Distance of Space

June 16, 2020

One Foot

Embroidery of an empty storefront.

1’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. A little place on the corner. Wine, food. They knew they should cancel but neither of them wanted to. She joked she’d sit on the patio, while he ate inside, the two of them separated by glass. He imagined if they placed their hands on either side they could almost touch. An inch apart. So close. It felt wrong. All of it, everything. They agreed to a walk instead. The distance between them was easier that way. Just like that, it was falling together. There was nothing between them but a little space.

Two Feet

Embroidery of a restaurant's exterior. There is a small crack in the sidewalk, with a plant beginning to grow from it.

2’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. Some little place on the corner, good for a pizza. Everybody likes pizza. She liked wine, and they had a decent red at least. They made the plans before, but it seemed foolish now. The restaurant was open. She’d checked. Other places were closing. She probably shouldn’t go. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to, but she’d go. And she wouldn’t be ashamed, not this time. When he called on the day, she thought he might cancel. But he didn’t and she was surprised at her own relief. After a life of carefulness it was like she’d slipped off the edge. She joked she would sit on the patio while he ate inside. With the glass between them, it would be like visiting him in prison. Just like that, the word brought back their present confinement. They met outside the restaurant. He looked like his voice. Their joking had made eating seem scandalous, so they took a stroll instead. He walked backwards. The distance between them was easier that way. It was nice for a few blocks, and she could feel herself already falling for him. So soon, too late, falling through space.

Three Feet

Embroidery of a restaurant's exterior. There is a crack in the sidewalk, with a plant growing from the crack

3’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. He suggested Zeno’s, on the corner, because everybody loves pizza. Pizza and beer, a good combo they say. He didn’t know. He was lactose intolerant and he was pretty sure he had a gluten allergy, but he took the pills and didn’t complain. He wouldn’t be one of those people. Every day their plans seemed more absurd. Like a story from a different life. It had been different. Maybe this one could be better. There were chores to keep him busy, ways to spend the week other than in dreadful anticipation. At any moment she might text a cancellation. She would, or he should. He walked this knife’s edge until the day arrived and he decided to just text her himself. Give her an easy out. That would be the right thing to do. He cared very much about rightness, before. He dialled her accidentally and she answered, surprised but something else, too. Glad it was him. It was a simple thing, this honesty, but he wasn’t used to it. He was used to being used. He covered by making some joke about prison and she pretended it wasn’t in bad taste. She had a good laugh. He arrived at the restaurant first and watched her cut across the street. She looked just like her laugh. He fumbled with words, before she saved him by suggesting a walk. He tried to estimate the width of a sidewalk slab. Not six feet. Not enough to go side by side. It was falling apart again. He improvised, jogging ahead, walking backwards. He could keep it up for a block or two. It was his turn to save things. To show her more of himself. All of it, everything. He just needed a bit more space.

Four Feet

Embroidery of a restaurant's cracked exterior, with some plants growing from the cracks.

4’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. How about that little pizza place on the corner, his text read. God she hated pizza. During university she’d eaten enough of it to last a lifetime. Perfect, she texted back. When the day finally arrived, her friend Amy said of course she couldn’t meet him now. There was that word again, NOW, cutting into every conversation like a dull knife. Everything was closing, one door at a time. It was nothing new to her, NOW or THEN, a lifetime of doors closed just before she reached them. Holy was she ever melodramatic Amy said. But Amy was right, she shouldn’t go. She saw it happening everywhere online. The shaming. Before, her shame had been an amorphous thing. Vast and neverending. But now, NOW was different. Now shame had a shape, an edge, but sharp. She’d go anyway. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to, but she’d go. And she wouldn’t be ashamed, or no more than usual. Her phone made her jump. Who called anymore? She couldn’t cancel, with him on the line. She didn’t want to seem careless but she didn’t want to seem like she cared too much either. He had a nice voice. No edge to it at all. Did she want to meet there? Sounds nice. Good, he’d see her soon. She timed the walk so she would be two minutes early. The streets were empty. It was like the city had been invented for her. But there he was, waiting outside the restaurant. Like a drug deal. She’d bought pot once at the park over there and it had been like this. Strange meeting. They’re only doing takeout, he said. Oh, but she’d called that morning to be sure. It was already falling apart. Did she want to go eat on a park bench? Maybe just a walk. Yeah, a walk would be nice. He was nice, like his voice. You couldn’t put stock in pictures online. Filters made everybody look nice. He jogged in front, counting out the six feet. The distance between them was easier that way. It wasn’t anything, just a little space. For one block, they were the only ones in the whole city. It was all theirs. It was nice. For two blocks, it was nice. She felt she could stretch this little distance until there was no space at all.

Five Feet

Embroidery of a restaurant's cracked exterior, with plants growing from the cracks.

5’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. Zeno’s, he said, before he could stop himself. He’d been on one date there and it had ended badly but that was a long time ago and anyway pizza was safe, even if he would pay for it later. He said her name all week, trying it out, in whispers or a little louder. It was just a date, idiot. But nothing was just anything these days. A cough, a touch. Everything was a transmission. Perfect, she’d agreed but each day was more imperfect. The numbers climbed. People were sick, dying. How could you think about things like a date or the rest of your life? But the day came, the most imperfect yet, and still her voice cut perfectly through the static on the line. No, not perfect, that wasn’t fair, but good. A good voice. Good, he said. Nice, she said. He hung up and ran out the door, ran back to get his wallet, ran all the way to the corner. Why had he run so fast? Why did his insides feel like Christmas morning? He imagined her outside the restaurant and him inside, their hands pressed against the glass. They could almost touch this way. Only an inch apart. So close. So close was sometimes worse. The lights in Zeno’s were on but the door was locked. A sign in the window had a number to call for takeout. He was alone, there was no one about, no one in the entire world but him. He was already falling apart, and then there she came, crossing the street toward him, close and closer. What was the right thing to do, shake hands? No, not these days, maybe not even before. She stopped, exactly six feet away, perfectly six. She looked good. Don’t do that, don’t diminish her, idiot, she was good, he could sense it. There wasn’t enough space to walk side by side. He jogged in front, going backwards, arms outstretched like a tightrope walker, making a thing out of it. This is nice, she said. Nice was better than perfect, nice was good enough for him to keep going for a block or two, a lifetime if he had to. The more he learned about her the more distance seemed to shrink. Then he stepped back into space, missing the edge of the curb, and he was falling, down down. And caught. Just like that. Her hand around his wrist. They froze, no more space between them. The edges blurred, all of it, everything. The rightness of it felt wrong. The closeness too far. She let him go, or he pulled away, it wasn’t clear. The edges returned sharper than ever. Him on the edge of the street, her at the edge of the sidewalk. A final edge coming down between them like a guillotine, severing their distance in two. Again in two, over and over. There was nothing but space. They were never anything but space.

Six Feet

Embroidery of a restaurant's exterior cracked in half with vines growing everywhere.

6’
They were supposed to meet for dinner. Twenty thousand restaurants in the city, picture them all below, like little points of light. All those possibilities. Now snap your fingers and everything goes dark, just like that. That’s the way everything changed. One moment the world was one way, the next it wasn’t like that anymore. It wasn’t anything, not old or new yet. It had just slipped between the crack, and this betweenness was vast and neverending. All across the city millions of people were shutting in, locking down, closing off. Lovers or strangers, the distance of space was the same. No one was special. And yet there they were, the two of them, casting out lines and bringing back one point of light. Zeno’s, it says on the sign. We can’t comprehend. We draw close and closer until we’re just outside windows, uncomprehending. There is nothing about the way they go about eating, sleeping, and occasionally showering that tells us what we need to know. Time grows short, but the distance only lengthens. Then the day arrives. Calls are made, jokes are told, rules are broken. The two of them are going to close the distance. There they go now, two little blips at either end of the map, heading for the middle. We train our binoculars on the corner where they meet. It isn’t like waves crashing. It isn’t destiny. It’s two people talking. We watch their lips move in conversation, too far to hear. They are closer now than ever before, but they maintain their distance, even as they leave the restaurant, rendering our carefully placed surveillance devices useless. There they go walking, him in front and her in tow. They keep an even pace, distance preserved even as we’re left behind, zooming in to read their lips. What are they saying? Their words cross where their bodies cannot. He talks about his childhood in the country up north. She talks about growing up in a city down south. Even back then they were on this trajectory through space to now. They go for a block, talking about the past. For the next they talk of the future. Now, now they’re onto today. This, the two of them. All this time, they have been navigating space, going the distance. We tune into their thoughts. Is it worth crossing? Is she worth it? Is he worthwhile? Are they worthy? How can anyone know from one meeting? How could anybody need more? Six feet is the closest they’ve been to someone else with a beating heart in so long. This distance is the reason they never see us, that final point of light. From afar, we have aimed at that space between them. A giant X, six feet wide. There are no other cars, so we can drive fast. They will cross and we will pass right between them, their space finally ours. But he falls. But she catches. But for an instant there is no space at all, no edges to him or her. And it feels right, all of it. All our betweenness can be perfected like this. Then it goes wrong, everything. We don’t have time to stop, to swerve. There’s no space. And she lets go and he lets go and their edges return, and we come, and the car comes, and there’s a knife blade coming at sixty miles per hour. Too close. Too close and you get burned. He’s hit. I’ve hit him. They’re split in two. Him, her. We, we are left in a new world with nothing but old old space.

Authors

Matthew Heiti

Born in a meteor crater, Matthew Heiti is a writer, actor, director and teacher working in North Ontario. He holds a BFA in Acting from Ryerson University and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick. He has published a novel, The City Still Breathing (Coach House Books), a play, Black Dog: 4 vs the world (Playwrights’ Canada Press), and his short fiction has been published in many journals, online and in print. He has served as Playwright-in-residence with the Sudbury Theatre Centre and Pat the Dog Theatre Creation, working with emerging writers in Northern Ontario. He explores new work in strange places with Crestfallen (crestfallentheatre.com) and writes at harkback.com. In his spare time, he is usually working.

Caitlin Heppner

Caitlin Heppner is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Ottawa. She is a former participant in the Playwrights’ Junction, the playwriting workshop offered through the Sudbury Theatre Centre. She collaborated on the #TheWatertower project which premiered at the STC in 2016. Caitlin also is the editor-in-chief of the student humanities journal Con Texte at Laurentian University and the host of the philosophy radio program Cogito on CKLU 96.7. She is a dedicated textile artist, specializing in needlepainting. She is also a writer, working in fiction, philosophy, and theatre.