Die My Heart & Hope To Cross (Part 2)
It was raining cats and dogs and more cats but Gunner didn’t mind. He didn’t mind because he had an umbrella made out of the cat’s pajamas, the cat’s meow, he was sitting in the catbird seat and those doggone dog days were behind him already. He hadn’t moved to the neighborhood but he might as well have for how often he could be seen walking around, shopping at the hardware store, the post office, the supermarket, where three weeks in he bought a toothbrush to keep in Stella’s medicine cabinet, well stocked in its own right with creams, lotions and moisturizers to keep her skin soft and smooth.
Stella and her (always her, never her name but her, she, her) shared little else besides their bed with Gunner, and only in Stella’s questions did he ever catch sight of her again, wherein he’d pretend they’d just met, does he look familiar no he just has that kind of face, she does, did, maybe once a long time ago they’d known each other but that was all of course a long time ago, and this? Her? Stella, my darling, sweetheart, angel, lover, I’d like you to meet—but I’m sorry, what was your name again? I’ve forgotten. He certainly never mentioned what he’d really been doing in her neighborhood the night they met. No reason to, he thought, though every time he happened to pass by the building he’d make sure to give a wink to the doorman no matter which one it was, and if it was the one sometimes he’d throw in a wag of the finger too.
Time passed, a month, two months, three, and the closer he got to Stella the farther away she became of course, the more hazy his hindsight, until one day he and Stella were walking down the street, hand in hand or at least hand in hand until Stella stopped to pick up something on the sidewalk or maybe tie her shoelace and up ahead a woman turned around and saw him. It was her. It was her and she didn’t look very happy to see him. Up she came walking, storming actually. “Goddamn it, Gunner,” she scolded. “What the hell are you doing here? I mean for Christ’s sake. I mean for crying out loud.”
“Hello,” said Stella, walking up behind them. “Who’s this?”
“Oh,” said she. “I didn’t realize, I mean, I thought—hello.” She held out her hand. “My name’s Caroline.”
“Stella,” said Stella. “Hello.” Well this was going well, wasn’t it? They both turned to him like now it was his turn to carry on the conversation, but having already introduced themselves there didn’t really seem much left for him to do. They already both knew who he was. “Good,” he said. “We were just on our way—I mean, going to a show, a movie, dinner, lunch, breakfast, just out for a walk—what’s wrong with me all of a sudden? Cat’s got my tongue, frog in my throat, spit it out, Gunner.” They nodded and shared a smile, she and him, she and she, she and she and him, him and her. Good old Gunner. Complete sentences seemed impossible considering the situation. Considering the situation, complete sentences seemed quite too much to expect.
“Well,” she said. “It’s been nice, you know—I mean, good to see you, nice to meet you too, of course,” she said. “And maybe next time we can meet without just running into each other like this.”
“Of course,” said Gunner and Stella smiled, and after she’d gone asked if that was her.
“It was,” said Gunner.
“I thought so even though she looked nothing at all like you described her.”
“Really? How did I describe her?”
“You said she was severe,” she said. “Hard and narrow-eyed, monochromatic and snake-tongued, even though her tongue or what I saw of it at least didn’t look anything like a snake or belonging to a snake.”
“I meant it metaphorically of course, but monochromatic? I never said that. I said she saw everything in black and white,” he said. “There’s a difference. But why are we arguing about this? We were off to a show, a movie, dinner, lunch, breakfast—”
“You don’t even remember, do you?”
“Lunch,” he said, nodded. “It was lunch.”
“All right, okay. Lucky guess.”
So that happened, there was that, and things were fine for a while after and they were happy together so long as they were together alone, but more and more often people seemed to keep trying to horn in on their game like it was something important or special, which it was, but also like it was something for everyone, which it definitely wasn’t. Her for example, or a mysterious man named Sydney who somehow managed to show up even when he wasn’t there, like there they were lying paralytic on the bed, post-coitally crippled, Gunner thinking about cherry blossoms and streetcars named Desire, the plural possessive of Narcissus and the song of the bowerbird, when all of a sudden Stella said, “I just think Sydney is so great.”
“I don’t think Sydney is great at all,” said Gunner after momentary contemplation. “For one thing it’s winter there right now, and for another their toilets flush backwards. Just think about what that means for a second.”
“Not Sydney the city,” she said. “Sydney the man. My friend Sydney.”
“Oh,” said Gunner. He didn’t have much to say by way of an opinion on Sydney the man.
“Are you jealous?” she asked. “Are you jealous?” Days later she asked, in the afternoon, the evening, the late afternoon to early evening, after Sydney had taken her out to lunch.
“I love you,” said Gunner, “and if I find out you’re sleeping with this guy he’s a dead man, dead as a doornail, no more, yesterday news, quashed,” he said, but really that was just to make her feel better, and then several days later they started following him.
He’d gone to the mall to buy some socks because he needed socks, because just that morning after they’d had sex she’d pointed out the elastic in his socks had become all stretched out and kept slipping down around his ankles, so he’d bought some new socks from a woman in the store with the most enormous breasts he’d ever seen in his life and even though she wasn’t attractive to him in the slightest and he was even a little repulsed by the sight he couldn’t help staring at them, and when she’d asked him cash, check or charge he’d said check because he didn’t really know what he was doing staring at them, even though he had plenty of cash in his wallet and the socks were only ten dollars, so he’d written the check, adding too many zeros after the one so he had to start over and then the wrong date so he had to start over again, and then finally he gave her the check and picked up the socks and walked out of the store and saw them, sitting at a table across from him in the food court sharing an Orange Julius.
Of course he didn’t know it was them so much as he knew it was her, saw her and recognized her of course since he’d just seen her earlier that morning, in bed after they’d had sex, after they’d each woken up and he’d seen her then, seen her amorously, but he didn’t know that was him. Just a man, it looked like. Could have been Sydney just as much as it could have been Tom, Dick or Harry.
She saw him and he waved and she stood up and walked over and said, “What the hell are you doing here, Gunner? Are you following me? I can’t believe you’re following me! What the hell are you doing here?”
“I was just buying socks,” he said, lifted the bag up in the air for her to see, even though he felt like he really had done something wrong on account of the size of the clerk’s breasts and his inability to look away. “Remember just this morning when you noticed the elastic in my socks was all stretched out and you said I should buy some new socks? That’s all I was doing.”
“Well,” she said. “Sure, yeah, but why’d you come here for socks? There’s a lot of places to buy socks so why’d you come here of all places where I was if you weren’t following me?”
“Happenstance?” he shrugged. “Coincidence? Serendipity? Is that Sydney? He looks antsy. He doesn’t look anything like I thought he would.”
“Oh, Gunner,” she sighed. “You always have such unreasonable expectations.”
Later that night Stella brought Sydney home. No one mentioned what had happened earlier that afternoon and Gunner forgot to change into his new socks and wore his old socks with the stretched elastic that kept slipping down around his ankles instead, and during the dinner that Sydney cooked, poached cod with baked squash, Gunner kept having to reach down to pull up his socks and that’s when he saw them again, their hands holding under the table, their spooning feet. Neither Sydney nor Stella was wearing socks.
After dinner Sydney pulled out his acoustic guitar and played a couple of old blues numbers like “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and “Goodnight, Irene,” and after he was done Stella told Gunner it was time to go.
“But,” he said.
“Goodnight,” said Stella.
Outside it had begun to rain again, cats and dogs and more dogs, and Gunner stood beneath her window and shouted up her name. “Stella!” he shouted. “Stella!” Across the street the doorman sniggered. Finally she came to the window, lifted and shouted back, “Go away, Gunner! Go away or I’ll call the police, goddamn it! Go away right now!”
“I forgot my toothbrush,” he said and she slammed the window back down again and drew the shades. He didn’t assume she was going to collect his toothbrush. Across the street the doorman sniggered. In the distance Gunner thought he heard the sound of sirens.
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Portland Fiction Project
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