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HONOR SYSTEM by Daniel Handelman

“Maybe some people have both,” she said.

She was rolling up a joint. It had too much weed in it. The edges didn’t connect.

“The way she writes the male,” she said. “She knows the male. But does the male know the female?”

She leaned back into the couch. They’d gone to a motel. There was no Americana, no plastic flamingoes. It was a motel with none of that. It wasn’t what she pictured.

“There must be a male who knows the female,” he said. “Out of seven billion people, it is possible there is a male who knows the female.”

“Maybe,” she said. She removed a pinch of weed and sprinkled it on the coffee table. The joint wrapped up nicely now. She licked the seam, then offered it to him.

He shook his head.

“Sure?” she said, holding it an inch higher.

They sat looking an old TV. She lit the joint.

“Are we fighting?” she said.

“No.”

“You can tell me if we are fighting.”

It was night. A thin slice of light came through the curtains, splitting apart a watercolor of a boat and churning sea.

“We are fighting,” he said.

She leaned forward a little off the couch, her head between her knees.

“Getting in bed,” she said.

She took off her boots and pants and fell onto the mattress, bouncing, the crunch of springs.

“Would you wear jewelry?” she said from the bed.

“Jewelry?” he said.

“I wear this,” she said, holding up her hand. “The ring you gave me. You’ve never worn jewelry?”

“I wore a Saint Christopher,” he said, thinking. “And pookah shells. That was middle school, the mid-nineties.”

“Not now? — in the late teens?”

“I have the shirt,” he said, looking down at it. He liked it. There was a shark on it.

“No,” she said. “Something significant.”

*

In the morning she was up and out of the room before he woke.

He went out onto the balcony. The sun was a weak glob.

He saw her approaching, her head bobbing, jogging. She came up the stairs and slid her keycard. She took off her running shorts and shirt, then got in the shower.

His neck hurt. He stretched out on the floor, flipped through channels.

*

They drove to a gas station. A bird pecked at an oily puddle. They bought a bottle of wine and poured it into a canteen.

On the highway they didn’t talk but could feel the tension loosening. They were starting to feel happy. Some thick film between them breaking apart. Palm trees swayed freely. Cars on the road seemed friendlier.

They drove and drove through less and less civilization. Fast food, names of DUI lawyers. Everything was sweating. The freeway became a two-lane highway. Dirt roads led off into woods marked by bunches of mailboxes.

*

They came to a fruit shack.

They walked down the aisle of bananas, mangos, guava.

Coconut, watermelon.

He picked up a mango and put it to his nose. “This one,” he said.

She took it and set it down at the register. She added a hand of bananas and a guava.

They looked around.

“Nobody’s here.”

At the register was a lock box with a slot in it, a list of fruit and their prices.

“It’s an honor system,” she said.

She took out some money from her bag. He went back to the car for quarters. They kept expecting someone to appear, to take their money, but no one did.

It was getting dark. The two-lane highway connected with a freeway, back to civilization, where they came to the brand of motel they’d stayed at the night before. The woman at the front desk looked similar to the other, and for a moment they felt like they’d gone in a circle.

“Can you recommend anything for dinner?” she asked the woman.

“Mall’s your best bet,” she said. “Just down the road.”

In the mall, she lost him on purpose. When she tapped his shoulder, he hadn’t known she’d gone.

*

Back at the motel she reached in her bag and took out a gift box.

“For you.”

He pulled apart the ribbon and slid off the top. There was a locket, a gold heart on a silver chain, and a ring with a blue stone.

“Do you like it?” she said.

He put on the ring. She helped him with the necklace, turned him around and kissed him, took his hand and put it under her shirt.

He had the thought that he was her. That he wanted to be wearing her lingerie.

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