When the Fantasy Arrives
He doesn’t knock. The door is open, radio on. His boots are clean. His boots cross the threshold just as she’s dreamed.
Hey, he says, hey, run away with me.
For years, she’s been talking it up to friends, therapists, anyone who will listen. How it’ll go down. She writes about it, illustrates the border of her notepad with flouncy bolts and hearts. A romance novelist, she’s built a career around the fantasy (the phantom fantasy) which practically sells itself. Everyone wants one, inscribed to them. People lap sales from her palms, that is, when they’re not pressed together in eternal prayer for him.
She steps from shadow to light, tosses the dishrag aside. All this time, all this pining, wanting, waiting, releasing night lanterns to the sky, plucking grays in the selfie mirror has brought her here, to this moment, arms open wide.
It’s not a complete surprise. She’s come close before. She and her fantasy have been circling the same orbit, fawning from afar, delivering promises of how it might be someday. In an alternate universe. If only. The essence of narrative: What if? They text, DM. Download and delete apps. There’s Facebook. They’ve had their real life encounters, in random cities, poolside, on business trips, hotel bars, just enough to sustain her, to keep hope alive. Every few months she meets her girlfriend at a sidewalk café, face bursting with scandal. Can you keep a secret? She leans in and the friend knows what comes next. Cocktails are $18, the garnishes a meal alone, and the friend watches her foot slip out of her clog to rub against her leg as she goes on about him, the one who got away. Tears are real. You can’t blame her. He’s from Canada or Michigan, some place cold. They dated in high school or college but briefly. He was a ski instructor, she was a gymnast. They listened to the same band. He is married. She is married. Something like six kids between them, a veritable Brady Bunch. But the letters—he writes actual letters! She reads aloud in a poet’s voice, but it’s the friend on the receiving end, the friend who spends her life stoned off her head re-watching Mad Men that knows: our desires get the better of us. Even when we mean well. The friend waves for another drink. The friend does not wish to be cruel. She does not balk at the word love. We all get there on our own. Sure enough, the novelist’s phone rings, important, gotta go, but it was nice, so nice to catch up with you. She leaves her friend olives the size of ping pong balls and a ridiculous check.
Back at the house, her fantasy says, You haven’t changed a bit.
Bodies align and press. Maybe he twirls her, she levitates as he lifts, her toes point in graceful half-moons, as he sweeps her plain off her feet.
Later, she’ll allude to it online. Her posts will be tantalizing, mysterious. She wants her followers to know how fuckable she is, how kinetic, as she loops her bathrobe and joins her girlfriend on the couch. Must keep the fantasy alive without giving it away. Maybe there’s another book. Deleuze and his veil, etc., a trick to reveal just enough. She believes it’s magnanimous to share but audience is everything. Is it even hot if no one’s watching? Without air to flame it, how can there be fire?
Rest assured: They burn. They smolder. Clutch every heart. I knew you’d come. This is not just any old fantasy. Her fantasy is real in a way other fantasies are just that—the stuff of soap opera, of telenovela. The long lost lover is a trope as old as time. Everyone tires of the familiar. (The husband, the house, the kids.) Familiar is tired, by definition. See also: Mad Men. Oh honey, we’ve brought this on ourselves. No one knows what they want. We may think we know, but once we get it, we want something else. Her friend nosedives into a bong. Easy to knock consumerism, but what makes advertising honest is the loneliness of the trade. Every sale is an upgrade. There is an endless demand of upgrades. Mad Men simply dials into that human switchboard. Everyone is performing some version of themselves. The other version cries in the bathroom. Don’t like it? Change it. Even Don abandons his origin story for another man’s. This is America. Sometimes the past catches up (they have aged, they still smoke too much) but mostly we can shut that door and keep running, call it reinvention.
After all, she’s written it like this:
One look and she is lit. This is the look, his look. She has built this golem, warmed his clay, which isn’t to say he doesn’t exist. He existed. They were young. They didn’t know their mouths from their assholes but memories pinken up as they’re bottled and stored. He’s still got the arms and the eyes and the kiss that melts her (but also tastes faint of mustard) the hug that never lets go another kiss plenty of petting as if fingers can see every flaw and valley for hidden secrets, it’s been years, is this really happening?
It’s happening, all right.
Hush. To talk is to ruin it. In the dark (suddenly it’s dark) they are against the wall in the hall where wallpaper peels onto older wallpaper against the framed photos of children riding tricycles children with blue backdrops children with watery chins in hand. They work their way to the kitchen to the counter cue the clouds of flour the crash and spill of red wine the chill of linoleum tile. He squeezes her like a garlic press. She tells him—slow down, speed up—and he calls her controlling. It is her fantasy so he should know her likes. He doesn’t take direction well. This is marginally disappointing but she adjusts herself beneath him to get the job done.
But he’s fine, I mean, he’s good, he’s fantastic. Of course it’d be better in a bed, in Fiji, but she fantasied her fantasy on the floor. The floor has crumbs, ants, there is an issue with angles, pointy knees, so wait. They pause, red-faced and panting. This is reality. Come on. They can do what they want.
Her fantasy is now in her marital bed.
Already she is getting off on the retelling. How it’s not just physical (though it’s plenty physical) but cosmic, how they stay up all night whispering like field mice. It’s always been you. How he clipped her wedding announcement and kept it in his breast pocket all this time. And she wept at her baby shower for each child. He slides his hand between her, and they fold into the silence that renders language unnecessary. For a moment, they are on the same page. She has her head on him he has his mouth on her (after all, it is her fantasy) until she feels dizzy like she’s been on this carousel too long. Curtains flap in the wind. The family will be back soon. The fantasy is just passing through. Where he’s headed there will be no dirty socks only Vespas and sunsets at low tide. She knows, because she created it. Of course there’s another version where she swan dives in a scalloped suit the length of a clear blue pool. Yesterday her daughter watched The Little Mermaid. She had a cold and stayed home from school. Her fantasy shimmers in the water’s edge. Boots, scuffed. Once you go, there’s no turning back.
What are you waiting for?
A pen, a bong, a friend.
They lie until the light turns to dawn.
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