We were talking, Hank and I, about how that which we love is so often destroyed by the very act of our loving it. The bar was dark, but comfortably so, and by the flittering light of the television I could make out the rough texture of his face. He was, in spite of everything, a beautiful man.
We'd lost our jobs at the call center that day, both of us, but Hank didn't seem to care. All day strangers would yell at us, demanding we make their lost packages reappear. Hank kept a handle of bourbon in the break room, hidden behind the coffee filters, for those days when a snowstorm back East slowed deliveries and we were made to answer for the weather.
After we were told the news, Hank spent the afternoon drinking liquor from a Styrofoam cup and wandering the floor, mumbling to himself. For one unpleasant hour he stood on two stacked boxes of paper, peering out the high window at the cars baking in the parking lot. I cleaned out my desk, and then his. Things between us hadn't been good in many months.
Hank said: "Take, as an example, Abraham Lincoln."
"Why bring this up?" I asked. "Why tonight?"
"Now, by the time of his death," he said, ignoring me, "Lincoln was the most beloved man in America."
I raised an eyebrow. "Or was he the most hated?"
Hank nodded. "People hated him, sure they did. But they also loved him. They'd loved him down to a fine sheen. Like a stone polished by the touches of a thousand hands."
Lincoln was my first love, of course, and Hank knew the whole story. He brought it up whenever he wanted to hurt me. Lincoln and I met at a party in Chicago, long before he was president, one of those Wicker Park affairs with fixed-gear bikes locked out front, four deep to a stop sign. We were young. It was summer. "I'm going to run for president," he said, and all night he followed mefrom the spiked punch bowl to the balcony full of smokers to the dingy bedroom where we groped on a stranger's bed. He never stopped repeating it.
Finally, I gave in: "I'll vote for you."
Lincoln said he liked the idea: me, alone, behind a curtain, thinking of him.
"I don't understand what you mean," I said to Hank.
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