They bedded down on the main mall floor, between a COKE box-machine and a PHOTOS box-machine. Hundreds of thousands of tiles lay straight straight straight, finally cut off a fifth of a mile away by BENJAMIN’S rolling grille door.
In the morning he uncurled to find her gone, her blanket and other things as well. A mist hung in the building, lit at intervals by safety lamps. Two powder blue benches sat in the middle distance facing away from one another, and he went and climbed onto their backrests, one foot on each, but he saw no sign of anyone, and he went back and bought a Coke.
They slept between a Coke machine and a photo booth. The floor was cold at first. She insisted his blankets were softer, so those went on bottom. She nestled against him and he liked her warmth. That kind of thing was beginning to make a difference.
He woke up alone, folded into his own blanket. The safety lamps cast orange light. Standing on the backs of two benches, a little less than halfway to the anchor Benjamin’s, he looked for some indication of where she had gone. Finding none, he returned to his camp and purchased a Coke. He so enjoyed the sound of the coins working their clicking way into the cashbox that he made another purchase, root beer this time.
A little warmth came out of the back of the drink machine. The photo booth helped hide them. From what, they couldn’t say. From exposure to the square footage.
They were lying together in the compressor hum, and she said, “I’m glad I ran into you. You don’t know how long it’s been.”
“I can ballpark it,” he said.
Benjamin’s lay in the distance, in an orange haze. They were lying on their sides, her back to his chest, and he could see everything over the top of her head. Her forearms were crossed in front of her. Her head rested on his right bicep. His head was on a book. His left arm wrapped her, the fingers of their left hands intertwined.
When he woke up she wasn’t there, but he felt like she had been, just then, a moment ago. He looked around and felt a chill. There was particle moisture in the air, orange-lit.
He chugged a Coke, shook himself and rolled up his kit. He checked his face in the mirror attached to the Instamax and saw that her lipstick had smudged onto his forehead. She had straddled him at one point and had kept her lips against him. He remembered that.
When he woke up she wasn’t there, but he felt like she had been, just then, a moment ago. He smelled his hands. There was something very faint.
Lying together, the blankets straight, their things arranged nearby, they had a conversation.
“Do you remember your childhood?” she said.
“I remember mine. I was like this, but for a long time I’ve been different.”
“Mine was never like this,” he said, and she shouldered him.
“No jokes,” she said.
“Okay.” He tried not to breathe continuously onto the back of her head, but it was difficult, and she didn’t seem to mind either way.
“I used to be more straightforward, just like this.”
Her blankets smelled faintly of licorice, the way things sometimes taste, even when there’s no licorice involved. Anise.
“Is that for me?” she said, indicating the root beer.
Where she had come from, he couldn’t say. She licked her thumb and made to rub his forehead. He grabbed her wrist to stop her. They took four pictures together, she sat next to him, then on his lap, leaving the little curtain open because no one was around.