He had already burned through enough people without penalty, and I had a way, when passing alone through an entrance, of keeping the door held open a little behind me, in the event of a follower, anybody ridden with a misfit genitalium at a standstill.
He was the type not ruinable ordinarily.
But I knew what to buy him—blood-colored underwear, man-tailored shirts from women’s stores.
Knew how he could be stood to outpourings of infallible citric alcohols.
Knew I could get him to where I guess he expected only better things to push up through what he already thought of me.
So at last he was professing it—an excruciated fellowship I would have some share of.
Together, housed, we were at least one jump from before.
We banged each other up with contestable affections
He cooked savvily on a berserk four-burner.
A few hairs of his came loose during the bustling solitude of a shower.
They stuck to a block of soap already claiming several of mine.
We were that much together even in toiletry.
He had grated good looks and notebooks full of deserted scholarship, fits of luxurious intelligence on the subject of why people don’t unpiece themselves sooner from whoever wants no part of them.
I was always all ears for any high-headed harangue.
There were exactly two bars in this catchwater town upstate. I forget why I had to decide to start sending him off alone.
One bar was a warehouse revived for dancing. He came home bearing news that our city had a sister city overseas. He had already tired of picturing our counterparts there. Progressively groomed, like us, but rigged for biting down so much the harder.
The other bar only had stools, in my clumsy opinion.
He came home with something against wallets—something about how the way to get one thing to belong to another should not have to require putting them side by side in a leather packet and then sitting on them until, if you wanted just one, you had to practically peel it apart from the other. It bothered him that it had to take a rear end at rest to make sure that things stuck together.
The tenants beneath us became different people, or decided to find a different way to do everything, substituting new noises for reliable ones.
We assumed it was still the same people down there, but with more uplift in their carelessness.
Things came and went on his face, his back; debuts and retreats of pustulous grievance. There were kinks and strivings in the economy of splotches.
Some days his hair stole over him differently.
It riffed out more racily under his arms.
He wanted me to make a full, rotary survey of everything. He wanted to rely on my perspectival eye for sharp-cut marks against him.
I had to tell him that the body sometimes just makes things up, or picks its battles.
It takes a certain shrewdness to be so easily consoled.
In his defense? You could work only so long at a furniture outlet before minding it that every sofa and chair was plushly, or hard-armedly, dramatizing its lack of a suitable sitter.
Every stick of furniture was a history of spurning asses.
You get better and better at dialing down the light to the point where passersby decide the place is probably closed.
He later sold phones and had glum dominion over a teenager with repatterned teeth and a rubber band bangled swankly over his wrist.
For a couple of weeks, I commanded repeat condolences from our thinning, pallid crowd.
The idea was to marry lightly, not go overboard or be private about things, just let affections string out as they might. I expected to see streamers of feeling coloring up the air between us.
Each of us said: “I’m not going anywhere.”
She was none too grubby from having dug herself out from other people. I could smell the same dud soap on her always. Her legs went all the way up to where things only got hazier.
I was sometimes by her side while she shopped. Her “Thank you very much” to the change-tendering cash-wrap girls always had in it an acknowledgment of applause.
She had a plastery complexion that she kept tinting differently, erring on the side of pastels.
Our bed was all the better for its compendious paddings and blanketry. It was a summit and looked mulled over.
We lived without onslaught. The days did not clobber us or break new ground. We practiced a fretful form of tenantry in which upkeep was left to me. But why dust if dust was such a succoring part of the expertise of time? I told her that things attracted dust because they needed to go a little pale on the surface; that things met with mildew if their moistures were surrendered too soon and too lewdly (why else would such resolute, reclusive smells mature apartmentwide?); that a dripping faucet usefully bespoke the perpetual; that you were expected to know when a burned-out light bulb required replacement and when it was just a welcome criticism of whatever the light might have been hastened over.
She did some kind of volunteer fieldwork during the day. Surefire statisticizing. Collected informations, forced them through a formula until they came out pestled, floury, flurried.
She came home later and later.
She would sweat off her makeup over dinner.
Portions of her arms went lackluster faster than others.
She favored longer and longer sleeves. They reached her knuckles, overtook the phalanges. Her hands looked hooded, beshawled.
Ruffled nostrils, wear and tear in the eyes, pressuring escalations of a competitive pink in the complexion—her body wasn’t pioneering anything, it wasn’t hectic in its decrepitude: she wasn’t shading off ahead of schedule. Her venereal efficiency was unchanged.
But more and more jewelry got hung from her. There was fierce hoopla in all those boostering units of chainwork and chatelaine.
She began vanishing into jumpsuits, quilted coveralls.
The landlord was an absentee landlord.
Our life got pressed thin in a way that was first admired, then thought to speak volumes about how any keen, dividual minute, and the bitter dither within it, yields its corollary, which struggles out a different hold on whatever’s still up close—privileged siftings of tissue, maybe—and the next minute returns the favor until you’ve got the sure snatch of hours, days.
I thus spent years with this woman, nothing lessening between us or bulging outward beyond courtesy.
I would say something, and she would chop or and wrinkle it into something else, but she was never far from wrong—neither of us could have ever been saying much more than “I won’t keep you.”
I understood, but then there was a shimmy to my understanding, and I no longer exactly could follow.
There were holes in what I felt for people, and it was through these holes that I slid finally toward this third.
I bummed a touch from her in the subway. I let the touch aggrandize itself unquietly.
I moved to her steep-streeted city downstate.
She decided I was a deserver.
She was a woman of punctual life-tides, ate right, had suffered at all the right hands. She had a drafty manner and jewelry that tailed off asymmetrically from her ears in a show of what looked like sugar. She had been grossing all this great, capering beauty for something like twenty-six years. We did the giveaway pharmaceuticals of the season. We went out with her friends, busy-headed kids her own age, to crack up over menu English. I loved her sundrily and all at once.
There was, to start, the givenness of her bare arms, and legs you could pick out of a dress and follow all the way down to the pewtery hue of the toenails.
Her face offered destiny, remedy, decision.
Childhood, teenhood, were still refrigerating inside her. I could make out the timid din of who she had already been, a hum of harm hardly done.
The question put to me by distrusters was: “What is she doing with you?” I was swift to answer: stapling personal papers together, breathing providently in her broad-hearted sleep, bearing junk mail straight from the mailbox to the trash cans in front of her building.
“No,” they’d say. “What does she see in you?”
I told them I was doubling for somebody. It’s hard not to be standing in for people jokingly slow to show. Go-betweens impart important impromptu breadth to any population, keep cities backed up and abrim.
They’d say: “How can this be good?”
I said it’s called middle age because everything is just circling around you now. You’re at the discouraged center. Things are in fuller ruin. Why should it all of a sudden be any ruder to reach?
In fine, she had never been to a drive-in movie, so I withdrew an address from the phonebook, drove us to some gravelly outer county. There was one shack where you bought the tickets, another where you bought unsatisfactory snacks. The screen was a folly of peeling panels. “I’m not your pillow,” she taught me early in the first picture. During intermission, I directed my twinkling postponed piss into a metal trough. Through the wall I listened to her relaxed, sassing abundance in the bowl. No flush, no siss of faucets afterward. In stinting rain on the way back to town, she complained that my windshield wipers were too loud.
The doubters said, “It’s over, isn’t it?,” or gave us another week to ten days.
The way she left things when she was done with them—narrow ranks of cutlery, a high-raised figurinal telephone, dish after dish of jotted chocolates—the weight was thrown around in them differently, they looked plummety or fickle in their molecularity, they harbored her touch with too much rumpus.
It got harder to get her arm through mine.
She developed unaccountable pedestrial limitations. Her feet soured on the neighborhood and the rimming city. Her shoes had to be built up from within with moleskin.
One afternoon she mentioned a neat-handed brother somewhere else who lived on one floor and was host to a lonesome federation of straight-backed chairs, pull-up chairs, TV chairs. There had been queasy holdups in his development, but it was time to see him again and be ready for what he was facing or going to waste on. I drove her to the airport. In the car, she lowered a balled fist onto my lap and explained that we were set up much too differently in our bodies; that there were no lasting or reliable handholds on each other; that I’d turn up something nicely remindful of her dry-boned elbows or collisive knees in somebody nearer my own age; that the XOXOXOXOXOXOs given as signoffs in the few, close-written letters she had sent me were actually tallies, each X standing of course for a mistake I’d made, every O just my final score.
I have probably got her features collated all wrong in memory anyway.
I have no doubt given freehand failings to the line of the mouth, leaving the lips figgled, defaulting.
Jollied a lone focal mole along to the slope of the nose.
Undarkened the down at the bounds of the cheek.
Brought the eyes to unfinal idle crisis.
The world has since figured her into its fixed emotional fare.
I count on friends to cough valiantly, or turn on aquarium pumps, run fans, when I think to bring her up.