Budapest

I like to stand at the foot of the bed and throw myself on the bouncy mattress. My hair splashes around my face like water and I pretend that I am a weightless, powerless body. I turn my palms toward the sky and hold my breath.

That’s what I was doing as he packed his suitcase. The big bed in the hotel room was wide and flexible, so I bounced for a long time. Once the bouncing stopped I stayed there, staring at the cheap chandelier hanging above me. The hotel was in one part of a converted downtown apartment building, near the train station—a formerly bombed-out, turn-of-the-century building along a wide, congested boulevard. Our window looked out on the wrap-around balcony facing a stone courtyard. Old ladies shuffled by our window and a couple of kids bounced a ball on the old wooden gate below as we made love that afternoon.

By now it was dark and we were dressed and the courtyard was empty. Dishes rattled in one kitchen. A baby cried. Someone must have been sautéing onions and paprika in an old iron skillet across the hallway. The news came on and a window pane rattled as the wind blew it shut.

I shivered.

It was July, but the skies turned dark the moment his plane touched down Friday night. We took a cab to the hotel and made small talk. I stayed behind him as he checked in—this time he gave his real name, not like he used to when he had to sign in to my dorm in college. The receptionist called him “Mister” and then shot me a knowing look. I pretended to not notice. I clung to his arm as we walked up two flights of stairs. The lights in the dark hall were operated by motion censors and lit up the way ahead of us one by one like a runway.

Later we walked along the boulevard—maybe we were talking, maybe not, I can’t remember now. We crossed the road and tram tracks and walked up to the bridge crossing the Danube. The river curves at that point, so we walked almost all the way over to the other side before the city opened up in front of us. The drizzle made all the lights seem a bit dimmer, a bit less like a cheesy postcard.

I wanted him to think that this was romantic. I wanted him to love my city as much as I did. I wanted him to love me.

We stopped and leaned on the rail. The bridge gently swayed as a tram passed by.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to see you,” he said, matter-of-factly. He smiled his sweet, crooked smile. There was a raindrop on his eyelashes.

“Yeah, right.”

We held hands on the way back to the hotel, his arm curving perfectly into my arm, his fingers entwined with mine. A decade later I can still feel that pressure on my elbow, my wrist, between my fingers. His thumb rubbed the top of my hand.

I took a taxi home after we made love. I ate leftovers in my parents’ kitchen at 2 a.m. and wondered if he missed me in that big bed. I wondered if he really came to see me and whether his hunger for me was fueled by love, or need, or nostalgia, or something else that I would never know or understand.

The next night I stayed with him. There was no use pretending that I was cool or that I didn’t really care whether he was there or not. I took him to all of my favorite spots in the city, trying to etch the image of him and those places in my mind. He fit in everywhere, sure, but he was so much shinier than that drab July weekend, than my favorite smoky café, or our hidden hotel room. So much shinier than me.

All weekend I pretended that Sunday didn’t exist. But here it was and he was packing and I was playing dead on the hotel bed. He giggled when I started the bouncing, but now he moved around the room quietly, with purpose.

He neatly folded his clothes and placed them in his bag. He picked up my clothes that I left on the floor the night before, folded them and placed them on the chair by the door. He put his shoes on. He tucked his plane ticket in his jacket pocket and checked for his phone and keys.

He finally sat down next to me. I knew he wanted me to leave, but I was clinging to every minute with him. He said he’d rather see me leave than watch me wave as he got on the airport shuttle bus by himself.

He lay next to me and put his head on my shoulder. I touched his hair—so painfully soft—and cried.

“Please tell me that it’s going to be all right,” I sobbed.

“I can’t promise you that; I can’t promise you anything,” he said, almost laughing.

“No, I don’t mean just us — I mean in general.”

“Yeah, in general, everything will be all right.”

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