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At the party I am trying to listen to this girl talk, but I keep getting distracted by her face. It is not a pleasant distraction. My focus has gently swum away from her wrongified nose and now lives somewhere over her right shoulder. I am nodding, again, because there was a question mark in there somewhere, when I realize who I am looking at. Down the hall, against the far side of that room. Leaning, one hand on the mantle, same pose my memory has always put him in. Albert.

Who has been gone for so long. Who moved to Seattle and told no one he was going. Who has come back. Who is smiling at me, may have been doing so for a while. What can I do but hand my drink to the talking girl and make my way to Albert, quickly.

Wouldn't there just be people in between us. So it takes a minute before we get our good moment. But we get it. Everyone around us is drunk or preoccupied and nobody ridicules this laughing hug we make up as we go along, in which we have backscratching and slight teasing tickles and both talking into each other's ears not wanting to let go. Where have you been / I have so much to tell you / Where have you been.   In these shoes we are the same height and it is perfect.

Some pest wants my attention. What. I turn away from Albert but most of my attention stays with him. So I overhear, clearly, what he says to the guy standing next to him. I could have missed it, it is brief. But I do not miss it.

That's her, he says.



Later, drunk on cheap red wine sloshed into jelly jars. Albert finds an Oreo which needs scrutinizing. Wants to tell me about it. It has noxious blue creme filling which might be meant to exemplify the rebirth of . . . something. I am happy to affirm his theories while I take picture after picture of his puzzled face. We are in the kitchen and the only lamp is behind me and either it is a dim bulb or I am diffusing the light because Albert is cast in a glow even better than the one I remember.



Later. I am already dizzy as I drag him down the stairs, they are circular, they are not helping. A hand in a hand (do not think I take this for granted)   I take him to the little door in Jerry's closet, the one we always say leads to the inside of Meredith Baxter Birney's soul. Tonight though it only leads to a dank crawlspace which spooks the both of us but I balance on top of the wobbly dehumidifier and haul myself up in. Albert does not ask any dumb cautious questions, which is what I like.

Inside is uneven floor between crumbling walls, an odd useless space left over from when they split the house into apartments. Exposed pipes and a whistley draft which, followed to its source, reveals a finger-sized hole between decrepit bricks. Stick your finger out and you can feel grass. I hope we scare the fuck out of some mouse going past. I should not have said that, now we are rat minded. I have my camera and I take aimless pictures to illuminate the parts we cannot see. I fully expect to see tiny red eyes hurtling toward us with fangs gleaming in the flash, but we are lucky. On one flash I am looking towards Albert, though I don't know it until his side-lit grin is burned onto my vision like a terrible howling mask. I tell him this and he says I am burned on him too, but he does not mention it being terrible. I am a blusher, worse when drunk.

Albert's hand comes groping for me in the dark. I am scratching my back so what he finds is my upturned elbow and he gasps, What the hell is that. I nearly choke it is so funny and he says I thought you had grown tusks. This too is the funniest thing we have ever heard and we lean on each other laughing. When we are done laughing there are still of course hands resting warmly on shoulders. Clementine, he says, which is not me, but means me. He puts his head on my shoulder and I can feel his breath through my shirt. He breathes heavily and makes puppy sleeping noises against my flesh. Arms tight around me, buffering my back from the rough brick wall. I can feel the different muscles up and down his back. Coiled action, right under his skin, waiting in there. He chews on my shoulder a little, through the fabric, making soft monster noises. He is a soft monster. He stops playing then and just sags against me. He is so heavy when he whispers.   Clementine.

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