Two Aesthetes in Pittsburgh
Sal Pane

You’re introduced to the seminar as a prospective student interested in composition and rhetoric, and though I’m only vaguely aware of what that entails, I pretend I understand you. I catch you watching me and return your look. You have bad skin but the type of upturned nose I find appealing. Your hair is red, crayon red, the color of plastic, the internet, but your roots are pure and I take the bait. I believe it’s your natural color. And this shade of grade school valentines, the shade of cartoon blood, this is what does it for me, the idea that this color was produced by your body.

The teacher prattles on about the writing on the walls, how the digital’s going to overtake everything, how literary theorists are going to need to learn C++ to survive in this terribly dramatic post-9/11, post-Obama kaleidoscope landscape. You roll your eyes and I mime slitting my wrists. In this way, we are children and I know you don’t care about theory either. We yearn to be on the front lines with the disenfranchised and the poor and all the other human things computers can never touch.

When class ends, students talk about a reading at a local bar and you invite yourself along. I don’t usually associate myself with these people, but tonight I will make an exception and walk close to you, separate. You touch my arm and your voice sounds like Texas, like heat. You smell of the desert.

“Are you Jewish?” you ask.

I say no. You tell me how ridiculous class was, that there was nothing at stake for us messy human beings. You reference theorist after theorist and something called an aesthete. I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I infer that aesthetes are very unhip and claim to have hated them ever since I saw a moving revolutionary film from South America. You touch my hand.

We ditch the reading and drink whiskey at the bar. You tell me it’s your last night in town. You ask me why we didn’t meet earlier during your visit. Your plane leaves at six in the morning and you’re catching a cab at four. I offer to drive. You playfully decline. You ask if I want to see your hotel room.

I wish I could say I didn’t notice it until after, but that would be untrue, and if there’s one thing I hold myself to, it’s honesty and implication. I caught the wedding ring at the bar. A girl from Texas with ideals and bad skin could not be married. No girl this young could be married. Before we left the bar you became tipsy and absentmindedly said, “my husband loves Kanye West.” You said it with such familiarity that I blushed.

The purple of your nipple is outlined by hairs—one, two, three. I do not drive you to the airport. I do not kiss you goodbye.

Sal Pane has work published or forthcoming in Quick Fiction, Weave, We Are Champion, The Boston Literary Magazine, and Folio. His book reviews appear regularly in BOMB and PANK, and his original graphic novel, The Black List, will be published by Arcana Studios. He has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and a blog at