“You want to go to Chicago for what?” I ask.

“Tights,” says the dancer in my life.

I can’t tell if she’s joking. The smile on her face is not one of humorous import. No, it’s not the face of someone about to tell you a joke. It’s the no-joke face of anticipated delight. She’s delighted I have a car and delighted that I can’t say no to her because she knows I love her too much.

And I do, but I choose the hard way instead. It’s like looking at a solid iron gate being locked tight so I can’t get in, let alone see the secret garden protected within. Standing on the outside, you tell yourself you’re missing nothing, tell yourself no one’s been watering it or weeding it, so it’s probably just an ugly ruin. But deep down you know it’s paradise in there, and you’re teetering on the brink of being tossed out of Eden for good.

I say to my true love, “They don’t sell tights in Madison?”

The smile flickers a bit, like a delicate candle flame endangered in a stiffening wind.

Her tone’s a little less melodic now. “Well, of course, they do have tights here, but not the kind I want. I need the quality of tights that I can’t get here. Can you drive me to Chicago?”

There’s not so much an anticipatory smile here, as a thoughtful gaze. I’ve seen expressions similar before. I have a creeping feeling it’s the look of her knowing I’m more in love with her than she with me, so I’d better tread carefully.

However, like an inveterate gambler who’s using his gas card for a cash advance to feed his habit, with the diminished optimism of a perpetual loser, I roll the dice on our relationship, wondering before they come to rest, how I’ll be able to afford the gas I need to drive home.

They tumble across the green felt surface. “Man, that’s a long drive to make just for tights.”

I see them fall to rest, snake eyes. The breeze intensifies, and the flame dies. All that’s left is a momentary wisp of smoke, an ephemeral reminder of how tenuous romance can be. It was like a birthday in reverse.

Oddly enough, now at the abrupt end, which came like a needle being pulled from a junkie’s arm mid-shot, she was dumping me on my birthday. Needless to say, I never got to blow out any candles that day the way she did, and I never saw another parting, or present, from her.

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