In the Mood for Love

Strangers on a train: She enters the cabin at Naples. I smile and nod, wondering if I should've shaved.

Once we part, the reality descends—we know little, if anything, of each other—only the comfort we feel in each other's presence. Presence we no longer have. Talk is mostly over e-mail, detailing the mundane and necessary details of our lives. We exchange our shock at what happened, whether it was a result of atmosphere and circumstance or human feeling. It's determined probably a mixture of both. In what ratio is yet to be known.

She promises to visit. We watch In the Mood for Love at the same time across the ocean. Flight continually delayed until I believe she came to her senses, understood the futility of pursuing a relationship across continents based on a two-day swoon. But then. But then she books a flight, as if on impulse. Gives me a week's notice. She stays for three.

Meeting her at JFK is surreal. She dyed her hair. I shaved. The thought races through both of our minds (later confirmed by her) that we might completely annoy each other. I am awkward, scrambling for things to say, trying to force the unspoken ease of Venice.

A few nights later we act like a couple. Out of nowhere. World of private jokes and asides, comfortable silences, honesty like breathing. She admits she came for the city as much as for me—to see friends and visit galleries. Bets were hedged. Her pragmatism makes me admire her more. She cancels plans, I teach her how to make French toast.

Smiles burst out at a glance as we put down stakes on each other's terrain. I expose my vices and vice versa: I love football (real and fantasy), am incapable of cooking a decent meal, and prefer irony to expressing emotion. She exposes occasional insecurities, about her English (it's fabulous), and her future (it's bright).

The rest is storybook: a deserted Brighton Beach as the sun sets. Heads on shoulders. Birds skitter as a father chases his wife and child with a prehistoric carcass. It's funny. Performance artist strips naked at Chelsea gallery. Man takes snapshots, crowd titters. Lou Reed mumbles some lyrics by the Hudson. I define words from a Jonathan Lethem short story. She has trouble with "boner."

Then she was gone: on subway, on plane. We feel too good to dread the future, and idiot that I am, when we declare our sublime folly will continue, I believe it. We vow to be strong.

Phone calls are rampant, e-mails tender, longing at a peak. And she sends postcards. She discovered love letters her father sent her mother when he was in the military. She took the image from a postcard and affixed it to a blank one, marking our tale over the memory of theirs.

We spoke today as I had a No. 1 from Wendy's. She was at a wine bar in Venice. Different strokes. But I fattened my phone bill as we talked of our plans for my visit in February. I'm going for two weeks, one of which will be spent in Paris. One doesn't know where we will end up after it ends, but I do know this: We will feel joy in those weeks, so fuck the rest of it. We're in love.

R. Emmet Sweeney will do anything for love, even that.

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