From GONE, a novel
Me in the tub, Colin's rubber ducky bobbing around between my legs, water as hot as I could take it spewing from the faucet. Steam billowing up in spectral clouds, the bathroom mirror completely fogged over.
I'd retreated to a hot soak because I literally didn't know what to do with myself. Post box-dump, my thoughts returned to my son and ex-wife's vanishing, and I found myself wandering around the flat, unable to focus, barely able to muster primary motor functions. At a certain point, intellect completely shut down and the body took over, stripping off clothes, turning on the tap, crawling into the porcelain womb. Which just goes to show: the body knows more than we do. Or something.
I've known many folks who suffered through bad divorces. Split-ups that exploded into vengeful acting out, split-ups mired in a mulish refusal to communicate or compromise. At one or two points, the landscape seemed littered with the wreckage of partnerships gone down badly. And for some reason I always regarded it as a phenomenon that would never touch me personally. Call it naiveté, denial, whatever you like -- I never expected to find myself in that kind of high drama. Which now makes me shake my head in befuddled wonderment. What in God's name was I thinking?
To anyone observing the life Sheila and I had together, it must have seemed like a simple matter of time before the marriage blew apart. In fact, some friends have intimated as much to me. Which raises the question: if it was so apparent, so obvious, why didn't anyone say something? Oh, I know, no one wants to interfere, everyone's trying to mind their own business. But I imagine they must have talked about it, discretely -- right? For the record, to any near and dear who might read this, should you notice my life changing direction so that I seem to be heading toward a fast metaphoric ride over a waterfall, please don't keep it to yourself. Please, please speak up. If your judgment is off or you seem to be getting some unwholesome enjoyment out of my sitch, that will come out in the wash. In the meantime, if a word from you might save me unnecessary wear and tear, that would be most excellent.
Sheila and I met when I stopped in at a friend's 35th birthday thing. The friend: Lola, a lesbian I'd known since the my first acting job in Boston. Smart, sensitive, sarcastic and a bunch of other adjectives beginning with S. Also, shaken at the thought of turning 35.
For some people, reaching 25 is a big deal. Others find birthday number 30 massively significant. For me, birthdays passed with no real impact until I hit 35. My head wrapped itself around that number, and during the course of the day it became clear that I'd reached more than just another birthday. 15 years earlier, it occurred to me, I'd been 20. In 15 more years I would be 50. 50!!! The horrors gripped me then with a bowel-bothering sense of powerlessness over the passing of time, over the coming decline and deterioration. All of which is to say that I related to Lola's distress. Her birthday, in fact, fell two short weeks after mine and I attended her do in a show of solidarity.
She organized it herself, holding court at a local coffee house, the Nine, a popular rough-edged joint in Central Square that provides one of the clearer examples of Cambridge vérité chic, where students, blue-collar types and yupsters mingle in a relatively benign environment. The café resides in a long, narrow, high-ceilinged space, extending back from large windows on Mass. Ave., the sitting area tightening to accommodate first the kitchen, then storage and restrooms. When I walked in the front door, I saw Lola and a half dozen of her fans clustered around two tables all the way in the back. And as I made my way along to join them, I noticed a woman I'd never seen before seated next to Lola. Dark-eyed, high-cheekboned, longish black curly hair cascading down over nice shoulders. She sat laughing at some commentary from the birthday babe and when I pulled up a chair, I felt those dark eyes move to me, alighting for a moment before returning to Lola. Who, I wondered, is this? And more importantly, is she hetero?
Lola noticed my interest in her friend and caught my eye, raising an eyebrow. Most of the people at the table were listening to a woman's animated recounting of an exceptionally bruising 35th birthday, Lola took the opportunity to lay a hand lightly on one of Sheila's.
"Sheila," she said, "have you met my friend Dennis?"
"No," Sheila replied, eyes moving from Lola to me. "Do I want to?"
Lola gazed at me, her smile expanding. "You might. I think you very possibly might."
"Why?" Sheila posed lazily, dark, dark eyes lingering on my face in a show of impertinence. "What's so special about him?"
"Well...." A moment of consideration. "He's the only real-life person I've ever met named Dennis." Gee. Still, I wouldn't want her to reach so far for something nice that it left her with stretch marks.
"I've known Dennises." Ouch. "Anything else?"
"He can be extremely charming."
"Now and then."
I cleared my throat, both faces turned to me. Sheila lifted her coffee cup to her mouth and sipped, watching expectantly.
"So," I ventured, "how do you know Lola?"
"Oh, we go way back." Lola made a noise, Sheila looked over, smiling. "What?"
She shook her head. "Sorry -- I just realized we can actually say things like 'We go way back' now. 'Cause we're old enough to go way back."
"How far back?" I asked.
"Way far. Way, way too fucking far."
"Junior High," Sheila said, making a face. Lola joined in with another face, indicating a less than euphoric middle-school experience.
"The single worst period in my life," I agreed. (Not exactly true -- there have been several worst periods of my life.)
"Where'd you grow up?" Sheila asked me.
I never know how to answer that question, my early years having been spread over quite a bit of geography. "Here and there," I said, the pat reply.
"What does that mean?"
I shrugged. "I had a busy childhood."
"Oh." She glanced at Lola with a do-we-have-to-talk-to-this-person? expression.
"He was sort of an orphan," Lola supplied.
"Yeah?" Sheila looked at me with slightly-piqued interest. "How does one become 'sort of' an orphan?"
Other people at the table were paying attention by then, I wasn't sure I wanted to air out the details of my childhood bliss for their entertainment. At which moment Steve arrived to pay birthday homage to Lola.
I don't know how he does it. I go somewhere, it mostly feels like it's only a question of how long it will take for Steve to put in an appearance and how many people he will know. Socially pervasive, well connected. And women almost unfailingly seem to want to mother him. As if they see an essential charm and harmlessness somewhere in there. Which, if you know him as I do, is a bizarre notion. Enjoyable, yes. But harmless? Let me put it this way: Steve is studying for attorneyhood -- when he finally finishes school and aces the bar exam, he will gleefully begin building his empire, leaving a smoking swath of plunder and destruction in his wake.
He's thin, is our boy Steve, with a narrow, intent face suggesting some wayward Jewish/Native American hybrid. Dark eyes stare out over a prominent nose, beneath shortish black hair parted and combed like a true son of mid-America, circa 1956. Straight, crisp clothes combine with clean looks to project an image of focus that reminds me of the bladed edge of a hatchet driving toward its target.
He waved hello to the group as he scanned the area for a chair to commandeer, found one, dragged it over, half-settled into it, popped back up to place a birthday kiss on Lola's cheek and drop a small wrapped gift on the table in front of her, then sat for real, favoring me with a smirk of greeting.
How many times have I been invited to birthday fêtes like this? Informal setting, nothing said about gifts, the implication being "don't bring any." Sometimes the no-gift idea is even explicit. Without fail, I take this stuff at face value, show up without a gift only to find myself the one misfit who didn't get it that people have birthday parties so other people will shower them with presents. It burns my butt when I get trumped like that, especially by a young punk like Steve.
Lola picked up the gift and looked around uncertainly. A couple of other gifts materialized around the table, then a couple more. Until the only people without were me and Sheila. Our eyes met, hers shifting quickly down to where the long nails of one hand tapped unhappily on the table by her coffee mug.
"I thought you told me you didn't want gifts," she said softly, shooting Lola a hard look from the corner of her eyes.
"I did. I told everyone that."
"Nobody listened. Except him." She indicated me with that last bit before returning to displeased tapping.
Lola glanced about, looking embarrassed. "I thought I told everyone."
"You told me," Steve volunteered, prompting me-toos from others. Sheila eyed him balefully. "I wanted to give her something anyway," he continued with a disarming shrug. She looked away, lips twitching with unspoken rejoinders. Nice lips, I thought, watching.
The soirée showed no sign of winding down when I said good night an hour later. Stepping out into the evening air, I paused to zip up my jacket, remaining there for a moment, looking around. The sky had that deep, dark blue you get sometimes just before evening fades to full night, a sharply drawn crescent moon hovered over the unlit bulk of the post office building. The door of the cafe opened behind me, someone appeared to my left. Sheila, buttoning her coat, lips pursed with less-than-joyful emotion. She drew a pack of cigarettes from a coat pocket, pulled one from the pack and slipped it between her lips. Still nice, those lips, even with a butt hanging from them. She tipped the pack in my direction, indicating an offer, I shook my head in polite refusal. The pack disappeared back into her pocket, the hand reappeared with matches. As she lit up, I wondered if smoking made her more or less attractive. I wasn't sure. Maybe it did neither. She exhaled a stream of smoke into the night air, picked something from her tongue, glanced at it before flicking it away. "Fuzz," she said.
Our eyes met. I liked hers more and more. Not soft, but big and expressive, windows into a head that had things going on. Nice looking windows.
"The gift thing really bother you?" I asked.
She shrugged, disgusted. "It doesn't take much to bother me."
"This was a no-fault situation. Lola didn't care."
"Oh, shit. She asked them not to bring gifts, they did anyway, I feel like the Grinch. It's as simple as that."
I studied her, experiencing the beginnings of an old, familiar desire. An unwholesome amalgam of sex, intellectual curiosity, and the impulse to leap into rescue mode. "Feel like getting something to eat?" I asked.
She looked at me appraisingly, coils of smoke drifting up from the end of her cigarette. "I might. You have somewhere in mind?"
I did -- a place with shuttered blinds and clean sheets on a wide bed. But I settled for a meal at an Indian restaurant. As we walked through Central Square, I felt a kind of sensation I used to get as a kid when attempting something dangerous -- an exhilarating combination of slight nausea and difficult breathing. My body saying Red Alert! Change course immediately!!
I lay in the tub sluggishly trying to puzzle out the possibilities re: tracking my ex down. Someone had to know where she'd gone, a friend or relative, her job or Colin's pre-school. Or the moving company. They might not be terribly keen on sharing that information with me, but I'd deal with that when and if I got that far.
I decided to approach the super at Sheila's apartment building, maybe first thing the next morning, see if he had any information. In the meantime I'd leave my lawyer a message, let her know the latest. I had a hunch she wouldn't be hugely surprised at the news of Sheila's bolting.
I had just pulled myself up out of the water to towel off when the doorbell rang. The building's pretense of security went as far as a reasonably effective front door lock, stopping short of an intercom or door buzzer. Meaning I had to drag on sweatpants and a sweatshirt before stumbling quickly downstairs, looking like something the cat dragged in from the acid rain. On the way down, I felt tremors from a series of hacking explosions that emanated from the front hallway. When I turned the corner at the bottom, I found Boo shuffling around inside the vestibule. She saw me and raised a puffy, weathered hand in greeting, the other one jammed into her coat pocket. The gasper in her upraised hand had burned down far enough that the smoke appeared to come from her fingers.
She started to scuffle in when I opened the door, then remembered my post-divorce squat was no-smoking territory and leaned outside to dispose of the butt. Like I said, the soul of manners.
"How you doin'?" she asked when we'd started up the stairs. So I told her. And that's another thing about Boo: she's a good listener. She listens attentively, usually asks if you want feedback before inflicting her thoughts on you. I've known therapists who weren't that civilized.
When I finished we were in my place. I'd brushed my hair, pulled on real clothes and stood studying the world outside my living room windows. Boo sat on the couch wearing the serious expression that indicates there's thinking going on. After a moment, she squinted over at me.
"You ask you friend Reggie he notice whad moving comp'ny she use?"
"No," I admitted.
"You mi' wanna do thad. Mi' save you some trouble."
She was right, of course. Reggie had a fondness for ganja, but I never found him to be foggy in the general course or less than alert in his work at the theater. Maybe he'd caught the name on the moving van.
"You sure she didn' say nothin' t' you?" Boo asked.
I stifled a twinge of exasperation. "Yes, I'm sure. Something like that wouldn't have gotten by me. She knew I would have been all over her if she'd indicated anything about taking off, so she just ducked out."
"Took a big risk. Whad if you try t' call or come by?"
"Not much chance I'd stop by unless I had to pick up Colin, but I did call in the morning. She played it very cool, I had no idea anything was up."
"Uh-huh." Boo liked Colin, became briefly quiet at the mention of his name. (Colin generally found Boo fascinating and seemed unspooked by her bag-lady look, unlike Sheila.) "She mus'a had this plan' for a while, leavin' like this."
"Where d'you think she' run off to?"
Without answering, I dropped into the other end of the couch, raising a cloud of dust that swirled in the angled shafts of afternoon sunlight, the upholstery springs complaining at my sudden arrival. I could only speculate about where Sheila had disappeared to; there was no saying for sure. Family? Friends? Logical, but traceable. Sheila is plenty sharp and would have a burning desire to not get caught. If she were going to take a chance like this, I don't think she'd make the move unless she thought she could pull it off. Ballsy as she may have been, if she were seriously considering a leap into the void she'd try to arrange a soft landing, accommodations and cable TV before hurling herself over the edge.
"I don't know," I said. "Could be anywhere."
"You think she' go somewhere she didn' have some people, someone Colin would know?"
"I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe she'd figure going to family or friends would be so obvious I'd never suspect it. She can be perverse like that."
"She's smart," I agreed.
We lapsed into silence for a moment, each to our own thoughts. I rested my feet on a big, yellow Fisher-Price truck. Boo scratched her chin, fingered one or two of the hairs that radiated out from it, looking carefully around the room. The mid-afternoon November sunlight fell with the advanced slant of a late-autumn day gradually sliding toward evening. Boo took in a deep breath and let it out, wheezing slightly. "Nice place," she said, meaning it. And for what my little hovel was, it was a nice place. Third floor, rear corner, away from the street. Overlooking a parking lot, but with a couple of trees not too far away. Lots of sunlight. Reasonably quiet, decent neighbors. Not elegant, not flashy, but not the lower depths either.
It's funny how the character of a living space can reflect the time of your life. The apartment Sheila and I shared never felt truly settled into. Unpacking never seemed to get finished, the place had an edgy feel, a sad, slightly nervous sense of doubt. I moved into this flat from there and while the material ambience may have taken a bit of a slide, the new digs provided a sense of space, quiet and relief the other place never had. Colin seemed to like it okay -- not the peeling paint and plaster or the dusty, unkempt hallways, but the lack of pressure, its feeling of comfortably broken-in easiness. The first time Sheila dropped him off, she gave the place the grand, rolling fisheye. So it's not a suite at the Four Seasons -- big deal.
Boo broke the moment of contemplation. "How you feelin'?"
I shrugged. How was I supposed to feel? Boo studied me, weighing whether or not to pursue the question.
"I say somethin' you don' like, tell me to quiet down. I was you, though, my kid been taken 'way like this, I prolly be havin' some feelin's."
"I'm not happy about it," I agreed, glancing at her sideways-fashion. "I don't know if I'm more pissed at myself for not seeing it coming or at Sheila for being the kind of wack job who would pull something like this."
"Angry woman, my ass. She's a head case. The anger is just one of the ways it shows."
"Angry, unhappy, an' donno wha' to do with it. She flail aroun', you in the way you get flailed."
I had nothing to say to that. Boo's eyes rested on me for a moment, then shifted away to gaze thoughtfully out a window. The air outside possessed an almost hazy quality, a glow from the afternoon light, as the day tilted toward late afternoon. The kind of light you sometimes find in paintings by Rembrandt or Vermeer. Mellow, meditative. Which is fine for a while. I tend to subscribe to the old Woody Allen line, though: if I get too mellow I have a tendency to ripen and rot.
I craned around to check out the clock on the kitchen table, found one hand on the 12, the other on the 3. The hands of this particular yard-sale acquisition were about the same size and hard to differentiate. I knew midday had passed, but how the hell had it gotten to be three o'clock? My impression of Marat must have run on a bit. I like late autumn and winter, but if you do any serious sleeping in there's not much sunlight left to work with. Squander the odd hour or two, suddenly the whole day's blown.
Boo looked back at me, stood up and took a few aimless steps around the living room. "There somethin' I can do t' help?" she asked.
"Not right now. Can't do much of anything today. Call Reggie, maybe."
"Cud callthe p'lice."
"Well, I thought I'd call my lawyer first, fill her in, see what she had to say."
"She don' mine you call her on Sunday?"
I shook my head. "We're friends, she'll be fine. Especially when she hears what it's about. She doesn't care for Sheila."
"Ask her shud you callthe p'lice. Migh' be good idea. You don', this go to court, migh' look like you don' care."
Court. Police. A wave of bewilderment washed through me at the veering direction life had taken. I jerked myself to my feet and headed into the kitchen, pulled the refrigerator door open, surveyed its sparse contents. Mustard, ancient strawberry jelly, a chunk of Velveeta. A diet soda (raspberry), a nearly-desiccated bottle of Italian carbonated water. No milk, no beer.
"You want something to drink?" I called out.
"Hav'any fuzzy wauta?"
"A little." She shuffled into the kitchen as I pulled the bottle from the refrigerator. I held it up to show her how many H20 molecules were left, she nodded her head. "Since when," I asked, handing off the bottle, "have you become so refined? I thought you couldn't stand this stuff."
She shrugged. "Everyone I know's drinkin' it. I bin tryin' some an' got use to it."
"Jezis, this is not the you I know. You start making changes with something basic like this, what comes next? Soon you'll be wearing skirts or dress pants. You'll have your hair done, start getting facials, go to a gym. I won't even recognize you. Then you'll get a real job and a car and a computer and a telephone. With voicemail. How am I supposed to keep up with all that?"
"Don' worry. Take me a while t'work up to tha' kyna makeover. Gotta glass?"
I found a reasonably clean tumbler and handed it over, she emptied the spritzwater into it. After taking a sip and wrinkling her nose from the bubbles, she studied me.
"What?" I asked.
"You don' look so good. You had anythin' t' eat?"
When did I have time to eat anything? I slept late, I got home, wrestled with the box, I spent some time sprawled in the bath, I had company. That's a full day. I tried to remember if I might have eaten a crust of something anywhere in my travels, when I didn't answer Boo's question right away she opened the refrigerator to scope out its paltry contents. The spartanness seemed to impress her, and when she turned to look at me she wore a thoughtful expression.
"You' 'frig'rader like this alla time?"
"Sometimes." Her thick features slipped into a slight frown, meaning something concerned or motherish would be forthcoming.
"Hey," I said preemptively, "I've been working during the day and in a show at night. There hasn't been much time or energy to spare. I've been grabbing meals on the run. It'll get better, okay?"
"You got nothin' to eat here. Y'got ded drunk las' night an' spent th' night on th' si'walk. You don' look good. I know you got this sichwation with Sheila goin' on. There anythin' else, somethin' I don' know 'bout?"
For a moment I stared at her and debated bringing up the box. Why not let her in on it, share the load with a friend? I could almost feel the box leaning hopefully toward the closet door, waiting for release. Except that right then I didn't feel like dragging that kind of trouble out into the light. Too big, too messy, with the potential of unearthing some skeletons that maybe didn't need to be hauled up into the light of day. And I already had one big, unruly bastard of a deal overloading my nervous system in the sitch with Sheila.
"No," I answered, "I've just been letting myself get run down. Once I catch up on sleep and start taking care of myself a little better, I'll be totally brilliant again."
Boo gave up on trying to help me more than I wanted to be helped and left a short time later. I called Cheryl, my attorney, who proved to be out somewhere having a life. After leaving a summary of recent events on her machine, I hung up and tried to figure what to do with myself. Call Reggie? Go trawling for groceries? Clean the apartment, meditate or otherwise improve my sorry existence? Fuck that. I threw together some macaroni and cheese (Boo hadn't stumbled onto my small cache of packaged comestibles), cranked up the TV and shoveled the food down in front of a football game. Which pacified me for only as long as I had food to shovel down. Once my fork had scraped off all traces of melted Velveeta from the bare plate, I couldn't remain in front of the TV. Couldn't sit still, period. My body paced from room to room in as physical a state of itchy, unspecific, frustrated discomfort as I'd ever experienced, finally propelling me out the door, where I found myself heading in the direction of Harvard Square.
Restlessness gets a lot of bad press. Check out what happens to the restless in films and novels. Terrible things. They come to bad ends, and often. Far more often, I suspect, than statistics would support. What's with the stigma? Am I wrong or have some of our greatest inventors been restless, driven types? It could probably be argued that we Americans have long been a restless breed, arriving in great waves of Atlantic crossings, spreading out from the east coast, moving further and further on. We tossed down railroad tracks, carved out great networks of highways to roam on, grew immense sprawling cities. And at the far end of the land, we planted one more city, a place of desert light and deep noir nights, ringed and threaded by freeways, where restlessness became an express part of the subtext, finding its way over and over into the texture of films and novels -- dark, brooding, melancholy, violent.
It's a force, this restlessness. It pushes people and cultures on, compels a reaching for more. It disrupts the urge to take root. It may have caused my father to flee in the face of a family and home life that threatened him with peace and unaccustomed stability, back across the ocean and mountains to his heart's home, back to the long, lonely fading of his life.
In my case, restlessness led me down Mass. Ave., across the Common and back up Huron Avenue where I made my way to the front door of my ex's one-time haunt. Apparently, tracking down the super couldn't wait. I located his doorbuzzer, applied a finger to same.
No answer. I tried again. No answer once more. The super had the first-floor corner apartment to my left where I could see the glow of lights through pulled shades. Someone was home. I tried the buzzer again, this time adding a little creative energy, transforming it into a zesty, whimsical series of tones that communicated a good-natured refusal to give up. I heard a door open, heard the approach, the measured slap-slapping of flip-flops. The sound, I hoped, of my successfully-flushed quarry. And then he hove slowly into view, coming around the corner with the deliberate, wide-turning air of a large, ocean-going vessel, one a little dumpy, past its prime, but still one whose size and water-displacement had to be respected. A stained, capacious, once-white bowling shirt that might have been stylish on someone else covered his softening girth, suggesting a down-at-the-heels ghost of tenpins past.
He extended a meaty hand, pulling the inside door open. "What's with the buzzer?" he demanded.
"There was no answer the first couple of times."
"That's right. You know why?"
"You didn't want to be bothered by people like me?"
"Good answer, Einstein. Now piss off."
I blocked the closing door with my shoulder, raising a hand of supplication when he turned back toward me with a genuinely threatening glower. "Please," I pleaded, the words placate, placate, placate zipping through my head, "I just need to find out how to get in touch with a friend who moved out. That's all. Sheila Corcoran, she left yesterday."
"Uh-huh. So?" He didn't look very placated, but I forged ahead.
"I need to get ahold of her. It's extremely important. Did she leave a forwarding address or a phone number where she might be staying?"
"I don't give out information about tenants, especially to people I don't know." I noticed an odor then, the kind of pungent scent I'd expect from a room full of bears, clearly issuing from the inner hallway where the bowling gargantua stood obstructing my progress.
"I get that," I assured him, "and I don't blame you. But this is the real thing. This is genuinely urgent."
"Hey, you could be anybody, right? Anyone could come here and ask me about a tenant. I don't know you from Jerry Springer."
I stared at him, nonplussed at Jerry's sudden appearance in the exchange and trying to figure what tack might produce results more along the lines of what I was looking for. "Look," I finally said, taking a breath, "I'm her husband. Her ex-husband. I've been around here on a fairly regular basis picking up and dropping off my son."
"Uh-huh," he said, studying me a little more carefully now. "I don't remember seeing you."
I raised my hands helplessly. "I've been here. She lived in apartment 36. There was a big water stain on the ceiling in one corner of the living room. The plaster in the wall over the bathtub was falling out."
"Yeah, well, that could describe more than one unit here. But let's say you're telling me the truth. Maybe you are her ex. I still can't tell you anything."
The guy and I stared at each other. At a loss, I looked away, noticed a taxi pull up in front of the building. An elderly woman in the back seat slowly opened the rear passenger door as the driver hopped out to get something from the trunk.
I collected myself. "What about the management? Would they tell me anything?"
"Don't know. You could call 'em and see, but I wouldn't get your hopes up."
"Great," I said, dismayed, a touch exasperated.
"Hey, that's the way it goes, buddy. I'm not here to bail you out, you know? I'm sorry, but that's how it is. I give you information and something bad happens because of it, my ass is grass." He pointed at a plate on the vestibule wall over the mailboxes, emblazoned with the name and phone number of the management company. "There's the management number. Call 'em during business hours."
I gawped at him, unable to produce a reply or final plea. He shrugged, closed the door with a soft, firm click and turned away, flip-flopping back to his, hopefully, miserable life. I eyed the management nameplate, patting my various pockets in a failed effort to come up with pen and paper. The rustling of bags caught my attention and I turned to see the elderly woman trying to maintain her hold on three grocery bags and a small shoulder bag as she struggled up the front steps. Holding the door open, I asked if I could help. She looked up at me, her hair an unruly white nimbus around her head, her coat slightly askew from her struggle. The expression on her face communicated some surprise at finding herself in the situation. She didn't recognize me and for a moment seemed to weigh the wisdom of accepting my offer, finally surrendering to her circumstance. "Well," she said, "that would be nice. That would be very nice, thank you."
I stepped out and relieved her of two grocery bags, using my leg to hold the door open. She adjusted her coat, breathing deeply, then moved slowly past me, shaking her head.
"The driver took everything out and left it all in the street. Just put it in the street and got back in the car and drove away. It's not like I didn't pay him." She mumbled like that, me making sympathetic noises, until she stopped by the inner door, lowering the grocery bag to the floor before fumbling in the shoulder bag for keys. She glanced over at me, then refocused her attention back on the keys. "Don't get old. Whatever you do, don't get old."
"Is that an option?"
She laughed, a tired chirp. "I don't know. If you can find a way, though, don't think twice about it." Inserting a key in the lock with one hand, she waved the other one in front of her nose, making a face. "Phoo, the super must have been out here."
"Is that what that aroma is?" Disingenuousness -- one of my many unmarketable skills.
"Oh, there's no mistaking it for anything else. The only time I've ever smelled anything like it is at the Franklin Park Zoo. Not," she added earnestly, "that he's unwashed or anything. It's just...." She seemed to find herself at a loss for words.
"A distinctive odor."
"Yes. It is." The lock gave and the woman opened the door slightly before looking over at me with tentative doubt. "Do you live in this building?"
"No, I was here looking for a friend."
"Oh?" She continued to look doubtful. I tried to appear so trustworthy that it made my face muscles ache. You'd think years of acting would help at times like these.
"Sheila Corcoran, up on the third floor."
"The woman with the little boy?"
"Oh, they're gone. They've moved."
"I noticed their name had been taken off the mailbox. I didn't realize they were leaving so quickly."
"Mm." She wanted to go. I brought the bags over, blabbering at her more. Harmless, talkative Dennis: beast of burden, friend to the aged.
"I've been hoping to move into their apartment. Do you know when they left?"
"Just yesterday. Yesterday morning."
I held the inside door open, she picked up her grocery bag and moved slowly inside. "Did you notice," I asked, very solicitous, "what moving company they used? I may need one."
"Oh, they had one of those red Boucher trucks here." Boucher, one of the big local firms. Owner of a fleet of trucks painted a loud red, with the company name in old-fashioned lettering. "They were very fast. I don't know how early they started, but they drove off a little before noon."
"Good. Maybe I'll give them a call."
I maintained innocuous trustworthiness until I deposited the bags at her apartment door. Fortunately, she had the ground floor unit immediately to the right of the lobby, so I didn't have to maintain to the point of emotional scarring.
Outside, my lungs filled with cool air. I'd run into a little luck in getting a line on the moving company, but it didn't lift my spirits. The evening had fallen, clear and crisp, a skimpy handful of stars managing to shine through the urban lighting. Cars went by in both directions on Huron Avenue, the faces inside tired, resigned to the winding down of the weekend.
The restlessness that had dragged me halfway across town seemed to have dissipated, leaving me at loose ends, my thoughts skipping off in directions that didn't promise a winning night. Felt like a walk might do me some good, my feet proceeded in the direction of the Common. On the way there, I veered over to Brattle Street and found myself heading right into the Square. Lights, people, motion, noise. Maybe enough of that would drown out the ruckus in my head. Or generate the illusion of a tolerable life. Something. Maybe I'd run into someone I knew, find some company and conversation.
My hands were cold, I tucked them deep into my coat pockets and continued down Brattle Street, ready for some distraction. The rest of my life could get stuffed for a while.
© 2002, 2009 by runswithscissors