Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fiction Romance

“Should I be surprised if the dangers that have always wandered about me should at some time reach me?” – Seneca

Ted watched Julie talking to his father and the thought that flashed through his mind was, he wished he still loved her.

He leaned back in the Barca-Lounger and continued to look at the two of them, although in the din of the living room’s conversation, he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying to each other. But it was obvious they were getting along.

From where he sat, his vision partly obscured by two enormous potted spider plants, he felt sneaky somehow, as if he wasn’t supposed to be staring at the two of them.

He was convinced she was crazy. Not eccentric, odd, offbeat – no, she was just plain crazy. But that wasn’t why he didn’t love her anymore, or why he didn’t like her even. He could tell by the glow in his mother’s eyes that she thought this was the one, her future daughter-in-law, who would supply her with grandchildren – more grandchildren to add to his sister’s two kids. But he knew this wasn’t the one.

They met on the train, but he told everyone they met at a party.

When she eats, she looks like a lost child, her entire effort spent on the task at hand… using her fingers in place of a fork. No matter how hungry she was, she took her time.

Their first date, a movie, they bought the tickets ahead of time and went to a cheap steakhouse on Times Square, had 45 minutes before showtime, they just made it, her taking a bite and talking, another bite, another five minutes nonstop talking. It was cute, but then he rushed her at the end. Then she had to go to the bathroom again and he sulked while he waited, in danger of missing the beginning of a film, which he hated.

The thought occurred to him that she had no one to talk to, no one who would listen. Of course.

She had been in New York less than two years, he learned on the walk uptown. One good thing about her was she didn’t mind walking, loved to walk and talk, the city was still new to her, so she pointed out everything that he was too jaded to notice anymore.

She was just making it, less than making it, going whole days eating nothing but chocolate bars. He felt sorry for her, she was pretty, and if it wasn’t love it was close enough to build on.

Her apartment was big enough, but not worth the money she was paying for it. He felt like going to the landlord and bitching because nothing worked. The kitchen light, the gas, the hot water in the bathroom sink. And no furniture, just a mattress on the floor, a suitcase, and a small plastic stand with a few shelves she used to put her socks and panties in.

The first time in her apartment they sat on the mattress, listening to the soundtrack from Dr. Zhivago, her choice, and he kissed her and pushed her back and felt for the snap on her jeans. She resisted, but only for a second, and then he was on top, taking his own pants down, never taking her eyes from hers. Big brown eyes, childlike, unquestioning, full of wonder. When it was over she held him close for a long time, as if they had just been through something uncharted. He flipped the tape over and looked out the window as he lit a cigarette.

She had no phone so he had to call her at work. She told him she couldn’t really talk on the phone, so he ended up going to her job and making plans with her that way.

Their fourth or fifth date she started talking about her past, growing up in Wisconsin, her parents divorce. Her parents put her in a school for slow children until ninth grade, and she resented them greatly for it. She was raped by one of her classmates at age 15, and she couldn’t really enjoy sex because of it, didn’t like sex, it was best if she stayed celibate, it was easier that way. He took it as his mission to get her to enjoy it, viewed it as the key to all her problems.

One day she took a shower in his apartment and he saw her diary sticking out of her bag. Her handwriting was terrible, barely contained in the wide lines of the book. Sprawling was the word that came to mind. It embarrassed him to read it, not because he was uninvited, just the glimpse into her world has startled him. Childlike poems full of birds-blue sky-tomorrow’s another day sentiments. Cries for help like, I wish I could fit in with other people, be part of a team. And aphorisms like, when you don’t have money you think you’ll be happy when you get it, but then when you get it you realize it’s not that important.

When he heard the water shut off he snapped the book shut and put it back in the bag.

When she came out of the shower, fully dressed, towel around her head, the first thing she asked him was, did you like my diary? Rather than lie to her, he said he had and he enjoyed it. She didn’t get mad, instead took the book from the bad, sat down next to him on the mattress and began reading from it, evidently a play about three dead children and a friendly spirit. It was all too much for him.

After a month he realized it was pity for her and his own loneliness that kept him going back. She never called him, but was always happy to see him, and yet he couldn’t tell if she loved him or not. He liked a little mystery, he told himself, and what’s the difference anyhow, since he was sure he didn’t love her. But he liked to be with her, imagined himself her protector, her catcher in the rye.

He liked to just look at her when her attention was elsewhere. Sometimes she looked plain frightened, other times bewildered and confused. But always pretty, her orange hair falling in her eyes and getting in her mouth, and she would blow it away distractedly from the side of her lips.

“I run to work,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I run. In the morning. From my house to the train.”
“In those things?” he asked, pointing to her loafers.
“Yeah. Why not?
“Well, I could see if you were late or something, once in a while, but otherwise, it’s not ladylike.”
“Well, I just like to run.”

Her schedule at work was different every day, but they took the same train, so they agreed to always take the first car, and so about twice a week they would run into each other. They would read the paper together until she got off at 14th Street saying “You have a nice day, okay?” in that loud singsong voice of hers, and that would brighten up his day, seeing her in the morning.

One day it crossed his mind to ask her to move in with him. He would say roommates when he asked her, but he was thinking lovers. He was tired of living alone anyway. And splitting the rent would be like getting a raise. He could get her out of any lease, there were a thousand different ways to do that, and it wasn’t like they needed to rent a moving van to get her stuff over to his place.

He started to get ahead of himself, imagining them cooking dinner together and watching TV, huddled together on the floor with a blanket over their laps.

When she said no that weekend, he took it as a challenge to convince her otherwise, in subtle ways, without directly bringing it up again. She liked the feeling of independence, she said, living on her own, wanted to prove she could make it on her own.

She always talked about having kids, even had the names picked out: Yuri and Andre. Two horrible names, he thought, absolutely ridiculous. No man is ever gonna let her hang those awful names on his kids, especially me. It’s Alexander for a boy, he knew that much.

Three months into it, she got pregnant, or so she said. He couldn’t believe it, and asked her if she had made love to anyone else. She paused for too long and now he knew a story was coming.

It was simple really, the way she told it. She was shopping at the supermarket the first day in her new apartment, and left the store at the same time another man was leaving. They made small talk, he asked her if he could help with her bags, and before she knew it he was right outside her apartment door, then inside the apartment with her, and then they were doing it. Doing it, that’s how she put it.

He was really pissed. Even though it happened before they were going out, to him it was the act of a slut, and he told her so. She started to agree with him and then her words were choked off by tears.

He felt bad for making her cry, but how stupid to let someone in right off the street, he thought, and how could he be sure it wouldn’t happen again tomorrow.

They went for a blood test. He hoped it turned out not be his so he could walk away from her without any guilt. And that’s what he would have done, he was convinced, but when he learned it was his, he was overwhelmed by the thought of being a father.

The smart thing to do, if not the right thing, was to abort. But it never was seriously considered by either of them. He was 31, she was 27, each still children in their own ways, and so maybe it was time to grow up.

Where before they had never argued, however, now they began fighting about the name for the kid, about how they were going to pay for medical expenses, whose apartment they would move into. It was fast turning into a nightmare, and the unanswered questions made his head spin.

On top of this, he had accepted an invitation for them to go to his parents for Sunday dinner the coming weekend. A big mistake, but then last week it didn’t seem so bad. He just hoped she wouldn’t do or say anything that would mortally embarrass him. True, they were only his parents, but they had a way of complicating his life in a myriad of ways.

He rehearsed her as to what she should and shouldn’t say in front of his parents. First of all, of course, she should in no way bring up the fact that she’s pregnant. Everything else was minor in comparison, but he was still sick to his stomach that she would blabber away any number of disturbing things. He had watched her before as she told total strangers things about herself that were best left unsaid in any company, and he cringed at the vision of her doing it again in front of his parents.


1 comment:

jimithegreek said...

pretty darn good, should be in sunday times mag