“Conversations always end too soon for me.”

“Do they now.”

I chewed on my lip, trying to frame my answer. “Either it's awesome, it's working, and the other person says it's over out of the blue, or it just peters off, and I don't know where it went.” No, that wasn't right. “It's not that they're silent, more that it stops working like it was.”

He seemed perfectly content to stand where he was, looking at me or through me as we went on. “You make it sound like a machine.”

“Conversations? Yeah. Lots of delicate little bits that go in very specific places.”

“And a lot to get wrong.”

I twisted a corner of my mouth. “Yeah. That's where the problem is. It's like everybody I talk to works with only half the blueprint I've got.”

The damp seeped into our clothes as the mist curled. Fingers of it licked at his ears. He rubbed his jaw, and I followed the motions of his white, smooth hands. “What is it supposed to accomplish? This machine of yours?”

I blinked, and pinched a slip of tissue from behind my lip between my tongue and teeth. “I don't know.”

“Well, that's an easy answer.”

“If I don't know, that's it, isn't it?”

He shifted to face me better. He'd been alternating between this and facing the street to my left for the past half hour, always leaning against the waist-high fence I was sitting on. “It doesn't explain why you keep trying to build it.”

“Maybe I'm just curious.”

“Oh, come now.” He was smirking, but he was serious. “That's not an acceptable answer.”

I sighed. “No, it isn't.”

He let me be silent, trying to think it through.

“Maybe it is. Say I find a way to build the whole thing – someone with the whole blueprint I have Or enough to bullshit the rest of their way. Then I'll have finished, and I'll see what it means, right? That's what I want.”

I looked at him, and he had his own moment to chew that over. Then he grinned. “I just hate the word. 'Curiosity'. It sounds so flimsy. Compare it with someone saying, 'I want to know.'”He'd lost the grin at the last, and put it back with practiced timing. “They don't seem like the same thing.”

I was nodding along. “The second is more powerful. As though it could shake your bones.”

“Split them and eat the marrow.” He laughed, falling back on the fence to face the street again. I smiled, and looked down.

When I looked up again, he was watching me, and the pause had stretched too long.

I didn't try to break it.

Somehow, he found the moment, and spoke again. “Maybe this is the solution to your problem.” He stopped, and looked at me. I couldn't open my mouth – it had been glued shut from being kept too long committed to staying that way. He smiled as if he knew the issue. “How about I stick around until you want me to leave. We don't have to say anything.”

When I could, I said, “You don't have to do that.” My voice, nervous, was too soft, and I had to repeat myself.

He rubbed his jaw again. There were red spots on his hands, behind his knuckles, between his tendons. It bought him a moment or two to consider what he said.

“I'm reasonably certain I want to. I'm not done with this yet.”

Damp made his hair heavy, and it was beginning to drip onto his forehead.

I hopped off the fence, and stretched forward with my hands still on it. Then I turned, and jerked my head to my right.

“Come on, let's go inside. We'll get a cold.”

He lifted a corner of his mouth. “Why not. You have hot chocolate?”

Date: <2016-05-10 Tue> [2014-08-10 Sun]

Author: Sahiti Chedalavada

Created: 2020-12-14 Mon 02:14