March 1, 2003
He appeared at my door, unannounced
by Sarah Arellano
art One: In which I discover I am having an affair.
His hand drifted across the spines of my books when he first visited. His voice, haughty yet low and somehow warm, carried through to the living room, where I watered plants and tried to look busy, noncommittal.
"Thoughtful. Occasionally pagan but mostly a good Catholic girl. Humorous." He judged me by the titles crammed into the unfinished wood bookshelves in my bedroom. "Insightful, uncanny, well-rounded."
"You certainly have a way with adjectives," I teased. I could tease this way because he was a writer, of the old kind, who did not believe in computers but clacked endlessly away at a manual typewriter.
He did not answer. He had this way, too; he knew just how not to answer. How to make you squirm and listen to your own words echo around in your skull.
He shoved his fists into his jeans, turned to survey the rest of the bedroom, and his eyes fixed on my simple futon bed.
"Down comforter. Bedside table with half-gone cup of coffee. Sugar granules stuck to a dry spoon." I blushed, turned my back, wished he wouldn't scrutinize my life in this way. "What does this all have to do with hiring me to type up your manuscripts?"
He knew not to answer. I might as well have not been there. "Rag-rug on floor, towels in primary colors. Prisms hanging by suction cups on the windows. Subscription to National Geographic and The Sun. Radio tuned to…" he ducked closer to my little black boombox. "640 AM. Political talk radio. A Picasso poster on the wall. The scent of incense. No. Scented candles. A vacuumed floor." He spun around then and met my eye for the first time since he had entered my room. "Conclusion? You're fucking at your boyfriend's place. You don't let him in here much. This is your haven away from him, in the form of an apartment slash home office. But," he smiled, just a little, walking toward me, fists in pockets, dark hair falling over dark eye, "I fit here, with all your books, all your blocks of light, with your vanilla candle and your terribly framed Picasso print. You'd fuck me, right here, without thinking, because I fit."
I dropped the watering can.
Part Two: In which the writer speaks my language.
When the phone rang at 8 P.M., the writer woke, groaned and handed me the cordless. "It's him," he said while it rang. I pushed the button and it was him, of course it was.
He responded in one-word phrases, like always, while the writer slithered down my body. "Honey," I whispered, willing my voice not to shake. "I really have to work tonight. I have a new… client…" My body shuddered and the client hummed, so light that I felt rather than heard it. I gasped. "What? I don't know. I think I'm not sleeping enough. I have a headache, plus I really have to work. Maybe tomorrow, hon."
I pushed the button again, the light on the phone went off, and the writer moved up my body, under the down comforter. "What an enlightening conversation," he quipped, smashing his body against mine. "He sounds so interesting. He will be tough competition, indeed." I wailed as he teased me, slowly, but I did not ask, did not beg, did not respond in words. The words belonged to him. He didn't want to hear anyone else speak, so I let him. "How shall I begin to entice you away? Shall I pull out my big guns? Shall I quote Ondaatje?" He pulled back and rested one palm over my left breast.
I wanted to say, I love Ondaatje, but he knew this, of course; he had trailed his hands over the spines of my books. He came closer, until I could breathe him. He said: "She stands in the last daylight, of the bedroom painting her eye, holding a small mirror." I wept, then, because of his haughty voice, his low, terrible voice that allowed me to think myself worthy. He pulled back out. I watched the muscles on his belly contract when he pulled away, relax when he pushed toward me.
He said: "The brush of sandalwood along the collarbone. Green dark silk. A shoe left on the cadju tree terrace…"
And I knew, I knew what came next: these nights when… I struggled, real tears pouring out the sides of my eyes; I grasped his hipbones, begging with my eyes and no words. He said: "These nights when 'pools are reduced by constant plungings'," and on this last word he allowed my hands to guide him. My sob sounded like a laugh.
He supported himself with his right hand, gripped my throat lightly with his left, traced the line of my jaw with his left thumb, inserted the second finger into my mouth. Not that I would have spoken. But then I could allow little ministrations, little yelps and muffled cries to escape my throat, because at the same time I closed my mouth and wrapped my tongue around his finger. He said: "Meanwhile a man's burning heart, his palate completely dry, on the Galapitigala Road…"
I heard the last line like a drum beat, to the timing of his body; I did not say it, even though by that time he could not either. Even afterward, he seemed to have forgotten, because he fell asleep on his stomach beside me. Or perhaps he left the last line unsaid, so that there would be unfinished business. A reason to continue.
Thinking there is water in that forest
Part Three: In which the writer has a weakness.
I had been typing away at his latest manuscript, at a dollar a page, for three days, before the writer called again. He asked about the manuscript and there was something in his voice, a thinness, an anxiety that had not been there before. Still haughty, though. Still low and warm. He didn't like computers, didn't want to be in the same room with one turned on. He liked the buzzing of the manual. Being able, I think, to watch his own hands on the keyboard.
I couldn't light enough candles, open enough windows. I took to smoking again. Nothing shoved out the scent of Man in my apartment. On page 127 he called. The hero's daughter had just died, mercilessly, at the hands of a rapist.
"What's happening?" he asked. Not inquiring about my activities, but my place within his book.
"The rapist just killed Jacqueline," I answered. These words he listened to. Even waited for them, fished for them. Words about his writing. My only power over him.
He relaxed, a little. "How did you like that scene?"
"I didn't. It was gruesome. It made me look away."
He breathed so that I could hear the smile over the phone. "Good," he replied, and hung up.
Page 307. The writer appeared at my door, unannounced and drunk, but still perfectly coifed. The rapist, brought to justice, sat in a prison cell reading Nietzsche. I smelled whiskey on him. He smelled cigarettes on me. Our mouths together tasted like the surface of a bar. Our bodies together felt like desperation.
Part Four: In which I have misjudged the writer.
I left my boyfriend's apartment at midnight on a Tuesday. That day, I had saved onto disk page 516. The hero had died saving his wife from the released rapist.
The tears on my cheeks dried and cracked in silvery trails. My breath showed a few inches in front of my face. I had told him there was someone else. I said the cliché things, like, "It isn't you. It's me." He'd thrown a plate. He wouldn't hug me goodbye.
I plodded around a corner to my car and against it, leaning against the passenger side, was the writer. He smiled, as if amused, as if playing a clever game.
"I followed you. I wanted to see where you fucked, when you were away from home."
I reached for his chest. He wore the same dark blue tee shirt. His chest was warm under the soft fabric. I felt his faint heartbeat. I considered not waiting until there was a bed, a room, privacy. "I didn't," I explained. "I haven't, since you. I won't again."
He did not acknowledge this, just looked upward. His smile faded. He backed away from my palm. He turned to look, mournfully, at the door of my boyfriend's apartment. "I took a taxi here. Can you give me a lift?" he asked.
I nodded, knowing I had ruined it. Ruined it.
These were the questions I wanted to ask: Would you like to come over? Can I see where you live? Do you love me? Do you want me?
He pointed to my street. I parked outside my apartment, stared at him across the car. He breathed. "When do you think you'll be done?"
I could lie. Yet I did not. "Tomorrow. I have only about twenty pages to go."
"Tomorrow," he echoed. "By noon. I'll be there." He slammed the passenger door and walked away, down the street, presumably toward his own home.
Part Five: In which the job is completed.
The writer leaves his house at a quarter 'til noon. He shoves his fists into the pockets of his jeans and looks down while he walks. When he turns the corner, I get out of the car.
Clutching a vanilla candle and a heavy stack of paper, I climb carefully over the fence separating his front and back yards. I test the sliding back door and the garage door before finding an unlocked bedroom window. I lift up the glass, throw the candle and paper in first, then climb in.
I run my fingertips along the spines of his books. On the back of the first sheet of paper I write: "Philosophical. A penchant for mystery and suspense. Enjoys freedom and lavish selfishness. Likes to hear self talk." The page flutters, my writing face-up, when I drop it to the floor.
In his kitchen I find a large metal mixing bowl. I set it on a towel in his living room. I stand on a chair to turn off the smoke alarm. From my back pocket I procure a book of matches and a disk. I light the vanilla candle.
When he returns home, most likely angry that I did not answer the door, he will smell the vanilla first. He will find his manuscript, or what is left of it after I light it with the candle, in the mixing bowl.
I jump out the bedroom window and run to my car. I take a back route to my apartment, careful not to be seen by him. He has already left when I park outside. He is probably almost home.
He returns after an hour or so, gripping the disk. I answer the door. I stare as if I do not recognize him. He growls. "You destroyed my manuscript."
"One major weakness in your writing is your tendency to state the obvious. Besides, it's not completely gone." I point to the disk.
"You're trying to trap me." He sneers. "I can take this to anyone with a computer. I don't need you. Fucking psycho."
I grin. Sweetly. "You might want to try liking that in a girl. You know. Psychosis." I touch his chest. It's hot, a little damp, under his tee shirt. He's been walking back and forth all afternoon. I slide my hand down, grab him by the top of his jeans. "It's protected by password. You need me." I yank on the jeans and he stumbles toward me.
"I'll forget the password."
"Perhaps." I narrow my eyes. I push my hand, violently, down his jeans. "You shouldn't have fucking played me. You didn't want a relationship; you wanted drama. You wanted another man's woman."
Even though he seethes, even growls, he does not struggle to release my hand from inside his jeans. In his eye, too, gleams a hint of excitement, of mischief. "What do you want?"
"What does it feel like I want?"
"After you give me the password, I'll call the cops. You broke into my house. You destroyed my property."
"It'll be worth it."
We almost forget to close the front door.
Segments of "The Nine Sentiments (Historical Illustrations on Rock and Book and Leaf)," are quoted from Handwriting, by Michael Ondaatje, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999.
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