by Allen Guy Wilcox
—You want to come finish your workout upstairs? he asked her.
The woman did not look up from her stretch, but turned her head to the side. He was certain she had heard him because her mouth had curlicued. She clutched at the sides of her sneakers, perspiration coalescing at her temples, and replayed the man’s words in her mind. What was the precise wording he had used? His mid-Atlantic tone of voice suggested first one interpretation, then another. Bent over in front of his apartment, her rump pointed skyward and the July sun glaring indecently against her lower back, the woman slowly unlatched her fingers from her sneakers and allowed a pent rush of anger to flow freely into her chest—that sublime, righteous exhalation that comes so readily when we work out. As she rose she homed onto the brown stucco steps of the building. Standing at the door, she saw that the man who had addressed her was dressed in gray khakis and a faded blue workout t-shirt with a cracked red Swoosh.
—You got an exercise bike up there? She replied tightly, intending to flush out an apology.
—I haven’t, no, the man said.
—You must have a treadmill then, or, free weights?
—No, I haven’t, he replied, wiping the rim of his t-shirt against his face.
—I’m sorry. Then I don’t get it, she asserted, finding her tone. I’m sorry, but that strikes me as pretty rude. Were you trying to be rude? Do you go around cat-calling every woman who’s out for a jog?
—It’s just the garden I’ve built on the roof.
A long bolt of wind followed a horn blast she heard on the run-up to the BQE—its effect was practically correspondent with her building inner tempest. Breathing shallowly, she searched for the right words to govern the situation.
—I’m not dressed, she said firmly.
—I’m leaving the house, he said. If you want it’s yours to use.
—My workout is finished. I’m going. Goodbye.
—Here, he said.
From the top step the man tossed her the keys to his apartment. She caught them awkwardly.
—What’s this? I don’t want this! Take them back.
—I’ll be back in an hour, the man said.
—This is ridiculous. I’m not going up there. Take your keys back.
She set the keys on the sidewalk and the man stepped around them, proceeding away from his apartment and the perplexed, sweating woman.
—Carol, his dog listens to music.
—Oh, come on.
—You’re shitting me.
—I shit you not.
—Oh, come on. Dogs don’t listen to music. Dogs, to my knowledge, don’t go around touting radios or record collections. They sit in a corner, quietly flatulating, and yelp when a stranger’s at the door. Never in my life have I seen a dog so much as turn its head around when I put the stereo on—and, I’m telling you, Sheila, it doesn’t matter what I’m listening to. It could be techno. This is documented. This is a known fact. Am I right?
Carol’s worn denim collar was opened loosely at her collarbones, which themselves rested back in a posture of refreshed repose. Leaning forward she tapped a few grains of sugar from a teaspoon into her Arnold Palmer and stirred and sipped. She could barely taste the vodka. These were the finer moments of her week, those more expertly composed, when she could sit and listen to Sheila with a renewed sense of relish.
—I’m saying, Sheila returned, setting down her own glass, I’m saying the dog’s not happy unless it gets a couple of hours in the garden or in the living room with the stereo going. I’m not saying it’s normal. In fact, I’m saying: it’s not normal. It’s pretty nuts. It’s actually kinda crazy. But, Carol, it’s not completely unreasonable. Is it completely unreasonable? I mean, think of it. Harmony and melody—that stuff is settling to the nerves—it’s as old as time. Everyone acknowledges that. Animals can’t be entirely immune to it, is all I’m saying. Anyway, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
—Oh yeah, so what’s it listen to?
Sheila softly hiccupped into her hand and picked up her glass from the table.
—She usually listens to Kind Of Blue.
From the window, evening began to torque the hemisphere, carrying a richness of fragrances. Sweat was drying on the backs of Carol’s knees, a familiar and pleasant tang. Barbeque wafted through the window in short, piquant waves from a nearby rooftop grill. The clouds, fluffy and gray like the human mind, apprehended the orange color of the city lights as if perceiving a pleasant idea. At the window, Sheila’s expression misted over. It was a Shangri-la of inner activity.
—You’re going to see him again? Carol asked.
—No. It’s just I run by there all the time.
—What’s the dog’s name?
—Lady Chudleigh, Sheila answered.
—What’s that mean?
—She was a poet, but I haven’t read anything.
—Kind of a cute name for a dog.
—Yeah, I thought so, too. I think it’s going to work out.
Carol took a long pull from her cocktail and set the glass back down.
—Wait, you think what’s going to work out?
The man buzzed his own apartment where the woman lay sleeping on the sofa. Occasional trumpet trills penetrated the air in a quiet stream from the stereo while she developed a light snore. Sheila awoke realizing the doorbell was ringing and that it was her responsibility to answer it. But wait, No, she decided, it was just the stereo. For the past month, she had spent two days a week exercising on the man’s rooftop, in the garden. After the run, she stretched and performed her breathing exercises. Per their agreement, she always left the apartment before he returned, leaving the keys in their mutually agreed upon location. That afternoon, however, Sheila had placed a jazz disc into the CD tray and had fallen asleep on the sofa in the company of a loafing, pacific Lady Chudleigh. Hearing nothing from his apartment, the man buzzed his landlord on the first floor and borrowed a spare key.
As she opened her eyes, the man took his position at a side desk and crossed his legs with the comportment of a philologist, flipping through the day’s mail.
—Good morning, he said, brightly but quietly.
—What time is it?
—About four-thirty in the afternoon.
Sheila smirked and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. She looked over her shoulder out the window to the street where a drunk was shaking a finger at his companion’s chest.
—I’m sorry. I should get going. I’ve got to shower and meet a friend for coffee when she gets out of work.
—Did you have a good rest of your workout?
—It was fine, Paul. Thank you. The keys are over on the kitchen counter.
—I’ll be here later.
—I’m not coming over later, Paul.
Sheila felt she may have wanted to come over later, but it was attendant in her nature to be firm with Paul. For his part he didn’t change his expression, and as she petted Lady Chudleigh and turned toward the door he said,
—Have a good weekend, Sheila.
Sheila shut the door, gasping, and went down the stairs and out onto the street.
—When do I get to meet this dog?
—No. I don’t think so, Carol.
—Oh, come on.
It was late September and the patches of sycamore trees were starting to thin, opening the sky over the park. The moon was a sharp orange Cheshire cat, a crescent smile. Carol was back at Sheila’s place for rum and cokes.
—The dog’s not leaving the apartment. And I’m not going there anymore.
—It’s over, Carol.
—Exactly! What’s over? Exactly. It’s over. I can’t go back there.
—Does he know your phone number?
—No. He has no idea and he’s never asked.
—Does he know your last name?
—No. He has no idea. I never told him and he never asked. All he’s got on me is I run past his place all the time.
—You’re lucky. It’s fall, it’s going to be winter. You can join a gym. There’s a new one near the park. You’re not going to have to move?
—I don’t have to move. That’s ridiculous. Paul is sweet.
—Paul is sweet? One minute you’re petrified, next moment you’re Stockholm Syndrome, Sheila.
—Shut up, that’s not funny.
—I know. Sorry. It’s the rum. Seriously though.
—No. You know that’s really not funny.
—I said I’m sorry, but what do you want me to say?
—Fetch me another drink-drink, Sheila said, holding out her glass.
Carol took the glass and walked into the kitchen, topped it off and returned it.
—Then again, said Carol, you never know.
—You never know what?
—I mean he’s got a garden. He’s got a dog. He must be doing something right.
—I can’t tell my mother.
—Can’t tell your mother what?
—I can’t tell my mother anything about it! That’s my point. If I can’t be completely honest to my mother about it, I don’t want it. Think about it! Tell my mother? ‘So, how’d you guys meet?’ What would I say? ‘No—there’s no way. If I can’t tell my mother about it, then I don’t want it. That’s reasonable. That’s my yardstick.
—Are you going to tell him?
—Tell him what?
—Tell him, Paul, it’s winter I’m joining a gym. Thanks for everything?
—I hate going to the gym, Carol. I just like running.
—Run at the gym.
—Ugh! My grandmother called the other day. Do you know what she said? She said, ‘Sheila, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Grams, what do you mean? I’m dating around, I’m looking for the right man.’ Because that’s what she meant, you know, by ‘What are you doing?’ You won’t believe what she said; she said, ‘Oh, no. That’s not how you do it, looking for the right man. Like you’re shopping! That’s not how you do it. You find somebody that is good enough and you make it work.’ She was practically wagging her finger at me. I could feel it through the phone. She’s all talking about the right timing. Good Christ!
—Oh, come on, Sheila.
—Don’t ‘Oh, come on’ me, Carol.
The next morning was Saturday and seven o’clock was darker than it had been the week prior, in September. At the edge of her bed, Sheila laced her running shoes and worked on a glass of water while the light from the vanity mirror in the bathroom cut a woman’s figure on the bedroom floor. Sheila stood and walked into it. She bent her hip and slowly the curve of light disappeared as the room dropped its high contrast and the windows took on the color of a blueberry. They were a kind of blue that made Sheila want not to move from the light. She had the sense that if she moved, the color of the morning would change too, irrevocably. Pausing in the ribboned blue light of the windows, Sheila felt some rich, uncanny flare in her heart, a pension she felt she owed herself, which began to feel native as the morning held her in its timorous embrace.
Allen Guy Wilcox is a Brooklyn-based writer and actor. A regular contributor to The Brooklyn Rail, Wilcox will appear as Hemingway’s Robert Jordan in the forthcoming Ou Phrontis Pictures Co. film, “Olé!”
Image source via Creative Commons