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My husband and I just moved into our first apartment a little over two months ago. It’s a late-nineteenth century brownstown with most of the original brickwork on the interior. The building has been divided into two duplexes. We live in the top one and Enrique has the downstairs.
I had asked the landlord about Enrique just before we moved in. I was just curious who our new neighbor would be. But the landlord didn’t know too much. He said that Enrique was recently divorced and hadn’t even lived here a year. His job, which he didn’t know too much about, took him out of the country a lot. And his two young boys visited him on the weekends that he was home.
The first time we met Enrique was in the entranceway a few days after we had moved in. We were on our way in and he was going out, so we just said hello and exchanged names. He was a few years older than us and in good shape, and his brooding dark eyes brightened up when he smiled and shook my hand.
I bumped into him a week or so later at the local Chinese takeout. We introduced ourselves again and chatted briefly until our food was ready. He said that he was recently divorced and had two sons who were sometimes with him on the weekends. I asked him what he did and he said that he was the market manager of a color company.
“But what is it you do?” I asked
“Well, he said, “I’m the market manager of a company that manufactures colors.”
He pointed to one of my jacket buttons.
“We make these.”
“Oh. How do you like it?” I asked, adjusting my button.
“Well, it’s very demanding. I’m out of the country all the time. Next week I’m going to China for ten days.”
“That sounds exciting.”
“Well, yeah, I got a lot of friends there.”
“My husband was in China. He got me this necklace.” I held out my neck.
To my surprise he reached out and fingered the edges of one of its woven silver squares, staring inquisitively at the oval turquoise stones set in the middle of each square. He smiled.
There was an awkward pause, and we both looked over the counter to see what was going on in the kitchen.
“So,” he said, “are you recently married?”
“Just ten weeks.” And I showed him my ring.
He smiled again and held his smile a moment, as if he was thinking about something. And then his food came. And as he walked out he said, “Well, I wish the two of you the best of luck. It’s no easy thing what you’re doing, you know.” He waved to me over his shoulder. “I’ll see you around.”
I thought he seemed nice enough, but wasn’t it a bit rude to make that comment about my marriage, as if he was some expert or something. And he didn’t even ask me a single question about my husband or anything. Isn’t that kind of weird? I mean, we are his neighbors after all. But I guess it’s none of my business. Besides, he ordered Egg Foo Young.
I didn’t see him for weeks after that, but I would often hear him with different women through the brick walls. They would be laughing away and carrying on at all hours with the stereo going, playing this awful seventies music. My husband called it his boom-chicky-wah-wah music. For days after that we would laugh when we heard that music again, and my husband would say, “There goes Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah Man again.”
But after a while I wasn’t so amused anymore. And I wasn’t so amused that my husband found Mr. Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah’s philandering so funny, either.
One night while I was trying to watch TV, the music just got to me up to here, and in spite of my husband’s whining for me not to, I went downstairs anyway.
There was no answer at the door at first, and after I knocked louder, I could hear Enrique moan out load in aggravation.
“One sec,” he shouted.
He lowered the music and shuffled across the floor and opened the door.
There he stood, in the doorway, reclined up against the side, in a skinny little robe that barely covered him. He was smiling gleefully.
“Sorry,” he said.
“It’s just a bit too loud,” I remarked, unable to keep myself from looking him over a spec.
“It won’t bother you again,” he said, continuing to smile.
And then he closed the door. And just then I realized that that woman of his in there had been doing something to him from behind the door the whole time we were talking, because right after the door closed the two of them broke out into laughter, and I could hear him chase her from right there behind the door, all the way off.
Then, there was this one time when the outside buzzer rang. I ran downstairs expecting the laundry man, but it was one of Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah’s girlfriend’s instead. I don’t know why, but I was excited to finally get a look at one of these chickadees. And I was thrilled to see that she was kind of shlumpy looking, wearing dark and heavy clothes. And as she shlumped up the stairs and looked up at me her glasses slid sideways on her face. But I was a little taken aback, though, because she was blonde and had fine thin features. But all this happened too fast and then Enrique opened his door saw me, and then she slid into his place.
I’ve never seen that one again, at least not from that close up, but I’ve seen her and others going up there at night from a distance, when I am standing on the corner and waiting for them to go in.
Then there were times when he would scream at his kids, I mean really scream, like he was going to murder them or something, and that scared the hell out of me, and it even made me stop listening up against the wall.
Then one afternoon when I was going out, I saw his ex-wife picking up the kids in her car. I was rather surprised. She didn’t look like the other women. I mean, she was fat. Or at least the part of her I could see in the car was fat: her face and walrus neck and slug-like arms. Enrique was leaning on the roof and talking to her while the kids got in, and she made some comment to him that she laughed at, and her pink face turned red and her blonde split-ends clung to her patchy cheeks. But Enrique only sort of grinned. And he looked over his shoulder at me and back, just barely acknowledging my presence. So I went in.
Just last week, I arrived home to find all the mail unsorted in a pile on the floor. There was a postcard from a chicky friend of his from upstate saying she would be in for the weekend and would “love to see you.” There was an issue of Esquire magazine. And there was a postcard from the library saying the book he requested has come in.
Then I did something which I couldn’t believe I did.
I actually pretended that I was Enrique’s fiancée to pick up the book from the library. I know, that’s crazy. But is it that crazy to find out who lives downstairs from you? I mean, this guy could be the psycho neighbor you hear people talk about on TV: “He seemed like anybody else, and then one day…”
Anyway, the book was nothing that revealing. Just one of those self-help type books by some PhD in something-or-other called “Coping as a Single Parent.” I didn’t even realize how silly it must have looked, me saying I was his fiancée and all, but as long as I paid my seventy cents they could give a hoot whether I was an alien.
But you know, I did actually end up flipping through the book a bit. My husband would joke with me about how I was planning to have his children and then skip town, but he had no idea why I had this book. He probably figured it was related to something I had seen on one of those TV talk shows. I did buy a book once about the aliens who live amongst us, which nearly scared the hell out of me.
But, this was different. I mean, I actually ended up feeling sort of sorry for Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah man. After all, I couldn’t possibly have known what he was going through. For Chrissake, I had no more than only met the guy.
But then, not even a week ago something awful happened.
We were having problems with our plumbing. The refuse from the sink was coming up in the bathtub. I went downstairs to see if Enrique was having any trouble with his plumbing and one of his boys answered the door. He said that his dad wasn’t there right now but that he’d ask him about the plumbing when he got back. He couldn’t have been more than twelve, and I reminded him again to ask his dad about the plumbing. He just looked at me and said, “okay,” as if he wanted to be left alone to whatever it was he was doing. Knowing he was left there alone made me feel so sad, like I should reach out to him and reassure him that everything would be all right. That was one of the things the book said to do. He just nodded at me and closed the door.
Some time after Enrique knocked on our door. He seemed kind of chipper, and one of the first things he said as he walked in was how much he liked the place. He commented on the exposed brick walls with the ivy we were growing on them, and he looked at me and smiled, the way he did at the Chinese place, that smiley-sort-of-look. It caught me a bit off guard.
My husband showed him the problem in the bathroom and Enrique said he wasn’t having any trouble in his place. He saw one of my bras hanging over the sink and laughed and made a comment about his ex-wife. And my husband laughed and I blushed. He told us we should get the landlord to call the plumber and then said to me that if I ever needed anything else I should feel free to stop by.
Then Enrique followed my husband through the living room towards the kitchen to look underneath the sink, and that’s when I noticed the book laying on the coffee table. My god, I absolutely panicked. My husband was already futzing about underneath the sink and Enrique noticed me notice the book, and then he, too, looked over on the coffee table. My husband made some joke over his shoulder to Enrique and Enrique sort of laughed while he looked back at me. Then he said rather sternly that he had to get back to his kids and had things to do and he abruptly excused himself.
Anyway, maybe a friend of mine was reading the book and left it, or why the hell couldn’t I have taken it out of the library myself, by chance, or who knows. There was nothing for him to go on up here. “Things to do.” Christ. We all know what that means.
Later that night after the plumber had left, we were watching TV and Boom-Chicky-Wah-Wah man was playing his music and everything seemed back to normal around here. The telephone rang. I figured it was the plumber or the landlord checking up on us, but when I picked up the receiver there was no answer. So, I said, “hello?” a second time, and then waited.
In the background she could faintly hear the muffled tones of music, and just before she said hello a third time, she identified that music as the same sound coming through her apartment from downstairs.
I hang up the phone.
Let me tell you about my older half sister Rachel. Rachel is Sybil and Dads old kid. Dad left Sybil because she was a drunk and then he met Mom and had me.
Rachel is going to be sixteen on Tuesday but we’re having the party this Saturday in our new basement. Dad said he’d let me go to the party if I get an A on my algebra test tomorrow. I’m not going to get an A because now I’ve got all this stuff on my mind to worry about. And tomorrow’s Thursday. And I hate Thursdays because you’re always thinking about Fridays. And they say it’s gonna rain tomorrow, too. God, seventh grade sucks.
But he’ll let me go to the party anyway. Dad always makes these threats but he’s really not too hard about them. Though he did punish me last Saturday for ripping my shirt playing football. But it was no big deal. He said I couldn’t go to the movies with Scott that night. I went anyway. I can climb out my window using the tree in the yard. It’s got this one great branch that passes just within reach of the sill. He’s never caught me yet. But the movie ended up sucking. It figures.
But this time, I don’t know. I think I’m gonna really get it good this time.
Rachel is usually the one who gets the raw end of the deal. Like last night. She was on the phone with Bob when she was supposed to be asleep, and Bob’s twenty. Scott told me that Tracy (Tracy is Scott’s older sister, who goes to the same high school as Rachel) saw Bob dealing drugs in the school park. My sister’s a druggie.
I could hear her talking through the wall, the way she always talks to guys, laughing at the all the stupid things they say. I was still awake beating off so I was listening real good so I wouldn’t get caught. Then I heard Dad come up the stairs. I could tell it was Dad cause he always walks extra soft when he comes up here, but he always ends up creaking the top two stairs. It’s so funny that he hasn’t figured out yet to just step over them.
I rolled up the sheets to pretend I was sleeping.
Dad sometimes comes up and checks on us late at night. He usually peeps in my room first and then goes back to Rachel’s room when he thinks I’m asleep. I can never really hear what goes on in there, but you could bet that Rachel is gettin’ it real good if Dad’s got to talk to her at that hour.
But last night he just stopped outside Rachel’s door. She was so busy giggling she had no idea he was there. It was so funny, both of us listening like that and only me knowing what was going on.
Then, Dad opened the door. I had to bite on my pillow to keep from laughing.
Rachel said, “Oh shit, Bob I’ve gotto,” but Dad disconnected the phone from the wall before she could finish. He closed the door behind him and walked over to her bed. Then Dad said in his pretty serious voice, “You shouldn’t be up so late playing games when everyone else is asleep.”
“What games?” Rachel said.
“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talkin’ about,” Dad said. “Games!” he shouted. “Games with boys! And I know all about it, what you and your ‘friend’ Bob are up to. Don’t think that I don’t know what’s going on here.”
“Nothing’s going on,” Rachel said.
“Don’t you talk back like that,” Dad said and slapped her.
Rachel was so busted.
“What are you, too stoned on that dope your smokin’ to listen? You think it’s all fun and games being a junkie? Being a whore? I’ll show you what fun it is. Get out of your clothes,” Dad said. “You can’t go to bed dressed like that.”
“Dad,” Rachel whined. Dad slapped her again.
Oh, man. Rachel was so dead. I couldn’t believe it.
It was pretty quiet after that except for Rachel’s crying and Dad’s heavy breathing, and that annoying squeaking that Rachel’s bed sometimes gets, but it was loud enough for me to finish beating off and go to sleep.
So today I was real curious. I raced home from school to make sure I was back before Rachel. Mom was cooking downstairs and watching T.V., so I was clear to go up and check out Rachel’s room.
I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, I guess that green leaf you see on T-shirts at the mall. That’s what Scott said it was. When I opened her door it smelled real funny, like something had gone bad.
I wonder if that was the stuff. But no, it couldn’t be. Dad would have gotten it from her last night, and anyway, I don’t even think she’s dumb enough to smoke it in the house. Mom would have noticed, besides. So what was it? It was gross in there. The bed was all messed up and there was clothes and junk thrown everywhere. Mom never makes Rachel clean up her room and she’s got much more stuff than me, too. That’s what the smell probably was, dirty underwear!
But I guess it doesn’t matter. If she was hiding it, I could never find it in that hole. And I knew if I asked her to show me it she’d only yell. That’s how she gets with her stuff. But I asked anyway. When she came home from school she headed straight for her room, like she always does, and I caught her in the hall.
“Hey Rachel, “I said, “I was just wonderin’ if-”
“What do you want, you little brat!”
“Hey,” I said, “I just wanted to-”
I didn’t think of how to put this.
“-see what it looks like.”
Rachel was totally shocked.
“Fuck you, you pervert,” she said and pushed me. “Get a life! What do you think your Mom would say if she knew what you just asked? Huh?”
I knew she wouldn’t tell Mom but she would never show me the dope either. And why did she call me a pervert? What a freak. I ran downstairs and told Mom that Rachel said fuck you. Mom looked annoyed and yelled for Rachel to come down for dinner.
Mom cooks dinner early on Wednesdays because she plays bingo with Sam’s Mom at the center. Dad usually gets home around six fifteen.
At dinner, Mom scolded Rachel for swearing at me and asked me what’d happened. That’s always the way mom deals with things. Dad’s the one you got to watch out for. But if Mom’s real pissed she’ll tell Dad and then you’re in serious trouble. So I thought I’d try to settle the whole thing without him. Bad idea.
Rachel gave me her desperate “don’t-you-dare” look.
“Rachel’s a druggie,” I said.
This made Mom freak out and Rachel call me an asshole.
“What on earth are you talking about, Kevin?” Mom said.
Rachel gave me her “you’re dead” look.
I didn’t say anything.
“So, Kevin,” Rachel was putting on her psycho voice, “what are you talking about!”
I looked over at Mom, who was not looking pleased. Her legs and arms were crossed and she was shaking her head. I was quiet.
“This is bullshit,” Rachel yelled.
“Don’t swear at the table,” Mom said.
“Well, I’m not going to sit here and listen to this loser call me names.”
Rachel stood up and threw her napkin on the table. She looked like she was going to kill me. Then we heard Dad’s car pull up. Rachel calmed down real fast and sat back down. Mom asked me again what this was all about, but I didn’t answer.
“Well,” Mom said, “we’ll get some answers from you in a moment.”
Then Dad walked in.
“Bill,” Mom said, “I think we’ve got a problem here.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dad said, “I just walked in the goddamn door.”
I know it’s going to be trouble when Dad says Jesus Christ.
“I didn’t do anything,” I yelled.
Dad told me to keep my mouth shut until I was spoken to. He was real pissed. Mom was looking up at him and Rachel was staring at her water.
“Kevin?” he said. “Rachel?” We didn’t move. Then Dad just sat down to dinner.
“We’re going to have a nice dinner first and then we’ll deal with whatever has to be dealt with.”
Mom looked kind of surprised at this and then said, “Dear, do you know what Kevin called his sister?”
“Whatever it was, Claire, I’m sure it doesn’t have to ruin your nice dinner right now, does it?”
“A druggie,” Mom cried. “Kevin called Rachel a druggie. Now that’s serious, Bill.”
Dad was now quiet, too. Everyone was quiet.
“Oh?” Dad said and looked at me and then at Rachel.
I knew this was going to be serious. Now I could definitely not go to the party, and maybe worse. So what do I do? I get real nervous and like a wimp I panic and start talking.
“Yeah Dad,” I said, “I heard you call her one yourself last night.”
“What?” Mom shouted. “What on earth are you talking about, Kevin!”
“You asshole,” Rachel yelled at me. “You’re an asshole!” Rachel threw her fork on her plate and ran from the table crying. It splattered tuna casserole and peas all across the tablecloth and even got a noodle on my glass.
“Bill,” Mom said, “what in God’s name is going on here, Bill?” Mom sounded real worried.
I was shaking. I knew I had blown it this time and in the biggest way too-drugs! So I couldn’t keep quiet now. They were going to find out everything sooner or later: how I knew about the drugs, how I was snooping in Rachel’s room. I should never have gotten curious in the first place. They even tell you that on T.V. So, I guess I figured to tell them what I knew right then instead of putting it off. Maybe I thought they wouldn’t punish me as bad. But I don’t really know what I was thinking because the whole thing happened so fast.
So anyway, I spilled my guts.
“Mom,” I cried, “I didn’t do anything. I never smoked it. I’ll never touch the stuff, I swear. Dad?” Dad was sitting quietly, fiddling with his dinner. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t even yell at Rachel to come back.
“What do you know about all this, Kevin?” Dad said to me. He looked real serious. He was breathing real loud.
“Dad, I wasn’t spying, I swear. I just heard about it from Scott, who heard about it from Tracy, who saw Bob…”
“That’s enough, Kevin,” Dad said.
“But Dad, I was just up cause, cause I was thirsty and I heard something about drugs, and Bob, and I don’t know, then I went to sleep. I don’t know anything about drugs. I probably wouldn’t even know what they look like, I don’t think.”
“Enough!” Dad said.
“Bill?” Mom was totally freaking. I was scared.
“What is this, Bill? Is Rachel involved with drugs? What do you know about this? Bill? What was going on last night? How come you never said,” and then she stopped.
“Honey, I didn’t want to bring this up until later.” Dad was pretty calm now.
“What do you mean, you didn’t want to bring this up? If Rachel’s involved with drugs…”
“Listen! She’s my daughter. I’ll deal with her the way I feel is right.”
And then I guess I really blew it. I was just trying to get everyone back together again.
“Yeah, Mom. Dad was up there last night for a long time. I could hear them talking. Well, I guess they were talking.”
Dad was now picking on the edge of his napkin, staring at the corner. Mom was looking straight at him, her hands together in one big white fist.
“Bill?” Dad didn’t look up. “Bill?” Mom said again. “You said you were just getting up for a glass of water. How come you never said you went upstairs? Bill?”
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Mom looking so pale.
“Kevin,” Dad said, “go to your room and study for your algebra exam.”
“Dad,” I pleaded. “I never touched the stuff. I swear. You know yourself, it was Bob. I’d never-”
“Go to your room, Kevin!” Mom said.
“Go the hell to your room Kevin,” Dad said.
And that was that. I’m sure to get punished even though I never really did anything. And there’s definitely no way I’m gonna get to go to Rachel’s party now. There might not even be a birthday.
But I sure as heck wasn’t going to study for this exam, so I sat in my room a while and played Nintendo. It’s so boring when you get in trouble. I could hear Rachel crying next door. I needed to get out of here, so I thought that maybe Scott would be up for something. I snuck out my window with the tree, no problem, and headed out.
Scott turned out not to be around. He was probably down at the schoolyard playing ball. It was starting to get dark out but I still kinda walked around for a bit. It was real nice out. You could see the moon and stuff.
I ended up losing track of the time and didn’t get back to the house till it was really dark. I came around the front yard to see what was going on. Maybe the cops would be there. Rachel was probably going to jail. Mom’s car was still in the driveway, which meant that she never went to her bingo game, and Dad’s car was gone.
I was so busted. They were probably out looking for me. I was gonna get killed for this. I figured I’d just give myself in now, so I walked in the front. Mom was still sitting in the dining room and Mrs. Blauman, Sam’s Mom, was sitting next to her with her arm around her. Sam was in the kitchen watching T.V. and eating an icecream.
“Mom,” I was so dead now, “what’s going on? I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t do anything. I won’t be curious about drugs again. Mom?”
Mom was crying. The table was just as it was when I left. “Mom,” I said, “I said I was sorry.”
“Why don’t you just go up-stairs now, dear,” Mrs. Blauman said. “You can take Sam with you and show him your video games.”
Then Mom turned towards me and reached to me for a hug.
“It’s going to be alright sweety, it’s going to be O.K.”
“Sure it is Mom,” I said. “I know it is.”
“Now, go to your room,” Mom said.
“Sure Mom,” I said. “Is Dad going to kill me when he gets back?”
Mom started crying more.
“No, Kevin. Just go to your room and get some clothes together. We’re going to stay at Grandma’s for a while, O.K.? Can you do that, sweety?”
“Sure Mom,” I said. “But what about Rachel?”
“Rachel’s going to be alright, Kevin. She’s already gone to Grandma’s. She’s going to be alright.”
I figured I shouldn’t ask about Dad. Maybe he took Rachel over. Anyway, I can’t imagine why we’re staying at Grandma’s. I hope there’s still a party on Saturday. Probably not. Not as long as Rachel’s still alive and causing trouble.
I just spoke to Mr. Blauman. We chat every couple of weeks. He’s my gardener. I always invite him in for a scotch when he’s done in the yard. He smells like whiskey as it is, but I would never say anything.
“How’s business?” he says.
“An insurance office is always busy,” I say. “And what about you?”
We usually talk a little. He talks about his eight-year-old boy, Sam, or a new gardening tool. Today, he talks about his wife Ellenor. I met Ellenor once at the pharmacy with Mr. Blauman. She’s in her mid-to-late thirties, average height, slender, auburnish hair, with green eyes, I think. And she has a cute pock- mark above her lip. I have to admit she’s quite attractive. I was surprised, at any rate, that she would be with Mr. Blauman. Nothing against him, of course.
Mr. Blauman says that things with Ellen–that’s what he calls her–aren’t going so well. They’ve been married six years and were together three before that. I asked him once.
I offer him a scotch. He says that there are things, “you know, things,” he says. I don’t know. He drinks down his scotch and stares at the ice, then out the window. “Lawn’s lookin’ good,” he says.
“Yes it is,” I say and refill his glass.
“You ever married, Mr. Geller?” he says.
“Nope,” I say. “Still looking out for myself, if you know what I mean.” He doesn’t respond. I don’t think he does know what I mean.
That’s a lie, at any rate. I was married once in my late twenties, but I’ve been trying to forget about that for the past eight years. It’s funny how you try to forget something, but how in reminding yourself to forget you end up remembering the thing that you’re trying to forget in the first place. I think that’s right. Anyway, the whole thing seems like it was a lot longer ago than it’s been. But it’s been long enough, if you know what I mean.
Mr. Blauman stands up. “Excuse me. I have to use your toilet,” he says. I start thinking about Sharon, my ex-wife, and then about Ellenor, what it must be like. I admit, I envy Mr. Blauman having such a wife as that. I wonder what they’re all about. I hear Mr. Blauman vomit in the toilet and flush. When he comes back I pretend not to notice. I would never say anything, of course. I refill his glass.
It’s been quiet a few minutes but they seem longer than they’ve been. It’s getting darker out. I wonder if Mr. Blauman’s wondering that I know he was sick. But it’s hard to know what he’s thinking. He sits there in his burnt green overalls. The disappearing sunlight strikes his long face. His small ears almost look like they’re moving in the shadow. He doesn’t notice me looking at him. He’s looking out the window, I think maybe at his lawnmower.
“You mind if I flip on the tube?” I say. He doesn’t move, except maybe for his ears.
“Sure thing,” he says.
I switch on the T.V. The newscaster comes on. The local story’s about some lady who set her house on fire with her kid in it.
Mr. Blauman spills his drink. “Oh damn! I’ll get that,” he says.
“It’s alright,” I say. I go to the kitchen to get a towel. I can still see Mr. Blauman in the dining room. He’s rubbing his hands on his face as if he just woke up.
“Everything O.K.?” I say.
He quickly moves his hands away. “Sure is,” he says. “I’m real sorry about this.” I return with the towel.
“I really do have a way of screwin’ things up,” Mr. Blauman says.
“I never thought that,” I say. He doesn’t respond to me. Mr. Blauman says, “On Sam’s eighth birthday I had a job doin’ some hedges. I figured I’d have ’em done by the time Sam got home from school so I could be at the party. It was real hot out that day and I guess the heat just got to me. My mind was wanderin’, or something, and I end up spearin’ my hand with the hedge clippers. Cut through a nerve. Was in the hospital till nine.” Mr. Blauman opens and closes his hand. I can see the scar. “Some birthday,” he says. “Ellen and Sam waitin’ in the hospital cafeteria all night.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but shit happens. Shit happens to good guys like yourself all the time. And it always happens at the wrong times, too. Not like there are really any good times, but you know what I’m saying.” I don’t know if he does. “Shit even happens to me,” I say, “but what can you do? You try to forget about it the best you can and move on with your life, that’s all.”
Mr. Blauman is quiet. The weatherman comes on the T.V. It may rain tomorrow.
When the commercial comes on Mr. Blauman says, “Mr. Geller. I don’t mean to push you or nothin’, but I like what you got to say.”
“Thanks, Mr. Blauman. I like listening to you too,” I say. “Call me Jack, will you?” says Mr. Blauman.
“Sure will, Jack,” I say. “And you can call me Keith.” We watch the commercials.
“Keith,” says Mr. Blauman, “I’ve been thinkin’ about stuff and I was wonderin’ if…”
“You want to talk?” I say.
“Well yeah, if that’s alright,” says Mr. Blauman. I go to refill his glass. “I’m O.K.,” he says. Then, the sports comes on. Mr. Blauman’s not interested.
“One sec,” I say. “I have fifty bucks on the game.”
“I just won two hundred and fifty dollars,” I say. “Let’s celebrate.” I pour Mr. Blauman a scotch.
“But you don’t drink,” he says.
“Not me,” I say. “This stuff’s been sitting around here for eight years.”
“You used to drink?” says Mr. Blauman.
“Never,” I say. “I keep it around for friends.” Mr. Blauman drinks down his scotch.
We sit through Cosby and half of Jeopardy. Then the phone rings. It’s Ellenor. “Is my husband there?” she says. Mr. Blauman gets on and I can hear him talking from the kitchen.
“Yeah, I’ve been drinkin’,” he says.
“Why?” he says. “Whadya want me home for?”
“Ellenor,” he says, “I found a letter to your sister.”
“You know what I’m talkin’ about,” he says.
“I’m not drunk,” he says, “and I’m not comin’ home either.”
Mr. Blauman hangs up the phone.
“Everything O.K.?” I say. He doesn’t answer. We watch Jeopardy. I wonder if he knows that I heard him on the phone. I don’t know if he’d even care. Either way, I would never say anything.
“Sure could use another drink, Keith, if you don’t mind,” he says. I refill his glass. The phone rings again.
“That’s Ellen,” says Mr. Blauman. “Tell her I’m not here.”
“Hello,” I say.
“Put my husband on,” she says.
“Oh,” I say, “I’m sorry. He just left.”
“That’s Bullshit,” she says. “We’ll see about that!” She hangs up on me. Ellenor has a nice scratchy voice. Someone might almost think that it’s too harsh sounding but I like the sound of a smoker’s voice on a woman. I search my pants and shirt pocket for a cigarette but then I remember that I gave that up eight years ago.
Meanwhile, I hear Mr. Blauman talking to himself in the dining room.
“You make him come a couple of times and then you own him.” Mr. Blauman’s swinging the scotch bottle. He almost hits himself. Mr. Blauman looks at me but doesn’t respond. “Like a puppy at your heels,” he says. He looks out the window. It’s grown real dark. “That bitch,” he says. Then he’s quiet. He turns to Jeopardy, then out the window.
“Keith?” he says. His voice changes and he turns towards me. “You ever married?” he says.
“Nope,” I say. Mr. Blauman puts the bottle to his lips, but it’s already empty.
“You know what she said in this letter?” he says.
“What letter?” I say.
“That I’m just good for fuckin’!” Mr. Blauman’s real drunk, so I don’t respond.
“She said that I could never understand her. That I just sit back and offer my removed objective opinions like I know her or somethin’. That’s what she said,” Mr. Blauman says.
Mr. Blauman drops the bottle and then rolls off his chair onto the floor. I pick up the bottle and place it on the table. Then I lift up Mr. Blauman and drag him into my office. I lay him down on the love seat. His legs and an arm dangle over the sides but I’m not going to bring him upstairs. I close the door and go back to the dining room. I remove the empty bottle and glass from the table and bring them to the kitchen. Now I can sit back down in the dining room. Jeapardy’s still on.
I look out the window. You can see the sky and even a couple of stars. The tops of the trees kind of glow but I can’t see the moon from this angle.
A car pulls up in front of the house and a woman gets out. She walks towards my door, right up the front lawn. The outside floodlights switch on and I can see now that it’s Ellenor.
The doorbell rings three times.
“Hello, Ellenor,” I say. “Please come in.”
“Don’t give me no shit,” she says. “Where is the asshole, huh? You’re gonna give me an answer, buddy,” she says. “His car’s out front and his lawnmower’s still here.”
Ellenor is wearing tight red jeans whose electric blue seams gather around the hips. She has on a low-cut tanktop, which is slightly too short, so I can see the bottom of her belly. Her hair is blonde this time. She doesn’t look as good as I remember, but she looks good enough, if you know what I mean.
“Well, Ellenor,” I say. “All I can tell you is that I’m not a liar. You can check my house for all I care, but don’t you dare call me a liar!” Ellenor looks surprised and waits to respond.
“Well,” she says, imitating me, “maybe I would like to check things out,” she says.
Ellenor has been sitting in the dining room for almost an hour. Only the light from the television is on. I can see the split ends of her hair in it. She has already drunk three gin and tonics. Her nose runs a little so she keeps sniffing in real fast, which makes the pock-mark over her lip move. She looks cute, like a girl.
She tells me that she left Sam alone at the apartment. Her arms are folded in her lap, the right one holding the left wrist. She tells me about Mr. Blauman’s drinking problem and how when he drinks he gets all deluded. She uncrosses her legs and recrosses them the other way. She’s wearing thin blue high heels that match her pant seams. She’s lookin’ real good. She tells me about the letter.
“It wasn’t even a letter,” she says. “It was a journal entry for a character I’m workin’ on.”
“Oh?” I say.
“No, I’m no writer,” she says. “But I create different characters to write down my thoughts for me, ya know?” I don’t know.
“You know,” she says. She lifts the bottle to her lips. “It’s easier to say shit when you pretend that it’s not you sayin’ it at all. If I’m feeling funny, or somethin’, I go to my characters and let them write down what’s bothering me. It removes me from the pain, ya know,” she says. “When you got your own private truths to turn to and you don’t even know what they are yourself, you’re not responsible for ’em, really.” I do know what she means, I think, but I also know she’s lying. “So, my husband doesn’t know what the fuck he was talking about,” she says. “He’ll never have a goddamn clue.”
“Ellen,” I say. She looks at me. She’s chewed off some of the lipstick from her bottom lip. I can see red lipstick on her upper two teeth. Her brown eyes are watery from the gin so I’m not nervous. I lean across to her and kiss her neck. She turns back to me and stares. Only the pock-mark seems to twitch on her face. I feel her leg brush against mine underneath the table. Then I feel a hand. We end up doing it right there on the dining room table. I almost think the legs are going to break off. The Price is Right is on the television but the volume’s turned down.
When we’re done, Ellenor seems kind of nervous.
“Oh shit,” she says. “I’ve forgot about Sam. I’ve forgotten all about him!” She pulls up her red jeans and goes to the door. She waits there for a moment, then looks back at me, and then around the room.
“Am I forgettin’ anything?” she says to herself. I don’t say anything. Neither does she. Then she leaves.
I sit back down with my pants still around my ankles. I hear her drive away. It was pretty good, I guess, but I guess I thought it would be better. I look out the window. I’m not disappointed, I don’t think. It just wasn’t what you might expect.
Mr. Blauman walks in behind me holding something in his hand.
“Keith?” he says. “I found this picture in your office. I hope you don’t mind me askin’ or nothin’? It was just sitting on top your desk. She’s real pretty, you know. Reddish hair and green eyes and all.”
I stand up and shuffle past him, not responding.
“Hey Keith?” says Mr. Blauman. “What ya got your pants down for?” Mr. Blauman laughs and looks back at the picture.
I open the front door and go outside. The outside floodlights come on. I walk out onto the lawn. Mr. Blauman comes out too. I can see the moon now. It’s almost full. There’s just a little piece missing that I want to fill in with my imagination. I try, but I really can’t.
“Hey, Keith,” Mr. Blauman says. “You all right, buddy? You should pull up your pants or somethin’. You could get in trouble.” I just stand there looking up at the moon. Mr. Blauman looks up too.
“You can see a lot more stars from out here,” Mr. Blauman says.
It’s real quiet out except for the bugs and the air is moist with the smell of freshly cut grass. And Mr. Blauman stands next to me holding the photo of Sharon and we both just stare at the sky.
“Isn’t that somethin’, Keith?” says Mr. Blauman.
“I guess it is, Jack,” I say.