Another Spin with Corinne
She called late this afternoon, Corinne did, asking when should she pick me up at the airport and how happy she was to see me after so long and remember not to bring any ink pens on the plane, in my shirt or pocket because how many times have they burst and left the shirt with a big blue or black ink stain. I was at home, spent all day at home except for a quick trip out this morning for a cup of coffee and the newspaper, but even stranger was that I hadn’t even seen or spoken to Corinne in more than three months, rarely even thought of her except to wonder from time to time what she’s doing now, no hard feelings and maybe in another couple of months she’ll even forgive me.
“I just can’t wait to see you!” she said to me on the telephone. “I know you’ve had an amazing time but now that you’re coming back I have to tell you I’ve been just miserable without you I’ve missed you so much.”
I said, “Corinne? Corinne,” I said, “this is me. Do you know who you’re calling? It’s me. I’m not going to be at the airport today because I’m home and I’m not going anywhere and I haven’t been anywhere and Corinne, what are you talking about?”
“Of course I know it’s you, silly!” she exclaimed. “But what do you mean you’re home already? Did you get an early flight without telling me? Because if you got an early flight without telling me I’m going to be really upset, really really upset, just so you know.”
“I didn’t get an early flight without telling you,” I said and she said, “Oh, good! Because I’ve been looking forward to picking you up forever!” but I continued, “But I don’t think you understand, Corinne. I’ve been home for months now, months, but even before that we broke up, Corinne, don’t you remember?”
She didn’t say anything immediately, and after a while I thought maybe she’d hung up so I said, “Corinne?” and then again, a little louder, “Corinne? Are you still there?”
“So then you don’t need me to pick you up from the airport?” she asked finally.
“No,” I said.
“Well, all I’m saying is it would have been nice for you to tell me earlier so I could have planned my day a little more efficiently,” she said and then she hung up.
That was late this afternoon, and since then I’ve been trying to call all night, trying to call, I think, to say I’m sorry, though it’s an apology that’s come too late to make any difference. It must just be some kind of misunderstanding, I think, a brief and unfortunate case of mistaken time and place, like waking up from a nap in the dark, unsure if you’ve been asleep for an hour or ten. Is it dusk? Is it tomorrow morning? Have I been asleep for an hour or a day or two weeks or three months, by which I mean has she? That can be a frightening experience and it’s this I want to apologize for, without any onus on myself, like when someone says they don’t feel well or they’re having a bad day and you say you’re sorry, or their spouse, parent, child or relative has died and you say you’re sorry, and you are sorry but not for anything you’ve done, sorry, I guess, for it happening to them instead of you, that it has to happen at all, I guess, like that. That’s what this is like, I think, why I want to say I’m sorry.
I call all night and just get the busy signal, an incessant siren that seems to say there’s something to panic about. I listen to it for minutes on end and feel, when I finally hang up, as if I’ve lost time. When I finally fall asleep I don’t dream of anything, or if I do it’s nothing I can remember, and it’s not until the next morning while I’m getting ready for work that the telephone rings. It’s Corinne again.
“Okay,” she says. “If you want to come over and do it you can do it if it’ll make you happy, but I’m not going to like it,” she says, what she said months and months before, the day before I left for the airport. “If you want to do it you can do it, but I’m not going to like it,” she said, then pulled down her pants and bent over and read a book on the floor while I did it, Player Piano by Vonnegut if I remember right, and I remember wondering even then how she could focus on the words, if she was that hooked on the plot or the characters or if she was just bored or if she wasn’t really reading at all but just pretending to read, to teach me a lesson, to tell the truth that she really wouldn’t enjoy it, enjoyed it so little that she decided to read a book despite how difficult just to find a better way to fill up her time.
She hadn’t wanted to do it because she’d been angry at me for weeks leading up to my leaving, on account of my leaving, on account of my decision that leaving was the best thing for me to do just then as opposed to staying which would have been the best thing for us. I’d been offered a grant to study apartheid in Soweto, cold in Newfoundland, religion in Jerusalem, architecture in Saint Petersburg, it didn’t matter what or where so much as it wasn’t us and it was far away, moved out of my apartment and in with Corinne, spent my days trying to make myself useful while she was at work, doing the dishes, the laundry, alphabetizing the bookshelf by publisher, by title, author’s name, by the first letter of the first word, which left me remarkably bored and also sexually aroused by the time alone, so that by the time she’d arrive home from work I’d do everything I could to make it with her, pawing and groping and generally making a thirteen-year-old boy of myself.
She’d made it abundantly clear when I showed up with my suitcases and a storage key that she was putting me up strictly as courtesy and that I’d already made the decision for her, for us, when I bought my plane ticket. That didn’t stop me from trying though and so there I was, we were, she was, on a Saturday, a day before driving me to the airport at eight o’clock in the morning on a Sunday and saying goodbye, just back from breakfast, blueberry pancakes for her and a spinach omelet for me, back at her house and a little lethargic from all the food which had been considerable, not really talking but me sitting on the couch digesting and thinking this was likely the last breakfast we’d ever eat together since we’d probably just stop for coffee on our way to the airport tomorrow if we even had time for that, and Corinne was probably thinking roughly or approximately the same thing, standing under the archway between the kitchen and the living room where I was sitting on the couch, staring at me, because then she said, “Okay, you can do it if you really want to do it, if it’s going to make you happy, but I’ll tell you right now I’m not going to like it,” pulled down her pants and bent over with the book.
I’d like to say now that I didn’t like it, that it didn’t make me happy like she’d said, her bent over like that with her pants down around her ankles and Kurt Vonnegut on the floor, that really it was like some kind of exorcism, a thing we both just had to do even if neither of us especially wanted to do it, like saying goodbye with our bodies, a keepsake or memento to remember the other by but certainly nothing we wanted to do, not like that, but the honest-to-capital-G-God truth is I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it tremendously. Two weeks of coital abstention had done a number on my libido and I saw only soft skin and right angles, circles and triangles and parallelograms, which is to say if she was hoping to induce guilt I saw only geometry. If I remember right she didn’t even say another word until we were both done and zipped back up and then, whatever she said, just to break the silence that all of a sudden had become just too intimate.
So “Okay,” she says, “if you want to come over and do it you can do it if it’ll make you happy. But I’m not going to like it,” she says, and then hangs up again without even waiting for me to answer as to whether or not I’m actually going to come over, and how presumptuous, I think, that she thinks we can just start over from where we left off, from before where we left off, presumptuous even if she’s right, I’m coming, and I pick up the phone again and call my job and tell them I’m not feeling well, I’ve caught some kind of cold going around which is entirely possible since it’s the season or else I ate something bad last night, fish maybe, maybe mercury poisoning although I think you have to eat more than one fish but they’ll believe me because I’m usually very responsible and usually come in even when I really am sick so they’ll think if he’s calling now it must be really serious, which it is.
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Portland Fiction Project
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