Storyglossia Issue 27, March 2008.

Oldest Story in the World

by Matt Baker


We were in Los Angeles having one of the last conversations we'd ever have together, sitting in his car parked on Sunset in the middle of the night. I pulled a picture out of my wallet and handed it to him. I tried explaining the long, complicated story—she was married, but not for long and we would be together. She's beautiful, he said, and he laughed, shaking his head. I don't get you. You always get the prettiest girls.

I know, I said. I don't get it either.

He got pretty girls too when he was still alive. I'm remembering all of this again and the girl in the picture, how everything wonderful never lasts and guessing at what she looks like now.

A few hours ago, one of his old girlfriends from back then banged on my hotel room door. She had a six-pack of Budweiser tallboys and a ridiculous grin on her face and said, "Hell yeah!" And we hugged and fell down on the bed, her on top, straddling me and for a second I thought we were going to do it.

I was embarrassed because I forgot she lived here. I forgot, I said over and over as she followed me around the room like I was her prey. It was all fun until she turned sad and maybe she was about to cry and said, How could you forget?

The last time we saw each other was when I lived in Chicago. She lived there too. She worked at a big, expensive college. She helped me get a job or two by lying, saying I'd worked places I hadn't. I didn't ask what she was doing here or what happened there.

I drank a beer in three drinks the way I used to. I felt like shit and not all too happy about something I'd been trying to figure out earlier as I watched the game on television. She said I looked tired and like shit too. I went to the mirror and saw for myself. I'd talked to my wife earlier before she came to my hotel room. My wife sounded quiet and sad. She missed me. She didn't like it when I was gone. I didn't either. I felt exposed and vulnerable with her torn off of me.

So then we left the hotel and we were running and I don't know why we were running down the street. The six-pack of tallboys was gone, the four I drank on an empty stomach.

We were running full speed past people and it was then I realized she was higher than the faintest star in the night sky. And for a flashing moment we were sixteen and seventeen again and I shouted like I used to, Kim, what the fuck are you doing? And she let go of my hand and cut down a street and it was a game. I was to run after her even if I didn't want to. It always worked out that way.

I smoke a cigarette trying to picture my wife back home, her long legs tucked under the bed sheets we picked out together. Her blue eyes staring up at the ceiling, her blond hair pulled back in some constructive way so that it stayed out of her face when she slept, and I was thinking about him and what he'd say if he was here to meet my wife. Shaking his head, you son of a bitch, he'd say and I'd shake my head too, I don't know either.

And then I wondered what he'd think if he saw Kim and me together. He'd probably laugh. He was always laughing. And he'd say something like, God damn, it's been a long time since I've seen you two together.

She was my girlfriend after she was his.

I imagine what my wife would say if she saw me like this. Drunk, smoking cigarettes again, in a place like this, with people like this, doing their things, making perfect lines with blue and silver debit cards, smoking out of silly pipes and Kim sitting on my lap.

Kim hands me another beer. I look around, get up and glance out the window. I say, I think I was on this street last night.

No you weren't, she says. I'd have seen you. Then she spins around in front of me like she's waiting for me to latch on and dance or something to make it all work out the way she has it planned in her mind.

I'm getting drunker. My mouth starts to not work. When I talk the sound is forced too fast for my lips to catch up and form the vowels the right way. I speak an entire sentence with my molars touching. Up until two days ago, it'd been awhile since I've drank like this. I'm so tired, I tell myself, and part of me is scared by this whole thing, by Kim and this place with people I don't know and this cigarette in my hand and the beer and the two pills I took in the elevator. Up and down, Kim said. One each, she said. I don't do drugs anymore, I said. I don't even really drink all that much. Too late now, she said and like she'd choreographed it, the elevator door opened.

I try to talk and tell her I want to talk about him. I tell her it's why I called her in the first place, when an old friend gave me her number and reminded me she lived in this city. Not for this, I say.

It's been seven years this month. It's October, I tell her, like she has no idea, which she probably doesn't. She's too high, too speeded out, too coked up, too crazy for me, she's been to the moon and back tonight, I imagine, then she turns around, pointing at me with anger. You bastards dropped me off in my front lawn our sophomore year. I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of my father opening the garage door. I was in so much trouble because of you two. I laughed and I drooled on myself because I laughed too hard.

What about, I start to say, and she walks up right under my chin and looks up at me, so smoothly, remember when you'd sneak me out of my bedroom window. You'd catch me, you remember? she says. You remember catching me?

Yes, I say, closing my eyes, remembering it.

I'd stare out that window and say, I am waiting, over and over again. I am waiting. I am waiting. Waiting for you to show up and take me away.

She says, Sweetheart.

I say, what?

What song did they play?


When they buried him.

A bunch. Three or four.

Which ones.

You were there, I say. I put my hands on her shoulders and push her back a little and really look at her. She's much older than the last time we were like this, this close, not able to separate from the small universe we created, orbiting around one another, never straying too far, bound by an invisible force that has yet to be discovered.

Then she smacks me playfully. How could you forget I live here you asshole.

Oldest story in the world.

Huh? she says.

They played Oldest Story in the World. That was one of the songs.

That was our song, she says.

No, it wasn't. We didn't have a song.

It should be our song.


Because that's us. The oldest story in the world.

She closes her eyes and her head falls into my chest and she reaches up without looking and touches my face, my lips. She says she could never imagine me with a beard. I've had it for three or four years, I say. Your hair is so short, she says. I'm losing it, I say.

No, you're not.

I am.

Someone keeps playing with the music, a new song is started before the old one finishes. I'd given up drinking long enough to be able to locate my tongue in my mouth. The song is slow, smooth, haunting. It's one I've never heard.

And we're slow dancing by ourselves in a corner.

Does this bother you, she says.

I don't know.

A little? She smiles.

I don't know.

It does, doesn't it? She holds me closer.

Everything bothers me.

I know my wife is sound asleep by herself in our bed, our cat posted outside the bedroom door waiting to escort me to the bed if I happen to find my way home. I know she'll sleep soundly through the night, so slight and small as she is, spread longways across the bed in a peaceful fit of dreamless rest. Her ghosts are few and they rarely come out. She's solemn and content and lacks daring. Tomorrow when she wakes up she'll know what happens next.

I'm four hundred miles away in the middle of the night trying to figure out what went wrong seven years ago. My ghost draped around my shoulders, her mouth upon mine, her tongue sliding wet and warm into a small opening I allow.

Copyright©2008 Matt Baker