Woke this morning to a strangeness. It was politely ignored. Things don’t last, I said, neither this. I ate porridge while seeing the outside through the window. Something held in the sky, not blue, not gray, white-like. I shrugged, I think. Tried to read, French stuff. The mind wouldn’t keep it. I dressed.
Outside smelt black, cold and damp. The breath from the mouth was crisp – an evaporating smoke. Beethoven jumped in the head, the 9th – I cantered to the second movement,; it gave me a bounce. Jigged, with cold toes, old shoes, past the café, past the newsstand, past the park, past Mag’s. I stopped, angry; never liked a thing to cut in on the music. Still, I turned back to Mag’s. A light came from the second floor window, her apartment. I felt like a sheep as I knocked – I only wanted one thing. Footsteps coming down the stairs told me to stay.
“Oooh!” She held the chewed toast in her mouth, embarrassed. She was in her prized denim skirt from America, short and ripped on the side. I barged through the door and kissed her toast. I didn’t know what I would do, until I saw her, smelled her more like .There was something in the air around her – she gave it off. Sometimes it’s like that with a female, a morning air, soft, restless, permissive, a hazy, slow-rising camp ripe for a raid.
‘What are you doing?” she managed.
“Going to look for a job,” I said.
“Mmm.” She swallowed. Her hair had grown down to the bottom of the neck, framed-like her face, russet cheek bones under those eyes, fetchin’ a color from a forest, green-gray, wise.
“Your hair’s got long.”
“Mmm. I can’t afford a cut yet, not the one I want.”
“It looks lighter, like almost dirty blonde.”
“It’s your imagination. Just mousey brown.”
“Nah, not mousey.” She led me upstairs on the pretext of tea. I got as close to her behind as I could. Mag was the Lord’s balance of build, enough front, and grand back. We’d been with each other before, after graduation, just friends.
Kitchen was in a confusion. An open book, face down, love story literature on the ironing board, with a dirty glass and two towels decored with spilled sauce and burns. Table couldn’t be seen for the laundry piled on it, going to wash instead of from.
“They’re hiring at the discounters,” she said. She meant the Global Bargains Outlet.
“That was yesterday, ” I said. “They filled them right at the front door.”
“How ’bout the new building supply?”
“I might try… It’s bad, though. Backbreakin’ days.”
“You shouldn’t have quit teaching.”
“Drained me, makin’ kids read.”
“Couldn’t be that you’re lazy.” She gave me a smile; I gave it back, small, no teeth. “You workin’, Mag?”
“Taking in stuff from the college. Marking for the profs. What a PhD. gets you anymore. You writing, yet?”
“In the night, but nobody cares.”
“Aw. I’d read for you.” She sparked the kettle, held up two bags from the cupboard. “Black, from the Chink’s?”
“Sure. That’s fine.” Her behind was lovely, even with a little side relaxation from the nothing of winter, shorter walks and less of ‘em. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Hah.” She barked it, like a scoff. “Where you been lately?”
“Home, and looking a bit. Money’s too down, can’t go nowhere.”
“Don’t I know that.” She turned to me and stared, her hand on a hip, one knee bent. She was wearing dark tights. “That girl from the band give you the heave?”
“Agh, sort of. I didn’t exactly try to keep her.”
“She didn’t like your nose?” We made jokes about our noses. Mag’s was prominent; mine was for the telly news.
“Yeah, it just got in the way.”
She smiled. “More like you was puttin’ it where it don’t belong.” Then poured the boil on the bags. “Here, a raisin bread.” She rustled in the bread keeper. “Just the ends left.”
“I like the ends, but you should keep it for yourself.”
“Nah, we’ll keep you alive. There’s even a cheese.” Mag’s eyes were down, seeing the floor, but she was sending her smiling face to me. That much I knew.
She cleared a patch of the old, wooden table and set the cups, the bread, and a piece of cheese on a flowery saucer with a chip. She had work, and still had nothing. “The guy from the state office?” I put to her.
“What about him?’
“Saw him walk by, a week ago, I’m guessing.” I kept the mouth shut, as a strategy. “He didn’t stop here, I didn’t invite him in.”
We both had an almost laugh. “What’d he do?”
“Nothing, mostly, and when he did it wasn’t interesting. I’ll get a knife.”
I enjoyed her stirring about the kitchen, giving me an assortment of views, in motion. The motion had innocence in it. The innocence gave it a sneaky power. We took on the tea, and some bites of the bread. I didn’t do the cheese, it was too many different shades of the color. Besides, I was up on another appetite.
We talked of mish-mash, some of parents and brothers and them we knew. She laughed at me, because she wanted to more than I was hilarious. I made nice statements about her brains going to waste. We cursed the winter, the harsh sky. At the end of her tea, she said: “Want to read a poem?”
“‘M’on then.” She was up and me close behind. “Not finished, but I’ve been at it, lately.”
In the bedroom, she sat on the bed. I didn’t wait for a permit, I sat, too. She lifted a notebook off a hook rug on the floor, a Lab in silhouette sitting lookin’ up, made by her mother. She got out a page marked with a capped pen she took from the counter of a milk store.
“You’ll pick up the gist… You’re good that way.”
It was about her da, how he was that made her miss him. She read, but didn’t choke. It was happier than that. Then it stopped as she was saying something about him surveyin’ the evening of a summertime, swilling a beer from the bottle with no shirt on.
“That’s it, for now.”
“I love it,” I told, and I kind of really meant it. “I want to eat it.” And when she scoff-laughed I said: “You know what I’m saying to you. You understand.”
“I think I do,” she said. She closed the notebook on my nose and pushed me down. “I understand, Mr. Nose. So here, eat it!” With a low giggle, she climbed atop me. The book got knocked off to the bed and then the floor. Missed the doggie rug, clatted on the painted slats, a nauseating beige tone. I got kissed, her tongue twirled into me, flying easy and slippery, and mine returned. I stayed polite and cupped her from outside the sweater and the shirt and brassiere, which surprised me. But they all came off in short time, Mag takin’ the lead to say it was alright not to behave, she’d not expected me to.
She was smiling; my mouth was full, but my smile was behind there somewhere. I went left first, then right… her left, her right. We struggled my sweatshirt off and into the air falling I couldn’t tell ya’ where.
“Warmer in there.” She spoke in breath, nodding’ toward the covers, then pulled off everything else on me. She seemed pleased at the sight of me pretty up, then went for the button on her skirt.
“No,” I said; I wanted it left. I pushed her around for the next half minute, caped myself with the quilt, got hands into the skirt and pulled the tights off and underpants with, down the thighs – they always moved me, the thighs. We turned on each other, to the number, heads down and opposite each other, kissing low on the belly, then the naughty glory. It was a happiness to see that she was happy as me: a guy’s always a bit like a bandit until he knows that. And when I’d emptied her, and couldn’t not anymore, the skirt came off and then came me, and the grand old glory. We swam in a warm spring, diving for treasure. The gold were only time, but it were the best gold, dull and deep.
She looked good just lying there, after.
“You look good,” she said, to me, like she read my mind, and ran an open hand down me hip and leg ’til she couldn’t reach no more. She didn’t stir except her hand and her head a little.
“I was just saying it to myself about you.”
“Acch,” She sat up now. “You still smoke?”
“Yeah, but I don’t feel like dressing, yet.”
“Come over to the windows.” She had a two-sider window, like the French do, big enough to walk through onto a stupid balcony with an iron rail, just decoration, I always believed. We took sheets and covers and wrapped ourselves. I lit two.
“You supposed to go down to the street for smokin? Landlady-”
“Ag, fuck her.” She drew deep on the smoke, coughed and looked around. “Dreary.” The right tit was almost all out, wouldn’t have been so perfect if it was. The nipple hid. I licked it toward the full white part, kissed it, even though I didn’t really feel like doing anything about it. I kissed its perfectness.
“You’re sweet, Ever.” She mussed my hair that was already mussed.
“Hey!” It came from below and away. “Hey! You can’t be out there! Get off that window well, it won’t hold!”
“Shit,” said Mag, way down in her voice. “It’s her. Comin’ back early.”
“Get off there! And you smokin’, too? Jesus! Get off there!”
“Cheese it,” I advised.
“Eh, you’re the ‘consigliero’ all of a sudden? It’s done, now.” Mag pulled the quilt around her; some of her best was seen to the world in the rewrap.
“And look at the two of ‘em!” she cawed; cawlady.
“But I’m cold,” said Mag.
We flicked the butts to the walk and went in. Whipped me drawers on in emergency time; Mag didn’t bother, just sat at the table, quilt-covered, bare limbs out. We could hear cawlady on the stair.
She burst right in, cawlady, without knocking, and a red face, puffed. Her eyes was up and ready for a tussle. The face was like a skillet used too much, blotchy and about to warp any year now. She was scarfed around the head and all covered in coat and sweater and booted. In that wide-bodied, flat-faced ugliness, there was free will. The story told of givin’ up. What she saw with Mag and me, she’d stopped believin’ in long ago.
Cawlady didn’t concern herself with myself, she plodded in toward Mag, never eyes off her. “You broke your lease! Twice! I want you out! Sunday! Hear? Out? Sunday!”
“I broke it two ways, not twice, silly. I’ll be out t’night, y’cow.” Cawlady was a cowlady, too. Mag took one of my smokes and lit it. The move had stones.
“Again! The brass! There’s no smokin’ in the house!” Cawlady came a half- disbelievin’ step closer.
“Come tomorrow you won’t be worrying anymore.” Mag blew smoke at her. The smells of wet tiles, disinfectant and fried ham got mixed with tobac. Mag put her feet up to celebrate the cawlady havin’ no response. Cawlady turned and went to the door, said, “Fine,” before she got out, and Mag shot once more: “Have fun findin’ somebody to pay you every month, WITHOUT BEING LATE.” She ashed in a geranium pot on the table. Cawlady hitched a sec, then yanked the door shut so it banged.
Mag looked over. “Well, that was fun.” But she weren’t laughin’. She got up, dropped the quilt and walked naked to the bedroom. I got it goin’ again on the sight; lust got it’s own timing. She called to me. “I’m goin’ to get some stuff bundled, Ever… If you want to help, or… ” and she was crying’, quiet.
“Maybe you can make up with her.” I thought I was helping.
“Nah.” She shut that door, swept an arm across her eyes and nose for dryin’. “Don’t want to.” Before I could ask where she was thinkin’ of going she nailed me right in the eye square and said: “Can I stay with you a couple days?” I must of looked shocked. “Well, nights, really.” She was emptyin’ a dresser, movin’ fast, snifflin’, makin’ piles.
“Nevermind, I’ll go to my sister’s.”
I guess I took too long. “No, it’s okay,” I said. “Landlord’s not there on weekends.
“It’s okay,” she said, her cheeks flushed, lookin’ chafed. “It was a stupid idea.”
“No, Mag, it’ll be good.”
She was still, panties and bras in her hands. “Shit, I got to get to work.”
“Listen, I’ll meet you at the café near school, when you’re done. We’ll have a drink and go back to my place and then tomorrow I’ll help you with this ’til Sunday.”
“Why don’t you pick me up at school, you’re going right past there?”
I watched her. She rifled through her own things, a touch of angry. “Y’okay?” I asked her.
“Yeah. Yes. Go, I’ll see you then.”
But she weren’t okay, I knew enough. But she weren’t dead or dyin’, neither. I took my coat, an old pea, and started out. Cawlady was in the hall. Still puffed, it sounded, still in her scarf and coat and boots.
“She in there?” she asked me.
“Where else?” I asked back. Mag couldn’t of got out.
Cawlady looked at the door; I’d left it open four or so. “Look, if you two was to promise me you were stayin’ and livin’ here just yous, I’d forget the, this mornin’.”
It wasn’t the time to yak-a-yak for the sake of total clarity – I wasn’t thinking of playin’ house when I left my place that day, in fact, it was the last thing.
“Well, she’s in there,” I told her. I hit the stairs in a light step that might be called jaunty, for the sake of using a word for its sauce. The stairway curved wide and grand to the bottom, like so many old houses. I heard cawlady knock on the door; big sound; heavy door, and tall.
“I got a right to my privacy, no matter who you are,” I heard Mag say. Her voice had a fist in it. I held at the last step to hear, but I could only tell who was talkin’, not what.
Outside, slow snow was doin’ a seduction, the way it charms when it’s still a ‘fall’ and not a dump. So, I might have a guest at home for the night, maybe two nights, maybe for a long time, or I might not, nobody, no time. I might have a drink or two and a carouse with a girl I knew was to my likin’, or I might have a drink or two and a fight with a girl I knew well, but not that well. I might not have a drink with anyone but me, having first a fight with that girl on the steps of her workplace, or I might not have a drink with that girl for her comin’ out of the school with a pout on and claimin’ she was not feelin’ up to it. Or it might all go as I hoped, a few rounds, and laughter, friends and a tumble, at home or maybe back at her place again, if she made peace with the cawlady. In which case, I’d invade that lazy camp in the morn, too.
Started into walking, the Beethoven coming back, and the alarm came on: Bloody hell! I froze in mid-kick of a chunk of ice, pissed about stopping the music again, but I was starin’ down the barrel of day I’d not asked for. I was there like a statue, long enough for an old gent to pass by and look twice three times before movin’ on. I was in deep, deep thought. P’rhaps that was the strangeness I’d woke to – a slightly uncertain future.
Ludwig unfroze me. I tried to imagine how he did it, deaf and all. I did a little skip, to old Erewhon.