I came away looking like a Greek widow, a fisherman's wife, a dish rag. Blame it on
the weather. Blame it on my desperation. Whatever it was, this is truth, somewhere there's a
photograph which illustrates the contradiction of that day.
It mattered, how I looked. You see, it's that he's not from around here. His skin is
smooth and warm-weather kissed. There is a deep puddle of rust at the hollow of his throat.
And how I normally look is not normal for him. I have that New Yorker's aggressive way of
wearing black. Later, once again, we will address this difference. The difference of place.
He'd been waiting, just a few minutes, he said. A measure of time from a man who
never knows what day it is. I'd circled the squat building in a rain just beginning. The air had
been too thick to sustain itself--gooey drops splattered my windshield as I came around again,
speeding through the swoop of an illegal right for a second time. Shoeless on the break, I
waited in a full parking lot for someone whose reverse lights taunted me to back out. My
signal ticked. My wipers swished. My hair got shorter by the minute. I flipped the defroster
on blast. My trip meter had added twenty-four miles since I filled up the tank 40 minutes ago.
At the last minute I swapped shoes, hopping from one foot to the other beside my open
trunk, grateful I'd brought with me a change of mind. I know myself perhaps too well I
thought slapping through three or four small lakes before reaching the lobby office.
I fingered my hair in a mirror just beside the check-in desk and in a moment, less than
that, he was behind me, filling up the frame.
We held on amidst the plastic potted palms and dusty silk floral arrangements in
tangerine and fuchsia. Held on, under the buzzing florescent light. We didn't much care who
saw. Yesterday, two years seemed like forever and now it didn't seem much time at all--
rather, at last, it was a waste of time to argue.
Waiting for a room assignment, we sat beside a thermos sticky with complimentary
coffee and a plastic bowl of individual servings of half and half which reminded me: I had a
best friend in high school--I mean best friend--who couldn't resist the urge to peel off the foil
and knock them back like they were something better.
He filled the styrofoam cup just for something to do. Nothing could begin until we could
close the door behind us. The waiting wasn't as bad as the sheets of rain which drenched us
on our way to the small room that looked dispiritingly over-used. He set to work arranging his
things in precisely the same way he had in his room the day before and the one before that.
Lighting exactly the same light, ticking things off a mental list. I gave him space to work.
"How would you define convenient?" I asked framed by what was just outside the
still open door.
"Convenient. How would you define it? For instance, right now, I'm feeling like
"What would you like me to say?" he resigned before dropping something off
inside the bathroom.
I promised myself I wouldn't misbehave. I'd coached myself in the car, conducting the
biting dialog there instead of perhaps here, trying to use it up. But sometimes I Love You
comes out sounding like hate.
I'm loyal to words.
Actions can always be faked, but words are a binding contract. I invariably choose mine with inspection and imagination. Six months ago when he challenged me to an invisible duel I abandoned him. No matter that it broke my heart. If he wanted something, if it was a tangible need, then he could very well ask for it and I would give it. Simply. Gladly. But he wanted
me to come to him on my own. No.
"No. You do realize now that you have to tell me what you want. I won't guess or presume to know you that well."
"But don't you listen to me?"
"I listen to your face when the lines around your eyes shift, when you bite your lip and I know--but I cannot hear. You must say it. Now where, how, do you want me?"
Controlled words at the end of flailing arms that trademark many of my soliloquies. All in a
somewhat damp black cocktail dress at 9 o'clock in the morning.
I waited while he showered. He'd been all night traveling. I sat on the bed, reclined,
then sat back up. I listened to him under the water. And to the water's gentle notes nearer to
the drain. He reappeared with a towel around his waist. Haphazard--not arranged. He
stopped at the sink, combed out his hair, brushed his teeth, shook an aspirin out of a bottle.
He toyed with the blow dryer for just a moment, enough to lighten his hair a shade or two,
aimed an aerosol can under each arm and tipped his head back to drop Visine in his eyes. His
toiletries were in one of those clear plastic rolls that hang up and have compartments from
small to smaller to smaller still. He knew exactly where everything was and put everything
back in its place. He was a man on the move. He slipped into a pair of silk
shorts and sat across from me on the other bed.
I asked him, "Are you afraid?"
"Nervous. I always get nervous when I'm with you. I haven't slept, I've been
bouncing around since we spoke. You know how I get when we come close."
"I'm coming over there," I warned. "I'm going to come close." I got off the bed,
leaving my shoes behind. My shoes on the floor. My glasses on top of the armoire and my
diamond watch beside the styrofoam cup with a crumpled cigarette butt in it now.
I was collecting and preserving--these are quiet activities. I will need later the ability to recall with significant force the simple way that he is big and I am small; his kiss, consuming conscientiously lipsticked lips with the relish of young fingers in paint, not just the prelude but the glue and the punctuation. I carefully catalogued all the things which had made me so
desirous from being long without.
I was so quiet. So quiet, he remarked woefully, "I don't do a thing for you. Do I?"
And I laughed. It wasn't even really a laugh it was a noise like a laugh but really little more than a smile and a gasp.
"Don't laugh. I hate it when you laugh to yourself. It makes me insecure."
"I'm happy, " I accused. "I'm amazed. I stare, and you try and pretend you're not
the captor. I laugh, and you're displeased. What can I do? You don't read it when I write it
down even if I could make it rhyme like Cat In The Hat. This focus is the only way I know
how to show you."
"Mmmm, I love the way you talk. Kiss me."
"If I kiss you I'll get lost and not come back."
"Kiss me then. I like the way you can kiss my soul. I feel it's like--I remember--"
he became more and more urgent, "--yeah, this is how it's supposed to be."
"This is it," I gasped. "What makes me want to touch myself." My hair brushed his face. I welcomed the prideful smile--the way his green mermaid eyes began to swim--and that he buried his face so I wouldn't see. After a long while he told me, "I'm trying to breathe all of you in." He reclaimed his hand and covered his heart. "I want to fill my lungs with you for later. Trap you right here."
"Did you finish that glass of water?" I wondered.
"Would you like some? I can get up, the sink's just over there."
"No. I'm fine."
"I don't mind. I would be worth it just to hear you ask again."
"What? I say it funny?"
"You say everything funny."
"Not where I came from."
He let me have the little bit left in the glass. "You are always so well groomed." He declared like it was something he relied on. A barometer.
"I had my manicure on Friday, beside Carolyn Bessette."
"The new Mrs. Kennedy."
He shifted onto an elbow letting me drop away. "You should stay away from her. People like her get shot at."
I didn't know what to say.
"I worry about you."
I almost laughed again.
"I worry about you." He said a second time and stood, hiding behind his lighting a cigarette.
I looked up to see him. "I'm fine."
"I know. I know," he said, walking over to draw back the heavy curtain. The sky was white. It was pouring rain. I jumped onto the far bed to look over the cement balcony to see if my car had been stolen and watched the water churn in the tiny in-ground pool between the parking lot and office.
I've been standing at the fork for so long there's weeds tangled around my legs and bird shit on my head. I have to crane my neck to gaze down the path I want so much to take shine. I'm still facing the direction of least resistance. Down this far road in my imaginings, he's astride an old Harley and it's ten years ago.
The floor trembled as the commuter train rolled past. "It's the train," I pointed to answer his look.
"Where are you? Which direction?"
"What's that?" He motioned opposite through a dirty cloud of his cigarette smoke.
"A water tower."
He dropped the curtain back into place and held out his hand. "How long have we?"
"Not very. Before I die," I tell him, "I want a ride."
RoseMarie London works as an executive assistant at a publishing
company where no one is aware that she writes. She takes the subway
uptown two stops every Wednesday for a voice lesson. Her coach tells
her that she would sing much more sweetly if she would just cut out
the smoking and the drinking. Someday. Sure.