In the morning the ceiling wheezing with footsteps, bare feet first of course, and starting from part way along the upper left wall where he guessed the bed must be, then the bathroom, bureau, and the closet. Always the wheezing floorboards, exactly as if the ceiling were flexing with each step, flexing enough that he should see it. But nothing moving up there. And then the shoes, high heels by the sound of them. Beside him, Ivy never waking until the shoes had tapped their way to the radio, or was it the alarm radio? so it shut off, and then tapped their way out the door, slammed with a two-part crash.
Those mornings with the milky white light in the windows and the ceiling white and grey, unmoving when it should have been bending under those footsteps. Ivy sleeping, black hair gleaming in the white pillows, sheets, her down coverlet he had kicked over to her side of the bed. Anyway, the bed was too soft. All kind of shadows on the ceiling. Only in the afternoon some sun coming in across the park.
If you werenít in bed it was the kind of apartment to make you go somewhere else. In his opinion.
He made coffee downstairs. A dark kitchen at the back but with two full size refrigerators, opposite each other as you went in. She didnít know why or wouldnít tell him. Her fatherís idea. The father and brother owned this apartment and some others. In one of them it had been like staring up at the ceiling here, but it had been night and the ceiling was a skylight. The glow from windows in the tower of the building, that tower black in the sky and the orange grey of the night like storm clouds with dim lightening fixed in them. Her brother was rich too.
Ivy out of bed now. She insisted on menís pajamas, white, blue stripes. But it was cold, the air leaking from the one big window. Already someone riffling through the trash outside. And meanwhile he was trying to make coffee! The morning hug, followed by the morning yawn. That black hair of hers tickling his nose, velcroed in his chin stubble. "You always get up without me!"
"Donít whine." Then he made the coffee grinder work. A sound of thousands of tiny bites, awfully loud in the a.m. He preferred to buy his coffee ground. He wished he had put clothes on, too.
Later a shower.
She liked the water much too hot. He had to step out of the spray. What else could he do? The mirror was impossible to use.
On a weekend they got into her car and drove to New Jersey. Her driving better than he could. Expecting him to talk to her while she battled cabs in the squeeze lanes into the tunnel. The long linear whoosh between fluorescent white tiles. Then sunlight and black-blue sky. Heís still thinking of her in the morning Ė coffee, muffins (fancy) to be heated up. She had him scramble eggs. They had to sit and eat their way through this while she leafed through sections of The Times.
He hated The Times.
Then he had to look through it. But there was nothing to read! She had asked him about politics. So he had droned on and on. But she knew about the movie business, the art scene Ė some of it anyway.
New Jersey sprawl. So much it had to be admired.
She drove one handed. A silver blue Corsair rented by the week, car phone included. The last warm day of fall. The sky all blue, the swamplands still green. The air rushed all around Ė diesel exhaust, goldenrod, refinery chemical. He wished she would turn west and drive him somewhere he had never been.
Ikea was exhausting. She didnít find anything she wanted. They went in circles on three floors, even passing up the cafeteria.
The hiss of the highways, the howl of airplanes in the yellow sky. Flagpoles with snapping halyards in the nearly warm wind. The asphalt black, glaring with cars. This far out in the lot, Ikea down to toy size. Pigeons. He counted five strollers nudging at the entrance. At the car, she squinted at him over the roof. The glare. And she wasnít so tall.
In the apartment with the skylight (her brotherís) they looked at each other, both on the curving sectioned leather couch in the enormous living room. Not together, apart enough for one or two people to sit between them had anyone else been there. He hadnít slept with her before.
Afterward, staring at the skylight, at the windows and the sky, he had counted how much he had drunk, the beers and scotch, the scotch so good he had had another, all the time wandering around the apartment from the kitchen to the niecesí bedrooms, the weight room, even the apartment next door (empty) that she thought a good investment, and the terrace. He was surprised they hadnít stayed out there. A good place for a drink and with plenty of lawn furniture.
But on the couch, with the drink empty, he had reached for her, leaning toward her without quite losing his balance, taken her hair and pulled her to him to kiss her.
In the morning she said she had no idea he would do that. In pajamas too long for her, cuffs sliding across the parquet. But then, what else would he do? The first kiss. Afterward on his back in her brotherís bed with that skylight, counting the drinks it had taken to get him there, wondering if it had been assault. Again, (even though this was the first time), the white bed sheets, the too warm white down comforter. Eggs for breakfast, beer in the refrigerator. After a week she was back on the west coast.
He was back in his apartment, surprised to miss her after a few days.
New Jersey. Driving Route 17. After Ikea she made him go to Macyís.
Down the escalator. Sheets, Towels, Lingerie. Slips. "Black or white," she held them out, hanger in each hand so he could see them from where he was at the end of the rack.
"Tania." One of the nieces, whom he hadnít met. But he had met Ivyís father. The short gray haired man in the vestibule who had asked him who he was. Blue eyes. Stocky. The height of Ivy. He could be no one else. And anyway he blocked the way. It was his building. "Iím Ivyís friend."
"Well." A hand gradually extended and then the old guy had moved back to the mail boxes, two of them open on their hinges, the keys in a bunch in his hand. A nurse would come down to find him if he were away too long.
In the racks, a row over, he said, "Why not this one?"
"You would think Iíd look good in that." She hardly stopped slamming the hangers. He could imagine her looking good in whatever he had in hand Ė the polyester white with tiny pink hearts, the green rayon with purple lace cups. Even that stuff. He watched her move in a checked flannel shirt (not his), in stone washed jeans.
He hated stone washed jeans. Her taste in clothes could be improved, but apparently not by himself. She could be younger. She watched TV too much and he had told her so.
She had tried acting and mostly lived in LA, at first staying in her brotherís apartment when she came to the city, the place where he had first been drunk enough to dent their acquaintance with sex.
The sex was of the did we really do that last night? variety. Which for him wasnít better than either ignoring it, or sexualizing everything, as he was now, wasnít he? Padding after her in Macyís fluorescent basement, holding up for her the tackier lingerie. She was older, he was older. Now she read scripts for a producer. Stacks of them in a bookshelf, triple spaced on white paper. He wasnít supposed to look. He didnít.
"I wish I could tell you about them."
"Whatís the plot?" Always something fantastic. It bored him. "Howís it end?"
"I donít want to spoil it," always plaintive.
"I donít care."
"You never like anything."
"Tell me the ending and Iíll tell you if I like it." A mantra. But she was right, he didnít like anything.
In Cosmetics (First Level, in back). He stood by, arm on counter, Ivy up on a stool with blush smoothed and touched-up by a white coated sales rep leaning forward, so young she must still be someoneís daughter despite copper tinged hair, the powder mask. Then eyes. Then lipstick. He had to judge several shades, Ivy insisted, by kissing her so he could say which tasted better. He had to lean down to her up turned lips. Theater, Ivy liked theater. The sales rep barely smiled. Hadnít he seen this done somewhere? Hadnít they all? Maybe even now somewhere in the stacks of scripts on the bookshelves.
The shopping bags went into the trunk, the three of hers he had, her two. Ivy with lips of a dark red, her face now silken, slightly pinked and at the level of his shoulder studying his disposition of the shopping in the open trunk, he staring down seeing her. "Itís time for food." His standard rhetorical remark. She barely nodded and he swatted the trunk closed. This was late afternoon.
She had the car running. The usual thing. Whether to go back to the city. Or, where? The sky cloudless, now a lighter, easier blue in the west, blacker, colder above. He hated the way darkness stole into the sky. The day colder, the light pastel in the west, overhead going black. Black, then transparent with stars. And all around them lights would come on. Here in the parking lot the metallic gas shine of the lamps, and on the roads, so many of them, the streaking white and red of traffic. And so on. Night. And then the city out there, the great hulk of it moored in the Hudson sprinkled with lights.
And later, at night perhaps, going back to it, bridge or tunnel, and it becoming only what it was.
In the city what she did about food (when he was around), was roll down Broadway and stop the car, double park, fast walk into Balducci or Zabarís or Fairway, the Chelsea Market, Dean and Delucca, Gracesí, Citarella.
He wasnít supposed to help with the cooking. Peel garlic and shrimp, cut tomatoes or lemons, find the pans and pots, light the stove or oven. "Donít you know how to cook this?" he would ask. Shrimp with some kind of special something or other sauce. "Can you tell me the recipe?" All right, heíd cook.
His theory of food. Heat together and serve. He shifted pans around and smashed garlic under the flat of a stainless blade. Ivy on the cordless to her restaurant in LA. She was friendly with one of the cooks. Before she could get to the recipe, gossip had to be cleared away. He uncorked Stolchinea, a shot into a brandy snifter for her. An inch or so in a jelly glass for himself.
When he poured more he remembered to open wine. A $14 cabernet emptied into crystal and set out for her on the table by the couch. Wine she had by the case. He kept at her Stolli, pried from one of the freezers, straight up in a jelly glass. Ivy still at the phone. A warmth in the kitchen. He had the oven going. The pans ready for the stove, matches ready if the pilot light failed (it would, but he couldnít remember which burner). A nice feeling, the almost frozen vodka in hand and the dry heat of the stove. More vodka. Like replacing tissue with sea water. Once the cleansing has begun it is hard to stop. He didnít mind getting drunk like this or being drunk. He decided he was. Ivy still on the phone, now all about business, money, pay, what her partner Margaret had said and when to whom. He had met her partner, an assemblage of bracelets and bangles, turquoise and a long skirt. Blonde going gray. A critical age.
He didnít mind Ivy talking while he did nothing much at all, as if they had lived together for some time. Years. He had known her for years. To be precise . . . he would try to think how long.
He looked in. She pushed her hair back. One hand palm up, the phone six inches from her ear. The dinner could get made or not, whether or not theyíd eat it he didnít care. Frozen Stolli. Wine for her. He poured until she lifted her hand, the same palm up, but the phone plugged to her ear. He wasnít hungry anymore, but a little drunk. Bumping drunk, lurching drunk. Balance a little iffy drunk. Counting how many vodkas. Two and a half he decided. Add one for the one he had forgotten. Ask a drunk if he remembers each drink. But a drunk wouldnít count and he still did.
He managed to add water to a pot and wrestle it to the stove. The gas blowing alight with a scorching flourish. The vodka making a band of frost on his glass. It was true she was a little short. Her legs a little thick. Ivy had her faults. Or, his fault to think of hers. He stared into the glass, into the vodka. Drinking it so much like pouring water into a reed. He was the reed. So much like becoming water. Becoming light, yellow dimmed light around Ivy at the phone, and outside the furtive rustling of the trash man at the garbage, dogs barking in the park, the haze of the street lights out the window.
Ivy with her shoes off. Her square feet in black nylon flexing on the coffee table, an iron frame and tile-topped piece she had had trucked out of New Mexico or LA, along with the art he didnít much like, photographs of plant stems or buds.
Ivyís nephew and girlfriend. One afternoon they had come to the apartment. Ivy had gone to the top floor to see them at her fatherís. The old confused bastard he had met in the lobby. Someday she was going to introduce him she said. So far he had been spared. Anyway he had met him, as he pointed out. They came back. He had been lying on Ivyís bed, reading on top of the sprawl of sheets, but with this visitation in progress he had had to get up and meet them.
A curly haired boy of twenty standing on skates, rolling the length of Ivyís living room, as if caged there, and the quiet beautiful girlfriend, too perfect to be there either.
Then they were rolling out through the vestibule, jumping the steps and disappearing into a haze of leaves from the park across the street. What remained Ė the nerveless glide of the nephewís skates, Hermes vanishing with the lift of a winged heel. Ivy and himself standing on the sidewalk.
Afterward he didnít want to think he had seen them. Now, and he was drunk, he found himself jealous of their skates, their nerveless gliding, their easy pivoting at the end of the slow roll of the living room, the whole goddamned unworldliness of their being.
It made him feel old.
Her antique rug. A Kazakhstan. Well, how old? Sixty years. Worn, faded in places, the red browned, the whites yellowed, the blacks grayed. A good rug. An instance of Ivy getting it right or of listening to someoneís advice. Her intriguing mysteries heightened by her coming and going. New Mexico, perhaps for furniture or another restaurant. LA for the script work. Never sure what she did or why. Occasionally she had to be "on location" and he was less surprised than put off by her first name references to stars even he had heard of. Her departures and returns. He hated it. The cheap glamour, the contrived theatricality. But he would only say something like "and what did Richard say?" The Richard or Kim everyone knew. He felt, shouldnít she know better, shouldnít everyone?
But then he would be saying goodbye to her, driving with her bags packed in the trunk to an East Side garage to drop the car off. Hauling her trunks out of the garage onto the sidewalk. Always a wind blowing, a chill raking paper and dust along the avenue and then (having settled the bill for the car) a cab at her feet and impatient to leave as soon as she came out to the sidewalk. He only had a moment for a gesture. Hands on her hair, on both sides of her head, her tipping up to him in those high heels, lifting the shoulders of her coat, he down for a little-prolonged-significant kiss. Afterward the cab pulling away, the lights changing and he standing there alongside the back and forth of traffic, of a late afternoon late in a season that perhaps had lingered too long, maybe breaking up now, he thinks, in this too cold and sudden wind.
Later, in the subway perhaps, he would think of what they had done in the days or weeks they had seen each other, whatever they had done. Anything. A glow of pink, of white. He couldnít be more specific. Or, rather, he could. Ivyís judgment, which even when good he found so conventional. Still, better than bad taste. Her TV watching, film going, her interest in splashy news events, the friends with names he had heard of that he winced to think of. No one should know anyone whoís been heard of, he thought. No media people allowed. Maybe he was kidding.
Ivy would hardly be impressed. And less he remembered because he had kept right at drinking the Stochinayia. Too drunk. Words slurred. Lying flat out on her good rug. Hearing her in the kitchen shutting the unmade dinner down. How many? He asked the ceiling. But how many every night? "Iím a drunk. Iím sorry." To her credit, Ivy standing over him, concerned. "Are yee a drunk now, mee boy?," where had she gotten the Irish?, a foot nudging his ribs.
"Come on." She had pulled him up and staggered him into bed.
He must have snored and stunk all night.
Or just Ivy, white in the white bed, crouched over him in the dark, skin smooth as water.
Sex. Clothes. Her panties or stockings, camisole or brassiere adrift in the bed or half detached and stubbing his fingers tracing her breasts and the bumps and ridge of her backbone, hips, moving with her, surprised by her, pushing his mouth and nose into her breasts, grabbing her everywhere, pulling her into him. It couldnít be stopped. The onrushing calamity. The broken railing. The fall. The end.
However, whatever way they had begun Ė slowly and knowingly in bed naked with the lights off, or standing in the kitchen, laying on the couch Ė he thought of the stupid motions of sex, the clumsiness of getting out of clothes, the emotional slide from thought to pleasure, to greediness Ė the interruption of sex like a knife through the canvas of what the rest of the time is. Clothes on, peeled aside, off. That was all he could remember, the sex of the night before, or of two nights only, or of this place or position. Her sweat, her skin. And in a few days of her gone he would remember even less. What they had done now lost, just as he went one way on the subway, rattling away from her underground, and she another from a cab into the airport and then aloft.
Ivy might call, an hour, a few days after returning.
"What are you doing?"
"When did you get back?"
She would pick him up in a car with a phone. Then the ride through the city avenues on the look out for a restaurant or a food store, the lights gliding past.
Garaging the car, walking her trunks, the shopping bags of shrimp or chops, the bread and alcohol up the steps into the foyer. Her reaching into a canvas MOMA bag for her purse, snap that open and paw the cosmetics for keys.
Those steps overhead in the morning. Fortunately he had to work. Ivy in the shower rubbing a luffa over his back. Steam billowing, the door shut. Then rubbing her back, the insides of her thighs. Ivy probably didnít exactly want him do this, perhaps, not sure whether he wanted to arouse or provoke her. But what had they been doing in bed? After drinking. After Ivyís dinner. After her explanations of why she was back, how long she expected to be back. After an hour in the upstairs apartment with her parents, while downstairs he read, or drank, prepared the stove. Waited for her. In the morning the shower. He kneeling and soaping her thighs, Ivy parting her legs, hands on his shoulders. The shower steaming over them both. "Thatís nice." Ivyís official morning voice. "Now we have to do my hair." Shampoo handed down to him, a blurry bottle at eye level. He might stand, pour it into a palm and spread the shampoo on the crown of her wet-parted hair and then step around her and outside the curtain, and with a towel, bolt into the apartmentís cold rooms.
Ivyís coffee grinding routine. The automatic dripper or perker. Her hair in a towel. He would have to wear the same damn tie to the office! She drove him. Ivy pointing at buildings. "That one! Did you see it?" Well, he hadnít noticed it before. She knew the owner, or she wanted her brother to buy and covert it, or wasnít it amazing! Usually it was, more or less. Ivy had an eye, he gave her that, so even much later, in the time that came afterward, particularly on lower Broadway if he happened to find himself there instead of underground shunting though via subway, he would see a granite column or arched window, or door grillwork and look up, Ivyís appraisal in mind as though she were standing with him sighting upward and pointing at what he should see.
More driving, that is Ivy driving to the bridge, down to Edgewater, then along the river. More shopping centers, but apartment complexes too, land for development turned up in ridges of dirt. The river, glimpses of blue, waves chopped up black. Across the water the city standing up in a stately yellow glow. Then warehouses, the clutter of a marina.
First they were at a bar. A huge horseshoe studded with taps and clusters of acceptably upscale locals. "Itís all right," Ivy agreed. This wasnít Manhattan, so what did she expect? She had come from the ladies, the new brown-red lipstick from Macyís re-applied. For his part he was glad she was willing to drive and that the beer wasnít stale. They sat each with an elbow on the slow curving mahogany, leaning toward each other. Dusk tightened its grip on the streets and empty warehouses outside. "I want to ask you something," Ivy looking up at him between sheaves of hair. He considered kissing her but instead he said,
"Do you think they have food here?"
In the back or the front Ė like the bar, the building seemed to face several directions Ė was a regular sit-down restaurant with tablecloths and candle pots on the tables. There were black and white photographs of the New Jersey waterfront the way it had once been. Steamers at docks, ferry slips flecked with commuters, fishing smacks and tugs alongside wharves, a different skyline appearing across the river. The walls covered with a cloth-like wall paper, horizontally braided greens on a pale blue ground. Ivy stirring at her coffee. The tiny silver spoon ("real silver, do you think?," he asked) crossing the cup on the diameter, clink and clink, like little shoes. She withdrew the spoon and poured in milk. "Milk is bad for you."
"A baby," Ivy said watching the milk whorl.
"What?" he said.
"You wouldnít have to do anything," she said.
"I want one."
"No one would have to know. You wouldnít have to be there."
"Not know?" She starred over the coffee cup, across the table and looked away. "Arenít there donor banks? Wouldnít they be better?"
"I know you. Iíve known you for a long time." The clink clink of the spoon again. "Please. Think about it."
"Are we talking about this?"
"Soon," she said. "Iíll want you to tell me." Her looking away again. "Iíll want to know what I have to do."
He had said if she did want a baby what difference would it make who the father was and joking about it said maybe if she did have a baby and it werenít his it might be easier for him to be the father. But none of it was very funny, and he paid the check and when they went out to the car he put his arm around her waist so they walked side by side in the dark to the parking place on the street.
Ivy had the car started. At a light the red glowing down on the upholstery of the dashboard and, when he looked, blushing her forehead and nose. "Iíll show you something," she said, and she turned the car west, away from the water and then they drove up a steep hill, on and on it seemed, the six cylinders straining until they came out on a two lane road, one side with two and three story houses with little green front lawns and short black driveways, and on the other an iron pipe railing, bent in places, white in the car lights against the black of the night time. "Wow," he said. The city rising across the water, all twinkling lights as if about to scatter and set into newer constellations.
There was a place to pull the car over and to get out and walk in a tiny park with steps and walkways part way down into the dark below them. And when they got out, Ivy not even locking the car up, it was cold, the wind coming across the river and blowing against them. He saw a gazebo, small, unlighted, higher up from them on the grassy part of the park, and what looked like a boy and a girl there in each otherís arms kissing or trying to have sex, except for Ivy and himself maybe, but he doubted that. And Ivy must have seen them too he thought, because she pushed nearer to him, arms around his waist, her head against his chest, so they together staggered down steps to the waiting white railing where he reached around her, holding her against him, her back to the city, the railing. Her hair blew up around him, so he would see the lights out there and then the dark. At first he worried how warm she was and how warm he was and how long they could stay out here like this. And then he remembered her nephew and his girlfriend, the restless to and fro of his skates, the toss of her gold hair in Ivyís dark little apartment, and out in the street by the park the way it was Ė with himself and Ivy watching them with the big yellow leaves coming down around them Ė that they had seemed with a flick of their heels to have vanished.
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Copyright 1998 Parker Barnum
Written January 1998
Put on web November 4, 1998
Last update November 4, 1998