Monday, January 28, 2013

SPE: "Eyes Of A Stranger"

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Jester Queen gave me this prompt: "When it grew cold, I shut the door. But I left the window open, hoping possibilities might pour in with the night air." I gave SAM this prompt: "People say they love a lot of things, but they really don't. It's just a word that's been overused." -Bob Dylan]

She piles her hair up every morning, an enormous cantilevered bun secured by pins and stays and clips, only releasing it when she was home with me and ready for bed. It seemed like an enormous amount of effort, but I certainly enjoyed the effect it had. It was like she saved a version of herself, a Jen only I got to see, a long haired, raven goddess with locks unkempt and matted with sweat and smoke and hairspray and whatever other smells she had encountered. If I sat on the bed while she brushed it out, it was like a summary of her day- the grease of the subway, the hickory of the steak place where they went to lunch, the tobacco of the group of outcasts outside the back door through which she dashes to catch her train. 

I came in and stood beside her as she sat there, fluffing and combing through her mane, releasing the codes of her day. 

"Shut the door," she said. I listened for the "please" that never came, then turned and closed the door. She was always cold, anywhere up to nearly 90 degrees causing her flesh to pimple and the fine hair on her arms to stand on end. It was a warm night, but not really a hot one, and I would have been comfortable to lay on the bed and let the occasional breeze dry our skin. But I didn't even ask. 

"What are you doing tomorrow?," she asked, getting up to wash her face. I watched her strip off her nightgown, to avoid getting it wet. I watched her bend over the sink, her breasts small and sad under her thin back as she cleansed and dried and moisturized. 

"I have some research to do," I said. "Some microfilm that isn't digitized." My historical novel was coming together, but I felt like I needed more period detail, which would require a few hours in the library. 

She sighed. "We haven't gone anywhere in a long time. Can't we go to the beach or something?"

I watched her straighten up, settling her nightgown over herself, tugging and adjusting, focusing her brown eyes on her reflection. I thought about the deadlines bearing down on me, the rewriting and the polishing, the days that were slipping away. I felt the yawning maw of failure behind me, one push and what passed for my career would slip away into nothing. I thought about the hard shoes she wore, the tight slimming pencil skirts, the two hundred dollar blouses, the late night phone calls and arguments that left her dinner congealing on the plate while I listened to half a conversation I couldn't understand. I thought about the power imbalance that I said never bothered me, her salary paying the bills, my occasional checks from articles and short stories sometimes buying dinner.

"Sure, if you want," I said softly. I didn't feel like I could refuse her. I never did. She came across the room and climbed into her side of the bed. She yawned and stretched.

"I'm exhausted," she said. She pulled the sheets up and pulled her hair together, then let it go, the flood of darkness blanketing the middle of the bed. I slid my arm around her trim waist, and brought my lips to her ear. 

I was about to say something, when she said sleepily, "Not tonight. I have an early meeting." 

"Good night," I said, and kissed her ear. I wasn't asking for sex. I was offended that she assumed I was. We used to click on every imaginable thing. More recently, I couldn't understand anything that was happening: it was like living with a stranger.

I turned away from her, staring at the closed window. I heard her slipping into sleep, her breath slackening and deepening. I felt hot already, but if I opened the window, she'd be awake in seconds. I thought about Paul Simon's lyric, "I like to sleep with the window open, and you keep the window closed, so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye."

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