The heat opened sinkholes in the highways, and Houston crumbled in the swampy air. I parked in the airport's outdoor lot, the asphalt squishing under my heels, and hurried inside. Successive blasts of air conditioning hit me each time I turned a corner. By the time I found your gate, I was shaking. My red sundress was cut on the bias to hide my hips, but it couldn't keep me warm.

It was close to midnight. The airport was so empty that its true nature—cavernous, badly proportioned, and dirty—showed through. Men with overcoats draped over their shoulders, female janitors in pumpkin-colored uniforms pushing lopsided carts down the center of the corridors. No one wanted to be there. My reflection in the windows near the gate was yellow-gray, and I was camouflaged, nearly disappeared into the background, by the time the nautical-looking hatch opened and the passengers filed out.

I knew you only from your photo on the cover of ArtNews: you stood unsmiling in a doorway, a mottled dog by your side.

You were the last passenger off the plane, and I was the only greeter left by the time you dragged your rolling suitcase and the big matching valise up the gangway. I looked down at The New Yorker rolled in my hands, twisted the silver bangles on my arm, and raised my eyes—Jesus, there you were, and I wanted to go to bed with you at once.

"I didn't know you were pretty." You bent to kiss my cheek.

"Well, I knew what you looked like, but you smell a lot better than the magazine cover," I said, and you laughed. You smelled of leather and Neutrogena and a scent I didn't recognize. I smelled it again later, in your studio—it was one of the acids that you used to cast metal.

"That stuff gets into my skin, ruins my eyes," you said, when I asked you why you needed eye drops so often. Taking chances, being careless with welding torches and chemical baths: this was what you did for your art. Your sculptures grew outward, very slowly from a central core, the COR-TEN steel and fiberglass heavy and hard to maneuver.

This was twenty years ago. Last week's obituaries didn't say what kind of material it was that dropped from a cable onto the back of your neck and slammed you to the concrete floor of your studio. There was no one there to witness it. As always, you were working alone.

I tried to take one of your bags, but you laughed, shifted both of them to your left arm, and threw your right across my shoulder. We walked down the concourse, while the lighted gate signs flicked off one by one behind us, as though we were the last two people in the world.

"I don't have air conditioning," I said, as you lifted your bags into the rusty trunk of my Toyota.

"Yeah? Looks like you barely have a car." You closed the trunk and dusted tiny metallic flecks from your hands. "If I come back in November, will your heater work?"

"The heater is absolutely the best part of this car," I said. "You just wait and see." My palms were damp on the steering wheel.

The night was overcast. If there was a moon, we couldn't see it. A big-city glow, that curious, timid shade of orange, hovered over downtown Houston, but I stayed off the highway, took local roads out of the airport, and soon we were in darkness.

"Are we near the beach?" You'd rolled your window all the way down to smell the damp air.

"That's the bayou. We haven't quite yet ruined all the water around here, but we're working on it. Haven't you been here before?"

"Sure. But you've got me disoriented." The ball of your thumb trailed down my jawline to my chin, pressed against my lower lip.

Later, when you studied the lines on an upside-down map for more than an hour, I realized that maps were just art to you. Getting somewhere was always a secondary issue.

Three blocks from your hotel, you said very politely, "Could you pull over a minute? I'm not quite ready to go in," and the Corolla, as if guided by surer hands than mine, steered itself artfully into the parking lot of a Taco Bell.

"I may be Mexican, but I'm not drive-thru," you said, and reached for me.

We knew each other only from phone calls. The first quite short, when I asked you to chair our public art competition, and the second much longer, while the rain pounded like fists on the tin roof of your studio in New Mexico and I sat in my moldy little Arts Council office in a strip mall. Over the clatter of the rain, your voice was high and musical, with Spanish notes—muscular r's, plump, doughy d's—threaded throughout. It made you sound younger than you were, so when you said you were forty-six, I was surprised.

"You're nearly twice my age," I said. "Does that make you wise?"

"Hmm. Probably it just makes me old enough to know better," you said. "I should be working, but instead I've spent an hour on the phone with a chica I barely know."

"Think of it this way—you know me better now than you did an hour ago, and in one more hour…"

"In another hour we'll be engaged, and an hour after that I'll be paying you alimony." You sipped espresso, and the rain hammered over your head, while I looked at the Houston skyline and tried to imagine your view: sagebrush, piñon trees, and the chilly gray mountains at the edge of the sky.

I pulled into the Hyatt's circular driveway at 1:30. The entryway was empty but brightly lit, and in the glass doors I saw my rumpled dress and mussed hair.

You hugged me and rested your chin on my head. "Come inside, come upstairs."

"Too late, too tired, too many wrinkles," I said, and climbed behind the wheel of my bad car.

Sunday morning. I was still drinking coffee when your taxi pulled up in front of my building.

"This place is cozy, just like you, Mary." You threw your black fedora on the seat of the only comfortable chair. "Have you lived here long? It all looks so new."

"Two years," I said. "And nothing's new." I pointed to the Ansel Adams print, of the desert at night, over the fake fireplace. "I had that in college." On the other wall, one of my mother's watercolors. "She painted that when I was a kid." I fingered the embroidered shawl I'd thrown over the sofa, and the tattered poetry volumes I'd gotten at a yard sale. "Everything here is recycled."

"Your mother paints? But not you." You touched the ironed collar of my cotton shirt. "You're too... crisp. I bet you never made mud pies when you were little."

"My mud pies won prizes." I stepped back and picked up your fedora, pulled it down on my head until the brim covered my eyes. I didn't know if "crisp" meant young and fresh, or plain and predictable. My more interesting friends had exotic houseplants, Mardi Gras masks, and pink flamingos spicing up their apartments. I had a lot of books and a typewriter, but the most desirable things in my place were the shiny hardwood floors and the fresh towels. I was getting ready to be an artist, but I wasn't there yet. I bumped my shin on the coffee table as I started for the door. "Let's get out of here," I said.

At brunch you told me about your ex-wife and your daughter, Maddie, who, you said, "came out fair and blue-eyed like her mom, even though I'm a Spic." They lived in El Paso, and you saw Maddie on weekends, though she hated to come out to the desert. In your renovated schoolhouse, there was nothing for a nine-year-old to do. "I can't wait till she's old enough to weld, or run the paint gun," you said.

The waitress came, and you ordered Bloody Marys. Your voice got tighter, your speech more clipped, after you said your daughter's name, so I stared out at the ship channel and counted the black gulls like slashes of ink in the dull white sky until I got to twenty.

"How did you end up buying an old schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere?" I was on my second Bloody Mary.

"I drove by and saw the sign, and I got out of the truck. There was a little creek in the back, with wild asparagus growing next to it. I love asparagus. So it seemed like fate." You smiled. "I signed the papers later that week."

"And you're fixing it up, making it livable?"

"It already is livable, querida. You should have seen all the wildlife I had to kick out of there—everything depends on your perspective." You reached under the soft white tablecloth to brush your knuckles across my thigh, and the jolt I felt was more than just sex—it was the life humming within you like a telephone line.

Back at my place, you asked me to turn off the window-unit air conditioner in the bedroom. It was so loud, it broke your concentration, and I wanted to say, this takes concentration? but I didn't, and was glad, later, when your fingers combed carefully through the wet hair at my temples.

There should be a rule: all first-time lovemaking should be in the afternoon, the private hours a gift from the busy world. Time must expand—how else to explain the talk and the sleep, and my long study of your profile, your face as still as an Indian's? Time passed and passed, but the only thing that changed was the light.

The blinds were drawn, tilted slightly upward, but still there was enough light for me to watch your skin go from toffee to almond as the hardened rays of the sun tipped in through my west-facing windows.

You made much of my body—its pallor, the length and heft of my shinbones, the way my waist, which was small, met and molded to the curve of my hips, which were not. I got out of bed to bring us iced tea, and you wandered naked into the living room, lifted my History of Art textbook from the shelves.

"Look," you said, holding the big book open across your palms. "This is you." A shiny bronze woman, as naked as you were and standing nearly as tall.

"Gaston Lachaise sculpted her," you said. "The model, Isabel, was the love of his life—he married her the year after he finished this." You put the book on the kitchen table. "Her waist, her hips, just like yours, see? She even has the same small hands, can you tell?"

I looked down and saw a fat woman like me, with wide hips and rounded thighs. "I guess everything just looks better in bronze," I said, and closed the book on my twin.

In the shower, I inspected your hands. There were cuts and fading bruises, thick calluses on the fingertips. My bluish wrist nestled in your brown-red palm looked like the gutted belly of a trout.

"Why did you become a sculptor?" I brought your calloused forefinger to my lips, and pressed your hand to my throat. "My mother paints all day, but her hands don't get nearly this torn up."

"I did paint. For a long time." You turned from me and took a towel from the rack. "I also drew, in ink and charcoal. And I made neon signs with my dad in his shop, for years." You stepped into your khakis. "I made lithographs on handmade paper, and I took photographs, and I balled about a million women and smoked a lot of dope. Hell, I even wrote for awhile. But sculpture is what stuck."

"You wrote stories?" This was my secret: what I was going to do when I grew up. "Do you still have any of them?"

"God, I hope not. They were awful." You laughed. "My ex-wife might have some, saving them up to blackmail me when I have more money."

"How do you know when you're an artist?" I asked, holding my breath just a little. If you thought my question stupid, you didn't show it.

"A person is an artist," you said after a minute, "when he just doesn't have another choice."

We made dinner—peppermint ice cream on Ritz crackers—and I drove you back to your hotel in the late summer twilight. Again my crappy car sat, growling and flaking paint in the Hyatt's elegant turnaround.

"I could go up and grab my stuff, come back to your place," you said.

I shook my head, and looked at you sideways. "My closet's too small for all those clothes," I whispered, wanting it to be a joke.

At home, I filled the bathtub with the hottest water I could stand. When I closed my eyes and went under, the water felt thick, spooling like molten metal under my eyelids and inside the caverns of my ears. The clanks and shudders of the bathroom pipes echoed through the water, almost loud enough to mask the thrumming of my heart.

It was late when you picked me up at the airport, but in the Zona Rosa red light district it could have been mid-afternoon, except for the brightness of the neon and the Christmas lights strung everywhere. It was September. People filled the streets—families dragging overloaded shopping carts along the broken sidewalks, right alongside the exuberant whores, some of whom called after you, Que quiere, vato, as if there weren't a woman beside you.

They were young and younger, fat and thin, in green satin halters and leather hot pants and Spandex anything, and if there was a sadness inside them, I couldn't feel it. Some had dyed their hair red, not red-hair red, but clown-red, and I said it seemed to be the fashion, would you like it if I dyed my hair that way, too, and you looked at me as if you thought I meant it.

I was more tired than hungry, but you said you'd been painting all day on only coffee and made me choose a restaurant from a long row of brightly lit places. I tried to pick the least crowded, but still we had to wait for a table, and so I leaned my head against your shoulder and closed my eyes into the comforting leather smell. When we were seated, the waitresses came one by one to squeeze your shoulder, or brush their knuckles against your cheek. Finally the food came, more food than two people could ever eat.

"They know you here," I said. I'd only managed to eat a little before the piles of plates, the tangled chicken bones and sodden napkins, had banished my appetite.

"Baby, they know me everywhere in the Zona Rosa," you said, and ordered dessert.

On the way to your schoolhouse in the desert, I learned the idiosyncrasies of your truck: one grinding noise when the road climbed, and another, distinct from the first, for the descents. A scary rattle, an aggressive metallic throat-clearing, in the passenger side door whenever you took a left curve a little too fast. The first time it happened I thought the door would give way and I would be pitched into the darkness.

"I can't believe you gave me shit about my car," I tugged at my seatbelt, testing its holding power from every angle.

"This is an artist's truck; it's supposed to be a beater. Even rich artists drive beaters. It's part of our romantic appeal. And Feo's the only one who ever sits over there. He hangs his head out the window and doesn't complain."

You'd just sold a sculpture to the City of Omaha for $100,000, and you had more money in the bank than you'd had in a long while. By the time you finished, between labor and materials and the cost of transporting a twenty-five-foot fiberglass sculpture thousands of miles on a flatbed, you might barely break even. But for now, you could pay child support and accumulated bills and eat too much in Juarez for three or four months, and that was as far ahead as your thinking went.

I woke up in your loft bed, and looked out through the open—really open, with no glass or screens—windows, at the sun rising over the mountains. It was early, but vigorous light poured in, and noise—what sounded like a thousand birds, crickets, Feo barking at the end of his chain. Your side of the bed was cold; you'd been up long enough to make coffee. You brought me some in a thick white mug like the ones in roadside diners.

"It's cold here in the mornings," you said, and passed your fingers over the goose pimples on my shoulder. "And I can't close the windows. Our only option is body heat." You pulled off your sweater, stepped out of your jeans. "Now move over, so I can fix what ails you."

Fix me you did, inside that warm rumpled nest of sheets and down. You'd built your loft bed in the middle of an empty room, and it had stayed there, a tall white island in a whitewashed, high-ceilinged space with windows on three sides. The air inside was faintly blue, especially in the afternoons.

Such solitude, that first long weekend. No houses for miles, and your telephone wasn't working. When we went to town for groceries, I felt assaulted by the radios and car horns, the voices of people on the street.

"You don't like Hondo," you said. We'd stopped at a scrap metal shop on a narrow, rutted street, and I said I wanted to wait in the car while you went inside to look for parts.

"No, it's fine." I fluttered my hands at my ears. "It's just noisy, especially after your place."

"Yeah, I know." You pushed your mirrored sunglasses up your nose. "But my place isn't winterized. I'll be back in the El Paso house in a few weeks. The transitions get easier after awhile." After awhile. I pondered that as you drove. This man had already trashed the first round of adulthood, and I was just beginning mine. If I were invited back, would I come? A bag of bananas sat on the seat between us. I watched you eat, throwing the skins out the window as you finished.

"Why would you do that?" I said, after the second one.

"Do what?" You smiled at me, your wide mouth smeared with pulp. "They're biodegradable."

"Eventually, yeah, but right now they're in someone's yard." I took a banana out of the bag but I didn't peel it. "Do you always just walk away from the messes you make?"

"No." Your voice was dry. "I embrace my messes, I celebrate my messes, I fucking revel in them. How's that?"

I picked at the crusty vinyl on the inside of the door. "Every day's a new day, huh? Exactly how does that feel?" I wondered if there was a word for harridan in Spanish.

"It feels fantastic—you should try it one of these days."

"Oh, no. I'm way too ordinary for that," I said, and waited for you to disagree.

In the morning, you needed a block of time to work, so I settled with books and coffee on the battered sofa in your studio. You whistled, and Feo came to stand in the doorway. You pointed at the sofa and the dog sprang up, made himself into a donut on the thick blue serape draped over my feet.

"Couch time, Feo." The dog stared at us. The tip of his right ear pointed up like it was supposed to, but his left eartip curled rakishly leftward, as if pinned by a brooch.

"Feo takes his work seriously." You looked at the dog, your hands on your hips. "Now, don't let her up."

I wouldn't have gone anywhere. I watched while you changed into paint-spattered coveralls and pulled your gray curls into a stubby ponytail. Then you spent twenty minutes looking for your black Padres baseball cap, which you finally found in the bed of your truck, although there were probably a dozen other caps hanging on pegs by the door.

All your tools—paint gun, clamps, soldering iron—had to be out, and in a certain order. You pulled a clean paper facemask strung with an elastic band over your head, and then removed it. You took five or six sheets of butcher paper scrawled with colored chalk out of your drafting table and arranged them on the concrete floor in different patterns, mumbling to yourself. Nothing seemed to suit you. Finally, you stacked the sketches in a pile and turned them face down. There were boot prints and drips of paint on the backs.

By the time you were ready—you pulled the canvas tarp off a florid, fiberglass woman, twisting in the steely arms of a crocodile—more than an hour had passed.

Late that afternoon we took a shower in the last slanting rays of the sun, and by the time we were finished it was nearly night. There were no streetlights, and the blackness outside the windows looked cushiony and soft.

You carried my bag to the truck while I said goodbye to Feo and scrounged in the fridge for an apple and some cheese. We'd planned to leave enough time to stop for burritos on the way to the airport, but your sense of time ran along the same train tracks as your sense of money, and we were already late.

We were still miles from El Paso, coming down a steep slope into a switchback, when the truck's descending grind morphed into a squeal. There was a loud clang and then a series of smaller clangs—pieces of metal hitting the asphalt. After one more long yowl the engine died altogether.

"Shit. Pinche truck," he said. We couldn't stop, because we might be hit from behind, and there was nowhere to pull over—the guardrail pressed close against the right side of the road. The only light was from the truck's high beams. You shifted into neutral, and began to pump the brakes. Without power steering the truck was hard to control, and soon I could smell the overheated metal. We took the turns faster than we should have, and on the outside ones my door rattled and shook so hard that I actually saw my body tumbling through shale and gravel into the dry gully at the bottom of the slope. We got to the bottom and it took another fifty yards to coast to the side of the road. I opened my door and climbed out, to get away from the stink of the brakes, but my knees were shaking too much to walk very far.

"Jesus Christ." Now that I wasn't going to die, I allowed myself to think about my missed flight back to Houston. "What happened back there?"

"Not sure. It's done this before, though." You got out of the truck and propped open the hood. "The other time, it just started up again after awhile."

It's done this before? I wanted to scream. And you just kept driving it? A truck dies like that, you get it fixed. Plus, your brakes are ruined. I was unhurt, but I'd had an unwelcome glimpse of your future, with me or without me. This life with you shimmered and danced, just outside the reach of catastrophe. It couldn't last.

You climbed back into the driver's seat and turned the key, and a thin plume of blue-black smoke drifted up from what remained of the truck's underparts.

"Don't worry." You put your big arm across my shoulders and tried to pull me across the seat, but I stiffened and held tight to my armrest. "This is a busy road," you said. "Someone from Hondo will be along here soon enough. Lots of people know my truck."

I couldn't get standby the next morning, and I missed an entire day in the office, and on Tuesday my boss, already irked at me for sleeping with one of the jurors in her public art competition, called me "unprofessional, irresponsible, and selfish." In a stall in the ladies room I cried for a solid half hour, because as stupid and aimless as my life had been up to that point, I'd always at least been a good worker, a person who could be counted on. And now I didn't even have that.

On Friday you called to say that you'd found $150 stuck in the crusty ice at the bottom of your freezer, and did I want you to spend it on a plane ticket?

I was silent for so many seconds that you asked, Are you there? Is the phone dead? and I said, crazily, because three days ago I'd been pretty sure that I was through with you, Yes, come for Thanksgiving, come and meet my family.

You arrived on Wednesday. We walked the four blocks to the Rothko Chapel in a soft afternoon rain, leaving our umbrellas in the vestibule like mourners at a funeral. The Chapel was closing early for the holiday, and the octagonal room was nearly empty, the eight huge canvases as dark and still as the surface of a lake. I loved that room. I loved those paintings. I went there often enough to have a certain proprietary tenderness toward them, despite their severity. But you'd never seen them before, except in books.

The fine hairs on your arms stood up, and when you pushed your shins against the low velvet ropes in front of each canvas and took your glasses off, your eyes were wild. You sat down finally on one of the wooden benches at the center of the room, and it might have been best, and certainly simpler, if I'd just left you there. When the low chimes sounded to tell patrons that the Chapel was closing, I walked to where you sat.

"Time to go." I touched your shoulder.

"Ay, Chingada!" You jumped. "Sorry. I lost track of time."

"You lost track of me, too." I tilted my head at the wall. "You like them, then?"

"Like them?" Your voice was too loud. "That doesn't begin to... See how the paint is layered? How did he get it to refract the light like that, when..."

"That's what my mother said, when I brought her." The light was fading, and for the first time ever the paintings looked almost blank to me. "Now c'mon, before that guard has you arrested for disturbing the peace."

"We can't, you know, do it, while we're there." We were heading west out of the city, toward the house where I grew up. The words were coarser than I'd intended, but you just laughed.

"I guess you think that's the only reason I came?"

"No, you came to let my father beat you at dominoes, and to eat too much of my mother's oyster stuffing. She'll want to talk to you about art, of course. Her art, especially. But she'll be nice about it."

"I stink at dominoes, but I'm good at art, so we should be fine. Why do you look like you want to bite the road?"

"I just hate holidays, I guess."

"That's really great. Why did you invite me, then?"

"Not sure. Misery loves company, probably."

You reached under my scarf to rub the back of my neck. "Oh, but do you love your company, right now?"

We were in the country, the traffic thinned to nothing. I pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven and found the phone; my mother answered on the first ring. "We're going to be about half an hour late," I said.

All of our best conversations had occurred while we were horizontal. I didn't recognize you, so courtly with my parents and jocular with my shy younger brother. Late that first night I heard you two talking, you in the spare bed in my brother's room. And then the soft chords of my brother's guitar, which he never played in front of anyone.

Thanksgiving dinner lasted for hours, and afterward my father and brother hunkered down in the kitchen to tackle the dishes. My mother pushed aside the dessert plates, and filled your coffee mug.

"Mary told me she took you to the Rothko. What did you think?"

"Oh, man." You used up the last of the cream. "I could have stayed there all day. But the Enforcer here," you said, nodding at me, "hauled me out by my ear."

"They were closing. You heard the chime."

"Yeah, but they would have given us more time." You were smiling but there was gravel in your tone. "We could have told them we'd come all the way from El Paso."

"People come from Japan to see those paintings." I stood, and picked up the dessert plates. "And they don't ask for extra time."

My mother put her hand on my shoulder. "Mary doesn't like to ask for exceptions," she said gently. "She's always been that way. Sometimes, when she was little, I'd be painting, and I'd be a little late to pick her up from school…"

"I'm going to help the guys," I said, and stomped off to the kitchen.

Later, the three of us walked through the early winter dark to her studio over the garage. Two paintings—her spare, south Texas landscapes—stood on easels in the big room. In the overhead light they looked yellowed and brittle.

"I guess I'm embarrassed for you to see these—I never paint at night—I don't even come up here. I can't stand how flat everything gets." She fingered the sable brushes in a tin can.

"Don't be embarrassed," you said. You paused in front of the smaller painting, which to me seemed finished. It was of a salt marsh, in pale light; a great blue heron stood in the middle distance. You looked at it for a long minute. My mother held her breath, but you didn't notice. Finally you said, "Are you sure about the heron, though?"

"I hate the heron," my mother said, and the two of you laughed. "I've painted him out so many times. And then I paint him back in. The damned thing just looks so empty with him gone."

"Sure, because everything else is framing that space. It's hard." You walked three paces to the left and regarded the painting again. "You move the heron to the right, the whole thing falls out of balance. But where he is now, he seems a little deliberate, doesn't he?"

"Oh, God, yeah." My mother stood beside you, pointing at the bird. "He's a cartoon, almost. A goody-goody, Reader's Digest heron. Wise and calm, like those paintings of Jesus that little kids have over their beds."

You laughed. "That settles it—you're going to have to leave that space empty now. Probably that's where you started, right?" My mother nodded, and you kept on: "Your first impulse, the right one. But sometimes empty just takes more courage than we can lay our hands on. Right, Mary?"

"I wouldn't know." I wanted out of there. "I told you, I don't paint."

"Mary puts her work first. She always has. And that's how she met you, right?" My mother's eyes were bright; she meant only admiration. I had to work, to take another meaning from her words.

"Yup, that's right, I'm just a worker-bee," I said.

"I guess you didn't like her other painting." You and I were on a trip to the grocery store, one of our few private moments.

"Actually, her work is good, really good. I can see what she's trying to do."

I frowned. "But, you didn't mention the bigger one. She probably thinks you hated it."

"Only you would think that, honey." You pulled a bag of frozen blackberries from the freezer case and tossed it gently at my head. "Her style is so different than mine—she knows her own work better than I ever could." Cool Whip and hot fudge sauce went into the cart. "And anyway, painting isn't a group project. Sooner or later, we're all on our own."

I looked down at the cookies and pound cake and ice cream you'd already picked out. "Are you paying for all this stuff? Because I'm not," I said, and threw the frozen berries at your hat.

On the drive back to Houston, you looked out your window at the flat gray land. "This time of year—it's not especially pretty here, is it?"

"No. There's too much rain, and summer's too hot. We have one nice week in April, though. You should come back then."

"You don't mean that like it sounds, so I won't answer now. I'm not quite sure why the weekend sucked. But don't give up on me, not yet."

I blinked back tears. "If I've given up on anybody, it's me." This was true, but it wasn't all of it. I wasn't quite brave enough to say the rest: that we'd see each other a few more times, and then drift apart, and that this would be for the best, because the one thing I really wanted from you wasn't something you could share.

We got to the airport early, and I hunkered down behind my seat belt to make it clear that I wasn't coming in. You cleared your throat, tugged at the brim of your hat.

"I was wondering if you have about forty dollars." Your right hand gripped the door handle; I felt how fiercely you needed to get away from me. "I have to get the truck out of the airport lot," you said. "I don't know what happened to all the cash I came with."

"You spent it, ese, like always," I said, and reached into the back seat for my purse. Your dark green sweater, crumpled and faintly damp, was caught between the seat and the right rear door, and the tip of a fat charcoal pencil poked out from under a floor mat. It was going to take me a long time to rid myself of every trace.

I pulled my wallet out of my purse, handed you three twenties and a five. "Take this," I said. "It's everything I've got."

Copyright © Catherine Brown 2008.

Title graphic: "Isabel" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2008.