“Sometimes, before the smile actually hits your lips, it peers out through the corners of your eyes, on the very sides of your face, and it makes you look old. But at the same time, the lines belong there, because they’ve been there so often in the past that it makes your smile seem permanent, even when you’re not smiling.” He touched the side of my face with the back of his hand. “Another train.” He picked up a slice of pizza and nodded toward the sound of the electricity running through the rail.
I looked out over the balcony, waiting for the third train to pass. Counted the cars. “110.”
“112,” he countered. “I guess we’ll never know.” I studied the piece of mushroom topping clinging to his cheek. How could he not feel it? I didn’t point it out. “So,” he started, wiping his face with a napkin. I was amazed to see the mushroom still there. It wiggled as he spoke. “What do you think?”
The mushroom fell. I giggled and handed him another napkin. “Too much,” I said. “It sounds like a pickup line. Your character is more…shy. Not shy, vulnerable. You need to make it sound vulnerable, not like you’re some playboy.” He raised his eyebrows.
“You think I sound like a playboy? Are you falling for it? Are you so very seduced by my charm?” He pulled the straw from his soda and put it in his mouth sideways, pretending it was a rose. “Sometimes,” he began reciting with a heavy Spanish accent,”Marrrrrriia, sonetines, beefore de smile, heetz your leepz, Marrrriaaaaa…” I laughed as he returned to his normal state. “You know, if one of these trains derails, we are dead. No chance. Done.” I looked out at how close we were to the tracks. Very true.
“If you get the part when do you leave?” I knew the answer. But maybe talking about it would change his mind.
“Let’s see if I even get it first.”
“Why can’t they film in like, Vermont. Why does it have to be New Zealand? Don’t they recreate places all the time on sets and stuff?”
I noticed something shift on the side of the building in the middle of my complaints. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“SHHHHH!!!!” I listened closely, thinking I was stupid for trying to hear something I had seen, but listening anyway.
“Michael?” A woman’s voice. My ears perked up. I looked at him.
“I told you I saw someone!” I said to him. “Who is it?” I stood up and looked around the back of the house. A woman younger than I was walking stupidly on our lawn in heels. I looked at Michael and asked again. “Who is it?”
He shoved another slice of pizza into his mouth. “I don’t know.”
“Well come look!”
“Michael?” She kept calling.
“It’s no one,” he stated without getting up. “It’s Jenny. We’re doing a scene together.” He wiped his hands and finished his soda. “I have to get to rehearsal.” He pushed his chair back and stood. Kissed my forehead with greasy lips. “You’ll clean up?”
I watched him walk down the porch steps and wave to Jenny.
Another train passed by.
My friends give me the line “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Cognitive science, which I trust more than my friends, says that humans would rather never have had something than lose something. It’s an aversion to “backtracking,” or having to undo what was previously done. So really then, it is better to never have loved at all.
Michael never came home. I read about him in a magazine one day, started to see pieces of him on entertainment sites, in tabloids. There was one article that had a picture of him, his curly blond hair tied back in a ponytail, and the newest reality TV star-turned model, Angela. Just Angela. No last name, no explanation. Angela. And there was a picture next to his, a question mark on a black background. And the headline: “Donofrio Double-Dipping! Angela furious over reports of another woman! Is Donofrio leading a Double Life?”
There were never tears. The day he left with Jenny I knew he was cheating. I think I knew before that, but we’d been together for so long it seemed like it would have been a waste of seven years if we quit.
Jenny was a porn actress. I recognized her when he said her name. She and Michael were cast in an Off-Broadway show that ran for three weeks before Michael left for New Zealand. We’d been introduced once before outside of the theatre. She told me she only agreed to do the show because she wanted to try burlesque instead of porn because it was a different type of dancing. I had no idea what she meant until I saw her tapes. Michael and I had giggled while we were watching them, made fun of her acting. But Jenny was a porn actress. And I was a singing waitress at Doody’s.
I didn’t cry when Michael became famous for his sex tape with Jenny. I watched it twice and told all of my friends. But Angela’s article was different. Had I been “the other woman” for seven years? Had he been cheating with me instead of on me? I could have been the question mark in the article if it had been printed two years previous. A dark empty space, and an unknown.
I didn’t feel like singing anymore. I quit my job at Doody’s. I wanted to fade out.
I hear the sound of the electricity running through the tracks while sitting on my porch. A train rattles by. The sound of wind like a pulse between each car. Only 39 cars. I watch the last of them curve around the track, becoming an infinitely small speck that I can no longer perceive.
Were there passengers on the train that day, who watched Michael leave? Who watched me? Counting the women he’s gone through, as I counted cars? How many were there? 110? 112? I guess I’ll never know.