Jake was divorced. Not in a weird way, though. Not like weird Jakes are divorced.
He wasn’t even all that sad about it. The divorce. When he and Vanessa split up, he didn’t get depressed and take up heavy drinking or heavy ice cream eating. He didn’t pour scotch into a bowl of mint chocolate ice cream, swirl them together, and watch John Wick 3.
No way, man. He moved into an apartment and left every trace of Vanessa behind.
He’d sold the old place. He didn’t want to stay in the old place.
It was a place she’d picked out. She liked how much sunlight it got.
Jake hated how much sunlight it got.
He bought a bed, some towels, a desk. He made trips to Ikea, and listened to podcasts about murder when he put his new things together.
The podcasts were great. The production value was through the roof, as were the murders.
Three months after he fell in with his new apartment and his new solitude, he discovered Tamberlyn.
Or she discovered him?
She messaged him on Tinder. She must have swiped yes, or swiped “message”—Jake wasn’t sure which direction she must have swiped, or how Tinder worked. He’d never swiped anyone. He’d only made a profile and run from it like he’d left a pile of burning dogshit on a neighbor’s porch.
But Tamberlyn wrote him a message, just like that, like a lightning bolt that came from the sky on a sunny day in June in a lightning-free zone.
She looked pretty in her profile photo: wildly curly blonde hair, a stern German nose that struck against the softness of her eyes and lips, making any smile she smiled 15 percent more genuine than it would appear to be with a different nose. In her photo, she wore a conical party hat. She must have been wearing it at a party.
If she wasn’t, that was a red flag.
She asked him out after they exchanged some messages, and they learned they liked the same TV shows. One of them was Atlanta.
Jake thought that was a good sign. Atlanta was a good show.
They’d go see a movie, they decided. They’d see Red Flag.
And on the night they agreed to, Jake drove to Tamberlyn’s house.
Hers was a big house, in the suburbs. It was bigger than he’d expected. He thought, as he sat in his car outside, and regarded the building, that she may have won it in a contest, or been given it as a mistake. Like someone meant to leave that house to their kid, but committed a typo, putting down Tamberlyn’s name in place of someone else’s.
That must, he thought, be why she’s got a party hat on in her Tinder photo. Someone took the photo when she was celebrating the mistake that got her this giant house.
It was either that or she worked hard and earned the house. Or her parents owned it, and she lived with them. People do that.
How big was the house? Eight bedrooms? Ten?
It had a gable.
It took Jake half a minute just to walk from his car to her door, it was so far from the sidewalk. He thought, on the way, Who the hell designed this neighborhood?
“Hi!” Tamberlyn said when she opened the front door.
“Hi,” Jake said.
“Sorry for the long walk,” she said, smiling. “A guy with long legs designed the neighborhood. How are you?”
It was true. He was okay. Just okay.
He had sort of dreaded this encounter. He’d expected Tamberlyn to not live up to his expectations, which weren’t even that high. But she looked as good in her doorway as she did in her profile photo. She had that wildly curly, blonde hair that blew out from her head like a freeze-framed explosion.
She looked young, though she was only a few years younger than he was, which made her probably twenty-eight. Her smile was a real smile, the first real smile he’d seen in months. She made him think of a plaster slipper, though he didn’t know why, or why you’d make a slipper out of plaster.
Where would you walk, in a plaster slipper? What if you stepped in a puddle?
Jake said, “I wasn’t sure if this was the right house. Then, when you came to the door—”
“You knew it was the right house,” she said.
“That’s right,” he said.
She said, “Mystery solved.”
“That’s right,” said Jake. “It was like a mystery.”
They laughed together. It was the first time they shared a laugh.
Jake was feeling pretty good about things, now. Maybe Vanessa hadn’t ruined his life forever.
“I heard it’s supposed to rain,” Tamberlyn said.
She showed him the umbrella she would bring on their date.
Jake nodded. He looked behind her, into her house, and saw a flatscreen TV and wooden furniture. It wasn’t from Ikea. He didn’t know where it was from.
“Nice house,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. “Should we go?”
She shut the door behind her. They went.
They didn’t talk on the way to the car, though it was quite a long way. They could have discussed several things in the time it took to walk the length of the driveway.
When they got to the car, it started raining. They hurried into the vehicle.
They slammed the doors shut and looked at each other’s faces.
“That was lucky,” Tamberlyn said. “We almost got soaked.”
“Yeah,” Jake said, “it’s a good thing you brought your umbrella. Oh my god. Are you all right?”
“What?” she said.
“What happened to your leg?”
“Your leg. It’s bleeding. Did you cut yourself?”
“Oh, wait. Yeah.”
The gash was on her left thigh, a few inches above the knee. It looked deep. Her blood ran.
Jake said, “Did that just happen?”
“No,” said Tamberlyn. She looked at her leg in the dome light and said, “Just a kitchen mishap.”
“Let’s go to the emergency room.”
“What?” She laughed. “No way. It’s just a little blood.”
“It is not. I think you need stitches.”
“Come on, Jake. It’s nothing. See?” She shut her door and the dome light turned off. “You can’t even see it, now.”
“Yeah, but it’s still there.”
“Jake. Seriously. We’re not landing at Normandy.”
“Right,” he said, doubtful. “But look in the glove compartment, I think I’ve got gauze and morphine in there.”
Tamberlyn laughed. “I thought you’d be funny, from your profile,” she said. “Let’s go. I don’t want to miss the trailers.”
She pulled something from her purse, and did something he couldn’t see. It was dark.
Jake was more confused than ever. His Tinder profile wasn’t funny at all. Not on purpose. And who in the world liked watching trailers?
“I hope we get a good seat,” she said as they pulled away.
Right, thought Jake. We can get a seat in the back, where no one will see all the blood she gets everywhere.
The gash on Tamberlyn’s leg was really bad. Jake kept glancing at it, and when they passed under streetlights he caught glimpses of how much blood was running down her leg. It was a lot. The gash looked like it was made by a knife, or a razor. Maybe a small bear with one claw.
“So,” Jake said, “do you like knives?”
“Not really,” said Tamberlyn. “Is this a murder weapon quiz? Like Clue?”
“Nothing. Are you divorced?”
“I just thought you must be. From the way you were worried about my leg.”
Jake swung the car through a left turn.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“Oh, you know. There was something about the way you were concerned. I could tell you were married, before. I’m divorced.”
“How long have you been divorced?”
“A long time. Like, a month?”
They stopped at a red light. He looked at her.
“That’s a long time?” he said.
“Pretty long. I wasn’t sure about getting back into dating. But it’s like they say. It’s never too soon.”
Jake wondered who had said that.
He wondered why they’d said it.
“Do you talk to your ex?” asked Tamberlyn.
Jake said, “Not really. You know, I hate to ask you this, because I feel like we already addressed it.”
“Go ahead, Jake. I’m an open book.”
“It’s just—are you sure your leg’s okay?”
“Jake, it’s fine.” She patted him on the arm, probably the way she once patted her ex-husband’s arm. “I’m fine. Oh, look. We’re here.”
When he opened the door to get out, the dome light came back on, and Jake could see that to tend her wound Tamberlyn had unrolled a tampon and used it to soak up the blood, like gauze.
It was made for that, sure: soaking up blood. She must have been applying pressure all the way there. And now, when they left the car, the unrolled tampon was stuck to her leg.
They left the car and walked across the parking lot to the multiplex. Tamberlyn’s skirt hung below her knees, and the gash was above her knee, so you could see it, but it was easy to miss.
That must have been why Jake didn’t see it at first, until she got in the car and her skirt rode up some.
So it would probably be okay. But if anyone looked at her leg, they’d see the edge of the bloodstained strip of cotton, or whatever it was that was inside tampons.
No. Definitely not.
It was fine. Everything was fine.
What was the big deal, anyway? This was only a first date, and Jake was already pretty sure there wouldn’t be a second. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his adulthood rushing to make it in time to watch movie trailers and getting blood in his car.
And it’s not like plenty of other women didn’t have blood on them sometimes.
I mean, he thought. Seriously.
“Your car smells like lavender,” Tamberlyn said when they left it. “And that has to be the best word that ends with ‘ender.’”
Jake said, “‘Blender’ is pretty good.”
“It’s all right.”
“Do you like butter on your popcorn?”
“Definitely. How about you?”
It wasn’t true. But he wanted them to walk into the theater together feeling like they had something in common.
Tamberlyn said, “I like to get a mouthful of popcorn and fill my mouth with Diet Coke. Let them fizz out together.”
“That’s great,” Jake said.
The sensation of having something in common with his date slipped away.
Tamberlyn fell on the pavement, hard. Her body slapped against it. It sounded like someone dropped a lot of meat.
“Shit,” she said.
When she stood, Jake saw she had scraped her shin, on the leg that hadn’t been bleeding. Now it was bleeding.
“It’s fine,” she said.
“Are you okay?” Jake asked.
“Yes,” she said. “And so shall I continue to be.”
Is she drunk? he wondered.
“Should I take you home?” he said.
“Of course not.” She looked him in the eyes. She didn’t seem drunk. “Let’s get our tickets.”
Jake was thankful that no one working at the theater mentioned Tamberlyn’s legs.
She had nice legs. Her leg muscles were defined, and he thought it highly likely she was sporting what’s known as a thigh gap.
Her legs would have looked even nicer if they didn’t have blood on them.
When he went to buy popcorn, Jake stepped away from Tamberlyn, who stood beside a cutout of Vin Diesel and looked at her phone. He had a chance, then, to take stock of how things had gone so far.
This date was strange, so far.
He wondered if this was what it was like, now, to date women. Were all women constantly hurting themselves, when they went on dates? Was it a kind of power move, to show men their blood? To prove they were tough?
Was Jake supposed to have a visible, open wound, too? Was she insulted that he didn’t?
Would she cut him, to make things even?
He bought popcorn. He and Tamberlyn each ate a handful.
He went to the restroom, before the movie started, and as he stood at the urinal he pulled up Tinder on his phone and looked at Tamberlyn’s profile again. There, on his phone, was the same smiling face that would probably smile at him once he emerged from the restroom. There were the interests she’d listed: watching beach volleyball, thinking about snowboarding, practicing knitting, trying martial arts, crudités. It was an eclectic list.
Jake looked at her photo. He took his hand off his penis so he could use two fingers to enlarge part of the photo, to see something he’d missed before.
Her leg was bleeding, in the photo.
It wasn’t as bad as when he picked her up, that night, but it was definitely bleeding in the same spot.
Was this woman one of those people who like to cut themselves? Did she bleed like this often? Had she been working for the last year on lengthening the same gash she bled from that night? Was this a post-divorce challenge someone had issued her?
Jake felt something wet.
He shouldn’t have let go of his penis. He’d pissed on his own jeans.
He put himself back and tried to control the piss situation with paper towels. He did the best he could.
He washed his hands and retrieved the bucket of popcorn from the top of the urinal, where he’d left it, and joined Tamberlyn in the hallway.
He didn’t mention the piss or the photo of her leg. He kind of just wanted to watch the movie and go home.
They watched nine movie trailers. They talked throughout them, and while the last one played Jake told Tamberlyn how his wife had left him.
She’d been offered a job in Hollywood, had gone out to take it, had fallen in love with a producer, had finally told all this to Jake via text messages. They had talked often, when she was gone and still planning to come back. She told him on a Zoom call that she wasn’t coming back.
By then, he’d figured it out already. He already knew she was gone.
The trailer that played when he reached the saddest part of the story was for a movie starring The Rock called Widowmaker. The Rock played a secret agent who had passionate sex with a widow. She was beautiful. Her husband had died young.
“Thank you for telling me your story,” Tamberlyn said as the lights dimmed. The trailers were over. “My divorce was basically the same. Only my husband joined Blackwater, not Hollywood. He opened fire on a crowd of kids in Afghanistan. They were on a school bus.”
The movie started. Red Flag.
It started with a close-up of an actor he didn’t recognize. It was Brendan Fraser. It was weird that Jake didn’t recognize him.
The actor sat at a dinner table, sipping water, folding and unfolding a cloth napkin. He looked nervous. “My wife?” he said. “Yeah. I’ll tell you about my wife. Ex-wife.” He smiled. “She left me for a Hollywood producer. She went out there for work. She was working on a movie. It was her big break. Something happened out there.” He shrugged. He was clearly fighting tears. “There’s not much else to it. We Zoomed, you know? She told me it was over, on Zoom.”
He sipped water again. The music swelled like a sprained wrist.
“But by the time she told me, I already knew,” Brendan Fraser said.
On the screen, then, was a young woman with blonde, curly hair and big glasses. She had a prominent nose. She looked—and this was not lost on Jake—like Tamberlyn.
“Weird,” said Tamberlyn beside Jake.
“Weird,” said the woman on the screen. “That’s much like how my husband left me. Except he joined Blackwater.”
“What the fuck?” whispered Jake. “How is that possible?”
“I know,” said Tamberlyn. “The magic of cinema. This movie just started, and I’m already balls-deep in this couple’s drama.”
“No,” said Jake. “I mean, it’s weird how they just said the same stuff we said.”
“They did not,” Tamberlyn said, and slapped his arm in jest. “It seems that way because you identify with them. I’m telling you. It’s the magic of cinema.”
Soon the actors were talking about something that bore no resemblance to what Jake and Tamberlyn had said. It was typical movie bullshit. They talked faster than real people talked, and as they did the opening credits flashed across the screen.
Jake spotted a name he knew. Vanessa Timberlake.
That was Vanessa. His Vanessa.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Jake said.
“Again?” said Tamberlyn.
He stood and rushed to the aisle, and from the aisle to the back of the theater.
He could have sworn that on the way someone called him an asshole.
Jake went to the water fountain, where for a full minute he held down the button and sprayed cold water into his mouth, then onto his mouth, then on his eyes and forehead and in his hair.
He switched to the part of the fountain that filled water bottles and stuck his head there. Cold water poured on his head.
When he emerged from the flood, someone was waiting for him to be finished so she could get a drink. She was ten.
Tamberlyn was there, too, looking like she might walk away. Something about how she was standing, the angle of her knees, made her seem tentative.
“You okay?” she said.
“I’m okay,” he said. “I’ll be okay. I think I should go home.”
She nodded. “Okay,” she said. She wasn’t smiling.
They started to walk together to the entrance. Which was also the exit.
“I’m sorry,” Jake said. “I don’t even know where to start.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Movies can be really hard. I have a cousin who’s so dumb he can’t even look at a TV. He gets confused. He thinks what he sees on it is real. He tried to kill himself, once, because he thought Anthony Hopkins wanted to eat him. It turned out he was only watching a movie. But the really weird thing was, it was Remains of the Day.”
“Oh,” said Jake. “That wasn’t the problem.”
“Was it the popcorn?”
“No. Did you see the credits? It was Vanessa.”
She didn’t know who Vanessa was.
They were interrupted. Someone came up behind them, as they made their way to the door.
“Are you okay, miss?”
Jake spun around. It was a kid. A big kid, from a high school. He had on dark jeans and a leather jacket, and two other big kids behind him wore them, too.
This one’s jacket was black. He had wild hair.
“Miss,” he said to Tamberlyn. She turned around. “I said, ‘Are you okay?’”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“What did this asshole do to your legs?”
Jake said, “I didn’t do a thing to her legs. I love her legs.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the tough guy. He asked Tamberlyn, “What happened?”
“I dropped a knife,” she said. “Then I fell.”
“Bullshit,” one of the teens said.
“It’s not bullshit,” Jake said.
The leader said, “Miss, you’ve got three wounds on your legs. Where’d the third one come from?” He glanced daggers at Jake.
What third wound could he mean? Jake wondered.
He looked at Tamberlyn’s legs. Sure enough, another gash had opened on her calf.
“I don’t want to talk about my third wound,” Tamberlyn said.
She started to walk away, but the three fellas were quick. They walked ahead, faster than she did, and stood in her path.
“You’re gonna talk about it,” said the leader.
“Hey,” said Jake. “She doesn’t have to say a thing to you.”
“Shut it, pal!” screeched one of the hoodlums.
Jake looked around for an authority figure, like a manager. But everyone was gone.
Tamberlyn said, “It’s all right. It’s fine. Everybody calm down. When I get nervous, the skin on my body splits open.”
“I don’t get it,” said the tough guy.
“It’s called stigmata,” said Tamberlyn. “Okay? I have stigmata. Is that all right with you? Can I go, now?”
The young guys looked at her, stunned.
“I’m sorry,” said the lead hoodlum. “I didn’t mean—”
“You didn’t mean what?” said Tamberlyn. “To embarrass me? In front of my new boyfriend? My god. Can anything just be my own business? Does it all have to go into the public record?”
“Look,” said the tough guy. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“He really didn’t,” said one of his friends.
“It’s just,” the tough guy said, “I can tell from the way the scab is forming on your leg? The front gash. Yeah, there. You unrolled a tampon and pressed it on. Am I right? Then took it off when the bleeding stopped”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s right. What about it?”
“Aw, man. It’s fine. It’s just, you used regular Tampax. You should use Tampax Radiant for that. I mean, regular Tampax is great for when your aunt Flo is in town, but when you’re sopping up blood from a spontaneous leg gash? A secular stigmata, like you’ve got? You gotta go with the TR.”
He and his friends high-fived each other. “TR, baby,” one of them said.
“Okay,” said Tamberlyn. “Thank you.”
“That’s really good advice,” said Jake.
“Yeah, I know,” said the young tough. “Anyway, I’m sorry again for interrupting your anniversary.”
“It’s not our anniversary.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I’ll leave you lovebirds alone. Mazel tov.”
“I’m not Jewish,” Jake said. “Are you Jewish?” he asked Tamberlyn.
She shook her head. “My name only sounds Jewish,” she said.
The hoodlums walked off. They sneaked into a musical without paying.
Jake and Tamberlyn stood in the lobby together for a moment.
“I don’t think I understand what’s going on,” said Jake.
“It’s okay,” said Tamberlyn. She put her hand on his neck. “No one understands anything. If they say they do, they’re lying. Except Vin Diesel.”
She put her other hand out and touched the neck of the Vin Diesel cutout, which Jake hadn’t realized they were standing beside.
Jake pulled Tamberlyn’s hand from his neck. She kept her other hand on Vin Diesel’s neck.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Everything just feels so weird,” he said.
“Like tonight,” he said. “The way we were watching that movie, and the people in the movie said the same stuff we said before the movie started. And how my ex-wife worked on the movie, which suggests that she knew what we were going to say when we watched the movie, somehow. And that we were going to see the movie. We were going to meet. How would she know that? How would she know any of it?”
Tamberlyn shrugged. “Isn’t this how it is to be divorced? You spend so long with someone, you’ve committed to them completely. You thought you’d spend the rest of your life with them, so you let them see every part of yourself. And then they’re gone, all of a sudden, and from that point forward, until they die or whatever, you’ve got this person floating around in the world who knows you better than you know yourself. And they never want to see you again.”
“That’s true,” Jake said. “You said it really well.”
Tamberlyn laughed. “I didn’t say that. I’m quoting Vin, here. From Saving Private Ryan.”
“I don’t remember that part,” said Jake. “But I also feel like what you just described is a different part of what’s weird about divorce.”
“Yeah. The stuff that happened tonight is way more specific.”
“I think you’re wrong,” said Tamberlyn. “Wait. Shoot.”
“What is it?” asked Jake.
“Well. You’re not gonna believe this.”
“I probably will.”
“My throat is bleeding.”
“I can taste it.” She swallowed. “Yuck. Stigmata again. I think now I need to go to the hospital. Call an ambulance. There’s a lot.” She swallowed again. “I’ll have to keep swallowing.”
Jake thought he might be sick, to hear the sounds Tamberlyn made as she swallowed her own blood.
He called an ambulance. And when the ambulance came, he didn’t climb aboard with Tamberlyn.
The paramedic said he couldn’t. Jake imagined he could argue or bribe the guy to let him come along. Or he could have followed the ambulance in his car to the hospital.
But he didn’t want to. He thought he’d like to be alone.
It had been many years since Jake had walked around a movie theater parking lot by himself. He had almost completely forgotten the joy it could bring him, to stroll at his leisure and look up at the light of the streetlamps, to bask in their glow, to wave to all the satisfied moviegoers who went back to their cars after watching George Clooney do things on enormous screens.
A security guard came out and asked what he was doing, walking around, and Jake just laughed. He insisted he had just as much a constitutional right to be there as all the parked cars did.
He took deep breaths. He breathed night air and exhaust.
He went to his car. He wanted to go home.
Maybe he’d watch John Wick 3.
Maybe he’d watch the second one. He’d never seen the second John Wick.
He climbed into the car.
There was Tamberlyn’s umbrella.
He put his hand over his mouth. His eyes went wide.
He put his head on the steering wheel.
“Her umbrella,” he said.
Tears dripped onto his legs. They came from his eyes and gravity pulled them down.
He sat behind the wheel and cried for twenty minutes. Every time his crying subsided, he looked at the umbrella again, and the whole thing resumed.
It was just so beautiful. It had Joe Camel on it. Tamberlyn had apparently saved up a lot of proof of purchase tabs from packs of Camels and sent in for the umbrella.
Joe looked so cool. So gorgeous.
So much like Vanessa.
Jake admitted it. He finally did.
He missed Vanessa. He was not crying because he could see an umbrella, he was weeping for what he lost when he lost his wife. His ex-wife. He wept for all the pieces of him she took with her when she left. For all the things she could do, which he didn’t even know about when she was still with him. Like how she could adapt a movie from a conversation he would have, well in advance of him ever even having it.
He started the car. He drove off, the rain resumed, and he debated with himself whether he would call Tamberlyn and try to return her umbrella.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe it was time to leave well enough alone.
Maybe he would return Tamberlyn’s umbrella and leave it at that. But if he did see her again, he would definitely hold the umbrella out, to shield himself from any blood that might spray from her body onto his.