Mike and Miriam lay in bed and pretended to be blind, eyes closed, gently touching each others' faces. It was something they had seen in a movie, maybe – a blind woman feeling someone's face, trying to imagine what that person looked like, or what expression they were making – and had become a sort of game that they played. The two of them agreed: they would each rather be struck blind than deaf. Though, Miriam, with her eyes closed, running her thumb over Mike's cheek, reminded him, “Beethoven went deaf and he just got really good at feeling. It might not be that bad.”
This pretending mostly happened at night, before they fell asleep, or in the gray of early morning, if they woke before their alarms, and often just before or after they made love. Those times, the hands of whoever was playing blind would feel the other's face, would slowly move down over shoulders, ribs, and hips, searching one another, the soft brush of fingertips becoming more and more bold, one hand taking another and placing it – here, or can you, or like this – with eyes shut tight until they were panting, gasping, and sometimes, Mike might open his eyes and watch Miriam's face, furrowed with pleasure, and if she noticed, Miriam stared back, and seeing one another like that – it was almost too much for either of them.
They had been dating for just over a year and Mike daydreamed of proposing. He was confident that Miriam would say yes, but he also knew that it would be smarter to wait. They were young – he was twenty-seven and she was twenty-five. They had only been living together for two months. Mike knew there was no reason to rush into anything: the longest relationship he'd ever been in had lasted over four years, and it was even longer after that before Mike began to realize how unhappy he had been through most of it. There was a nervous part of him that felt the need to outlast that timeline.
On top of that, he knew that it would be some time before either of them could afford even a small wedding. Mike worked part-time as a program coordinator for a local non-profit, helping to develop a summer art program with a small community center in their neighborhood. While he hated the red tape and politics of the non-profit world, he believed the work was noble and important. Miriam worked as a barista at a coffee chain. The work was nothing more than a paycheck to her, but she'd gone straight from high school to college to graduate school, and this was her first job in the service industry; it still held some novelty for her, and she enjoyed interacting with all of the different people that were her customers.
She and Mike both talked about trying to find new jobs, but they were relatively content with their lives, and every night, when they got into bed, they asked about each other's day, and Mike told her about any funny things that the kids at the community center had done, and Miriam told him about the eccentric customers she had served.
“Remember the man with the parrot that I told you about?” she asked one night. “He was back.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Let me guess,” he said. “Yo, ho, ho and barrel of chai. Chemex marks the spot.”
“No, no,” Miriam sighed. “Polly wanna latte. That's all.”
“Well, did the bird tip?” Mike grumbled.
“I wouldn't think he was funny if he didn't.”
Most mornings, Miriam had to open the coffee shop by seven, and she was usually out the door and on the bus by the time Mike was conscious enough to remember who and where he was. He never had to be at work until noon and he took his time each morning, reading in bed for an hour or so before brushing his teeth and getting dressed. Those mornings, even though their apartment was only three rooms – a bedroom, a bathroom, and a combined living room and kitchen separated by a few short feet of countertop – the space felt strangely large to him and Mike moved through it as if he were in a museum, standing for several minutes in front the rosemary plant on the windowsill or the two small photographs of Miriam's parents that hung in plastic frames from Goodwill. The apartment was still new to them. In the living room, they had no furniture aside from a bookshelf and a small coffee table. They ate their meals sitting on the floor and spent most of the rest of their time at home sprawled across the bed. Mike sometimes felt as if their lives were somehow too close, too small and intimate to fill even this tiny space.
“Don't you think we should move somewhere smaller?” he asked once.
“Smaller?” Miriam replied. She raised her eyebrows, peered at him over her glasses. “Like what? A studio? What do you mean, smaller?”
“I don't know,” Mike finally said. “I guess anything else would be a bit tight.”
“I guess so,” Miriam said.
When he imagined proposing, Mike mostly thought about how he would ask and not so much about what his and Miriam's lives might be like as a married couple afterward. He didn't know what he would say, but he imagined that it would be a short, matter-of-fact conversation – a simple scene at a booth in the diner where they sometimes went for breakfast on the weekends, or while they moved around each other in their kitchen, cooking dinner on a quiet weeknight – a small, private agreement, each of them saying yes, together, yes, sure, why not, and smiling at one another before realizing that the pasta was boiling over.
One night, after having drinks with some friends, they went for a walk on the trail that ran along the Allegheny River, and Miriam asked Mike about his past relationships. With some hesitation, Mike told her the names of each of the women he had dated, how long each relationship had lasted, and what phase of his life they had each taken place during. “Amy and I were together for about a year,” he said. “A little less. That was high school. My first kiss.” Miriam snorted and punched him playfully on the arm. “Then I dated this girl, Katherine, for about a year. But she was going to college a couple hours away from me. Long distance. I'm surprised that lasted as long as it did. She's a pastor now. She's got like a hundred kids. And then Rachel and I were together for a little over four years.” Mike shook his head. “It's funny to look back now and realize how obviously depressed I was during that whole time.” He chuckled but found himself feeling suddenly on guard. They had discussed, on just one previous occasion, his past struggles with depression, but all that Miriam knew was that Mike had been on anti-depressants for some time, and that he was, at one point, briefly hospitalized. It was all in the past, and Mike had not told her the reason for his hospitalization, nor the fact that it had happened only a few weeks after Rachel had broken up with him. Mike found himself now recalling that night, the gnawing hollow that he had felt inside and the pulsing need he'd felt all around while he'd stood in the bedroom of the apartment he and Rachel had shared, still littered with all of the things she'd left behind – pages from magazines tacked to the wall and plants and books and hairpins cluttering the bedside table, none of which Mike had gotten rid of – and his own belongings, nearly all of which had taken on some horrible sentimental value, each one gaining some ounce of the weight of his suddenly displaced love – before he swallowed what he knew to be far too many pills, lay down in the middle of the floor, and fell asleep with no intention of ever waking up.
“What do you mean by that?” Miriam asked.
“You sounded like you were going to say something else.”
“Oh,” Mike said. “No. I mean, I don't know. I was just thinking.” He took a deep breath. “I don't know.” He was silent for a moment. Then, smiling, “I'm just really happy now. That's all.”
A cool breeze rose from the water and tiny headlights traveled fast along the highway that stretched along the opposite bank of the river. There was the sound of a piano being played from one of the houses nearby, a song that might have sounded joyful or triumphant had the musician's fingers not been slow and clumsy in delivering its melody. Miriam squeezed Mike's hand in hers. “Me too,” she said.
They walked silently for a bit before Mike asked, laughing and pointing his finger at her accusingly, “Well, what about your exes?”
“There are none,” Miriam teased. “I was a virgin when we met and you're the first man I've ever known.” Mike scoffed. “Hey,” Miriam said, “watch yourself.” She gave him a gentle shove. “None of them have very interesting stories,” she went on. “There was Adam, and Cameron, and Danny, and Eric, and then there was Julian. Shawn, and Amir, and --”
“Oh, God, come on,” Mike said.
“-- and Tom,” she said. “Come to think of it, I guess I have broken a couple of hearts. But there have really only been a couple who lasted more than a few months. Don't worry though, they've all come to relatively polite endings. Nobody else has ever taken me that seriously, I suppose. Or maybe vice versa.”
They came to the overpass of the 40th Street Bridge, and as they turned around and headed back toward their apartment, it occurred to Mike that this was the perfect moment, that he should ask Miriam to marry him. He could just make the casual suggestion and it would be fine, he thought. The fact that they didn't have any money was irrelevant. Miriam had begun to tell him about a customer she'd served earlier – a kind old man with a glass eye and fur coat – but Mike's mind was running through variations of how he could propose and how the conversation might play out if he did. An urgency began to lump up in his chest and his whole body clenched with a feeling of anxious reverie, but by the time he had cleared his mind of the echoes of those imagined conversations, Miriam was pulling him off the path and back toward the orange glow of streetlights, and in another moment, the brick face of their apartment was there in front of them and she was fumbling the keys from her pocket, rushing to unlock the door so that she could get inside to use the bathroom.
They sat on the floor in the living room and finished what was left of a bottle of wine, and then sat together on the side of the bathtub while they brushed their teeth. When Miriam stood to spit out her toothpaste, their eyes caught in the mirror and she laughed, bits of minty foam speckling the faucet.
They undressed, climbed into bed. Mike reached to turn off the light and quickly fell asleep. He dreamed of the apartment that he and Rachel had shared so many years ago, a malevolent ghost, the chalky taste of too many pills. The dream was full of muffled, vague impressions – panicked voices, the ceiling somewhere far above him, the floor sinking below. It was only a few minutes later that he woke to the touch of Miriam's fingers on his cheek. He blinked and rolled onto his side to face her. The dream faded, like the memory of someone he'd known a lifetime ago.
Miriam's eyes were closed, her mouth slightly opened. Mike watched her face in the dark as she traced his jawline, pawed at his forehead and nose. He lifted his hand and ran a finger over her eyebrow, down her temple, along the rim of her ear. He felt a bit drunk, and very happy, and very tired, and he couldn't help but close his eyes. They both were blind now, trying to picture one another in the dark. He tucked a bit of hair behind her ear, then rested his hand on her face. He felt a pull in Miriam's cheek and knew that she was smiling. Yes, he thought, that was unmistakably a smile. His fingers moved over the tightened corner of her mouth, the swell of her cheek, and he wondered, as he often did, what it was that she was thinking.