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The Meeting by Aimee Bender

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The Meeting is a short story written by author Aimee Bender exclusively for Stylist's summer fiction special. Print out this page to take her story with you to read at leisure, or take a look at all of our exclusive short stories here.

The woman he met. He met a woman. This woman was the woman he met. She was not the woman he expected to meet or planned to meet or had carved into his head in full dress with a particular nose and eyes and lips and a very particular brain.

No, this was a different woman, the one he met. When he met her he could hardly stand her because she did not fit the shape in his brain of the woman he had planned so vigorously and extensively to meet. And the non-fit was uncomfortable and made his brain hurt. Go away, woman, he said, and the woman laughed, which helped for a second. He trailed the woman for a few days saying it was because he had nothing else to do, but in truth he did have plenty to do and he did not know why he was trailing her.

His brain made a lot of shouts and static about his brain’s own idea of hair colour and sense of humour and what animals the woman he met would like (mammals) and his brain’s own idea of how to be a member of the world, and everything that was sort of like him and yet different enough and still: this woman he met was the woman he met and however you try, you cannot unmeet. His brain was in an utter panic at changing. His brain was very pleased with its current shape and did not want to shift, not one bit. This woman liked reptiles and fish. What sort of decent human being could possibly like reptiles and fish?

He said, Go away, woman. You go away, she said, shooing him with her hand. You’re the one following me all around all the time. They went on a walk – or rather she went on a walk and he asked if he could join her – together over the small bridge which ran over a dry stream and looked down at rocks which jutted up like teeth. She talked significantly more than he expected the woman he met to talk and so while she was talking he thought she is surely, and clearly, not the woman for me. Blabbermouth, he thought. She paused at an oak tree and said, Did you stop listening? and so he started listening again and said some stuff himself, about this, about that. He liked talking to her. The woman said she did not know why she liked him, as he was being something of an irritation with all this static in his head and he said he was sorry, he liked her too, but his brain kept rejecting her and he did not know what to do about that. The woman said, Please, would you shut your brain down for five seconds and let the world participate a bit? No, said the man, I control the world. The woman’s laughter bounced off the rocks below. The man laughed too but inside he still meant it.

The woman said goodbye and went to her cottage and made some spaghetti and the next day guess who was at her door. Good afternoon. How are you, how are you. The spaghetti was fine-tuned and she was beautiful in the filtered sunlight and they made love that afternoon with the green sunlight through her green curtains. Her body was new to him and he did not like the way her shoulders were so broad and he very much liked the slope of her hips and he was scared because he did not know how to navigate the curves they made together. Later, when he would become a ship’s captain on the waves of the water of their bodies, it turned out that those broad shoulders were the thing he would think of with the most lust and the most tenderness. Those broad shoulders would be what he would recognise in a crowd if they all had paper bags on their heads. Those broad shoulders he could spot across an ocean.

The following day, after the green curtain day, he was back. They ate cold spaghetti on the stoop out of paper cups. He said, I just don’t know if I want to marry you. She snorted. What? He said, I’m sorry but I’m just not certain that you are my future wife. She spit some spaghetti out on the stoop in a little red clump and he thought it was gross and she was laughing again, not with, definitely at. He said, I always thought the woman I’d marry would hit me easy, in a bolt of lightning, and there is not lightning there is not even thunder there is not even rain. It all feels, well, foggy, he said. And she said, What makes you so sure I want to marry you? and he said, Oh, hmmm, and she said, Why would I consider marrying a man whose brain is so bossy? I need a man with some calm, she said. He looked at her nose, thin and long and her eyes thin and long the other direction and her hair was straight and long and shone. He had a bite of spaghetti off her fork. They sat for awhile on the stoop and watched the lizards skit and scat until the mailman came by and delivered some letters – two bills and a postcard from her cousin on an island. She made faces at the bills and laughed at the postcard and scrutinised the little type in the upper left-hand corner telling her where it was and then looked at the picture on the front for longer than he had ever looked at all the postcards of his entire life.

When they made love that day it was one step closer to making sense and she brought them some wine afterward and they sat and watched the sunset through the green curtains, naked, with deep-bellied glasses of wine. The green darkened into black. He let his hand trace down each of her vertebrae and she did not say, That tickles, stop, like he thought she might. She just looked out the muted curtain and her hair swished down at an angle. He moved his fingers down her whole spine, one by one by one, and during the time it took to do that, his brain remained absolutely quiet.

It is these empty spaces you have to watch out for, as they flood up with feeling before you even realise what’s happened; before you find yourself, at the base of her spine, different.

The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake is out in paperback on 1 September (£7.99, Windmill)

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