“I have no emotions.”
I stared at her text and wondered whether this could possibly be true. It was an oddly soothing thought. If she had no emotions, she wouldn’t be able to feel a thing for me. She’d let me go when she left the lodge and I would be free, left to my own devices. Again. Until the next batch of tourists came, and I’d scan their faces once, twice, at mealtimes, not looking for anything in particular, but knowing that I’d recognize it if I saw it. And there would be that one, usually only one but occasionally two, with the special gleam in her eyes that said she was looking at people with extra care, just like I was, looking to see who was willing to have an adventure. Sometimes men had that same calculating expression on their face, but they were, more often than not, crude, like an unwashed bit of produce left on the counter too long, still usable but a little repulsive.
“What a thing to say,” I texted back. I didn’t know what else to write. I couldn’t say “Yes, you do, and I know because I’ve seen them, even though you hide them.” I couldn’t say “Bullshit.” I couldn’t say “Well, that’s a shame, I thought you were in love with me,” even though it was the truth. I couldn’t say any of these things because we’d slept together a total of maybe three times (I tried not to actively count but let the memories of her nudity blend together) and were not close. We’d gotten drunk together, stoned together, but the wall that is always there in such situations was raised as high as I’ve ever seen it. That’s why I was certain she was in love with me.
“I’m dying,” she wrote back. “Having no emotions is a survival mechanism.”
This was more disturbing. I had no idea whether she was telling the truth or just trying to fuck with me. Screw with my head. Make me commit something that I wasn’t ready to commit. This was something, I’d found, people did. Women more often than men. It was as if in order to capture the memory of their trip to the slopes, they had to box up a little piece of me and take it with them. They managed, usually, to wring more from me than I ever meant them to. Inevitably, I’d get drunk and go soft, or become lonely one night and allow my instincts to speak those hateful words through my mouth – can. you. sleep. over. – and they would agree, snuggle gratefully against my side, grab my thigh in their sleep, turn over and fart into the blankets, and I’d need to stand their humanity, cursing myself for my weakness.
“What’s the prognosis?” I finally texted. I got the whiskey from under the sink, the only cabinet in my staff lodging. The motley collection of bottles, my shaving accouterments, an unopened can of mixed nuts, and a sad orange–my own odds of survival in this place didn’t look that great. I’d accepted the job at the ski lodge after my last boyfriend and I broke up and I got sick of living in my car and on friends’ couches. I had signed an eight month contract and was halfway through. I had no idea what I’d do once the season was well and truly over.
While I waited for her to respond, I opened my window and allowed the freezing air in so I could light a cigarillo, a habit I’d picked up during a semester in Cuba years ago. The flavor was heavenly, especially with the whiskey, both of them smoking and stinging my mouth and leaving an after-taste that was reminiscent of coffee grinds and the way chalk smells. Someone was walking to the dining room from their cabin, swinging a flashlight around and breaking up the cold dark. I wondered if it was her, if she was getting a granola bar from the basket of them left out for anyone with late-night munchies. It was better to imagine her hungry than to fixate on the picture of her forming in my mind: lying diagonally on her quilted bed in a mock-swoon, a sham of Victorian ladyhood, a pair of panties clutched to her mouth as she coughed up blood. The image was oddly arousing, and I struggled to banish it. Another sip, another puff. The flashlight cut through the night again as the intrepid walker left the dining hall and returned to their room.
“Dead in a year or my money back,” she finally texted. I slammed my window shut. I realized how very trapped I was: by the lodge, by the job, by this woman. No one I’d slept with had ever died, and this fact would change within a year. I didn’t want to think of myself as having communed with a dead person, especially as I’d never know if she’d actually died. Instead of responding to her, I opened my laptop and prayed abstractly that the wifi would cooperate tonight. It did, though it was slow and the pages only half-loaded, leaving ghostly boxes where pictures of smiling faces or cartoon character avatars should have been. I began to check that everyone I’d ever loved or lusted after was alive. I trawled Facebook, Googled furiously, looked at university websites (where I found myself duly impressed), and found various pictographic accounts of food eaten and children had and husbands and wives married and dogs adopted and buried and art projects and shy poems shared.
I didn’t search for her, though. After reassuring myself that everyone else was still alive, I tried to embrace the experience. “Well, you’re alive now,” I texted. Then, after another dram of whiskey that I hoped I could blame later as having gone to my head, “I can come over and keep you alive and kicking some more.” I felt slightly nauseated at this but a little check mark showed that it was too late, the message was sent and, a moment later, she’d seen it.
“You’re corny,” she wrote. But then, “Sure.”
We both knew it wasn’t her I was trying to keep alive that night, but we didn’t speak about it. I didn’t ask what she was dying from or whether she was telling the truth. We talked about TV we liked and the way the stars looked brighter after you’d been in a city for a long time. We had vigorous, aerobic sex that felt like synchronized swimming, both elegant and supremely silly. We pretended to sleep.
The sun came out in the morning, after several cloudy and snowy days.
It wasn’t a sign.
It was just the weather.
“I have no emotions,” she’d claimed. It was easier to believe her. So I did.