Embarrassed, the man removed himself to the bathroom and closed the door without turning on the light. He was about to drop on the toilet seat cover when something lying there jabbed his thigh. It was the vibrator, still plugged in. It was gingerly replaced in the potpourri basket.
Clammy trousers and briefs were kicked off in an artless wad over his socks, while shirt buttons required more negotiation. His indolent thoughts were a little less ordered than the heap of clothes at his feet.
The humiliation he felt could not help but elicit flashbacks of childhood bedwetting episodes. He wanted to take a shower and wash the grimy dampness off his skin, like when, as a half-asleep child, his mother drew a bath in the middle of the night to remedy his discomfort. Instead, he settled for a bar of soap and washcloth at the sink.
The door abruptly opened to set off his talc-white body against the pink vanity. Folding like a deck chair, he darted for cover.
Emma tossed in a pair of pajamas with a motherly request. “Hand me your clothes.”
He shrank on rising to give her the wet garments.
Candlelight reemerged under the bathroom door by the time he squeezed into the ill-fitting nightwear. (The pajama pattern unfortunately depicted characters from The Little Mermaid.) He stepped out to find the resident busily remaking her bed; his shadow bumbled clumsily on the wall beside her.
“I guess you turned on the bathroom faucet when you were sleepwalking upstairs,” she surmised. “With the basin clogged, it ran over.”
The candlelight did little too nuance Emma’s flat expression, and Aloysius could only think she dissembled to hide her disappointment in seeing him nude. He would not endure her curtained thoughts, so bowed his head with a general apology. “I’m sorry.”
Still in her housecoat, Emma crawled into the remade bed to turn away. “Come,” she said. “I’m sleepy. And I want to keep you out of trouble.”
Aloysius slipped in without another word to face her back, yet kept his distance.
Her voice bounced softly off the wall in front of her. “You’re on your left side.”
He needed to face her—needed something from her.
“Can you even sleep in a bed with another person?” she asked quietly.
He was not sure he could. “Yes,” he said.
She backed into the curve of his body and pulled his arm around her waist. Her hair was filled with the fragrance of apricot conditioner, and her words on the shared pillowcase stumbled more out of her dream than his. “Youíre becoming a complication.”
Aloysius watched the brightening window over the sloping line of her jaw. More redolent scent (that of laundry detergent in the creased sheets) comforted him. The warmth of Emmaís bones in the terrycloth robe was what he imagined domesticity to feel like. Together with the soothing thump of the dryer in the basement, it was the sort of extended kindness easily forgotten in independent adulthood: that of a mother for a child.
This flood of sense memory discouraged him from parsing the word “complication” in the hour before daybreak.
There was no sense of his eyes shutting as his vigil wore on. A moment or two had lapsed, at most. It was only in seeing her peering down at him from the edge of the bed that he realized he had been asleep. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” she beamed.
Aloysius squinted by way of response. Her gamboge gingham dress was a second Sun against the windowpanes.
Emma twinkled to her toes. “I ironed your things.”
Aloysius peeked at his neatly folded briefs and trousers in the wooden chair. They smelled warmly of starch. He replied with meek gratitude.
The homemaker traipsed into the hallway and left him to dress hurriedly. Her voice was ungodly cheery from the kitchen. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”
Tying his shoes, the guest poked around for a clock, yet had no idea under which plush animal it was likely hiding. He ventured to the front room to inquire, “What time is it?”
No response was forthcoming.
Aloysius glanced at the answering machine; it was now stuffed with thirty-nine messages.
Emma popped out of the kitchen with two bowls of cornflakes. “Twelve vitamins and minerals!”
The man lumbered to the nook and slouched over the edge of a stool with a few mismatched buttons. He took one lump of sugar from the sugar bowl, although it was his custom to put sugar on frosted flakes. He swirled his mood in the bowl. “What was in the tea you gave me last night?”
“Chamomile. Iím sorry it didnít keep you off your feet.”
A click of utensils sufficed to fill the dead air, but Aloysius could think of nothing clever to say. A new familiarity existed between them, albeit involuntarily imposed by his behavior. For whatever reason, less stagecraft was required after two people share a bed, although what this left him by way of roles and ways forward was unclear. Another glance at the answering machine had him shoving a limp cornflake into the side of his bowl with despondence.
The sprightly girl, oblivious to his many dilemmas, cut her meal short. She leapt up to put her bowl in the sink, chirping, “I have to open this morning at the coffeehouse.”
Her guest, smiling, was momentarily taken out of his self-absorption.
Aloysius washed the few dishes in her sink before freshening up in the bathroom. The open bedroom closet made for a brief detour, where the electric blue taffeta dress was conspicuous among other frocks. He stroked it like a charm, wishing to conjure back a less complicated piece of their shared sky together at the mound. No more than a second passed in his reverie, yet when he glanced at the doorway, the owner of the beautiful gown was standing in it.
Emma did not delay but walked toward him with her hand extended; the photographs of her he took from the bathroom was in it. “I found this in your pants before I put them in the dryer last night.” The strip was placed in his shirt pocket with gentle matter-of-factness. “I want you to keep it.”
She made no mention of the tissue paper from the same pocket, although, perhaps, it was unmentionable. The shamed man would not look her in the face, so stared at the wedding dress in the same closet.
Emma recalibrated her voice in the closeness, letting her fingertips graze the pleats of a bridal gown so aged in daylight. “Youíre not inquisitive, are you?”
The question merited eye contact; she was now the one looking embarrassed.
“Itís as much my fault in not telling you as yours in not asking,” she began.
Someone knocked on the front door. Emma was slow reacting, tarrying to connect with him in a strange way. Aloysius slouched toward the bed once she left, with each plod in his step like a fist punching through his chest. Whenever any attractive woman needed to tell him something, it portended nothing good. He wanted to escape, but there was no way out but by the cowardly secret door.
Ericaís mordant voice in the front room flushed him from hiding, and with the thought he could use her visit as an excuse to slip quietly away. The fellow barista was not fazed to see him slinking in the hallway. Her remarks were now for both of them. “I thought I should come by and give you a heads-up before the police get here.”
Emma’s face lifted to sink in anticipation of bad news. “What do you mean?”
“Jacques.” Erica was straight. “He apparently killed himself in an auto-erotic misadventure last night.”
The resident gasped, “Wha...?”
The woman spilled the rest. “He was speed-dialing your number.”
Chapter Eighteen/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.