It seems that in my old age a general detachment overtakes me. I move about in the midst of humanity as if encapsulated, walled off, able to see and hear and speak and navigate (after a fashion), yet unable to respond articulately, appropriately, promptly to the most basic of stimuli.
I am in the cafe, reading, all things as they should be--coffee and banana bread on the table before me, ashtray to the left, a lit cigarette, cellphone to the right. This is my entire field of vision. This and the open book in my hands. Little by little, something intrudes. I am completely unaware of it at first, and then it begins to vaguely stir the air between my thoughts, or rather between the thoughts of Murakami or Hawthorne or whomever happens to be thinking that day, and very slowly, very slowly my eyes wander upward, as slow as sunrise, to find a man standing above me with what started as an expectant smile in the process of fading from his lips.
"Sorry?" I say rather too intensely, as one suddenly jolted from sleep.
"I wonder," he answers apologetically, "if I might get a light."
"Oh, yes!" I say, again too quickly, too loudly (having just awakened). I hand him my lighter.
Where was I? What happened? Where am I in this world? Just a moment ago I was with Murakami's enigmatic driver, just a moment ago I was on the platform of public shame with Hester Prynne, and then what is real alters the world: a man who wants a light.
Wedged uncomfortably between two worlds, I wander back to my coffee, and I wonder what my girlfriend can possibly be thinking. And why she would think it. I think about kissing her and about how it does not feel right, the way a kiss is supposed to feel. Something is off. I put my palm to her cheek, smooth back her hair, trace the line from her neck to her shoulder, so thin, so slight. I have never known a woman like this. I do not know a woman like this. I kiss her breast (whose breast?). She makes a sound. I can feel her breath. I try to remember the way things are to be done, the way they were once done. What can she be thinking? I have nothing to offer, not even a future.
"I love you," she whispers.
And I know those words. I do know them, somewhere. They are right on the tip of my tongue.