He shuffles across the lawn. His fists cram into his pockets and his wet sandals toe the doormat. It’s cold for March. He presses the doorbell. He waits. No one comes. He presses the doorbell again. No one comes. He leans on the doorbell.
His shadow jumps onto the door and disappears. He turns, a boxy Volvo is grumbling into the driveway. The parking brake cranks a halt, the two front doors crank open, crank shut. Mr and Mrs P wrapped in winter coats look curiously at him, put their heads to the ground, and make their way side by side along the walk. His fists cram into his pockets, he smiles nicely, and catches Mrs P’s eye as they near the stoop. He sidles over to the rail as they step up. Mr P is unpocketing his keys.
“Hey, Mrs P, how are you?”
“Aren’t you cold?”
“Who? Me? Nah.”
“Oh sure, why would I be?”
Click—the lock unlocks, he scuttles inside right behind them
They glide noiselessly over the carpet past the dining room table to the closet, hang their coats. Then she comes down the stairs, putting her hair up. She smiles at him and continues walking into the sunporch. Mr and Mrs P settle down at the table, where a broken jigsaw awaits.
“Looks like you’ve got a long night ahead of you.”
“No, it shouldn’t take that long.”
“Oh. Well, I’m gonna…” he nods over his shoulder.
“Don’t have too much fun in there.”
“Ha, yeah. You got it.” He smiles nicely, walks away. His sandals fumble over along the tightly laid lines in the carpet. There she is: lying on the couch in the cozy little sunporch, snuggled up in her afghan with the TV on. Her glasses are on, too, her hair damp.
“What’s a gal like you doing in a place like this?”
“Uh, I kinda live here.”
“Hm. That must make me a guest.” He plops onto the couch, kicks off this sandals, and drapes his feet over her lap.
“Get outta here.” She pushes his feet to the carpet, facing him towards the TV.
Commercial. Microsoft Office and another great moment at work.
Ray is eating a cheese sampler, straight, and he won’t let Robert have any. Robert notices a suitcase on the stairs and asks, “What’s that suitcase doing over there?”
“It’s been there a week. Deb forgot to move it or something.”
“Oh. Well, why don’t you move it?”
“Oh no, no no no. It’s in the house. Deborah takes care of the house. Therefore, it’s her job to move it. I’ll bet she’s doing this on purpose. But nah-uh, I’m not giving in.”
It’s cold in here.
You’re warm though, except for your hands. It feels
like it should be snowing. When was the last time it
snowed—what, a month ago? No, must have been before
that, the day of snow-Godzilla.
So what did you think, huh?
Better than you and your dad’s.
Are you kidding? It’s monumental.
What! Godzilla? Stupid? We’re talking Lord of the Reptiles, Bane of Tokyo. All you’ve got is some stumpy Eskimo.
Well, we made ours when the snow wasn’t as good.
Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know how you did it. Wait—I bet you used a snowblower.
You did, didn’t you!
It’s cheating, that’s what.
No—it’s like using a shovel to make a sandcastle.
But this is snow. It’s completely different.
How is it different?
Well, for one, you can’t eat sand.
Two, snow comes from when the angels’ wings shiver.
Aw, did your mommy tell you that?
Yes, and more importantly, three, you just can’t compare two different artistic media. It’s like—
No it’s not! You just keep making stuff up.
Uh! I’m offended.
Shut-up. You’re smiling. You know it.
When have I ever lied to you?
Ha! You lie constantly.
Like when? I bet you can’t name one time I lied.
Just because I don’t remember right now doesn’t make you not a liar.
I think you’re the liar.
What! How am I a liar?
You said your dinky little Eskimo is better than my seven-foot monolith of Godzilla’s tyrannical splendor.
That’s because it is.
Oh? Look outside—Godzilla’s eating your Eskimo.
See? Right there. You lied.
No, I’m totally serious. Look.
See, there’s nothing there.
That’s just because Godzilla finished him off already—that’s how awesome he is.
Shut-up. Ours is better. You are such a liar.
I certainly am not a liar!
Okay, how about I’m just confused?
Airplane: $90. Taxi: $8.45. Train: $6.15. Making it home for dinner: priceless. Mastercard.
Ray has to go on a business trip. He packs his clothes in a plastic bag. Deb insists he take the suitcase.
“Nope, I’ve got everything I need right here,” he insists.
“Shut-up, Ray. Don’t be stupid.”
“It’s waterproof, light, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
Deb tears the bag in half. Ray grabs a new one from the kitchen drawer and runs. Later, before leaving, he hides a smelly piece of cheese in the suitcase. When he returns from his trip, the whole house reeks and the suitcase is still sitting on the stairs. Ray and Deb exchange witty unpleasantries, then they make up, then they run up the stairs to really make up. But, when they reach the suitcase, they stop and fight over who wants to take the stupid suitcase up the stairs more. The audience laughs heartily.
Capital One. What’s in your wallet?
“You want anything to drink?”
“Sure.” Wait, no. Don’t get up. Let’s lie here and just talk. We haven’t just talked in a while. I want to talk.
She gets up and walks through the dining room. Mr and Mrs P must have gone upstairs without finishing their jigsaw. Looks like Mona Lisa. He scuttles after her into the kitchen. The way you walk, with those small, jaunty steps—I have to shorten my steps when we walk through Mindowaskin Park to our bench, the one we signed with glitter Sharpies. She opens the fridge, bends, peeks in. The way you bend over, your shirt runs up your back baring that milky skin I just want to reach down and touch. “Orange juice looks good.” Of course, it’s your favorite. She pulls the carton from the fridge, a cup from the cabinet. Clink, clunk. Sh, the house is sleeping. She pours a glass and walks back to the couch. He follows her into the sunporch. He sists down next to her, puts his glass on the carpet, and feels his long arm against her perfectly small back.
Easy, breezy, beautiful Cover Girl.
She flips channels until CSI: Miami. She reclines, pulls her afghan over her shoulders, and drapes her feet over his lap.
Why’ve you always got the TV on?
I don’t know. What, you need ambient noise or something?
Yeah, I guess.
Ambient noise is stupid. Is that the right word? Hm, lemme check.
It doesn’t matter.
Nah, I wanna make sure. The dictionary is right over there.
No, stop. Stay here.
Law & Order was on. Then the Spring PCS guy cleared up a couple’s static.
I want to turn it off.
No. You can’t.
Oh yeah? Whisked the remote from your hands. Just one click, voila.
Some little girl is dead on Chuckie Cheese’s bathroom floor. Last seen leaving the ball pit. Her lips are blue. Snapshots of her corpse from every angle flash and fade. Gloved hands scour the walls, floor, sinks and stalls for prints.
Cut to the lab. She was asphyxiated, choked on a pill her attacker tired to force down her throat.
Cut to the security room. The bastard avoided the cameras. Must have staked out the placed beforehand. No fingerprints, either.
Nissan. The spring sales event is here. What are you waiting for?
Hey! You whisked it back, lowered it between your legs, and slid it under the couch, then pushed yourself on top of me, grabbed my hands, and smiled. Your legs wrapped around mine.
No. I’m serious.
Tried to get up, but your body was so warm, the night so cold—sighed, leaned back and slipped your fingers between mine.
The pill was a sedative. They trace some sales, ask people some questions, ask some more people some questions, get an address. He’s not home, but his two kids are. They nab him after he comes home from his bike ride.
Verizon Wireless. Can you hear me now?
“Can I turn the TV off?”
“Why?” She raises her head from his shoulder.
“I want to talk.”
“We can talk with it on, you know.” She sits up, smiling.
“I can’t.” He pushes his hands into the cushion and lifts himself from the couch.
“No…” she moans as he stands, reaches to the TV, and turns around. There she is, lying across the couch, lower lip pushed out at me, arms crossed.
“Hey, let me sit, huh?”
“C’mon.” He picks up her struggling feet, sits, and drops them over his lap. He leans over her. “Lemme ask you something.”
“Why do you like me?”
“I just want to know why you like me.”
“Okay….Well, you’re nice, and you’re sweet, and you’re like the only guy I know who doesn’t drink or smoke or something stupid like that.”
“Why don’t you go out with my brother—he’s nice and doesn’t drink.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I…I don’t know. It’s just that—” that you sit there looking at me all confused.
You were unwrapping the first part of your gift, an oils set. Ah, but the second part, the real kicker, was a double CD set, the top 40 songs from your birthday, October fourth, nineteen eighty-five—
What? What’s wrong?
Oh. Nothing. It’s just you wrote October fourth on the CD, that’s all.
Well, October fourth’s not my birthday.
What? You’re joking.
No, I’m not. My birthday is October third.
Oh my God.
No, it’s okay. It’s really nice. Don’t worry about it.
I am so sorry. I can’t believe it—I could have sworn—I knew it was October fourth, I knew it.
Why didn’t you just ask?
It’s just that I thought I knew it was October fourth. I was so sure. Are you sure?
Yes. My birthday is October third.
Jesus. I am so, so sorry. I can’t believe it. How come last year it was the fourth?
The fourth was just the night we went out.
I can’t believe I screwed this up. I’m. So. Sorry.
No, it’s okay. It’s really sweet. It’s not a big deal.
Just forget about it. Really. I’m not upset or anything.
“It’s just that I don’t feel close to you anymore.”
She lays her hand on his cheek. She considers it and kisses him. To kiss back—oh, it’s just so easy, to forget and remember when Mrs P ran to the store for oranges and we kissed and then more than kissed took off my shirt, your shirt, pressed chest to hot, sticky chest.
Hey, what happened to that picture you were gonna draw of us together?
Oh, I’m still working on it.
When you gonna finish it?
I don’t know.
You said you’d finish it before school started.
Yeah, I’ve been busy.
I think you’re just baffled by my beauty.
Yup. You’ve got it.
How about you show me the story you’re writing, huh?
Oh, right. I just wanna touch it up some.
Why can’t you just show me now. It’s almost done, right?
But it’s not done. Not until it’s done.
C’mon, just show me.
No. Not until it’s done.
He pulls his face back from hers. “No, I’m serious.”
“Like, it’s been so long, and I just don’t feel close to you.”
Look I want to talk, to you.
Well, it’s like this. See, I’m not breaking up with you—it’s just I don’t know where this, us, is going.
I mean, I just don’t know what I want from us. I—I just can’t see...what’s wrong?
Crying. You were like really crying. Face in
hands, shaking, gasping, all that. I rubbed her back.
Crying. I slid along our bench until our bodies met.
August’s last warm, heavy night.
“I just…don’t know—what to say.”
“There’s not any one ‘what’ to say. Like, I don’t know, just anything.”
“It just feels like I’m always…disappointing you.”
He slides against her on the couch, arm around her rubbing arm. “I need a tissue,” she says while lifting herself from the couch and scurries into the kitchen. He sits, then gets up and follows halfway, stopping in the dining room near the door. She comes back form the kitchen. Hands in pockets, he looks at her from under his eyebrows. She is smiling.
She punches him in the stomach.
“What’s that for?”
“I don’t know,” smiling.
He steps toward her, holds her hips. “Are you okay?”
She yawns. “I’m tired. It’s late.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I know it’s late, I just really wanted to talk to you.”
He opens the door and just steps out of the sleeping house onto the doorstep. She closes the door behind him. He turns and catches her smile through the window pane. A Honda turns into the driveway next door. He sees his shadow jump onto the door. It’s cold for March.
He crams his fists deep into his pockets and starts across the lawn. He can’t help but think, “Kinda thirsty. Wish I had that orange juice now.”
Matt Smith is studying at Harvard University while interning at Time Magazine on a part time basis. He has attended the annual New England Young Writers' Conference, received the Oberlin College Alumni Association's Book Award for for excellence in English, and won a Gold Key Award for his non-fiction portfolio in the The New York Times James B. Reston competition. This is his first published work.
Copyright 2005, Matt Smith. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be reproduced, reprinted, reused, or altered without the expressed written permission of the author.