house. He painted the exterior, fixed shingles, built a raised flower bed, and finished work projects in the broken gazebo that came with the house. She found him on several occasions staring into the house from different windows. He seemed to be checking for something. When she asked him what he was looking for, he would smile and shrug it off, again saying nothing. She was not convinced but this was at least enough for her not to worry. Still, she kept a close eye. This was the start of something but none of it would hold the same value without him there.
On June first, as he entered the house with the last box, at the end of nine hours of back and forth, he stared at her lounging beautifully on a stack of cushions, her legs up on a tower of book boxes, drinking a bottle of water. As he looked past her down the hallway that led off the open living area towards the guest bathroom and stairs, there was what looked like a person standing there, standing in the shadow of a burnt-out light fixture. He was so stunned that he said nothing. Since she was resting, eyes closed, rolling the cold bottle across her forehead, she saw nothing. He put the box down and when he looked back up, the light was on down the hallway and there was nothing and no one there.
Two weeks later, he woke up in the middle of the night to find the same figure standing in their doorway. The light he had left on in the hallway was out, all he could see was a person’s slight, feminine shape. He closed his eyes and put his hand on her hip as she slept next to him. He didn’t do it to wake her, just to anchor himself to some kind of reality. When he opened his eyes, the apparition was at the foot of the bed, leaning forward, her palms leaving impressions in the comforter between his legs. It was still only shadow. It reached out, the light in the hall suddenly turned on and it disappeared. He did not go back to sleep.
For the rest of the summer, he spent as much time as he could outside the house and even got into the habit of looking in through windows to see if he would be surprised by anything. He couldn’t tell her or even let on that he was seeing something coexist with them. She was so invigorated and in love with him, this time and this place, he could never do that to her. He always felt there was so little he could offer her, he would, at the very least, never take anything away. So, he decided, at the beginning of August, that he would live with it. He would accept the fear and unknown of their home, always feeling at risk and vulnerable, always looking through windows and down hallways, always reaching out to touch her, not only out of affection but out of a need to remind himself that while he would never feel safe, hopefully she would.
Patrick Malka (he/him) is a high school science teacher from Montreal, Quebec. His flash fiction previously appeared on the Necon ebooks website.