I circle the globe, searching for you. I find you pretty quickly, since the globe is sitting in the middle of our living room, and you’re not even trying to hide. You’ve always wanted to go to Budapest, but you can’t, because no one can go anywhere, so you just stare at the dot on the globe where Budapest would be and imagine that you are already there. You speak to me in a language you pretend is Hungarian. You bite into a sandwich that’s a stand-in for some grand Hungarian delicacy. The way you describe your meal, even in the fake Hungarian I can’t quite decipher, allows me to smell the meaty, juicy, aggressively carnivorous tang of it. I feel like I’m there with you, in Budapest, a place I’ve never been to in actual life. But what even is “actual life”, you ask me. “Being here with you,” I reply. “Who’s the hell is Lou?” You wonder. (My imaginary language skills are still pretty rudimentary.) “We should go there,” I say switching back to English, “when such things become possible again.” You agree, and stick a pin in Budapest—but the globe, the centerpiece of our shared, shabby space, is inflatable, and it pops. “Quelle catastrophe!” You exclaim, in your real language, and I’m beginning to think that we may never make it to Budapest, except that we’re already here, you and I, in this room we rarely leave, a place that could be anywhere, really, and is, in different moments, in different moods, on different days. And tomorrow, we will replace the globe with a map, and we will replace Budapest with Tokyo or Texarkana or Tangier—or hell, with Atlantis, what does it matter? We will invent more secret languages, we will find new modes of being. We will replace our wanderlust with real lust, or—if you’re no longer amenable to that—with whimsy, or with whiskey. We will play our roles until we have mapped every scale inch of our daydreams, and then we will sleep the sweetest sleep we’ve slept since the before times. And then we will wake up, stare blankly at the same room, the same walls, the same random, lake-y shapes of peeled-off paint, the same failed geographies, the same us, with our same stupid faces and stupid dead eyes, our same stupid noses that long to smell the world beyond our reach, our same stupid mouths that long to taste it.
Matt Leibel lives in San Francisco. His short fiction has appeared in Electric Literature, Portland Review, Gone Lawn, Tiny Molecules, Cheap Pop, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Best Small Fictions 2020.