By Chris Pais
The summer of 2022 was one of the driest in history and a time of revelations of almost Biblical proportions. Not a drop of rain fell for weeks leaving the land parched, the vegetation desiccated, the lakes and rivers gasping for breath as their water levels sunk to historical lows. In Nevada’s Lake Mead which is the largest reservoir in the United States, the falling water level revealed several sets of human remains including a body in a barrel with gunshot wounds and the remnants of many sunken boats. In Texas, a dying stream exposed dinosaur footprints that had not been exposed since they were formed over a hundred million years ago. In Spain, a dwindling reservoir revealed the ancient stones of the Dolomes, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge. The receding water of the Danube showed the weary hulls of several sunken World War II era ships and in Italy, authorities detonated a wartime American explosive which surfaced on the River Po after decades of being safely submerged under water. In verdant Wales, a lost nineteenth century village saw the light of day after a reservoir shrank to a fraction of its original size. In China, the mighty Yangtze River retreated and exposed a trio of statues of the Buddha that were hewn out of solid rock over 600 years ago.
While the earth went on a historical binge of revealing its long lost secrets, earthlings – especially those that had something to hide – wondered if their own dark secrets will similarly be revealed. People walked around looking over their shoulders with a sense of dread; any conversation that started with “You know what I found….”, or an email from an unfamiliar person, an ominous knock on the door, or a call from an unknown caller on a cellphone could all very well be harbingers of a revelation that could turn anyone’s life upside down and lead to blackmail, extortion and in the best case, sheer embarrassment.
Tom started dating Maddie after a long Covid-induced hiatus. The last few years of Tom’s previous relationship felt like a warm beer without any fizz and they became too indifferent to break up. The lockdown and quarantining from the pandemic were welcome excuses that brought this relationship to an inevitable end, much to their relief. For the next two years, while the disease raged through the country leaving death and polarization in its wake, Tom clung on to his boring job and his questionable sanity by running several miles a day and doing an inordinate number of pushups. As time went by, the virus eventually slowed down its ferocious march. Soon, triple-vaxed people started dating each other, the unvaccinated dated their own and one’s attitudes towards masks became a filter on online dating sites.
Tom and Maddie had nothing in common apart from having the same vaccination status and feeling the same sense of apathy and boredom towards each other and the world, partly brought about by months of Covid isolation. They spent time together whenever they could, but they never really got to know each other. They both hid behind the callus that had formed over the last two years and they did not want to leave themselves exposed, afraid that a vulnerability of any kind will be exploited like a virus exploits its host. Although they were dating for over a year, they were not any closer to each other than in the first few months of their relationship.
When the global revelations started unravelling in the summer, Tom and Maddie felt exposed just like everybody else. Tom wondered if Maddie would find out that he did not really have a college degree, and that he did not really come from an elite east coast family. Would she know that he was really not a pescatarian but only said so to impress her, while he often went home after their dinners and gorged on a big piece of meat? Should he confess that he not only hated classical music, but he also did not know the first thing about music theory and that he never took violin lessons as a child? Maddie wondered if she should admit that she did not really enjoy watching football, or that she really did not care too much for his goatee or his friends and found his jokes coarse and insensitive? Would he soon realize that she really hated golf but really liked the handsome golf instructor? Would Tom find out that she preferred to do the dishes rather than cook, but she always volunteered to do the cooking because Tom’s cooking – unbeknownst to him but evident to everybody else – was unpalatable?
They were both reluctant to come clean with each other but at the same time, they were in a rush to make a confession before the truth was revealed. Afraid of confrontation, they both fantasized about smooth exits from their relationship and wished for a breakup without fanfare, drama or hard feelings. Perhaps one of them will get a job in another state, but with the growing possibility of remote work, this did not seem like a viable excuse to move. Perhaps one of them (preferably the other) will be forced to take care of a family member with a chronic (but not fatal) illness, leaving them incapable of dating. Perhaps one of them will question their own sexuality and initiate a breakup of the “it’s not you, it’s me” variety.
Heavy with anticipation and apprehension, they met for their usual Friday night dinner at their favorite restaurant. Each of them secretly hated the place which they thought was pretentious and overpriced, but they feigned appreciation for the food and the service. They were both tense and wondered what other shocking revelation would appear on the late night news. They wondered if their own secrets will be revealed. They drank more than their usual amount of wine, each planning when and how they should confess their own deceptions. To an outsider, they looked very much like a couple in love, and the waiter even brought them a complimentary cake, flambéed it and said, “It’s on the house”.
Tom and Maddie sipped on their wine and could see each other clearing their throats, as one nervously does before saying something controversial. They dug into the warm cake with their forks. They thought to themselves, perhaps after the next sip of wine, they will tell the other what they really felt. They looked at each other and then looked away, waiting for a distraction, anything to delay the inevitable. Perhaps the waiter would interrupt and check in on them again. Maybe the fire alarm will go off. They took another sip and cleared their throats again, almost in unison.
Then they slowly began to speak. “I….love you”, they muttered simultaneously.
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Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.