The sound of the 1 Local rattled the windows; she untangled herself from his limbs, sat up and prepared for the sensation of mellow distain, in the vicinity of her diaphragm: It had been his idea for her to move in here, after just seven months of dating.
It was the only time she had encountered a man so willing. She was lucky, according to other women, most of whom, she suspected, had gone through the chronic toss between a want of love and a denial of it, due to their self-esteem. A man’s attention could go a long way though. She had been known to make it last for years, settling for either those who feared commitment or were half-committed — to someone else. Bitterly, she would eventually begin to withdraw from all offers of courtship because she was sick of herself: reaching, trying too hard; accounting, then settling for leftovers.
But this one loved her, it was obvious. He praised her enthusiastically, similarly to the way one adored a deity or a Renaissance statue of a nude, made more precious by its missing parts and by the scabs of earth and time. Never had she been with a man who wanted to parade her through the circles of his friends, all of them older, calmer and mostly academics, who got through their own marriages by sleeping with their students. Sometimes, while she feigned being asleep on the couch after hearing his keys scratching their way into the lock; she listened to his footsteps get quieter, as he approached her, merely breathless; and he would sit at the edge of their coffee table, amidst magazines and her thesis papers, and study her. She began to feel responsible.
Her girlfriends, of course, were full of advice: Men like him happened rarely. She was lucky, they hoped she knew. But was she ready for their age difference; and for the ex-wife with a list of entitlements to his money? Heartbroken men made for hard material. But wasn’t it a woman’s sport, to fall in love, despite?
The night when they would sleep together for the first time, she found a photograph of the ex, tucked away into an old aluminum cigarette holder. She wanted to light up.
The black and white face of a blonde looked over the shoulder, with one hand propped up like an awning across her forehead, her lips closed sternly, as if disliking the photographer. She found her to be a forgettable woman, not at all like she preferred to see herself. Now, with both of his habits gone — the smoking and the wife — he was not at all enthused by the idea of reminiscing about the past. But she insisted on a talk, so that she could investigate herself the story through his sighs and avoided glances. It was a hideous tendency for some emotional sadomasochism that she disguised as intimacy. Or, maybe, she was already reaching.
She, of course, tried to be casual about it. He would begin to speak, not from the start, but going immediately to when the ex blurred out her desire for a divorce. It happened in the midst of a tiff over the shut-off electricity due to an unpaid bill — a woman flailing at him, in the dark — and he first thought she was quoting a film they may had seen together. They’d gone to film school together, a decade ago, in the City, never pursuing the field afterward. He’d stick to theory; she — to freelance writing.
“But didn’t you see it coming?” she asked him, watching his fluttery eyelashes add to the dark circles under his eyes. “Any signs at all?”
The gray-haired lover shook his head but held it high. Still, for the first time, in his habits of disobedience to his emotions, she saw a once crumbled man; a man, perhaps, still in need of repair.
This predisposition of her imagination — to be able to see her men as children (or worse yet, as children in need of rescue); to truly feel their suffering; to be moved to tears by their losses that happened a decade before her, but always so unjustly — that evening, made her weary. Hadn’t she had enough yet? She couldn’t possibly save every one of them! She wasn’t here to fix it, to make-up for another woman’s whimsy. Still, she would begin to feel responsible.
In the light of an exposed, yellowed by months — or years, perhaps — of fried food in his kitchen, that first night she watched him cook dinner for the two of them.
“That’s a big step!” the girlfriends rolled out their eyes and smacked their lips.
“A man that cooks and does his own laundry. You are one lucky bitch!”
The more she listened to the women get involved (for none of them actually listened), the more she regretted exposing her tales of love and loss. Perhaps, her ex was right: Over the course of the last century, women had become a collectively confused group of people. She herself no longer knew what she wanted at the moment. And she could not remember what she used to want.
He was exhausted from the emotional testimony and was now fussing in the kitchen:
“I haven’t used this barbecue since my last apartment. So: should be interesting!” She’d gone too far. She shouldn’t have probed.
Albeit the open doors of the top floor patio, the hot air clustered the entire apartment. It took up every corner. She, having just come out of the shower, felt dewy in her crevices. There used to be a lot more vanity, in love. Perhaps, she wasn’t trying hard enough with this one.
She watched him cutting up fresh herbs plucked from the flower pot along the kitchen window sill. He operated with a tiny knife at the edge of a wooden cutting board, blackened by mildew on one side. There was nothing visibly sloppy about his appearance, yet she could see the absence of a woman in his life. Perhaps, the shortest distance between his earlobes and shoulder blades had something to do with her aroused compassion. Or the bulk of crumpled Kleenex in the pocket of his sweats. Or the rapidly blinking eyelids, when he decidedly walked away from his story. He wasn’t cared for. He was recovering. It made her heart compress. Responsible! She had to be responsible.
While nibbling on twigs of dill, flirtatiously at first — although mostly out of habit — then suddenly more grounded in her kindness, she studied him while standing by his microwave. She didn’t find herself impressed, but tired. Tired and kind. If not in love, she would be grateful for this one, she decided. Just look at him: He needed her so much.