pictures of houses with water damage stories

Pictures
of
Houses
with
Water Damage

 

stories

 

Michael
Hemmingson

 

Contents
 

Why Don’t You Use Your Parking Space?

Cyclops

The Aliens

Adventure

Looking for Wanda Beyond the Salton Sea

The Birds

Baby Brother

Daddy

Last Visit

Give Me the Gun, He Says

Forbidden Scenes of Affection

You Will Not Believe What Happens to Me, and Does it Matter?

It’s Very Cold Down Here

What Happened?

Solid Memories Have the Lifespan of Tulips and Sunflowers

The Keepers

What Happens When My Wife’s Ex-Boyfriend, Back from Iraq, Pays Us a Visit

Fishpole Pete

Branches

Pictures of Houses with Water Damage

You Can Call and Ask a Question

For
you

and

in memoriam
Barry Hannah
1942 – 2010

Why Don’t You Use Your Parking Space?
 

M
id-afternoon that Saturday I notice my upstairs neighbors have been using my parking space to have a yard sale, although there is no yard attached to this apartment building. They are selling things, everyday things, the things people discard, and they are making some money.

Two women in their late twenties live upstairs, right above my apartment. I often hear their feet as they walk around. One of them is a new tenant; she moved in after the other woman’s boyfriend, a rap singer of some sort, moved out.

I’m annoyed. This is my parking space; they are using my space and didn’t ask if I needed it, if it was okay.

This bothers me.

I wonder how long they’ve been at it. I’ve only noticed it now, mid-afternoon, because I slept until 11:30.

I have a hangover.

I go outside. Only one of the women is there, the new neighbor, she is blonde. She wears big blue-rimmed sunglasses and blue shorts and her blonde hair is in a long ponytail held back by a blue ribbon. I look around at the stuff: clothes, utensils, books, men’s shirts, some recording equipment, a turntable, some vinyl records that probably have warped out here under the sun. I wonder if the other woman’s ex-boyfriend knows she is selling his rap gear.

The other woman, the neighbor who has been upstairs for two years, is Asian. I don’t know what kind of Asian. I know her name is Lisa because when she fought with her ex-boyfriend, he’d yell her name a lot. Lisa this and Lisa that and Lisa you bitch and Lisa
Lisa Lisa stop stop stop it now!

I approach the blonde woman.

Hi, she goes.

Did you think of asking my permission? I say.

I don’t understand, she says.

This is my parking space. I pay rent on it.

Oh, she says; the landlord told Lisa it was okay.

But did you think of clearing it with me?

She goes, All I know is the landlord told Lisa it was okay.

I call the landlord. He did tell her she could use the parking space. But as long as it was okay with you, he says; she was supposed to clear it with you. Are you saying she didn’t?

No, she did not.

Young people today, he says. No one asks anymore, no one says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘excuse me’ anymore. Have you noticed that? he says.

I think I have, I say.

It’s their parents’ fault, the landlord says; folks don’t teach their kids manners anymore because they don’t have manners themselves. Has this inconvenienced you at all?

No, but it could have.

I understand, he says.

If I needed the space …

I know; she should have asked.

An emergency …

I’ll talk to her, he says.

No need …

I’ll talk to her, he says.

Outside, the blonde girl is saying something to Lisa, who has come down from upstairs. I look out the window. The blonde points at my door. Lisa glares at my door. Her cell phone rings. Her cell phone is in the front pocket of her jeans. She answers it. I know it is the landlord, because when she gets off the phone, the two start to pack things up and take the items back upstairs.

I want to tell her she can stay; she can keep selling. I don’t. I expect her to knock on my door and go, Sorry. Or something. She doesn’t.

I find the blonde attractive. She looks like someone I was once going to marry and have children with, and then it fell apart and left a hole in my heart, left a fear of getting close to someone again. She looks too much like this woman, this blonde, as I watch her go up and down the stairs.

I’m not sure if it is my imagination or if this is true.

 

 

For the past month, I have been working on a screenplay set in a science station at the South Pole, titled
It’s Very Cold Down Here
. I’ve been writing it for a producer who will probably not produce it because I’ve written something for him before and he didn’t get the money together, but he did pay me. I have cashed his recent check and I have two more months to get him a ninety-to-one-hundred page script.

It is not coming along well.

I sit at my desk and stare out the window a lot, then type in a scene with a penguin. The window at my desk looks onto my parking space and the courtyard of the building. The past two weeks, I have been seeing the blonde a lot, coming and going, sometimes with a bicycle. Over the course of two weeks, the blonde looks like she is losing weight, perhaps from bike riding or maybe she’s not eating like she used to, she goes from slightly chubby to slender and every day she looks more and more like the person I once loved and still love.

Speaking of which, I think it is she, the one I once loved, who has been calling on the phone; it rings now and then, at any hour, and there is no voice on the other line, just breathing. The caller ID is blocked. I am almost certain it is she. Why doesn’t she speak? What does she want to say? Why doesn’t she just simply say
hi?

 

 

After a few weeks I find myself wanting to say hello to the blonde whose name is Heidi because I have heard Lisa and someone else call her Heidi. She looks like a Heidi; sometimes she wears her hair in two braids. It no longer bothers me that she looks like the person I used to love and that I think keeps calling at all hours and not saying a word.

I hear Lisa’s new boyfriend, this tall guy with a lot of tattoos whose name I do not know, say something about Heidi’s birthday next week. He asks: What are you going to do on your birthday, Heidi?

I don’t know, she goes, probably nothing, she says.

You have to do something, he goes.

I have nothing to do, she goes.

She has nobody, I thought. She’s like me; she is alone.

Maybe we’ll take you out to dinner, Lisa goes.

You don’t have to, Heidi says.

We’d be glad to, Lisa’s tall boyfriend with tattoos says.

Oh, don’t worry, Heidi goes.

No one should be alone on a birthday, he goes.

I have—before, she goes.

Like me, I think. I remember a birthday, a Thanksgiving, a Christmas, two Christmases, before the one I once loved moved in with me, and we were “dating” (if that was what it was, we were having sex), did not come to see me, be with me. She said society put too much pressure on these days, these events; too much expectation, she said, too much opportunity to disappoint and hurt. She said: Why become a slave to false constructs of celebration? When I showed up at her door with flowers, champagne, and a present, she burst into tears and said: Being kind and romantic is not always the best thing. She said: I’m not used to men being nice to me.

I think about this and I think that Heidi might be the same. She is saying she does not want to celebrate, but deep down she wants attention and gifts and kindness and maybe even some affection.

We’ll do something, Lisa says.

If you insist, Heidi says.

We insist, the tall boyfriend with tattoos says.

 

 

What I do is something stupid but I do it anyway because I think she needs it and it makes me feel good to do it. It also makes me feel devious. And stupid; desperate. I have a vase full of flowers, fifty dollars worth, delivered to her door upstairs. I almost order the flowers from the Internet, but realize I will have to use my credit card, and she could call the company and ask who sent them, because they are going to come from ‘A Secret Admirer’ and I don’t want her to know it is I. Frankly, I have no desire to get to know her, to talk to her, to date her, to be intimate. She looks too much like You Know Who, as I said, and right now I don’t need the complication of someone in my life, I have to finish this damn screenplay and make money otherwise I will have to step outside into the world and get a regular job which I hate doing. I’d much rather write screenplays and watch TV and DVDs.

I walk three blocks down the street to a florist that is across the street from a gas station. I pick out some flowers, a blue vase, and write down the address for delivery. I accidentally put my apartment number down, too used to doing that when writing my address, I put ‘3’ and then change it to ‘8’ which is easy to do, the numbers resembling each other, she is in ‘8’ and I put ‘Heidi’ on the front of the card, I write I hope these put a smile on your face because your smile makes your face beautiful and sign it your Secret Admirer.

I pay for the flowers and walk away and I wonder what the hell I am doing. I do not know this woman, barely spoke to her; I had accused her of being rude. I miss sending flowers to someone; I used to send them to the one I once loved and was going to marry; she would always smile when she got flowers and I loved to see her smile because that meant she wasn’t sad and she was sad all the time, she was bi-polar, that’s why it never worked, she was always depressed, always believing that things were doomed, nothing would ever work out, she would be a horrible mother, she couldn’t have a child with me, but when she had the flowers she would be happy and say thank you and kiss me and act like everything would all right and good from then on.

I think Heidi is sad. She looks sad. I could be projecting. I am aware that this happens to people who are alone. She is alone, she has no one, it is her birthday. But maybe she wants it that way. Maybe she’s gotten out of a bad relationship.

Speaking of bad relationships, Lisa has been fighting with this new boyfriend lately, like she used to fight with the rap singer boyfriend, only these fights are less verbal and more physical—twice I have heard them hit each other, scream and yell, and then he runs away, runs down the stairs, and she calls him names and tells him to never come back but he comes back the next day.

The florist across the street from the gas station told me the flowers would be delivered by 3 P.M. This does not happen. I specified that time because I notice Heidi leaves on her bike, which is painted blue, every day around three-thirty and returns around seventhirty. I have no idea what she does—a part-time job, maybe, or school. I want her to be home so I can hear her reaction.

She does not come home at the time she usually does. There is no one up there. I call the florist but they are closed. I am going to have words with them tomorrow. A woman in a beat-up silver Toyota Corolla pulls into my driveway at 8 P.M. I am about to go out there and tell her not to park in my space; she gets out of the car with a vase of flowers, goes upstairs, knocks on the door. No answer. She leaves the flowers at the door.

I step outside, as if I am going to get my mail from the group of mailboxes on the side of the apartment building. I see the flowers at the door upstairs. The arrangement looks nice. Again, I wonder what the hell I am doing, spending that kind of money on someone I don’t know just because she reminds me of someone I once loved and was going to have children with and broke my heart and left me sad.

I almost run up the stairs and take the flowers when I hear some voices that I think are Lisa and her tall boyfriend with tattoos. I go back inside. The voices do not belong to them, but they do come home ten minutes later, with Heidi, and they are giggling happy like they’re drunk. They must have taken Heidi somewhere, had food, drinks.

I find myself wishing I had gone with them.

The three walk up the stairs and their giggling stops.

Flowers, Lisa says, are they for me?

Huh, her boyfriend says.

Maybe he thinks her ex, the rapper, sent them.

Ohhhh, Lisa goes, they’re for
Heidi
.

What, Heidi says.

For you, Lisa says.

Me.

Your name.

Where did they come from?

They’re just here.

This is weird, Heidi goes.

They’re very nice, Lisa says.

Cooooool, the boyfriend goes.

What does it say? Lisa asks. The card.

Is this a joke, Heidi says, is someone fucking with my head?

What does the card say? Lisa goes.

Heidi’s voice goes: A secret admirer.

Seriously?

The boyfriend with tattoos laughs. I imagine his tattoos laughing.

Weird, Lisa says.

Who would…?

Heidi doesn’t finish her sentence.

Well, Lisa says, they
smell
nice.

The boyfriend sneezes, loudly.

Allergies, he goes.

No shit, Lisa says.

 

 

Two days later, I hear Lisa and the tall boyfriend with tattoos talking on the balcony as they smoke cigarettes:

It’s still a mystery, she says.

What is, he says.

The flowers, she says.

Ah, yes, those.

But I think I solved it, she says.

Oh.

I think I know who sent them.

Who?

You
, she says.

Me?

You, she says.

He laughs at that: Why do you think…?

Because you feel sorry for her, you said you did; you wanted to make her feel good, to be happy on her birthday, ‘to smile’ like the note said.

Why would I spend money like that on flowers, on her?

Good question. Why would you?

I wouldn’t. Not even to be nice.

Tell me the truth, she says.

If I was going to buy flowers for someone, he says, I would buy them
for you
.

That’s what I want to hear, Lisa says. Hey, you’ve
never
gotten me flowers, fucker, she goes.

I’m allergic to them, he tells her.

Right
, she says.

He’s like, Isn’t my dick a good enough present?

Oh, shut up, she goes.

He’s like, Didn’t you like the box of chocolates?

And she’s like, Loved them to the last bite.

So—what
if
I had sent them to her? he goes.

Well, yeah,
what if
, she’s like.

Would you be mad?

What do you think, asshole.

Well, it wasn’t me, he says.

It’s driving her batty, Lisa goes, she can’t figure it out, who it is; she’s looking at every guy at work and trying to discover clues, the way this guy looks at her or another guy acts around her. She’s like, ‘What if it’s someone I don’t want it to be?’ Like a married guy, the fat guy, there’s this jerk who comes on to every woman at her job, but she doesn’t think he would say something romantic like ‘I hope these put a smile on your beautiful face.’

He’s like,
Is
that romantic?

And she’s like, Sure it is.

He goes, Sounds sappy.

It’s
kind
, she goes, and
nice
, she says.

He goes, I like the smile on your beautiful face

Quit it, she says, you’re just sounding like a jerk, she goes.

I was
trying
to sound romantic, he says.

Not working.

He’s like, I
can
be.

And she goes, Ha
ha
. Ha.

He says, You don’t think so…

And she goes, Ha ha.
Ha
.

That’s an insult, he says.

She goes, Your romance is in your pants.

And he’s like, Now you’re getting me hot.

 

 

Sometimes, at night, I can hear Lisa and this boyfriend above me, in their bedroom, having sex. I used to hear her with the other boyfriend. Heidi must hear them too, sleeping in the living room. I wonder if the sounds make her feel the way I do. When I hear Heidi walking around the living room at night, I think this is ridiculous and indeed sad: here are two lonely people, alone, and all that separates them is wood and stucco.

The world never works out the way it should.

 

 

Two-thirty in the morning: the phone rings and there’s no voice, just breathing, the faint sound of a television in the background, tuned to twenty-four hour news, I think.

What is it? I say.

Talk, I say.

You can ask a question, I go.

 

 

Two weeks later, I see Heidi sitting outside a coffee house, not far from the florist, drinking coffee, eating a bagel, writing or drawing in a blue notebook. I’m getting coffee. She sees me and I see her.

I decide it is time to say hello.

I approach her.

She looks up.

I say, Hi.

She says, Hi.

She closes her notebook but I see, briefly, what she is doing—drawing a vase with flowers.

Can I join you?

She doesn’t reply.

I sit across from her.

I say, We’re neighbors. I thought I’d say hi.

Why? she asks.

Why not.

Do you want to accuse me of shit again?

Look, I say, that was a mistake.

She smiles.

I didn’t mean anything, I say.

I’m kidding, she says, I didn’t mean anything.

I tell her my name and she hesitates, and tells me hers. I don’t say that I already know it.

We walk to the apartment building together. We don’t talk about anything significant, just chitchat between strangers.

Well, I say.

It was nice meeting you, she says.

We’re neighbors, I say.

So it seems, she goes.

She walks up the stairs and I go inside. I can hear her walking around up there. I hear her for a while. I take a nap. It’s a start, at least.

 

 

I wake up from my nap to the sounds of violence. Lisa and her tall boyfriend with tattoos are at it again, and it sounds pretty awful—they both scream at each other, throw things at one another, and it sounds like he tosses her against the wall. I hear hands hitting flesh—slaps or punches, who knows, but it does not sound good.

Heidi runs down the stairs and knocks on my door.

Help, she says, can I come in…

I let her in. She’s wearing blue and white pajamas, holding her blue notebook. Her feet are bare. Her toenails are painted dark blue.

I just need to be somewhere safe, she says.

Maybe I should call the cops, I say.

No, no, she says, they’ll stop soon, they always stop and make nicey-nice.

It sounds bad.

It only sounds that way.

She sits down on the couch. I sit on the floor across from her.

I’m sorry, she says.

It’s okay, I say.

The fighting wanes down upstairs, and stops.

There, Heidi says.

How do you, I start to say.

I don’t, she says. I don’t even like having a roommate but she needed one and I need to save money for something that is coming up.

What’s that? I ask.

What?

What’s coming up?

She goes, Wouldn’t you like to know…

And I’m like, Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.

She glares at me.

What’s wrong? I ask.

Wrong?

Are you okay?

I know it’s you, she goes.

Me, I say.

I know it’s
you
, asshole, she says.

She tosses the notebook at me. It is open to the picture of a vase and flowers she has drawn. There are several drawings on other pages, different angles of the flowers, close-ups, pictures of a single flower.

I know it’s
you
, she says, no one I know knows where I live.

You draw nice, I say.

You’re a
jerk
, she says. You think it’s nice, but it’s not, ‘Secret Admirer.’ It makes a girl feel stalked. I was going nuts trying to figure out who would send me flowers, who would say my face is beautiful. I couldn’t sleep. I had strange dreams. And it was you all along. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you
look
at me. And today—
today
.

Your face is beautiful, I say.

Oh fuck you, she says, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t say ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s not what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear anything. You have no idea what I’ve been through. You don’t know my life. What do you want from me?

Nothing, I say.

A date? she says. Do you want a date, romance, sex, love?

I wanted you to smile.

Fuck
you, she says, fuck your smiles. You have no idea who I am. You have no idea what I’ve been through.

You’re right, I don’t.

Lisa and her boyfriend start yelling at each other again.

I’m being a bitch, Heidi says, her voice soft now. Maybe you were trying to be nice. I don’t know what you want. You seem nice. It’s just—
weird
.

They’re at it again, I say.

I’m pregnant, she says.

Excuse me?

I’m eleven weeks pregnant, she says.

I ask, What about the father?

And she’s like, Yeah, what about that guy, huh?

Things are getting loud and physical upstairs.

I think I should call the police, I say.

Why? Heidi says.

What if he kills her? I say.

She’ll beat him to it. She has a gun.

It’s not sounding good, I say.

It sounds worse than it really is.

Sounds like they are hurting each other.

That’s what people in love do, she goes, they
hurt
each other.

That’s not love, I say.

You saying you know anything about love?

I don’t know anything about anything, I say.

She goes, No shit, Mr. Pity Party.

What did I ever do to you? I say. They were just
flowers
. Who hurt you so badly, that you act like this?

She goes, Who hurt you so badly that you make a fool of yourself, sending flowers to a stranger you barely know? And why the hell don’t you use your parking space?

What?

Why don’t you use your fucking parking space?

I don’t have a car.

So let someone else use it.

It’s mine, I say.

We have to raise our voices, over the yelling and screaming and hitting upstairs.

It’s a waste of a good parking space, Heidi says.

Then park in it, I tell her, it’s yours now, all yours.

Jerk, she says. I don’t have a car, she goes, I ride a bike, she goes.

I know.

You’ve been
watching
me.

Park your bike there, I say.

I’m keeping it, she says.

Keep it, then, it’s yours, I say.

I meant the baby, she goes, I’m keeping the baby.

Something shatters upstairs—glass, a plate.

I’m going to have it, I won’t have an abortion, she says.

Something else shatters up there, and someone gets thrown into a wall.

That’s it, I say, and reach for the phone.

So do you think you could fall in love with a pregnant woman who is pregnant with some other guy’s child? she asks me.

What did you say?

You heard me.

We both hear a loud sound—a loud pop, a boom. And then another. And then silence.

Heidi and I just look at each other. We are frozen—I am holding the phone and she is touching her slightly protruding belly under her blue pajamas.

Oh my god, she says.

The phone starts to ring but I don’t answer it.

I know she is going to have a boy, a son.

Cyclops
 

T
here is a one-eyed man in Brooklyn and he wants to save your life. The eye was lost in a freak fishing accident; he was fishing on a lake, a great lake, and he was a boy. There was water everywhere. The shore was beyond his field of vision. A shining hook winked at him, swooped down and took his eye. His uncle screamed, “Oh my fucking God. Your mother is going to kill me, Johnny. Get that fucking thing out of your eye.”

There is something about him that is hard to resist. You might even say he’s a lady’s man. He’s a waffle man. He makes the batter that makes the waffle. He’s an artist really. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my wife, Cathy, fell in love with the fellow.

“I’m leaving you,” Cathy said one night.

“What?” I said. “What are you telling me?” I said.

“Our marriage,” she said, “is over. You know this. You’ve known this for a long time.”

Yes, I did; yes.

“I’m in love with Johnny,” she said.

“Who?”

“You know, Johnny.”

“The Cyclops?” I said.

“That’s
mean
,” she said, “that’s
horrible
,” she said.

“Since when?” I asked.

She said, “Does it matter?”

 

 

So I went to see the Cyclops. I know it was stupid. Thing was, I used to work at the Waffle House; I also made the batter. I waited until five minutes before closing. I went inside. Johnny the Cyclops looked up with his one eye and said, “Oh you. Why are you here?”

“You know why I’m here,” I said.

“What is it?” he said. “Do you want to pick a fight with me?” he said. “Is that it?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Good. I don’t want to fight you. I like you,” he said.

 

 

He closed the Waffle House and we sat down and had some beers.

“So,” he said.

“So,” I said; “you’re taking my wife from me.”

“It’s been over between you and Cathy for some time,” he said. “You know this.”

Yes, I did; yes.

“How long,” I said.

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“I think it does,” I said.

“The answer will only hurt you,” he said, “hurt you more than the pain you already feel,” he said, “because I can see it on your face, the way you sit down, the way your body moves, that you’re in pain.”

I drank some beer.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I know pain.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

He touched my hand and said, “Listen,” he smiled, “listen to me,” he said, “give me the opportunity to save your life.”

“What’s that?”

“I want to invite you to my church.”

“You have a church?”

“There’s a small church I attend,” he said, “and it’s wonderful.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“I kid you not,” he said.

“Does Cathy go to this church?”

Johnny smiled and said, “That’s where it all began.”

“I have no interest in church,” I said.

“I never did either, until last year.”

“Cathy doesn’t even believe in God,” I said.

“It’s funny how things change,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I said, and smashed the beer bottle over his head.

He wasn’t fazed. There was some blood, but it was like he expected me to do that.

“I understand,” he said. “This is okay.”

“It’s not okay,” I said. “Jesus, man, I’m sorry.”

He smiled. “I forgive you,” he said.

“Don’t forgive me,” I said. “Kick my ass.”

He just smiled at me.

 

 

Cathy was packing her things in suitcases when I got home.

“I did something bad,” I said. “You’re going to hate me.”

She said, “I could never hate you.”

She said, “Johnny called. I
know.”

She said,
“We
know you didn’t mean it. Everything is okay.”

“What?” I said, and: “What the…”

“Listen,” she said, “this is for the best. This is saving my life. It’s saving yours. I love the Cyclops.”

“What the hell is wrong with you two?” I wanted to yell this but it came out weak and resigned and I hated that.

Aliens
 

I
t's a pretty cold Christmas Eve and I've been sitting at the doorstep of my ex-girlfriend's condo for some time now. I like the way the door feels against my back. I look at a moth flying around the porch light.

Terri finally shows up, holding a grocery bag.

“You,” she says.

“Me,” I say.

“What are you doing here?” she says.

“It's Christmas Eve,” I say.

“So,” she says.

“So,” I say. “What do you mean ‘so’?”

“I could call the police,” she says.

“You could.”

“I should.”

“Why?”

She goes, “
Why
are you here?”

“I’m cold,” I say.

“It's not that cold.”

“It is when you’ve been sitting out here for an hour.”

“You’ve been sitting out here for an
hour
?”

“Two hours.”

“Goddammit,” she says.

“Don’t be mean,” I say.

She says, “
Don’t
start that shit with me.”

“I’m cold,” I say; “I’m hungry.”


Goddammit
,” she goes.

“It's Christmas Eve.”

She says, “
God
damn you.”

 

 

Her three cats sniff at my feet. My own cats are dead now. Well, one is, having eaten a chicken bone from the garbage; the other went off somewhere and never came back.

“I can’t believe I let you in,” Terri says, going to the kitchen with her bag. “I almost had a feeling you’d be here anyway. Like a vision or a dream.”

“What's in the bag?” I say.

“Pasta,” she says, bringing out a bag of dried pasta, and then a jar of sauce.

“Did you get meatballs?”

“Of course.”

“I love meatballs,” I say. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been dreaming about a nice home-cooked meal, like the nice home-cooked meals you used to make.”

“Are you saying that to pull at my heartstrings?” she says.

“No.”

“Yes you are.”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Yes you did.”

I open the fridge and look in—it's a sudden urge.

“Help yourself,” Terri says sarcastically.

“Sorry.”

“No,” she says, “it's okay.”

I grab a beer.

“I don’t think you should,” she says.

“What?” I say.

“You know how you get, sometimes, when you drink.”

“And you don’t?”

“Well,” she says.

“I haven’t been drinking like I used to. Not these past months. I’ve cut back.”

“I started drinking more,” she goes.

 

 

We have white wine with our dinner of pasta and meatballs. We sit across from each other at the table.

“You’ve lost weight,” Terri says.

“I haven’t been eating like I used to.”

“I can tell.”

“Am I being rude?”

She smiles. “I like it when you eat food I cook.”

“I haven’t been working.”

“You look pale.”

“I’ve been cold,” I say. “No heat.”


Why
don’t you take care of yourself?”

“I can’t.”


Bull
shit.”

“I never could.”

“All your life you’ve relied on women to take care of you.”

“You make it sound so bad.”

“Not
every
woman can play Mommy.”

We don’t talk for a while. We eat and drink.

Terri says, “Christmas doesn’t mean anything to me. It's just another day. People put too much into it.”

“Is that what your step-father made you believe?”

“How can you say something so mean?”

“Christmas is dreaming about all those toys and good things,” I say. “Happiness and smiles.”

‘That's for children,” she says.

 

 

“You were right,” Terri says as we put the dinner dishes in the sink, “what you said.”

“What did I say?”

“About my step-father.”

“Oh.”

She says, “He had to take the magic out of everything, the bastard.” She asks, “You want to hear about this dream I had?”

“What dream?”

“I told you I had a feeling you’d be at my door tonight, right? Right. Well, I had this dream the other night—”

“Okay.”

She says, “I dreamt you were there, in the cold, just like you were, and I let you in. The thing is, you weren’t you. You were an alien. Well, not an alien, but an alien had taken over your body. This alien informed me of this. You were sick or something, you weren’t well, you were going to die, and the alien couldn’t stay in your body.”

“How did it take over my body?”

“I don’t know. The alien didn’t have a body, it was non-corporeal or something. This doesn’t matter, it was a dream, not an episode of
The Twilight Zone
. The alien wanted my body, you see. It wanted to jump from your body to mine. I told it I couldn’t do that. I wanted to be with you. So this is what it did: it took my soul out of my body and put it in your body, with you, then stole my body. So there the two of us were: our souls stuck in your body. The tragic thing was that you were dying, so we were doomed to die together.”

“I want to kiss you,” I say.

She turns her face.

“You can kiss me on the cheek,” she says, and I do. “Hey, do you want to watch TV?” she says.

 

 

“Are you going to sleep here?” Terri asks after the movie on TV.

“What?”

“I guess that's a yes.”

“It's cold at home.”

I get up, she pushes me back on the couch.

“I’ll get you some bedding,” she says.

She leaves and returns with a blanket and two big pillows.

“Terri.”

“What?” she says. “You didn’t think you were going to sleep in my bed, did you?”

“I was hoping.”

“And do what?” she says. “Did you think you were going to fuck me?”

“I was hoping I could kiss you.”

“Kiss me?”

“I was hoping I could hug you.”

“Hug the extra pillow. That's why I got it. You like pillows. They’re big and warm.”

“I like pillows,” I say.

“You can kiss me goodnight,” she says, after a moment.

“On the lips?”

“That's what kisses are for.”

I kiss her on the lips. I kiss her again. I try a third time, but she moves away.

“I’m sure the cats will sleep on top of you, like they always used to.”

“They miss me.”

“They do.”

She leaves to her bedroom.

I lie on the couch, with my two pillows, and cover myself with the blanket. Only one of her cats stays with me, the other two follow her.

Adventure
 
Phone Call
 

I got the phone call while I was watching television.
Star Trek
. I think I could’ve been watching too much television.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” a woman's voice said, “who is this?”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Andrea,” she said.

“Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I found your phone number. I was curious. I was angry. I called. I’m sorry.”

Angry? “I don’t understand.”

“I live in San Diego,” she said. “My husband's name is Barry Redman. Do you know him?”

“No,” I said.

“I found your phone number on the back of a matchbook,” she told me. “The matchbook was from a bar. The matchbook was in the jacket pocket of my husband's gray suit, which he was wearing two nights ago. He was out late. He came home drunk.”

“Is this some kind of weird joke?” I said. “Did Lisa put you up to this?”

“Lisa?”

“My wife.”

“I don’t know a Lisa.”

“I don’t know a Barry Redman.”

“Where is your wife now?”

“Is this a joke?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and hung up.

I went back to the television.

I love
Star Trek
.

Lisa
 

Lisa called later that night. She’d had a few drinks. She likes to drink, and so do I. It's the one thing we immediately had in common when we met seven years ago. She was down in San Diego still, on business for the company she worked for. She’d been in San Diego for five days. This was her last night. “I can’t wait to get back home,” she said.

“I got the strangest telephone call today,” I said.

“What?”

“It was,” I said. “I don’t know,” I said, “it was nothing.”

“I’m beat,” Lisa said.

The next afternoon, I drove to the airport and picked her up. We kissed and didn’t talk. We went home. From the corner of my eye, I kept looking at her, to see if she were different.

Home, I made us two vodka tonics and we sat in front of the television. The television wasn’t on. No
Star Trek
re-runs.

“Do you know someone named Barry Redman?” I asked.

Lisa was about to take a drink. She stopped. “What?” she said.

“Barry Redman,” I said.

“Why do you ask?”

“I got a funny phone call yesterday,” I said. “A woman called. She was in San Diego. Said she found our number on a matchbook from a bar. Her husband's name is—”

“Yes,” Lisa said, “I know him.”

“A business associate?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“A friend?” I asked.

“I don’t know him that well,
really,”
she said.

The Truth
 

We didn’t make love when we went to bed. She didn’t seem to be in the mood and I wasn’t either.

“So who is Barry Redman?” I asked.

She didn’t answer. She lay there, back turned to me.

“Lisa?” I said.

“What,”
she said. She sat up, looking at me. She pulled the sheets across her breasts. “What the fuck do you
want?”
she said. “What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What the
fuck
do you want me to say?” She was crying now. “You want the truth? Okay. I’ll tell you the
truth
. Barry Redman is someone I met at a bar in San Diego. A—a man.”

“Oh,” I said. I got up, went to the bathroom. I didn’t have to pee. I looked at myself in the mirror. I put on my robe and went back to the bedroom. Lisa was on the bed, looking at the ceiling.

“Why did you give him our number?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Like I could
really
take a call here. I must’ve meant to give him my pager number and and
and
, I don’t know. I
was drunk
. I was really drunk.”

“Did you fuck him?”

She still looked at the ceiling.

I approached the bed.

“Lisa,” I said, “did you fuck him?”

She sat up.

“No,” she said. “I wanted to. But I didn’t.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I sucked his cock,” she said, looking at me.

I went to the kitchen.

I made some drinks.

I fell asleep in front of the television. Tony Robbins infomercials: how to improve your life and get rich.

Hashbrowns & Eggs
 

Woke up to the smell of food. Lisa was making breakfast in the kitchen. She wore a t-shirt and shorts.

“Do you want hashbrowns with your eggs?”

“You sucked his cock?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Why?”

“Why?” she said. “Don’t ask dumb questions,” she said.

“Did he come in your mouth?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Just like that?”

“People come.”

“You didn’t make him wear a condom?”

“I don’t like the taste of latex.”

“That's dangerous,” I said.

“He seemed pretty safe,” she said.

I sat down.

“What did I do?” I asked.

“You didn’t
do
anything,” Lisa said. She didn’t look at me. “Our marriage has dulled. You know that. There's no—excitement. I’m a bad person, I know. We have a good marriage.”

“Have there been others?”