SHORT STORY: THIS IS REALLY NICE, THIS

THIS STORY, UNTRUE, CAME FROM A TRUE ONE: THE LINE “IF YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, WHY DON’T YOU GO HOME TO YOUR FUCKING WIFE?”, REPORTED TO ME BY A FRIEND, ABOUT A FRIEND OF THEIRS. -JRS

She licks a finger and brushes the tip of the joint. Stares at the glowing edge of paper and then brings the end to her lips. She inhales a long, slow drag and tightens her chest, holding the smoke, then tilts her head back to release it. She watches the smoke float away from her and dissipate. 

To her left hangs a sheer curtain. Behind that, an open window frames blue light and bricks, a fire escape, another window. She stares at the sky above the building opposite and listens to the passing hush of occasional traffic. Cool air sighs in through the window, filling the curtain like a lung before spilling into the bedroom. The breeze whipsers along her leg, her hips and arms. Her skin shudders in response and she reaches down, hauls up the blankets to cover her torso. She is grateful for the chill; a heat wave has coated the city for weeks and the lower temperatures are welcome. She watches the curtain expand and contract as she takes one final drag and then crushes the joint in the astray. She adjusts the pillow behind her and sinks down onto the bed. Staring up at the ceiling, she feels the drug soak into her system, the quiet and calm wrap around her. She closes her eyes.

A hand brushes her knee. She stiffens, opens her eyes to look at the man lying next to her. He squeezes her thigh, looks at her with bright, waking eyes. “Good morning,” he says, his hand sliding up her leg.

She brushes the hand aside. “Morning.” 

He pulls back and yawns loudly, rubs his face. “What time is it?” he asks through his fingers. 

“It’s early,” she says quietly, “go back to sleep.” She studies him. His head turns torwards the window and back to her. He is about to speak again when she places her fingers on his mouth. “Just be quiet. Please.”

He makes a face and shrugs, pops his hand into the pillow and settles his head back down. Within moments, his breathing drops into a slow, heavy pattern of sleep. She bends her attention back to the silence of the morning. 

From somewhere outside the apartment comes a click, followed by the grinding whine of a power saw. She groans, “You have got to be kidding.” She pushes her body upright and slides from the bed, walks to the window and shoves it shut with both hands. She returns to her place on the mattress and yanks the sheet up to her neck. The power tool hollers on, muffled slightly by the closed window. The curtain hangs limp over the window frame as if disappointed. She stares up at the tiles above her. Her fingers fidget with the blanket, tap against her leg. Eventually she sits up in bed and lights a cigarette.

The man lying next to her shifts position in the bed. She looks at him, watches the rise and fall of his chest. The gray hairs gathering at his temple. She kicks him awake with her foot. “Get up. You have to go home.”

His eyes open. With one hand he stops her shoving foot and with the other pulls the bedcovers up to his chin. “Alright, alright. Stop.” He rolls to his side, hides his face with his arm. “I fell back asleep?”

His movement has pulled the blanket from her, exposing her legs. She readjusts the covers and tucks the sheet in around her backside and thighs. “Yes,” she says. “But now it’s time to go. I have work to do.”

He pushes himself up into a sitting position, still blinking. Stretches his arms upwards and outwards with a moan. “Jesus, am I tired.” He turns to her. “Can I have a cigarette?”

She looks at him.

“Please?” he says.

Leaning to the left, she reaches across the nightstand and shakes a cigarette from the pack. She reaches again and fumbles for the lighter. They smoke. Her mind drifts to the day ahead. A much-needed day off, she thinks; her recent workload and the oppressive heat have left her drained. The notion of time off gives her a physical thrill. The day stretches before her, completely open. Perhaps, she thinks––

“This is really nice, this,” he says.

She closes her eyes and inhales slowly. It occurs to her that he is waiting for a response. She glances at him and stretches her lips into a smile and nods.

He leans across her, pushes out the cigarette in the ashtray and burns the tip of his finger in the process. He curses, waving his hand in the air, and then sticks the finger into his mouth. He looks at her, his face red. “Sorry. Amateur night. Morning. Whatever.”

Outside, the staccato knock of a hammer kicks off to accompany the power saw. Unbelievable, she says to herself, shaking her head. She notices him fingering the blankets at his lap. Here it comes, she thinks. She turns her head towards the window. Cloud cover has washed out the blue out of the sky.

“You know,” he says, “I kind of like this. Like, a lot.”

She can feel the weight of his gaze but keeps her eyes fixed on the window.

“This thing between us,” he continues. His fingers brush her arm, his lips touch her shoulder. “I know I don’t see you that often, but.”

There’s an understatement, she thinks. The only reason she had contacted him last night was because her first choice, a man in his twenties with the eager and egotistical libido of youth, had been unavailable. 

  He continues. “I guess I just haven’t had these feelings for someone in a long time. I’m not really sure what’s going on here, what I should do.”

She watches an airplane cut through the pale rectangle of sky and wonders about the destination. She pictures the cabin, the neat rows of seats, the trays upright for landing or takeoff. The anticipation of coming home, or of leaving it. 

“Do you know what I mean,” he says. “I don’t know how you feel, but it just feels right.”

His hand grasps her knee, begins to slide up her leg again. Her daydream––the calm of the airplane cabin, the hush of the cool, insular space––snaps. She imagines the plane veering to the side, the fuselage chugging thick, black smoke. Her body flashes with heat and she swipes his hand from her leg. “Look, seriously,” she says, “if you want to talk about your feelings, why don’t you go home to your fucking wife”. 

She watches his expression shatter, the hurt and confusion spill across his face. He gasps and pulls away from her, his mouth hanging open. “What? Just, what?” he says, tossing back the covers and climbing from the bed. He mutters to himself while struggling with his jeans. He puts on his shirt and stares at her. “Why would you say that? Why?” 

She raises her hand and points at his shirt. He looks down and, realizing he has put it on backwards, takes it off and rights it, cursing through fabric as he pulls the shirt down over his head. He drops into the chair by the door and shoves his feet into his shoes. “Why do you have to be so fucking mean?” he asks, yanking at the laces. 

Anger does not become him, she thinks; it blotches his face, floods his head and neck with pink and red. She clears her throat. “What do you want me to say?” 

“Well, I don’t know.” He shrugs. “That maybe you feel the same way?”

She bites her lip and then sighs slowly. “Look, there isn’t really anything I can say. Whatever you think this is, that’s not what it is. It can’t be.”

“Fine.” He stands and snatches his coat from the floor and opens the bedroom door. He spins to face her. “Fucking fine. But you know something? You’re a real heartless bitch, you know that?” He waits in the doorway and then turns, slams the door shut.

She hears him grumble down the hallway until the booming thud of the front door cuts him off. She stands and walks down the hall, locks the door and returns to the bedroom. She stops near the window and listens; the racket outside has ended. She lifts the window and the bedroom inhales fresh air, the curtain waving in response. She returns to bed on lies on her side, facing the window. The sky is now a even grey and a light rain taps on everything. She pulls the sheet up over her shoulder and wraps it tightly aroud her. She closes her eyes. The breath of the cool breeze, the pat of the rain outside. The warming space betwen the bedcovers and her skin. Again she thinks of the day ahead, blank. But now, rest.