firenze sat (114)Under the pretense that a dog needed to pee, I accompanied a new guy to his duplex in the woods. We had just met at a literary festival afterparty, me swirling beer around in a plastic cup as I stood with him beside a keg in someone’s backyard.

It was November, I was a senior in college, and he was the recent recipient of a master’s degree in creative writing, now working as an instructor teaching study skills to freshmen. He was good looking, blue eyes and black hair with a prematurely gray patch atop his head.

Maybe I was interested, maybe I was not, but what harm? He said his dog needed to be let out, in the literal sense, and we would come back. I offered to drive.

In his living room I sat sunken in an armchair, the dog filthy and slumped against my legs, caking my pants in its oily fur. The guy put on a Widespread Panic album and danced, bobbing his head and philosophizing on the genius of the music. He was, it began to appear, possibly high on something.

I was dreaming up excuses to leave when a girl I recognized from the party burst through the screen door.
“Asshole,” she said. “You fucking asshole.”

She crossed the room and began punching him in the head as he sat on the couch, the rings on her fingers gnashing his face.

“Stop hitting him, nothing happened!” I said. “We were just talking.”

But she was teeming with a determination like this is what you need, and he took the hits as though he agreed.

There was a sportswriter who came over to sleep with me routinely in those days. He’d call from his cell phone on the front porch of my building to say, Come down, let me in, and the old wooden staircase would creak beneath me as I’d descend to unlock the door. I might light the candelabra in the fireplace, or we might conduct some preliminary conversation, twenty minutes or so of how was your day or a funny thing happened.

Emptiness had sprouted inside me like a weed, and it led me through the cloud of that November night to the dog, and the duplex, and the guy whose girl or ex-girl had finally ceased punching.

I volunteered to leave and moved toward the door, but her arms flew up and she shoved me backward.

“No,” she said. “Stay here and let him ruin you.”

Then she walked out.

I looked at him. His forehead was bleeding. He hadn’t moved and his eyes were half closed. But when I asked, he said he was okay.

“I’m going to go,” I said, and bolted for my car.

In the dark recesses of the yard I could make out a silhouette where she stood waiting. This time, neither of us said a word. We weren’t so different, both aching to fill some bottomless pocket of the heart on those evenings that thrummed with booze, those vacant midnight roads where the truth of how far we had left to go was crystalline.

One night in the middle of December, I would sit up in bed and say, Adam, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. The moon would be shining through the west window of the room like always. In a bath of gray-blue light, he would murmur, Oh.

Linsey Maughan is a newspaper reporter covering government and health care in Findlay, Ohio. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida in May 2007, and is at work on a memoir. This is her first creative nonfiction publication.