portion of Jenny Halper artwork

The Hour of Indetermination
Jenny Halper

The last thing he said was, “Life is easier in the dark.” It was almost the end of the hour of indetermination—between twelve and one, between today and tomorrow—and we were lying under a pine tree that had lost all its pines, and there were lights strung above us—red, purple, magenta, green—like a Christmas tree flattened and spread, and I reached up and pointed. “But it’s not completely dark.”

His torn cuticles brushed my chin. We wore too many clothes. Even though the temperatures rose at night in Nevada, we were two coats each. I wore leggings under my jeans, he wore a ski mask backwards, holes on the back of his head so that everything would be blank. I told him what it made him look like. I told him about terrorists and a world around us about to explode, but he just laughed. There was something appealing about having layers of clothes to peel off before we finally got to the bottom of ourselves.

“How many seconds do you think you have left?” he asked. I slipped my hand under his first coat. It was our third night alone in Great Basin Park. My mother used to say bad things came in threes.

“Why would you think about that?”

“If we don’t, someone else will.”

I rolled the mask up and kissed him but he kept it over his eyes.

The first thing he said was, “Your eyes look like sand flats.” “Is that a compliment?” I asked. This was Nevada, so he could have meant my eyes looked like they stretched over everything—trailer parks, split-level houses, all-night diners like the one we were in. The night we met, the first minute of the hour of indetermination, I was thinking how I couldn’t taste the peanut butter in my peanut butter milkshake. He was three booths over, also alone, wearing eyeglasses with one lens bigger than the other. They might have been homemade.

After he is gone I swear off peanut butter. I swear off diners. I swear off sand flats, at least in the nighttime, and I stay in school the way I promised before I met him. I stay with books and libraries and the smell of old rubber bound with paper, and I think of the words he said to me, simple hellos and goodbyes that never meant anything until he was gone and then they did.

He didn’t want to count anymore. It was easier, simply, to know.

When the sun rises over Great Basin Park I try to find a pine tree that doesn’t have pines, and I think about how when someone is gone you don’t think about seconds or sand flats, you think about wool itching your lip and the way “o” is enunciated in hello. You think about the importance of a moment, how he said he could tell you understood it, how he said forever could mean five years, or two months, or maybe four minutes and forty-five seconds, and lips feel like sandpaper and sand itself feels smooth as glass. Forty, thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-seven. Then you stop counting because one day you’ll die, and you could be two billion four hundred seventy-two seconds into life, but it’s easier to think about infinity.

Return to Archive