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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

She kept fingering her knife, wanting him to keep his distance.


He first met his wife while she was hitchhiking across the country with a knapsack, a hunting knife, and a battered copy of Miguel de Unamuno’s “The Tragic Sense of Life.”  He picked her up in the middle of the Nevada desert.  Sweat was beading on her skin.  She was out of water.  She was desperate.  She sat down next to him in the front seat.  “Have a juice box,” he said, and she sucked it dry in one breath.

He thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.  She was sure, in her fevered state, that he was going to rape her.  She kept fingering her knife, wanting him to keep his distance but wishing he’d offer her another juice box.

“What are you reading?” he’d asked.

“It’s a book about how …” she thought about this for a moment.  “… about how life can never be understood, because the purpose of life is living, not understanding.”

“Wow,” he said.  And they eyed each other warily.

When they reached Reno, she got out at the bus stop.  He offered to buy her dinner, but she said no.  It was the only time she’d refused free food on her trip.  But something about the way he looked at her was troubling.

They didn’t see each other for six years, at a conference of the Public Library Association.  He was presenting on new computer software that could provide metrics on language use in digitized books.  She was presenting on the changing nature of tragedy in contemporary American literature.

“Have we met before?” he asked in the vending area.

She nodded.  “The purpose of life is living, not understanding.”

“I always wished I’d kissed you,” he said.

“If you had,” she said, “I would have killed you.  I’m not kidding.”

He nodded.

“But … I’m better now.”

He smiled, just a little.  “Can I buy you a juice box?”

It was the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.

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