We found ourselves in a time that was not of our choosing. Our relationship was on and off over the years, until we finally lashed our rafts together for the journey ahead. While we wish often this had been sooner, the time was now, and we learned how to make ties that bind.

Shannon rose from the bed and entered the bathroom, my eyes following her as she closed the door behind her. I did not really think she was angry, only triggered. Something I said hurt her, unintentionally. A remark I made in passing, but it slid in a crack, worming its way into her soul, and touched off a synapse that led to a place she did not want to revisit.

It isn’t my fault. I am not perfect. Never pretended to be, and Shannon knows this. However, a well-intentioned or innocent remark can grow balefully as it travels from mind to mouth and onto a listening ear.

I can understand. My earliest memory was being smacked on the side of the head at three years old by my grandfather as we drove by a Pure Oil gas station on a two-lane blacktop outside of Tyler, Texas. I don’t remember the back of his hand striking me, but I do remember the gas station sign, and so whenever I see an old Pure Oil sign, I associate it with the sudden shock of pain coming to a toddler.

Pure doesn’t exist anymore. They were purchased by a company in California, and by 1970 were rebranded as Union 76. The old signs may be found in vintage stores and restaurants presenting an Americana décor.

Whenever I see them, I recall being struck by my grandfather. Sometimes you don’t let go. The pain is gone, but the association is always there.

I do not know why he hit me. How could I? I was three. I only remember the Pure Oil sign looming through his driver side window as we passed by.

I sympathize with Shannon. The innocuous remark—or so I thought—was about a memory I had of her mother.

We were kids then. Her mother drove Shannon to the mall. She was playing the Everly Brothers on the radio. When I watched them drive up to the curb in front of the mall entrance to Dillard’s, I saw how pretty Shannon was. She wore thick glasses, her brown hair cut in wings.

I reminded her of that day. Sheila responded, unhesitatingly, “My mother had just told me I was ugly when I cried. She said that a lot.”

When Shannon cries, her tears form and stream from the outer edges of her eyelids. They emphasize the aura of her green eyes. Tears would begin to stream, sliding down the outside of her cheeks, shaping a pathway toward the corners of her lips that were narrow and asymmetrical. I would trace her lips in my mind, thinking of a Man Ray painting. When she is doubtless, Shannon knows herself with a sureness that is unquestioned. When not, she grapples with the darkness and reaches for her glasses.

She has to wear her glasses to see me clearly except while in bed. She is sure of me, but wants to see me clearly. This, too, I understand. She wants to be assured I am always there.

Moving close to me in our bed, she looked at me, and then elsewhere. She began crying. I don’t know what brought this on, but with her, I felt it unsafe to ask. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t do that,” she said. “It’s like you are trying to make me stop.”

I let go. I understand, knowing though I love her and she knows. If she did not, she would not tell me. It was a moment from decades ago and she held it in until it was time. This, I know.

When she returned to bed, Shannon curled up next to me, her head below my chin, stretching her arm out for her hand to find, and meet mine. Shannon holds my hand a lot when we sleep, aging fingers wrapping, meshing with mine as I feel her tears against my skin. I hold her tightly, my right hand running down her arm until it rested just under her elbow.

I stare at her gray roots at the part. She got upset when I told her that we live now on the shores of forever. She responded that my saying that implied we were old, and were going to die.

I responded that this remark was my evocation of how I felt about her, us. We had the world behind us, and the world before us. What we are together will be forever.

That made her feel better, I think. I hold her close to me as night transformed to predawn gray. I can hear the raindrops strike the apartment roof. Winter storms come and go, but the season is unusually warm, and the clouds pass to sunlight by mid-morning. I will make her toast and tea for breakfast, and we will make love before we get ready for work.

I already know what she will wear. She is so pretty in that long black and white patterned skirt. It flows from her waist like a flower. She is sure in how her body flows as she steps through the open door and into the sunlight. I already know what this will look like and how this reaffirms why I love her. When she walks out, she enters the universe of worlds.

From the rhythm of her breathing, I know she has fallen asleep.

As I drift off to sleep as well, I think of two strands that bind us closer as time moves forth.

I remember the Pure Oil sign.

Shannon recalls the Everly Brothers.

We also remember this is the time of our own, and we live.



Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. His fiction is published in West Trade Review, Easy Street, The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, The Airgonaut, Sensitive Skin, Reservoir, The Avenue and others. Photographs currently exhibiting at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California and a group show at Darkroom Gallery, curated by Bruce Gilden.