Karin L. Becker
V3:E2 Feb. 2001
Autumn rain is crisper, harder, more deliberate. It comes straight down. No detours on the descent. No compromised angle this late in the year. From my balcony window I watch the rain drop onto the suburban street, under the spotlight of the streetlight, the scrutiny of the surveillance camera. The neighborhood watch watching even the most private moments of the susceptible sky. Wetness weighing down even the wind. All the leaves clustered against the curb, huddling in gold clumps, matted down like hair. All the people matted down in houses, spread out in rooms, weighed down by intimacy that cannot be seen.
It is neighborly to watch the rain. Thinking of others listening to it inside their rain-sloshed windows, some perhaps sleeping through it, but thinking of them just the same. Looking out my window, I wish I could see another street. Something romantic. Like 42nd Street in the rain. Nobody sleeps on 42nd Street. Not when it rains. Thatís when people are out, huddling under the awning outside of Jimmyís Bar. Smoking. A shiver of conversation passes through the crowd. People shove together to let a new couple shelter. There is such community in the rain.
One woman is on her cell phone, calling to remind her husband to close the windows. Another woman folds her arms over her chest as her white blouse becomes matted down. Her date presses into her. The rain stares at them all.
Another couple stands sideways, facing each other, not the rain. Staring. Hard and cold. Their eyes drip into one another. The rain is just the backdrop for romance. Walking into the rain, they donít look back. The wetness winding up their desire.
An older man, black as rain, exits Jimmyís. Immediately he is swallowed by the crowd. He starts to hum. Slow and low. As if he were the only one there. As if there were no crowd, no smoke, no shivering, no romance. Just the rain. And his slow melody. On 42nd Street, people will stay up for the rain.
On my street, people wait up for sleep. On my street, people wait for traffic lights, deadlines and tooth fairies. They wait for sluggish school buses and groggy carpools. They wait in line at grocery stores and movie matinees. They wait for leaves to fall to get the rake, for snow to fall to get the shovel but they do not wait for rain to fall. They cannot carry rain away. So they wait for sleep to do what rain cannot.
On the corner of 42nd people will wait for the rain to pass with a casual exhale. They will walk on the street without umbrellas. They will walk alone, amongst the crowded streets, carrying nothing but raindrops and leaving nothing but footsteps. Carrying raindrops the size of crowds, carrying crowds the smell of rain. Carrying raindrops with importance, prominence in each languid liquid drop. Leaving nothing but footsteps big as puddles and puddles the weight of romance. Leaving footsteps the color of desire and desire rippling out in steps.
On 42nd Street, people will dodge rain steps and walk foot drops. In the apartments above 42nd Street, they will stay up for the rain because the rain is worth the weight.
Her purse holds one lipstick, brick red, several used Kleenexes she recycles, Binaca mouth spray. Her wallet holds bills so crumpled and faded it is impossible to decipher their value. He always twinges with embarrassment when she pays for something with a wad of bills. She could have mistaken them for Kleenexes. He tries to straighten them for her; she says he fails to understand her filing system. He tries to pay for things as much as possible.
Her mouth holds a smile like a penny for good luck.
He blade shaves every morning for her and buys her favorite food, three pepper humus and pita; always has chocolate on hand when he knows sheís coming. He brushes the dogs, keeps them off the furniture. He used to tidy up the house for her. He tidies up nothing now.
She holds his fragrance after theyíve said hello.
At parties, he talks to other girls, catches her eye, holds the weight of her stare in balance with the weight of his desire. He continues talking to girls, holding her glance in the forefront of his mind. She drinks her wine carefully, trying to drink from the same brick stained outline every time.
He holds her hand in daylight.
At night, when sheís almost asleep and heís next to her, her breaths rising and eyes falling, like a dramatic denouement, her presence becomes the meaningful ending to his day.
Her answering machine holds his voice.
They hold onto each other long after heís finished inside of her, washed up on the shore of soft morning light, one shell about to open. She holds her back when she yawns and her chest holds her breasts promptly when she rises.
His pocket bulges, holding her wrinkled money when she doesnít want to bring a purse.
When she is away, sheís holding down a job and rising alone; when sheís gone sheís holding her breath to see him again and breathing just to hold him again. She holds his future in the lines around her eyes, his dreams like a warm coat against the knocking wind. She saves his phone messages on the machine so she can hold his voice near. When she holds him again, itís as if she never let go.
He withholds setting a date with her.
When sheís away, he eats all the humus in one sitting. He tells her heís always thinking of her. He tells her he misses her while stroking the dogs curled in bed next to him.
She holds no permanence in his life.
I didnít even know we were over until I started writing romance stories that ended up with the girl always leaving the guy. Itís not that Iím dense. Itís just that Iím so aware of the way my character feels I forget to feel myself.
I didnít know I was stealing until I had walked down the street with the storeís shoes on my feet. Price tag sticker on the bottom and shoe size on the inside. It wasnít until two big guys were just a few steps behind me, not waiting for me to explain, to tell them that it wasnít that I didnít pay but that it was just that the shoes felt so comfortable, and I had been walking around the department store, trying on dresses which of course werenít meant to fit me, and I got so discouraged that I just wanted to leave and Iím sure any female could relate to the pain felt from the rejection of a dress size and as I hung the dresses back on the rack, the only thing on my mind was to go home and eat something. When they grabbed me, the shoes didnít even touch the ground. I told them they could still sell them as new.
Itís not absentmindedness. I pay attention. Take care of myself. Look both ways before crossing the street. But if I stop to look too long, sometimes I forget to cross the street. I admit, I like to observe. How many cars have more than one passenger in them? Are most cars foreign or domestically made? I count them on my fingers, foreign on the left, American on the right, keep a silent tabulation. I hear a song blow by me from a foreign car. "Hello, my name is LukaÖ." Suzanne Vega, 1988? What ever happened to her? Is she still singing? Maybe just in the shower. How come I donít sing in the shower? Iíll make a mental note to do that. Loud and sudsy. I look up and the red hand from the post across the street is still flashing at me. A red bug flies by. Is that eight or nine for the left hand?
Itís not that Iím unaware, Iím over-aware. Iím aware of all the little things. "I live on the second floorÖ" He says Iím not aware of our future. Iím so aware of our future that when I know Iím driving to see him for the weekend, I ration out my milk so I have exactly enough for one bowl of cereal every morning. I donít want to waste any or let any spoil. And thatís exactly how I plan for our future, rationing every day so we wonít spoil any.
I didnít notice the old maple tree in the campground until I backed up into it. "Yes, I think youíve seen me before." He came running out of the tent wearing nothing but a shriek. Itís not that I didnít see the tree, itís just that I was looking at another part of it, itís starry brick red leaves blowing across the windshield.
I am so aware that I wear all my ugly, holey underwear on the days I am not with him. I donít bite my nails if I know I am going to see him so I can scratch his back. I pack lipstick and perfume, in case I may want to leave my mark on him. I change my voice mail and cancel the paper for the days Iím gone. But heís too busy telling me Iím unaware to notice.
I admit that when I am with him, I do sometimes run into walls, trip over sidewalks, bite him harder than I think. Because Iím so aware of him. So damn aware of his presence I forget mine.
Yes, I showed up late, a couple of hours late, when we had tickets for the ballet. Not because I didnít care but because I cared so much I was on the phone to my best friend telling her how wonderful he is. And yes I showed up late when his parents were in town and we missed our dinner reservation. Itís not that Iím unaware of time, itís that Iím so aware of time.
I watch the minutes tick by as I peck at my typewriter. The girl pulls on her cowboy boots before the sun slants through the window, before he wakes up, before he can give her one last hug. She leaves her hat on his bed and mounts her horse, holding on to the reigns in one hand and uses the other to rub the dust out from her tears.
And now that Iím not going up to see him anymore, what am I going to do with all this milk?
A word is an expectation. Something I can base my life around. One word like commitment can make me fearful but committed makes me feel full. The difference being in how one asks for something and the other just is. One word from you can make me feel both fear and full without even having the commitment.
One word and Iím packing my blue Speedo and flip-flops and heading outta here. Yes, my impractical, immodest blue Speedo. The one you mock me for wearing. The one I wore to your country club pool. The one and only thing I was wearing when I met your parents for the first time. Well, one word and you can happily tell them it is gone forever.
One word and weíre over. I wonít consider the last eighteen months a waste. I wonít regret them. But I will forget them just the same. One word and you will be erased. I wonít remember the way you look in the morning, the sunlight peeking through the drapes and spilling onto your hair, spilling over the mattress, the dog licking your hand. How silky you sleep. How I kiss your navel every morning before I leave for work. I wonít remember our anniversary, the fifth of July, how we met at the beach, sand covering your lower back, the part where you sweat when we make love. I wonít remember any of this after you say one word. One word and I wonít care.
Two or more and Iím yours forever. Iíll cancel the Playboy subscription, separate colors when doing laundry, open doors for you, give you more than half of the closet, bed, bank account and the better part of my heart.
Iíll let you keep your pants on and hair long; your book group and journal to yourself. I wonít ask questions about where you go and why you come home smelling like smoke when you donít. I wonít notice that your energy is gone in the perky morning light or how you leave the room when you talk on the phone.
Iíll forget your charming habits. The way you hum when you clip your fingernails, shave your legs in the sink and never rinse it out. Clumps and bunches scattered. A love letter in Morse code. I wonít care that half of my wineglasses are missing. How youíve broken half of them not out of clumsiness, you say, but out of shock. Shock because youíve been waiting so long or shock because you thought we would never discuss it. But Iím asking you now. So in one word or less, what is your answer.
Do you love him?
And the sad thing is is that the only thing you will remember out of all of this is my blue Speedo.
One word or less has been answered. Iím still wondering if I should pack my bags. At the moment Iíve got the Speedo on, for fashion equality but mainly to piss her off. Sheís so uncomfortable to see me wearing it but sheís sure not when she peels it off me. Least she didnít used to be. Iím not sure if itís my legs or my bulge that embarrasses her. They both are shaped very nicely.
I give her my legs, my bulge, my heart and she canít even give me her word. Not one. What does she do when I finally get the courage to ask her? She stares. With those big blue eyes, she stares into me. Asking me as if. As if she should have to respond to me. As if she could. As if she owes me any words.
Okay, so choosing one word can be a little tricky. I mean she does have a point, there are a gazillion words out there to choose from. I mean, really, who I am to ask her to select just the most appropriate one for the given question. No wonder she just stared at me. Sheís probably thinking Iím trying to corner her into some truth, trying to make her feel uncomfortable or something. I would never do that. I mean I was just trying to make it easy on her. I havenít seen her in a couple of days, I mean she hasnít been coming home at nights, I was really just trying to make some conversation, yíknow, make her feel comfortable and stuff. At home.
I didnít mean to upset her. Sheís probably really mad. I bet she thinks Iím a real idiot. I should go apologize to her. I canít stand it when sheís mad at me. She stops talking to me. Just stares at me with those blue bulging eyes, growing bigger with anger, like she is going to explode. Like her eyes are going to come right out of their sockets in one slippery burst and all that would be left is a vacant space that not even a smile could fill.
I think Iíll wait to talk to her for a bit. Give her some time. I know this takes a lot out of her. Let her relax, cool down. Wait a little so she can muster up the strength to try again. An hour maybe. Maybe a day. Or two. I hear you need more time in between the older you get. I wish she was ready now though. I wish she could see me now. Calm and still. In my blue Speedo. I wish she would like what she saw. I wish I could just hold her without the pressure of talking, the expectations of words.
Next time I think Iíll ask for just a head gesture.
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