mike force

As we set up the conference center at noon, I thought I would have us fall off a cliff, so I reached for the back of my workmate's hand to touch it. He was very surprised. After all, we had been good friends at the office for two years. Previously, I, and possibly he, had been aloof to the prospect that it might go further. Now he did not remove his moist hand from beneath mine. "Oh my," he said, looking away. A storm of sweat on his lip.

In the next minutes, neither of us used our eyes to see. I was led by a god to work my hand up his forearm, pressing hard to break the reservations we retained. In a few minutes he was going to enjoy the top of my shirt where it gave way. I was going to enjoy his shirt's open placket, the fabric's pattern of scribbled leaves, and his waist showing through, chewy as seafood meat.

In a moment: a first kiss—a minor explosion in its own right, but before it arrived, I thought I should mention something.

"You died," I said.

"I know," he said.

"You had to ruin everything by drowning."

"You're gonna be on my case about that?

"Yes."

The sadness was that he had lived for such a long time, and so well, until two weeks before, when he died underwater, surely not before he knew what was happening, not before his brain would have stopped inhibiting itself such that all his memories jetted forth in one astonishing flood. Which had comforted him, I hoped. The sadness was that his friends and family had been crushed by his dying, and that at the wake, we'd held each other, so sad.

"But you came back," I said.

"It happens sometimes—a little reprieve I guess," he said, breath warm as cake.

The voyaging kiss to come.

There in the conference center, I was happy for this chance to extend my hands to him—one of life's best surprises, a once-only opportunity it was. recommended




Stacey Levine is the author of several books of fiction, including 2011's The Girl with Brown Fur. She won a Stranger Genius Award in 2009.