Kasey Broekema
He Never Needs to Know
"Yeah, yeah, I was sort of an accident, y'a know." Scout says.

I'm not really interested or curious, because I figure we all are one way or another, and I am rather preoccupied with the strange sunset. I didn't think this was that sort of thing we had going on, Scout and me. Not to get into things, anyways. It's too nice a night for talk like that.

We are lounging on the grass and Scout shifts to his left to pull me close to his chest, small and hollow like the frame of a hummingbird, as if the shift is a way to fill the silence of my lack of response. Instead, I rearrange my own torso, pulling away to take a drag from my cigarette, taking care my lit end doesn't accidentally graze his exposed thigh from under his shorts. My gaze travels upward with the smoke, and I look out from under the foliage of the tree obscuring the expanse of the sky. The peculiarity of a singular silver leaf in the tree standing out in a crowd of a shade of late summer green pales in comparison to something which is even more inexplicable. The sky is purple. Not any kind of purple, a bright sort of Harold and the Purple Crayon purple. I nestle my head into Scout's shoulder and look past the tops of the tree, searching for the cause of this artificial light source.

Scout opens his lips in a way which makes me believe he is searching for a sympathetic response and a stray bit of smoke escapes his mouth. I flirtatiously place my cigarette up to his mouth, even though he has one of his own. I don't want to talk. It's too nice an evening to talk. He takes a drag and exhales, reclining into the grass further and forgetting his thoughts.

I too, drop my own fascination of the purple sky and become consumed with the unlimited eye candy which infinitely bustles in Washington Square Park. Real couples are on walks hand in hand, a group of men and women in beanies and long braids are flashily showing off their skateboard tricks rimming the fountain and the unoccupied benches. The occupied benches are filled with intellectual types sprawled out, smoking cigarettes and scribbling in their journals. I'm particularly lulled by the rhythm of this silhouetted girl with hipster scrunchie pigtails and low-cut jeans weaving circles on rollerblades around the backlit fountain, bobbing her torso side to side to the beat of whatever she is playing on her headphones to drown out the distant 2000's Usher blasting from the southeast side of the park.

Scout finishes his cigarette. He smokes faster than me, but I don't think he smokes it right: breathing it in, holding it in your lungs and squeezing another breath in before hissing the smoke slowly out of your nose like the notes of a slow, sexy tango as the tingle zips up to your head. Scout leans on top of me. He kisses me. The kiss is nice, but all I can think about is how the sky looks as if Harold had spilt his paint can all around Scout's head and how I actually really, really do want to finish this cigarette the right way.
He smokes faster than me, but I don't think he smokes it right: breathing it in, holding it in your lungs and squeezing another breath in before hissing the smoke slowly out of your nose like the notes of a slow, sexy tango as the tingle zips up to your head.
"Hey, can you spare a cig?" a voice shouts, interrupting us. A wandering man in his late twenties leans across the metal gate in our secluded section of the lawn. The man must've noticed our crackling, orange, red fire-y lights standing out in the night, or been lured by the scent trail, identified and craved by only an addict. Like myself. I lean over and lift my pack up, but Scout has already stood and takes the pack from my hand. He walks over to the man saying between his smile, "Dude, yeah, 'course. It's all good, dude, it's all good."

He always smiles when he talks, and I can never tell if it is a side effect of a genial personality or a nervous tick. Scout's assertion kinda pisses me off; it's my pack of cigs.

Scout walks back over and lays his arm out so my head can return to his shoulder. We light two more cigarettes ourselves. My eyes return to the lone, silver leaf.

Scout sighs and says, "There's so much life. It's just like when I was in Spain, y'a know? So much life down here. You can just enjoy doing nothing for a moment, y'a know?"

"It's nice," I say. I suppose our period of silence has ended.

Scout takes another drag of the cigarette the wrong way, whistling the smoke in and out of his mouth between his smile. "I wanna come here and write. I'd be one of those intellectuals sprawled on the bench."

"You'd have to learn how to actually smoke a cigarette right to be one of them," I tease.

Scout's smile grows even wider than it already was and between a drag says, "I don't know why you're so caught up on this, yeah, I smoke perfectly fine, perfectly fine."

He chucks his butt away and reaches for another one. I'm barely even halfway through mine as I hand him the lighter and I notice the skater girl on a bench on the opposite half of the circle taking her roller blades off.

"Dude," Scout points upwards, "is it just me or is the sky, like. Orange."

I'm not a dude, I'm also an intellectual who doesn't call people 'dude,' but I decide it's just the kind of person he is. I look up to the sky to contend that it is in fact actually purple, but the sky has executed the extraordinary again: the fact is irrefutable that the sky is inexplicably orange and it spans the entire breadth of my view past the tops of the buildings from east to west.

"It was purple before," I mumble. I don't feel like giving it much thought.

"Purple?" Scout asks. I kiss him and miss seeing the skater girl actually leave the park. Night settles in and we go back uptown to my apartment and I remember thinking it was a miracle we encountered no rats on the subway.

Washington Square Park, New York, NY
I noticed the sky again that weekend. I'm taking a walk along the Hudson and enjoying the solitude of my cigarette and the breeze heralding the coming of autumn. Beyond the Jersey skyline, the sky looks as if Harold finally got a full paint set instead of just his purple crayon. It's breathtakingly beautiful, and orange, and yellow, and pink, and blue, and purple, and grey. I quickly wonder if all of this beauty is a result of the destruction of the fires on the West Coast, and I just as quickly dismiss the possibility that we could see it for ourselves in New York City. I think that we haven't done anything to have the fires not happen over here. There's so much beauty in the wake of so much suffering. You can do everything right and still get it wrong. Too much can go wrong.

I don't have much time to ponder on it, as a mind suffering, brutal cramp in my lower stomach attacks my conscious. I grasp it and shout out. No one's around. I groan again.

"Fuck, Scout," I curse through my clenched teeth. We did everything right, why would there be a reason to doubt?

I can't walk. It's repulsive, but I lay down on my back, wincing. The stones along the walkway are cold and uneven. I'm waiting for the wave of cramps to pass again; I've learned they come and go with about forty-minute intervals. I try to console myself with the statistic every woman has plastered in their mind from the side of the pink, purple, blue box. It's not orange or red like the sky, no clear blue easy here, nothing beautiful or simple about it. Works for every ninety-five women out of a hundred if taken within twenty-four hours. Sooner the better. I wonder if I need to phone Nathan, I think he'd help. I think I'm jumping the gun.

Don't know what it is about this little thing that's supposed to be so simple which heralds so much guilt. You look at a stranger and the stranger looks back at you from behind a slab of fake countertop material. If you're lucky there's a man behind you looking at the walls or holding a credit card, but I'm not sure if this really makes it better or worse than being alone. The stranger behind the slab of marble probably recognizes you from your other times where you really wish they don't ask you how your day is going, such as when you slam down on the counter an entire pint of ice cream, or a pack of condoms, or a medicated something or other for foot fungus, all of which is rather self-explanatory as to how your day is going.

I'm anxious, but think over and over to myself, ninety-five to hundred, ninety-five to hundred, and try to laugh while I'm still laying on the pavement trying to distract myself with the thought of what other convenience store items bought on their own would illicit silence from your stranger who gets to paint a picture of you from which items you buy at their corner store. I hear rats skittering and chattering in the bushes. One darts by my head, and I squeal in a combination of fear and pain. My view is entirely unobstructed, and the sky is absolutely breathtaking.
The next Monday I'm lying on my belly on a blanket in Central Park, scribbling in my journal. I'm enjoying the wonderfully intense sunset and Scout is missing out. He's running late. To my right, a father is whipping his jacket around as his daughter chases after him, as if he were a matador taming a bull. The child giggles with delight as she believes she actually tackles her father to the ground. I can see that the father is entirely out of breath, but he stands up, and flourishes his jacket for her to charge again.

I notice a dandelion floating on a current of wind behind the father and daughter. My eyes trace it on its journey, and it redirects my attention to the glorious sunset. As the white dandelion floats directly in front of the sun, it seems to defy all sense of color and logic and the dandelion takes on the gleaming, burning golden glow of the sun. If the concept of color was not yet understood, someone would understand after witnessing this moment, like someone would understand the miracle of a child after seeing the way this father looks at his daughter. After hovering in the air in its magnificent glory, it floats away and becomes a mortal dandelion on its perilous journey again.

If the concept of color was not yet understood, someone would understand after witnessing this moment, like someone would understand the miracle of a child after seeing the way this father looks at his daughter.
Scout is walking towards me. I almost don't recognize him because he's wearing glasses. I didn't know he wore glasses. They only add to his whole Hardy Boy appearance. I know it's him for sure with the smile and the Harvard zip up. He must be carrying his mother's Columbia tote bag. He says he was running late because he couldn't decide which type of wine to bring – he whips two bottles out of the tote – so he got both. I laugh. Scout sits and pours the Chardonnay into two crystal glasses he snuck from his father when visiting him upstate. We comment on the bizarre sunset, and the weather, and the perfect evening. I enjoy the perks of being with someone but not being committed to anything serious. I almost forget I am late.

We're soon kicked off the lawn by a man sweeping his flashlight and shouting abrasively. In the enjoyable haze which comes with tucking away an entire bottle of Chardonnay, we couldn't find the exit in the gate surrounding the lawn. Scout tries to hop the wire fence, still holding onto his half full crystal glass, and knocks the entire thing down. I laugh.
Bethesda Fountain, New York, NY
The winding path of the park leads us to Bethesda where the dark angel statue atop of the fountain blends into the night sky, guarding over the park as a mother would her child. I think we are alone and walk to settle down along the edge of the pond when a male's voice surprises me, and makes me jump to press up against Scout, splashing some Chardonnay out of his glass.

The man's voice is low and gruff: "Beware of the rats," he warns.

Scout now jumps back himself, turning to walk clear away towards a bench. "Nah, nahhh, thanks, man, thanks. I don't mess with that shit; I don't mess with that."

I wave to the man as a gesture of gratitude and follow Scout, "You would be useless if there were ever a mouse in my room."

"Yeah, nah, you'd never see me again," he says, sitting down and beginning to uncork the second bottle. It's just a Sauvignon Blanc. Always drink the nice one first so you can appreciate the taste before you're too drunk and nothing really matters. We pour our glasses full and light cigarettes.

Our conversation drifts, and I notice the rats the man warned us about. There are three of them, scurrying around the plaza, making their pilgrimage to the inky pond. The three must have been sent out as scouts. An entire herd of them follow, waking from their daylight slumber in the fountain and scuttling towards their ritualistic bath in the moonlight. Rats are mothers too and need to bathe their children. I suddenly wince and bend over. I thought these bloody cramps had finally stopped. Maybe it's a good thing. Ninety-five to hundred, ninety-five to hundred. Scout notices.

"… By the way, were… were you okay?"

"Hell, no," I answer without hesitation.

"You probably were cursing my name; I wouldn't blame you."

"Yeah. Yeah, I was. I was lying on my back in pain and was gritting through my teeth, 'Fuck. Fuck you, Scout.'"

He laughs his laugh where his already existing smile spreads wider. "But I mean… you're good now right? Meaning it, like… worked. I mean, if it doesn't work… what would you do?"

My eyebrows arch higher on my face as I comprehend what he is really asking.

"I mean… I don't know what I'd do. What… that. I don't think I'd know until I was in the moment. But I would feel like I would have to – "

The word didn't even fully form until he blurts with relief, "Oh, thank God, thank God. I'm just too young. I'm too young, man. I'm goin' to law school, I'm goin' back abroad, I gotta life, I can't do that, can't do that."

My voice is very flat. "I mean. I think it's fine."

"I'm an anxious person. I've been anxious about it."

"Well, I'm not. There's no reason to be. It's fine."

A mother rat shrieks out to call out to her child. A mouse scutters behind her.

"It's fine," I say again, but I think it's more for me than for him. "I don't know what I would do."

The alarm creeps back into Scout's usually smiling expression, but the man from the pond approaches us. He says he smelt the cigarette smoke and asks if we had one to spare.

Scout stands up again and says between his smile, ""Dude, yeah, 'course. It's all good, dude, it's all good."

Hudson River, New York, NY
A week or so later, I know the strange sky is illuminated as an effect of the wildfires in California. Those west-coasters didn't do anything different than us east-coasters. We're all just trying to do it all right. This sunset tonight is supposed to be the most intense view of the fires the city would get before a south bound gust of wind is supposed to sweep in and blow the haze away. Things would return to normal. The sun is a hazy red dot in the distance.

"Where's Simba?" Nathan jokes, as he picks up his phone to answer a last-minute business call.

We are both sitting on the rocks overlooking this glorious sunset over the Hudson, sipping a fine imported French wine Nathan brought from Chambers Street on his drive to pick me up. He thought we could use some later and he was right, even though I wasn't sure if I should. He brought sparkling rosé brut to pop open as well. But what about this was there to celebrate? The beautiful sunset was the result of thousands losing their homes. Families.

A rat scurries out from between the rocks right as the red dot dips behind a building on the Jersey skyline. Nathan wedges his phone between his shoulder and ear as we hectically collect our cups and whisk our bags off the ground. We trudge uphill through Riverside back to his bright cobalt blue pick-up truck parked outside of my apartment. Instead of looking up to enjoy the miracle of the sunset, I walk straight ahead, only knowing which bend of the park we take to get back to the road with Nathan walking beside me.

"Sorry about that," Nathan says as he ends the call. "Gotta talk some moron through this space launch in Arizona. Newbee."

"It's okay," I say. "You should get home; you've done enough already. And you've apparently gotta walk this moron through some space launch," I joke to lighten the mood.

"You gonna be okay?" Nathan asks.

I nod. "You know I'll call you if I need to. But I'm fine. It's fine."

There is a skeptical silence. "The next time you see me, I'm going to be a kept man," Nathan says.

"When I heard, I said 'the bastard finally did it.'"

Nathan laughs. "Well, you've known me since you could crawl. I've earned my reputation for you to be a cynical critic of it."

"I like Hélène. I like her a lot."

"Well, I do too."

I laugh. "Can I ask you a personal question?"


"Do you and Hélène plan on having children?"

"As soon as we get this license processed and get hitched, we're gonna start trying."

I smile. Nathan gives me a hug. "You will be the one who gets to know our child from when it can crawl this time." He squares me and looks me in the eye. "I'm behind you. You made the best decision for you."

"I'll see you in another six months," I punch him in the shoulder.

Nathan hops up into his blue pickup. "I'm just a call away."

It's fine is all I say. He never needs to know anything else.
Some number of days later, I'm at Scout's apartment. My wine glass is full, but I barely sip it. Scout takes my arm and pulls me up to dance for no particular reason, blasting music out on his terrace until five in the morning. We dance until I trip on his leg from exhaustion and I fall, and he topples down with me and we laugh and laugh but don't get back up. Scout hasn't raised any concerns for a while, and even though I have prepared myself for some time, I am still skittish when he asks in this moment, tangled on the ground.

"You're – we're – not–" Scout says.

"It's… umm. It's fine." It's fine is all I say. He never needs to know anything else.



We sit up to reach for our glasses and sip.

"That sky. It's just nice. So nice," Scout comments.

I noticed it a few minutes ago. It's almost dawn and the sky looks as if it is on fire, with purple, and orange, and grey, thick pillars of smoke erupting into the inky black sky. Then I remember that the sky is actually on fire. Fire in the sky. I think of the Ozzie Osborne 2003 heavy metal song, Fire in the Sky. I laugh.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, NY
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