They were walking back from a football game. It was almost winter. It was cold and gray, but it had been cold and gray for months in Seattle, so there were varieties, and today the air was almost clean enough to qualify as a clear sky.
They were a white couple. They were both twenty years old.
They walked to the edge of the campus, where the crowd changed from the football fans to the people who were out on a Saturday afternoon.
At the crosswalk there was a young woman whose eyes were both black and blue.
“I hate to see that,” Abby said.
Tom looked at the woman and studied her.
“She was beaten,” Abby said.
When they crossed the street, Tom said, “I don’t think I would’ve known that if I were by myself.”
She squeezed his arm. This is part of who we are, she thought.
They went to Tom’s house.
“I am tired,” Abby said. “Do you want to take a nap?”
“You don’t knowfor surethough that that’s how she got hurt.”
She looked at him.
“I mean that if she got hurt in some other way, then you’ve wasted your concern.”
“I have not wasted anything.”
“I mean that everybody has stories. We can only be concerned with the ones we know for sure.”
“Her face was not a story.”
“Her facewasa story. How can you say that it was not a story?”
“Did you see her expression? She did not want to be out today.”
“Maybe it was because she did not want people to have stories.”
“You are the one who has a story.”
“I don’t have a story. I am saying that I don’t know what happened.”
“Your story is that she got hurt by something other than a man.”
“It might’ve been that. But I don’t know for sure.”
“If you really thought that she might’ve been hurt by a man, you would not have a very calm and logical place to hold that thought.”
“There is nothing wrong with logic.”
“There is something wrong with logic if a woman has to prove she was beaten when she looks like that.”
“You don’t know it for sure.”
This is also part of who we are, Abby thought. He climbs up somewhere high and then he gets scared.
“How do you think she got hurt?”
“I don’t know.”
“You believed me in the street.”
“I didn’t have a chance to think about it.”
“What did you realize when you thought about it?”
“I realized that it waspossiblethat she got hurt in some other way. And if she did, then we would have felt bad for nothing.”
“It wouldn’t have been for nothing.”
“Yes it would have. Of course it would have. It’s exhausting to go around thinking you know everything about people.”
“It seems more exhausting to me to fight what you know.”
“I am not fighting anything. That is my whole point.”
“What is your whole point?”
“My whole point is that I am walking down the street with you. I am holding hands with you and walking home. And at that moment you want me to hate another man too. You want me to hate him enough to fight him.”
“You did for a moment.”
“Yes. But then we kept walking, and we came home, and you asked me if I wanted to take a nap with you, didn’t you?”
Abby did not know what to say.
“If it’s a fight, then it should be a fight,” Tom said. “You can’t give me these fights and then take them away. What am I supposed to do with them?”
“Do you want me to not say anything?”
“I want you to have areasonto tell me things like that.”
“You know the reason.”
“What is the reason?”
“I do not want to say it. If I have to say it, I am going to want to leave.”
“I think you should say it.”
“You don’t care if I leave?”
“I don’t want you to leave. But I think it will be better in the long run if you say it. What is going to happen in the future if you say things, and I don’t know the reason?”
“The reason is love. I thought the reason was love.”
“What am I supposed to do with that?”
“I am going to leave.”
“You are telling me something that you hate, and something that I hate, and you are saying that the reason is love.”
“I did not tell anything. The woman was there.”
“You did tell something. You said she was beaten.”
“How do you know? How do you know for sure?”
“I am going to go home.”
“Just answer it. That’s all I’m asking you.”
“You are talking like a lawyer. You are my boyfriend.”
“I’m trying to help.”
“How? How are you trying to help?”
“I’m trying to help because if you don’t have to feel bad, then you shouldn’t. If you don’t know for sure, then you’re ignoring the chance you could be wrong.”
“It’s worth it for me to be wrong.”
“Well, I don’t feel that way. It’s never worth it for me to be wrong.”
“It’s worth it for me because it happens all over the place.”
“That doesn’t mean it happened with her.”
“But it shouldn’t even cross my mind. It shouldn’t even be one of the possibilities.”
“You have a choice about what crosses your mind.”
“No. I don’t. We don’t see the world in the same way if you think I have a choice about what crosses my mind.”
“You can look at her and say, maybe that’s what happened, and maybe it was something else.”
“Where do you go from there?”
“The same place you go with most people. You don’t know their stories, so all you can do is focus on your own.”
“It did not feel like a maybe.”
“Of course it didn’t feel like a maybe. But it was a maybe. It has to be maybe, or else.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else there are no limits to anything. What’s to stop you from wondering about everybody?”
“I didn’t say I was wondering about her.”
“But you were. There is either knowing or wondering.”
“All right. Then I know she was beaten.”
“But you don’t.”
“I say that I do. You don’t have to agree with me.”
“How can you expect me to agree with you?”
“You don’t have to.”
“You’re going to go home if I don’t agree with you, aren’t you?”
“I want to go home either way.”
“I’m sorry. Let’s take a nap.”
“I’m not tired. There is a side to take when you see a woman like that.”
“There are too many sides to take. That’s all I would be doing is taking sides, if I start doing that.”
“I think they are all the same side.”
She turned and left. It had been cloudy and gray in Seattle for so long and the air was so clean that it was a while before she remembered that it was not a sunny day.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, Iran, and grew up in London, Orange County, and Seattle. He attended the University of Washington and then moved to San Francisco because it seemed like a good city to be a writer. He writes short stories and he has written one novel. Some of his writing has appeared or will soon in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, River and Sound Review, the Massachusetts Review, the Brooklyn Voice, and Glimmer Train. He also works as a tutor.