'High-low-high-low.' That's what Kevin had been saying. All afternoon he'd been saying it. Every time I opened my mouth, commented on a painting or sculpture or something that had happened, say, the night before at the restaurant, he said it. He said it again as we moved across the museum's patio and looked out over the beauty and order and massive, moving summer green of the park.
"High-low-high-low," he said. Then, he laughed. "It's always that way with him," he said. He smiled at and looked at the woman I was with.
I didn't look, I couldn't.
I couldn't look or slander her or even say her name so I did all I could do. I kept by her side. Felt her hip on my hip - a sexy uneven touching - and stayed that way, hoping.
Then, we all sipped from glasses. Stood in the sunshine on a warm afternoon and at the very same moment, with not a word passed between us, dipped our lips into cold white wine.
The world, we knew, was blessed and in love.
"It is," she said. "Isn't it? That way with him sometimes."
"Yes," Kevin said
I smiled and looked at him.
Kevin smiled. He looked down and at her, swept his eyes down the front of her dress and drew in his breath. There was chance there between us. There was no sense of menace.
"Where is it," she asked, her voice pitched to Kevin, "that you'll be dancing? With what company, I mean?"
"Well," Kevin said. Then something shifted.
He went on a riff.
He riffed on and on on the names of ballet companies working in Amsterdam and the amount of support given the arts by the government and how Marc - he's so perfect -was going to be so happy to be home again and out of New York and near his family and the city, THE CITY - his inflections and body were so specific, so his own and able to be rendered - was simply to die for. "I mean," he was saying, "it's absolutely beautiful and there just isn't a comparison, I mean, of course New York's beautiful and has what it has, but growing up in Brooklyn it can't have the appeal that, well, for people like you" - he eyed both of us, then kept going - "and, you understand I love everyone but..."
The wind, easy, through the leaves of the trees.
And she listened. Listened and tilted her head to show she was listening and sometimes squeezed my hand or leaned toward me slightly but in a way that let me know that a part of her was somehow alone with a part of me that was also alone, but there.
"What does that mean though?" I asked Kevin, thinking back to a chat we'd had a time before. Thinking back once again to the 'high-low' conversation.
They both looked at me. Kevin tilted his head. "Yes?" he said. "You've a question, my dear?"
"When we were looking at the Philip Guston piece," I said. "And I was saying something about the composition, the lines of it and the way they divide up the space, order it or something but that's what I meant, that it's not just the image or the individual lines, and then you said something and I said it was more than just a plate of spinach fettuccine, then something else, then you and then me saying more than someone blowing their load on the canvas, making a mess."
They looked at each other, smiled, then looked back at me.
And they were smiling in that moment. Posed, delightful, both of them perfect and serene.
"Charming, yes?" Kevin said.
She laughed. He laughed too.
"And you looked at me and said 'high-low-high-low' like you just did a minute ago," I said. "Just now."
"I think that conversation started, like, a month ago," Kevin said. "If I'm following. And it wasn't in front of a Guston, it was in front of that Beckmann," he said. "The triptych over at the MOMA."
"Yeah?" I said.
"Really," he said. "I remember. We were talking about that then."
"About what?" I asked.
"Whatever it was you were just talking about now to try to figure out why I said 'high-low-high-low', or whatever it is you're getting at," Kevin said. "'Departure'," he said. "That's what it was in front of. That Beckmann. That's what it's called."
"This has been going on that long?" I said.
She said, "'Departure', that is beautiful. Yeah."
And Kevin smiled. He raised his eyebrows and said hmmm. He was perfect and himself and looked over her to me. "Seems like forever," he said, "that this has been going on."
I said, "or no time at all."
"He gets so serious," she said. She laughed, squeezed my hand.
And I was worried with that squeeze she was telling me I'd been found out. That she knew who I was, and she would move on. And that thrilled me and also it made me feel scared.
But there was sunlight all around me and I wasn't found out. We all stayed in place much like statues stay in place. Like we were blocks of marble or just three small people together for a day.
It is Sunday afternoon. We are at the Met even now. There is love and that is all.
"But what are you referring too?" I asked. "I mean, you keep on saying it, but what do you mean? By 'high-low-high-low' do you mean a movement in the conversation between topics you regard as high or worthy, and topics you regard as low or vulgar - which is what I assume you mean - or are you referring to the words I used? That I said 'blowing their load', for instance. Because you'd introduced that. You'd said that - that phrase, I mean - about something or other earlier on, when we were talking before, back at the sculptures or masks or some kind of place and when you said it you didn't comment. It wasn't..." I trailed off, wondering what to say.
"Well that's an interesting question, whatever you're asking," Kevin said. "But I really don't know." He tilted his head and like always was beautiful. "Are you asking if there's a difference," he said, "between the words and what the words mean?"
"I'm asking," I said, trying again, "whatever it is I'm asking because you're saying it like it's peculiar to me, that phrase, but you introduced it and you were talking too - about the same thing, I mean, the exact same subject - so it's like you're saying this thing as if it's particular to me when you say high-low-high-low but it would also apply to you so I don't know why you're saying it."
They both were still then. I was too. I imagined the three of us seen from a distance.
Doing so our expressions disappear.
"About me, I mean," I said.
Again they were still.
"Or," I added, "even if you are - or if you're just talking. Moving you're mouth and making some noises..."
"Well then that's sort of complicated," she said. And again, that laugh and a squeeze.
There is sunshine and her hand. Her fingers warm twigs between my warm fingers.
"Well," Kevin said. "I'm just saying. It is how you are."
He faced her, winked, then looked down on me from his well-balanced height, his dancer's height, beautiful carriage and frame - health, energy - and he smiled.
"It's o.k. dear," he said. "Don't worry your little pretty head. He's precious," he said, and batted his eyes. "Isn't he?"
There was a breeze that passed us. It made me tingle. Blew threw my shirt like my shirt wasn't there. Like there was only my skin in the yellow-bright sunshine. My skin and her skin. Its delicacy. Its weight.
"Something like that," she said. "Something like precious."
And when she said the word precious there was a change. I wanted in that instant to cry, but I knew I had no reason. I knew no one had a reason and that was what was so beautiful and what made me want to cry.
"Yes," Kevin said.
And as Kevin said yes and my body was shaped into a vessel of clay we walked the museum walk, slow and studied, toward a bench beside a low wall separating us from the air, a drop, and then the tops of the Central Park trees. All of us sat. She was in the middle.
"So are you excited?" I asked. "About leaving?"
"Very good," she said, whispering, her voice used only for me.
And so quick I doubted it happened, - fast-fast - on my neck, her tongue - there then away.
"I really am," Kevin said. "Excited and nervous. I mean you must be, right? When you're starting something new. Whatever it is let alone leaving the country. Not knowing what's really going to happen. And starting with a new company. I mean, it's been a couple of years since I've danced professionally. Or, you know, when I've not been in college also. Or, you know, doing nothing else, really getting paid. That's what it comes down too," he said. "The money. Getting paid."
"So you're not in it for the art?" I said.
"My whole life is art, dah-link," Kevin said. "That and stunning beauty."
"Shit," I said.
"High-low-high-low," Kevin said.
"See," she said, "he's trouble."
And sometime after that a breeze passed us. Then it was picked up, I watched it, by a stand of three maples.
And beneath the trees' leaves and leaf-hidden limbs were three bodies. Sunbathers, I thought - that word was in my head. Their eyes, I imagine, were closed. And their bodies were shaded from the afternoon sunlight by the trees' green leaves and by motion, the passage of time. And in the air around all of us was the burnish of autumn - something in the light - even though it was summer and the autumn was still to come.
"Well I guess it doesn't matter," I said.
"The phrase?" she said. "'High-low-high-low.'"
"Yeah," I said. "That."
"So deep," Kevin said. He looked down from his height.
"I guess," she said.
"But I mean it doesn't matter what anyone says," I said.
A squeeze of my hand.
"I'm sure," she said softly, "it doesn't."
About the author:
Matt Basiliere earned his MFA in fiction at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the recipient of the Slosberg Memorial Award for Substantial and Worthy Achievement in Prose, and his short fiction has appeared in a number of publications including The Heat City Review, The Fifth Street Review, and Aura.