He plopped a book in front of bare white knees, white tissues, and dry tears.
“You can read this. It’s a start.”
“A self-help book…” she scoffed from the back of her throat, with a deep momentum only slowed through snot and stilled by a wall.
“No.” He met her, immovable. “Just a book. It won’t help you. No book could do that.”
Sarcasm. She heard his wall but, convinced that light must travel, did not look to see its color. “I’m not as smart as you. I don’t know what your riddles mean, I won’t know what this book means.”
“Books have no meaning.”, he volleyed.
“You’re ridiculous.”, she lobbed a mumbling return.
“It is a human habit to think all things have meaning, and all riddles require solving. Much the same when man sees dirt, and reaches for his shovel.”
She reached for something to throw. Maybe the book…
“I bring you dirt!”, he proclaimed over her head, as though to a crowd, “The proverbial sandbox!”
“I hate it when you use clichés.”
Everything was a character to them — which is not to say a lie. Lies suffocate, but characters reveal (in time). Sometimes he broke the fourth wall; sometimes he laughed on stage and to a mirror. What of the audience then?
“It feels like you’re talking down to me.”
“Perhaps, then, you should stand up.”
She raised her head to see his smile. Hers did not follow. His right thumb swayed above his chin, within the concave between it and his lips; his right finger over left cheek, a pointed gun against the ceiling, suggested flight. She looked there, imagined an accidental trigger-pull, an explosion, a tumbling roof, a hero-like hole of escape. Her eyes moved down again, and across, to the door left open to his right. He stood like a wall, she thought. But walls prevent and he would never do that. Her eyes moved to the book.
“Do you speak Russian?”, he asked to no answer.
Then reflecting, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
“I’m not your tennis partner.”
“Just pretend the book is in Russian. Pretend you have no idea what it means — which shouldn’t be too hard since you claim to be an idiot.”
She stuttered exhalation through her nose — half retreating laughter, half retreat; her shoulders bounced, involuntary, beautiful.
“It’s in Russian and every sentence has a meaning that is yours to invent. After you finish the book, and you’ve created a meaning, come toss it at my feet as I have tossed it at yours, and tell me I know nothing of it.”
She looked up again. That perpetual smile. Lecturing him was always fun, she smirked (hopefully only on the inside). She enjoyed most knowing things he didn’t know, including where and when her smirk was. He finished with the magic words:
“Then lecture me.“