Bright, Bright Electric Green – Tessa Cheek
Young people have no idea the mess they make, so Simon thinks while picking up cigarette butts behind the apartment building he manages. Denver’s moral clock winds down to 2 a.m., when the bars close. Out of the night: screams, shudders, wild laughter. Simon moves so slowly the alley security light forgets him, vanishes. He relights it by feebly waving a closed fist of ash above his head.
Simon is 62 years old and hasn’t liked the taste of a cigarette since ‘76, around the time his last lovers walked away from him shaking their heads, their hearts and mouths and shoulders already full of more pity than anger.
Nothing belongs to Simon now, certainly not the apartments where he lives and works. Even so, he knows he’s much more than a super. He’s a kind of temporary grandfather the tenants don’t even know they have. He slides the cigarette butts one by one, some with lipstick around the rim, through the warp between lid and locked Dumpster.
He’ll empty the foyer wastepaper basket now, his hands are already dirty. The young people throw nearly empty beer cans in there all the time, though Simon clearly set it out for junk mail.
Sometimes the young people accidentally throw away personal mail. Their lives are so large and loud, so overwhelming to them in generosity; occasionally, the quiet and singular slips through. Two years ago, alone on the eve of his 60th birthday, Simon gave himself a little gift in deciding that these thoughtless gestures constituted the proper legal transfer from themselves to himself.
Yes, he keeps the letters. Yes, he reads them. No one has any problem with him picking up all those cigarette butts, all those repositories for mouths, teeth, lips. The young people, by sheer inattention, are the ones who crowned him keeper of forgotten objects.
Tonight a Pabst Blue Ribbon has stuck together all the leaves of a coupon magazine. When Simon lifts the wet booklet a letter for the upstairs girl drops out into a puddle of beer. He rescues it to the pocket of his robe.
The upstairs girl is his particular favorite. Beatrice McClain. She habitually throws out student loan notices from a prestigious college back East. The letter filling his pocket is addressed only to “Bea.” He says her name aloud in the empty foyer as if it were Spanish in origin. He tests the round sound of it, an invocation.
It has been a dozen years since Simon could sleep all night. Old age collapses entire decades into a single dream. He’d expected that. He knows that between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. even the rowdiest members of the apartment—which thirty years ago would have been called a boarding house, it’s that spare—are nested up in their beds. That’s when Simon takes his walks.
The lights stay on in all three hallways, for safety. A green floral runner covers the wood on the first and second floors. In the basement large white tiles seal the ground like a slaughterhouse under loud fluorescents. Every night he starts down there as if rising out of hell. He ends on the third floor, where ancient peaked skylights slice the lofty hallway.
The upstairs girl lives up there. She lives in the apartment right above Simon’s. She seems to have money coming in. She parks a car in the lot outside the building and she has the focused, daytime face of a person at work. Sometimes around midnight when Simon likes to take a short rest, the sound of her feet upstairs wakes him with the echo of music. But he is never angry. He knows she is dancing.
Tonight he paces the high hallway twice, passing through bars of moonlight, hiccups of shadow, before leaning against her door. He quiets every part of himself, the better to listen. Up through the night comes the heavy sound of sleeping breath. Sometimes a murmur, a cough, even a shout, but beneath it, seeping beneath every door: breath. His chest rises and falls with the rest of them (with her). His palm rests against her door as on the flank of a good horse. For a moment as deep and long as sleep his happiness is perfectly empty and complete.
Her phone rings inside, shattering everything. It is 3:43 a.m., who could be calling her? Simon pictures her rising. The phone is silenced. Footsteps — does she walk towards him? He freezes like a rodent. Nothing could make him move from her door. A fan clicks on. By a light, metallic bleat he guesses that she has returned to bed.
Bea cannot be older than 25. She probably hasn’t seriously considered childbirth. Does she sleep in tattered, ridiculously patterned pajama pants? Does she sleep in panties and a man’s shirt worn thin by what must seem to her very large distances of just a year or two? Does—he usually refrains from such thoughts—does she sleep with only the sheets around her and rise again, long of curve and loose of limb, into the pre-dawn to come open the door? Does she invite him at last into her high warm room where the small red fan now runs, pumping in the night?
Simon pushes himself from the door. He cannot think these thoughts in the hall. He stumbles down the front stairs. He rounds the landing at a ferocious speed, dizzying himself a lot, flinging himself through the unlatched door. Home.
To be standing in the middle of this old man’s den on the cheap bath mat that covers the limited remaining open space. To be standing in basketball shorts that hang off his ass, in grungy plastic sandals, in a stained white shirt. This, he decides, is the truth of loneliness.
Simon feels, with his right hand limply at his side, the pointed shape of the letter in his pocket. Even as he walks to his card table, even as he uses the only sharp knife left in the place to slice open the envelope, he is thinking of himself nobly pushing the letter under her door, the sound of it whispering across the floorboards. He sits to read.
A year ago you were dancing to that blues punk. You were shaking, shaking, a conniptic thriller with your hair on fire—high knees—not mine anymore.
But I am the one who knows how you woke up everyday: 8:38, books and magazines in your bed.
I found you, out on the roof alone during a party, eating an orange.
Do you still hang that hideous nude? The one you say is not of yourself, with blue holes for eyes?
I’m sorry about the time I called you a demon and stole your shoes.
I’m sorry about the other girls. I’m also sorry to them—as I know you would expect.
Maybe we’re all sorry? I googled, and that would seem to be the case these days:
I keep dreaming myself into that ruined living room we found by the freeway, where a seedling grows through the floor. You have always just gone into the next room, to the corner store, on a short walk—just temporarily absent, forever.
Anyway, I’ve run out of aphoristic ways to say regret, remorse, requite but not out of pictures of our world together, which only return, return, return.
Simon pulls this first leaf to the side and finds three more—all blank—behind it, as if the point of the letter is that there’s a lot that can’t be in the letter. He even holds the empty pages to the light for a moment, possessed of their containing a code. As a love letter it ranks among the top three Simon’s ever collected, though when he searches the page for the word, it isn’t there.
Actually, by his sixth re-reading certain lines really grind. What can be meant by the hideous nude? Simon doesn’t believe those two words belong adjacent in a letter designed to deliver a simple, three-word message. And that sudden walk-it-back after the apology complete with nonsensical print-and-paste graph!?
What a turd. Yes, it is very good Simon has got the letter and prevented this mystifying attachment from stalking Bea, who is a good girl, just living, perhaps even happily, in a small room in Denver, where the creatures are so few and friendly you don’t even need a screen in your window.
He folds the thing back up and returns it to the pocket of its open envelope. He puts the envelope in with all the others in a black legal box. There are more than 30.
Simon drops the mini blinds. They sound like a gate rattling shut. He has saved Bea from the letter, but he has not saved himself. The thought of “L” out there somewhere waiting forever to hear from Bea delights him. But with no one to share the feeling with it bends back on him, a barb. Simon wraps up in blankets that need washing.
He understands the letter is intended as a kind of receipt—proof, if not of love, at least of having carefully observed Bea in this or that moment. And ultimately he has the greatest respect, yes admiration, for that clumsy last line. How it sings with all the vulnerability of a broken record.
Simon, cocooned around the letter in the pre-dawn, shuts his eyes and takes the first step of a second, treacherous, stroll. He walks the narrows between sleep and memory. Back in time he goes, down the steep incline of the sorry trend line, until he’s 19 again riding back seat in Jack’s grandpa’s Oldsmobile. They shot north from St. Louis into Iowa, sniffing after the corn money. They had four in the back and three up front, enough for a whole ride crew, which meant they were partying like people anticipating the silent intimacy of day labor. They had not done the work yet, so there was nothing to celebrate. But it would be years until they learned that the celebration of nothingness is the brightest, hardest kind.
Simon sat behind Jack, who always drove, and he laughed and he yelled about what should be played on the stereo. Lynn sat beside him then but Simon cannot think of her now, not when he is alone. He cannot think of her long brown thighs in their shorts, not her knees pinning a bottle of whiskey between them. She smokes a cigarette and so does he. She is squashed in the middle of a pile of bodies and so is he. He knows that he loves her and he knows that he does not care when she puts the whiskey in her mouth and turns to kiss him running warmth around his teeth and down his chin. The others are watching but pretending not to, or else not watching because it’s all very game, funny and interminable as scenery. There is a moment when she becomes shy, he can feel it, a moment right before she draws her face from so close to his. He feels now that he should have done something other with that moment than bring his cigarette to his mouth while she turned away.
Simon doesn’t remember much of the detasseling. It’s been so many years and they tempered the long days by dipping into the rows to roll spliffs out of bits of dried husk. Which is to say they were very stoned the whole time.
He knows he probably makes up the memory of sitting beside her on the carrier and the harsh smell of her sweat, the way the muscles of her back moved beneath damp cotton. And later, in the fields where they camped with the Mexicans, he did not really help her take off her shirt. Her arms were so sore she could not raise them above her head even one more time. The sun had burnt her smooth skin into the shape of a reverse tank. But he did not rub aloe into her neck and arms while she lay with her naked breasts against the dark, wet grass. He did not sweetly kiss the two hollows at the low of her spine. And there were not fireflies hissing and sparking, a million tremors in the July night. They did not later drop acid and then curl with just the tips of their toes and the tips of their noses touching for hours, riding out something too strong for both of them.
Oh but he does remember. He does remember her skin in so many shades of sun and not sun. He does remember tripping and thinking, her skin is like Neapolitan ice cream. Tan thighs, pink shoulders, white breasts and ribs and belly.
He does remember how he left her, curled topless in the grass, when Jack came running, holding a big stick on fire over his head. They lit another and another and another and ran naked with these long, flaming extensions of their arms until they came to a fat, slow river. They threw their big man matches into the river one by one. Simon remembers how it felt like everything, how it felt like witnessing the secret at the heart of everything, to hear the wood hit the river, hear it extinguished in a sigh followed by so much silence.
They stood there on the bank not sure what to do now the fires were out. Many insect noises backed into the night.
And he does remember how surprisingly cold Jack’s hand was, slipping between his ass cheeks. Yes Jack even said, “My hands are cold,” and he put them between Simon’s ass cheeks to warm them. First Simon giggled. Then he felt dirty and wanted to go into the river.
They ran into the river shouting, cracking open the night. Under the tepid water there were hands and sticks, and anything was permissible, even Jack’s fist around Simon’s dick, slick with silt. The water bent and shone under a very clear sky with just so many God damn stars and the mud reached up around his ankles and it seemed that it got inside him and started rising, that he was filling up with black silky mud while Jack’s hand moved faster and faster.
“You’re fucking the river man,” said Jack. “You’re gunna cum in this river and your Simon tadpoles will swim its depths and lengths and —”
Simon came so hard he collapsed into the water and it closed over his head and he decided that he wouldn’t come up. He even used his hand around Jack’s calf to hold himself under. All he wanted was for Lynn to come bounding down riverside, so like a fawn, and rescue him from himself immediately. He would open his eyes, see her face as in moonlight, see her hands parting the water. He would drink a cup of air. It would be like the time she first met his family, everyone had snow in their hair. She would look that beautiful. He’d feel—again—that impressed, that proud.
But it was Jack who got wise and pulled Simon up on the bank and kissed him and kissed him and banged childishly on his chest until Simon had to breath again. Then they just sat there bare-assed in the mud waiting for the acid to wear off and for their minds, sweet mechanisms of forgetting, to work them over.
If Simon acted strangely after or stayed out all night with Jack screaming through the Lou, Lynn wasn’t fazed. She stuck around. They all did. Simon and Jack worked a construction stint on a big, shoddy mansion in Clayton County that lasted them most of the fall. Somewhere in there Jack began supplying the guy, a failed industrialist, who sold them a huge, dank warehouse by the Mississippi in exchange for $2,500 and vial of acid. Jack took care of the whole deal, tendered when a trial run of the acid proved supremely satisfactory to both parties.
It was a strange time to live in that city, because nobody wanted to. After the first couple of years the construction money was mostly gone. Then even the demo money dried up when nobody in the suburbs wanted “genuine antique St. Louis bricks.” By the time they were all cracking a quarter-century old, only a few college kids could afford Jack’s drugs or wanted them. But Jack spun around happily, spending more and more time on the campuses, sometimes hauling Simon along, sometimes losing his drugs or his money but only laughing. “It doesn’t matter!” He’d slam a palm into Simon’s chest. “You know better than anyone, it doesn’t matter!”
Every night Lynn left the bed she shared with Simon, got on her bicycle and road to Le Miracle! where she was a dancer at a kitschy strip club with no polls. The smell of the place bothered Simon most—sweet, overwrought anticipation undercut by a faint, maddening bitterness he believed to be pre-cum. But she was the only one bringing in steady money.
The dancing allowed Lynn to sleep as she’d always preferred: in phases, like a cat. The earliest hours of morning and afternoon found her generally naked, sprawled across white sheets. She and Simon had their bed up high on a loft over the living room, where Jack slept on a futon. Most days Simon woke up alone in the mid-morning and rolled to the edge of the cantilever to spy on Lynn in the garden.
She had a favorite sitting place in the crook of a tipped cedar where she would curl, hair piled on bent head, to write several pages into a large black sketchbook. She had told him once that she liked the feeling of being seen by him, liked it best in that cradle of privacy. So Simon would watch her through the wall of blurry windows, smile while the light moved over her, but never disturb her, which was how he said, “I love you.”
While Lynn danced in and out of lace, while he and Jack stole bricks, St. Louis emptied like an anthill flooding. All around their warehouse: others that were vacant, sloppy docks, titanic cement cylinders around humming voids, broken iron arms, a metal door that banged open and closed in the wind driving the three of them crazy until Jack and Simon vaulted over barbed wire to tear the door from its hinges. They brought it home, triumphant, and used the rusty scrap to closet the latrine.
How clearly Simon can still see himself hammering in the night by the light of a thick fire station bulb he and Jack led after themselves on the leash of a long cord. Simon had his legs threaded in the rafters but really nothing tethered him up there, some thirty feet above the crushed beer cans they had dropped all night to the concrete below. They worked with wide, grey boards ripped from the decks of a beached barge down river.
“They smell like the ocean,” said Jack.
He had stopped hammering and lay like a big cat, limbs dangling, his face and torso pressed to the plank. He wore grey boxers and nothing else. It was stupid to make the permanent bedrooms so high, where all the heat gathered. The light from the single bulb exploded the beads of sweat all across Jack’s shoulders. A wet V blackened the back of his shorts.
“You’ve never been to the ocean, fag.”
“Don’t call me that.” Jack’s voice was so small. Simon couldn’t stand it.
Simon maneuvered along the iron trusses to the little landing they’d put down by a new set of stairs. It was where they kept the beer. He cracked one with the back of his hammer and drank half.
For five years things had run more or less smoothly. Then last winter Simon punched Jack in the face outside a bar in Soulard. Blind wasted, Jack only said, “Thank you, sweet friend,” out a mouth that looked lipsticked but tasted like iron. He’d forgiven Simon. In fact, sometimes Simon wondered if they couldn’t all sit down and openly agree to some kind of treaty. Hadn’t Lynn already said Simon was a different man when fucked up? Well sure he was and Jack loved that person and that person had been rattling around the base of Simon’s skull his whole life, twisting around in self disgust, and now that person was meeting the eyes of Jack, who didn’t look away. Simon dropped his beer, opened another.
A long month ago, when it was just starting to warm up, Lynn came home early from the club and more or less caught Jack on his knees in the kitchen. They’d been doing it in the kitchen because it was not immediately visible from the front door and because, although he was too careful to say anything, Jack had noticed that Simon liked to wash his hands after. Anyhow, they pretended Jack was on mushrooms praying to the oven. They pretended Simon had been trying to reason with him. They pretended it had taken a sudden veer towards the weird just as Lynn arrived.
Lynn thought it was all very hilarious and would sometimes recount Jack’s electric piety for party guests in a loud voice. That kind of black-eyed performance out of her was enough to terrify both boys. They did love her, both of them. So they’d stayed away from each other, circling at five or ten feet, growing more and more competitive in their sudden, reckless architectural experiments.
Then two weeks ago Lynn asked Simon to build a room just for the two of them, a real room with walls and bannisters and a little room off it, with a little bed.
“Quit doing that, you make me feel guilty,” said Simon when Jack began to hammer again. “We’ve done enough tonight.”
Jack tucked his hammer into the waistband of his boxers. He pushed up, tensed all along his back, and crawled in reverse along a single beam. Simon had the idea that Jack might fall, could hear Jack’s skull against concrete and the tinkle of cans shooting around under impact. Just as Jack was easing himself back onto their platform Simon lunged forward, wrapped his arms around Jack’s naked waist and pulled him back from the edge, down onto his side. He spooned Jack awkwardly, shaking. They were both shaking.
“I wasn’t going to fall.”
“Fuck you, I know you, you might have pretended just to scare me.” Simon had his face buried in the crook of Jack’s neck. It was the closest they’d been in weeks. He felt the hammer like something backwards wedged between them. Jack moved to sit up but Simon only clamped down harder, throwing a leg over Jack’s.
“Lynn’s going to have a baby, Simon. Everyone knows. It’s time to grow up, man.”
Simon believed that the moment he let go Jack would roll off their bright raft and vanish. He licked Jack’s neck, looking for salt, looking for Jack to sigh and sink backwards into him.
“Stop.” Jack was staring out across the dark void they’d been slowly bridging all night, building-out the landing in the direction of the platform where Lynn and Simon slept.
Simon peered into the darkness after him. Then he pulled away like he’d been burned, righted himself, drew his knees to his chest. Lynn. She just sat there, her high-heeled feet dangling over the edge of their bedroom. Simon could not understand how she climbed up the rope ladder in the dark — something she’d always been too afraid to do. He could not ask how long she had sat there watching them float way out center in a pool of light.
“They fired me,” she said. “Getting fat.” Lynn kicked off her shoes. They fell a long way.
“Someone should leave,” said Jack. He stood, swaying slightly.
Simon could not bear to look up. He only saw how Jack’s long shadow dropped off abruptly at the edge of the platform, adding to the dark void that separated the pair of them from Lynn. Then Jack was hulking over him, blocking all the light, pressing his hands hard on each side of Simon’s face.
“I love you,” he said, driving his forehead into Simon’s.
Simon shut his eyes tight, tighter, felt a tiny pop — maybe a vessel. He wanted to weep blood, like a saint. Jack’s smell replaced all the oxygen.
Simon shook and shook and shook his head until Jack threw it away, stood, towered over him.
“I love you,” Jack shouted.
“Love!” Lynn’s voice was so high and harsh, Simon got to his knees mumbling baby, baby, baby. “You fuckers think love is a pair of man boys climbing up old buildings and taking too many drugs to hold down a job. You think love is looking at each other and seeing your own face grin back at you. Well I hope it sustains you.”
She began to climb barefoot down the ladder. Jack was laughing, laughing, hysterically laughing.
“You’re probably better off raising that kid away from us faggots anyway,” he forced out.
Simon just knelt as if praying. He could see Lynn between the floorboards, walking away from them. When she looked up and said the last thing, he saw her face only as a sliver of white.
“What kid? I got rid of it. I’m getting rid of all three.”
“Hey! Hey!” Everything in Simon wanted out, screaming. “What did you fucking do? Hey!”
Now it was Jack whose arms were around his waist and Simon fought him, throwing his elbows backwards one after another into Jack’s lower belly. He lunged towards the edge of the platform. He wanted them both to fall. Then Lynn would have to come back, or else it wouldn’t matter.
He was so close, with Jack nothing but dead weight and sobbing on his back. Jack got his foot between Simon’s and they went down, half over the edge with Jack laying along the length of Simon, a hand around the splintering edge of a beam.
“You and I both know there probably never was any baby,” Simon felt Jack’s jaw moving against his sternum as he spoke. It was not like a blessing to have Jack lay on top of him. Not like Lynn, who passed over like a slow rainstorm and then resolved herself, bird boned and sacred, into a little spoon. All the times he exposed to her his soft belly!
Simon rolled left, pushing the both of them squarely onto the platform and Jack off him entirely.
It occurred to him then that he hadn’t looked Jack full in the face for years. When he thought of Jack he always pictured a boy’s wild eyes and mouth. But Jack’s black hair had traveled all over his cheeks, his arms had grown ropy, his eyes low. He looked like a man Simon didn’t know. No, he looked like a man who didn’t recognize Simon at all.
“Lynn knew about that first time in the river,” Jack said. “She and I were closer back then. She asked me, you know how she can be so practical, she asked me—was it a drug thing? Did I think it would happen again? I said yes and no, but she knew what I meant. At least she knew how it was for me. Anyone who looked could see I was never the same after. You can’t come back from a happiness like that. She and I just passed that feeling between us until it ran out.”
Simon could not think about that, about the two of them knowing, the two of them agreeing somehow, and him, ultimately, the one left out.
“I wish I’d been stronger than you,” said Simon, meaning when his hand was around Jack’s muddy calf, meaning every time his hand was around anything of Jack’s, meaning all of it, meaning it to hurt.
Jack reached towards him. Simon grabbed the light bulb by its tail and smashed it against a column. Glass sprayed like a baptism over Jack’s face. The jolt ran up Simon’s arm and dropped him. The backs of his lids looked like that night by the river: bright, bright electric green popping under so much darkness. When he opened his eyes he was alone.
Simon wakes up late in the afternoon. He has not slept so long in years and years. True, he is frightened of sleep—cut off from all dreams but the ones that really happened to him. Now he rises, nearly running from the bed, pulls up the blinds for the last of the light.
Pictures cover most of the inside of his windows. He likes the way they glow with the sun coming through them, very private stained glass. There is one of Obama that has been bleached by the sun but still retains the man’s deep dignity: a smile that is a frown, eyes that survey. Down in the corner, too low to see much of, a black-and-white photograph shows him and his tasseling crew together. It must be from that season, with that night and river, because they are all there.
When Google came out Simon Googled them all. When Google Alerts came out he set one for each of them, because he knows new information is being added to the Internet every second. If nothing else, death would find each of them and bring their name and story home to him at last.
Jack, who has his arm around Simon’s broad shoulders at the snapshot’s center, died sometime in the late 1980’s from AIDS. There is one obituary, well-written and full of feeling, in an old San Francisco queer rag that has since gone online. That, and Jack’s unique death was the subject of one published poem, written by his lover.
And there she is: Lynn of the Neapolitan skin, Simon’s hand looking overly large around her waist. She doesn’t even pretend to smile.
Jack is about to say something to Simon. Simon is about to turn from Lynn. Some kid whose name he can’t remember is laughing and holding a cigarette out of the frame. Lynn stands perfectly still and stares into the eye of the lens. She knows everything that will happen. She knows that Simon will look at this picture so many years later and so alone and she wants him to know there will be no forgiveness.
Simon takes a shower, his first in a long time. He feels Lynn’s eyes on him. He knows she’s out there lacing boots, steeping tea. Perhaps she takes photographs and has made a family whose many footed steps tremble the house. The last time he saw her was in St. Louis about a year after she walked out. He’d skipped town in between, trained it down to New Orleans. He left their vacant home unlocked and went looking-but-not-looking for Jack.
But he couldn’t get Lynn off his mind. He wanted to know if there’d ever been a baby. Had she imagined herself in a high-ceilinged kitchen calling up the stairs to him with her hand on the musty head of some compromise between them? He had.
He did see her, sitting on the porch of her parent’s house, smoking a cigarette, reading a book. No visible child. Always intense in her reading, she didn’t look up. He just walked on by so slowly, willing her to see him but never speaking, never disturbing her. It felt at the time, as he crossed the shadow of her house and was no longer walking by but away, as he kept on walking and walking and walking, that his absence was the last gift he could give either of them and the only one likely to make her happy in the long run.
Simon emerges clean into the dark, dresses himself with purpose in khakis and a blue button-down shirt. He runs a dry razor over his papery face. He slips loafers onto his feet.
A gaggle of hipsters flows around him in the hallway. Boys and girls dressed alike, all with confusing, asymmetrical haircuts. They tumble towards the door shouting over each other, suckling from slender cans of diet Red Bull. It’s Friday night—she might not even be home.
But he can hear her strange music as he climbs the stairs and her door opens after barely a knock, unsteadying him. He takes an accidental step into her room and retreats.
“Oh, Simon!” She’s clearly surprised. Her hand goes to the neck of her robe: men’s cut, green silk with a white trim like a professional boxer’s.
“Is something wrong?” she asks. “I just took a shower and the floor by the tub is a little wet. Tell me it’s not leaking into your apartment.”
“You know, my ceiling is damp and I thought I should check before it becomes a serious problem.” Simon doesn’t like to hear himself speaking in the voice of a person who holds their hands to the ceiling on a Friday night, but he must push forward. To Bea this is his only voice.
“Well I’ll be out all day tomorrow so you can just feel free to come by.”
“You know, if it’s a leak in your main line it’s a bit more urgent than that. Could I just check? If it’s nothing major I’ll come back and fix it later.”
“Um, sure,” she says. “Come on in.”
The first thing Simon notices is the lamp, a gigantic glass eggshell slathering golden glowy light over her scattered papers. The place, actually, is a big mess. Her clothes pour out of the closet and Simon blushes when he sees a pair of her dirty underwear threaded on splayed inverted jean legs, crotch up.
He ends up on his belly on her bathroom floor in his nicest shirt using her cell phone as a flashlight.
“Well there’s no leak that I can see,” he tells her as he gets to his feet. “Just be careful you get a good seal on the shower curtain, you know, sort of stick it to the wall?”
“Yah, definitely.” She takes her phone and glances at the door.
“So you got any other problems with the place?” Simon asks, looking around.
“Nope, things are good, this is a good spot.” Now she’s walking towards the door, which she left a little open.
“You know, I almost forgot but I found this letter in the trash for you, didn’t look like junk mail so I thought I’d drop it by.” He’s embarrassed by his hand, which shakes when he offers her the letter.
Bea, awkwardly positioned between him and the exit, doesn’t reach for it.
“I threw that one away on purpose,” she says.
“Oh, well.” Simon blinks. The possibility had not occurred to him.
“So thanks for checking that leak.”
Is it his imagination or is there something a little hard, a little snide about her voice when she says leak? She is opening the door. Soon she will say it, soon she will tell him to leave.
“So, so I’ll just leave this letter, ummm,” he wheels around, desperately passing his eyes over her room, memorizing it, “here.” He sets the letter right on her bed.
“Could you not?” She sounds a little frantic. “I threw it away on purpose. I— just, could you take it with you?”
“What should I do with it?”
“Throw it away, burn it, read it. I don’t care.”
The letter has never felt more like hers, more shameful and weird in his hand, then while she watches him pluck it from her bed and ferret it into his pocket.
“Thanks for stopping by, Simon, I’ll see you around.”
“Any time, Bea.” It’s a pleasure to say the name and for her to nod in recognition as she recedes, letting him pass.
A second after she closes the door behind him, Simon hears her throw the deadbolt. He puts his palm to the wood and tries to imagine it giving way under his touch. But the current of want has gone out of it. There nothing left inside to tether him.
Maybe he climbs the fire escape onto the roof to shake some cosmic fist at Lynn. It’s a night that follows an afternoon of rain. The roof’s slow incline, slick and shining, gives Simon a familiar vertigo, what had him fling himself over Jack all those years ago.
He’s spent decades missing them both at once. Really he grew to love them more—as they had always deserved, more than!—as time went by, as he discovered the importance of narration. For example he takes the letter out of his pocket and tells himself that the “L” means it is from Lynn, from Lynn to him.
He kisses the letter dryly on its pointed flap. He imagines Lynn wrote it years ago and that it took years to get here. In his mind Lynn awaits a reply and always has. In his mind she has written:
Falling out of love with you was like waking up underwater. But if I could fall asleep and dream our dream again, I would do it. I’m that tired.
And when he lights the letter on fire using a crappy clear plastic lighter someone dropped in the foyer a month ago, Simon tells himself that he is releasing all of them. He sits with his back against a peaked skylight, the glass like water thinly rippling over stones. He holds up his word torch while it burns toward his hand.