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The essence of a thing is always there in front of you she thinks as she wipes up the dirty paw prints the dog has just tracked onto the floor.

He closes the door and stands on his porch. Moonlit quiet echoes down the street across the ice and dirty snow banks landing on his boots, a sly seductress. A few deep breaths. He kicks a chunk out of the way down the steps into the stillness, tiny minutes ring in his ears as it chips away the silence. It’s January already.  Two things hammer on his mind. One can wait. But the other thing, the other thing is working its way in.

Her sleeves are falling down too far; she laughs at herself as she tries to pull them back up with her chin and nose, then resorts to grabbing the material between her teeth. There. She pushes her hands deep into the meat. Wet and cool. The other ingredients push to the side. It takes a while before everything begins to mix together.

Dark smooth movements at the corner of his eye. Chelsea’s cat has come from behind the bush and is rubbing against his legs, back and forth, around and around, circling for attention. He bends down for a minute rubbing the cat between her ears; the cat circles one more time like a silky scarf wrapping him in, then darts away toward some distant call.

The table isn’t set, but that can wait she decides. Besides… she never sets the table, why was she even thinking that…  she’s always been more comfortable leaving things loose, letting things fall into place at the right time, the right moment. A few hours more and things should be ready enough. This afternoon she and her daughter had gone to the music store and together picked out some new music. She’s going to be such a pretty girl she thought that afternoon looking at her young daughter in the bright milky light of a late January afternoon outside Starbucks. And we’ll have new music to play at the party tonite.

The car is just down the block but he decides to walk. Pulling up his collar, he lets out another long breath then pulls needles into his throat. I’ve gained a few pounds he thinks going down the steps and smoking again too. Well, hell, if he’s admitting things, he’s never really quit, just says he did, meaning to. She knew, but lately, well, what does it matter.  There’s a pattern in everything, isn’t there he thinks watching as a light snow starts to fall.

On his block the windows are dark, curtains drawn, but on Bank St. the neon blinks and traffic passes the corner store. Slush from car wheels sprays the air. The stop light turns green.  He crosses. The light from the bar blinds him for a minute, but inside it’s warm and the music wraps around the tightness in his chest. His friend waves him over. It’s over. But it never feels over he thinks again as he calls out to his friend, rush of talk fills the space around him.

“Listen,” he says a few hours later, a few drinks later, two decisions later, “I’ve gotta get going.”

He knocks on the door with a soft rap then goes on in knowing people are already there. He stands in the doorway, the long table in front of him filled with the familiar Friday faces. She jumps up, “I made meatloaf for ya, baby!” and goes and hugs him tightly. “Meatloaf” he raises an eyebrow, “my favorite.”

“I know,” she says walking off to get him a plate.

He takes up my guitar and starts singing. The Friday night dinner party again. Hem and all of us still changing our stories every week, sharing the jolts, the hollow parts too, enemies of ourselves sometimes…

But the old habit of estranging ourselves lightens in the light evening banter…