Big Talk, Real Slow

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The Great Thaw

A few hours before, in that shapeless purgatory that exists when you stay awake next to a sleeping lover, she wondered what he was dreaming of. Now, in his sullen post-sex silence, she didn’t give a fuck about what he was thinking. 

He was out of bed immediately, pulling up his jeans, covering himself up with a t-shirt, and stumbling to the kitchen, just outside his room. The morning light diffused through the blinds and gave the room a squalor that she was oblivious to in the dark. Every stray bit of clothes on the floor, every dust bunny and errant piece of everyday debris, the smell of condom rubber, culminated into the urgent question: How did I get here?

“Want a coffee?” he said from the kitchen, not turning his back. She saw him, through the door frame, putting the kettle on the stove with a loud clang. She heard him opening the window above the sink and the glass ting of the ashtray finding its way to the sill.

“Hmm?”

“Would you like some coffee?”

“What do you have?”

“Instant.”

“Okay.”

She slid partially out of the sheets and found her purse tossed off just under the bed. She opened it and took out her own pack.

“Don’t. She doesn’t like the smell.”

She wanted to do it anyways, and then realized how petty that made her feel. The cigarettes went back into the purse, she lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling.

The kettle started to shake on the uneven element.

“I’m sorry. About the other day. I didn’t realize you were with her.”

It was a mistake, maybe. She was with friends at Clinton’s, a bar that the young clientele kept out of bankruptcy and irrelevance. He went up to the bar and she didn’t think or, maybe, didn’t care, and walked up to him. He took it in stride, no fear, maybe he had already seen her, planned for this. Then Diane came up from behind and put her arms around him. And when Diane asked about her, he explained she was an old classmate, and she found a way to excuse herself, buying another amaretto sour even though she still had one on the table. She went back to her table, avoided questions, drank nothing, feigned illness and left soon after.

“That’s alright. You’re an old classmate.”

“I think she knows.” The kettle rocked back and forth.

He didn’t turn around. The kettle was taken off the stove and poured into a cup. Shitty IKEA spoon against the shitty IKEA mug. “You think?”

“Can I tell you something?”

His back stilled turned away from her. “Yeah.”

“When you’re a single woman…” she turned towards him, no longer staring at the ceiling. “When you’re a single woman…People look at you different. You’re either a target or a threat. Does that make sense?”

He turned, at last, his face blank. He was waiting for something else. The punchline.

“I think you’re being paranoid. She doesn’t know.” He took a step forward and opened the fridge, out of sight, and she heard the milk being poured into the mug and that fucking spoon again. He moved into the door frame, leaning against it and took a sip of the coffee.

She stared at the coffee, not quite understanding. “Where’s mine?”

“What?”

“My coffee?”

“You wanted one?”

“Yes.” She took a breath. “I’m sorry, I thought I said I wanted one.”

He turned around and got the stove ready again.

“Can I open the blinds?”

From the kitchen, he shouted, “Only if you want those construction workers across the street to see your tits.”

“What?” She walked up to the blinds, and peeked through one set. Below her, the post-morning milling around, business as usual in midtown, but from the second floor she could see the modest beginnings of a condo, or, at least, as modest as a 20 storey building could be in a neighbourhood of low-rises. She wondered why she hadn’t seen it before, then realized it was because she always came in from the back door.

“I was reading a plaque down the street the other day,” she said.

She heard the bangs and clangs of coffee being made.

“When the ice age ended, all the extra water from the glaciers melting flooded the area. So, Lake Ontario went all the way up to St. Clair. That why there’s that steep hill. Can you imagine that?”

Steam poured out of the kettle.

“I wonder, you know, with global warming, if that would happen again. Everything would go back to the way it used to be. All of downtown: buried underwater. Wiping everything clean and starting from scratch.”

He came into the room and the cup landed on the table with a hard thud. “Here’s your coffee.”

She stopped looking out the window and turned toward him. Now that he was in the room, she didn’t want him to see her naked again. She searched the floor for her bra and underwear, among the piles of clothes, and put them on. “You weren’t even listening.”

And she thought of exactly how she got to here. How she thought he was handsome, not hot, not cute, but handsome, and something dangerous and savage. And how he’d come by her shop and was so obviously attracted to her, and how well he thought he hid that attraction. She could see right through him, for all the good that did her. And she remembered when he revealed he had a girlfriend and how it seemed so casual, so off the cuff, mentioned to her after a night of drinks and (was it?) flirting and touches that could be called accidental, if questioned (but she didn’t really question him, did she?)

He sighed and went back to the kitchen, probably to finish the cigarette on the ashtray. He came back a few seconds later. “You really think she knows?”

“What?”

“Diane. You think she knows about us?”

“Are you asking me for advice here?”

“Why do you think she knows?”

“I just…I just have a sense.”

“Women’s intuition?” He almost scoffed out right.

“Yeah. Something like that.”

“I don’t think she knows.”

She sat on the bed and cautiously sipped the cup of coffee. It was a bitter, ugly taste. He went back to the window and took a drag, exhaled.

“Do you even care?” She regretted it the moment she said it.

From the kitchen. “What?”

“You’re cheating on her. What do you care?”

He charged back into view, cigarette in his mouth, smoke pouring out of him. “What kind of question is that?”

“Sorry. Forget it.”

“Where the fuck do you get off asking me that?”

“Forget it. Look, I’m sorry.”

“What, you have her interests at heart? You feel bad?” His face was red, the muscles in his neck thick cables ready to snap. Each question was spiked, quick.

“Of course I feel bad. Don’t you?”

“You think that’s all on me? I didn’t make you do anything. You feel bad because you’re part of this, right here with me!” He was shouting. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and walked back to the kitchen. She waited, because there was nothing else she could do as the seconds became minutes. She was trapped.

He walked back, his body still rigid, but he was no longer baring teeth. “You got yourself here. You feel bad? Why are you coming back then?” His voice was softer, even if his words weren’t. “Maybe I’m the bad guy, yeah, sure, what does that make you? Fuck this.”

He walked out of the room. She wanted to ask here he was going, to stop him. She felt bad, forgetting her fear seconds ago. The back door opened.

She hunted for the rest of her clothes, and sat on the edge of the bed, putting them on. She wanted a cigarette too, and slid one out of her pack and looked at it. Then she slid it back into the package. She stood up and went into the kitchen, slowly. Through the window she could see him, on the fire escape, waiting for her. And she wanted to go to him, put her arms around him like Diane did and have it actually be more true than what they had. Or maybe, just wait for him here, and apologize for making him upset. And then? 

How did I get here?

Behind him she saw the skyscrapers and condos that filled downtown. She could not see the lake, but she wondered, again, what it would be like to for it to rise. And she wondered about being in one of those towers, feeling the water crawl up her leg, realizing it was much too late. A slow, inevitable drowning. 

She put on her shoes, and her jacket. Negotiated the many locks and turned the knob. She walked down the steps, to the front door, pushing it open. Elizabeth got a good look at the condo being built while she lit her cigarette, then she walked north, away from the lake.