This month’s featured excerpt is from Tendence and Cavile, by D. T. Kastn. This excerpt is taken from the opening of the book.
This is how it happened.
Sev had given up on the myth of an intelligent, handsome man and was instead looking for one who could count to ten and wouldn’t frighten small children. She knew the rule: you always find something in the last place you look. Car keys in the freezer, adoptable children in Tibet, Grandma in the duck pond, prospective mates in retail clothing stores. Supposedly he was buying ties but she found him inexplicably hanging out in the misses section, just next to her size on the rack, bobbing back and forth with a hopeful smile.
Matthew was clean cut, handsome, witty and apparently intelligent. He showed not only signs of the ability to be half of a worthwhile relationship, but the apparent inclination to start one at the earliest opportunity. It was a nice quality, Sev thought, reaching irritably for the phone to call her parents on her thirty-seventh birthday, cursing the shattered remnants of her biological clock. She, blindly, called what she felt “love,” and decided his strange eagerness to share his life with her was not frightening, but endearing.
Matthew was handsome, witty, and intelligent. And he was willing.
The falling wasn’t hard, but the landing was awful.
Dinners with Matthew were a series of mediocrities, chain restaurants and toothy waitpersons who insisted their specials were, ludicrously, both taco salad and lobster. Sometimes, taco salad with lobster on it.
“How’s yours, Sev?”
“An incongruous mix that seems destined to end in gastrointestinal distress. It’s surprisingly tasty. Yours?”
They never shared. She’d taken a french fry off his plate once and his face had frozen so quickly she thought he’d had a heart attack.
Now, his answer was a smile shared across the dinner table, the restaurant a quiet buzz behind the ringing in her ears, a slight glint of light off one white tooth (peculiarly sharp), that twist to his smile that was his only uneven surface. Sev didn’t think much about the possibility of being in love with a dangerous idiot any more than she thought about the possibility of being in love with a potential lunatic. All men were probably lunatics on some level, anyway. She was almost certain she remembered her mother telling her so.
So any doubts were stillborn and buried. Matthew told her about his work; she discounted it easily, let it pass, didn’t let it get to her. Time machines were impossible. Time moved in one direction, measured out by ticks and tocks and spaces of silence. He was an eccentric genius, possibly, but no hint of geekiness dulled his smile, and she liked it that he shortened Sevannah to Sev. Not that it hadn’t been done before, but he hadn’t met any of her friends and family. He called her Sev without any prototype and therefore it seemed thrillingly fresh and new. He tried to explain time as a subway station to her over dessert, but he’d ordered low-fat ice cream and she just assumed it went to his head.
They watched reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore show, and fed each other popcorn, and she let her mind slip lightly over how corny it all was and then allowed her mind to connect the corniness with the popcorn and then reprimanded herself sternly for the ridiculous pun. She wondered briefly if the punning was a result of how disgustingly sweet life seemed to be all of a sudden. She listened hard for a laugh-track, and was momentarily disconcerted when it came, but it was only Ed Asner being clever. Or so he thinks, she thought darkly, aware of the deep rumble of laughter from Matthew, vibrating in his chest under her head and hand.
He was just crazy enough that she didn’t think about it much. And it was good, it was how she liked things to be. Effortless, easy, with a thin veneer of enjoyment over the top; scratch away at the surface and who knew what you’d come up with, but it was thick enough to fool all but the most keen observers. Sev didn’t have a plethora of intelligent friends, and her last remaining relatives lived three states away (the states of Washington, Oregon, and Ignorance, specifically). The keen observers were limited to strangers who passed her by on the street, got little creases of worry between their eyebrows, and went home with a nagging sensation of concern that they couldn’t fully explain.
Sevannah wasn’t paying attention, and she fooled easily. So, as it wasn’t pleasure but at least an absence of pain, she enjoyed it.
Things weren’t so bad after all. They could be much worse— and had been, not so very long ago. If she wanted to be overly romantic, she could refer to Matthew as her savior, as he’d nursed her gently out of a bad relationship with Torrance, who was much flashier and more noticeable than Matthew, but who also hit her on occasion, such as if he’d had a bad day. Torrance had been rather upset with her when she left and called her, among other things, an enabler.
“True,” she’d agreed thoughtfully. “I enable you to use your fist.”
“I never used my fist.”
“That’s wonderful, Torrance,” she said methodically, “that the difference between me and the punching bag at your gym is the way your hand is positioned.”
“The punching bag and you,” he corrected automatically.
“Your grammar. You come last in the list.”
She squinted at him. “That only applies to proper nouns.”
“No, actually. It applies to everything. It’s basic grammar, okay? You’re supposed to be last.”
“I think,” she said, “that just illustrated my point.”
No witnesses. She’d kicked him on the kneecap as she left. Could he show a bruise anyway? His entire leg was intricately tattooed. She was scot-free and his lawyer was a moron anyway.
In the end, maybe it wasn’t the being hit, but the endless harping on proper grammar. It could have been more than that, even, but the relationship post-mortem was never something that appealed to Sev.
And so there was Matthew, and they were piously good to each other, with some sort of unspoken pact to make no off-color jokes, nothing politically incorrect even if it was funny in context, no capering, no annoying puns, no frightening display of affection in public or private, no bringing out the camera and taking nasty close-up blackmail shots of the other’s nostrils, no pointing or laughing when one of them tripped and fell. It was a stretch of humanity for Sev, this tacit agreement not to let the gloss disappear from their relationship. Secretly she believed it was good for her, in some arcane, unknowable way. But certainly she had her doubts, however neglected they were, about Matthew.
When he proposed and they became officially engaged she fought off the nagging feeling that this didn’t feel like a beginning, but more like an end; or, more properly, a means to an end. There was something perfunctory about it. They had dated for three months, and in all that time she heard not a slip of the tongue, not a burp, not a half-uttered oath, nothing to betray any sharks circling beneath his surface smoothness.
She could deal with smoothness, she thought, almost fondly.
All in all, she had herself pretty much convinced that it was a bad thing when he disappeared.