She had turned the keys without noticing. He shifted into gear and pulled up next to her.
“Come on, baby,” he said. “My motor’s running.”
“Not tonight, I’m out of gas,” she said.
She rolled up the window, he reached up under the hood. She put the wipers on, his hand was swatted away. He put his other hand on her hip, then felt around for the engine.
“Sorry, I have a drip pan under there.”
“Well, how about we pop the trunk?”
“There’s a reason your transmission is called ‘manual,’” she said. She put it in park and shut off the light on the nightstand.
Karen guided a creaking stroller down the middle of the mall’s longest corridor. Hoary February sunlight pixelated through the windows above. A whine emanated from the carriage. Shoppers passed by, smiling. Flocks of elderly mall walkers parted for the two. Karen turned a corner, tripped, and collided with a texting toddler. A wheel snapped off the stroller, heaving its contents into the air. The bundle crashed to the ground and slid across the boot-stained linoleum. Karen scrambled to gather the pile, cradling a plastic doll wrapped in blankets. A shopper handed Karen one of the scattered items. It was a voice recorder. Inside was a worn-out cassette tape.
It’s six thirty, and everyone with something to live for has left for the weekend. Here I am with the ascetic holiness of over-achievement. But it’s fine. There won’t be any kisses or how-was-your-day stories waiting in the apartment. And the sweet hum of idle computer monitors beats the clamor of a crowded bar.
Then I see her, and it’s like the first time I ever saw a woman.
I stand up and shut the door to the office. How hadn’t I noticed her standing there? She’s erect and motionless, her long neck a conduit from the fusty earth to the fragrant heavens. I slide up next to her without resistance and feel the softness. She’s turned on—all wire, hoses, and electricity. All mouth. I guide her nearer and inch inside.
It’s over in a flash of heaviness and importance.
The elevator sings. A custodian steps out to fetch some forgotten equipment. He sees me through the glass door, then gets back in the elevator. He mashes at the buttons and I avert my eyes.
I’m in a vacuum. It’s just me and her.
Arthur Winsome appreciated precision. He got up at 6:30 and 54 seconds, as he did each morning. He’d woken up at 6:30 and 30 seconds in the past, but he found the extra time asleep gave him more energy. He made this discovery drenched in guilt, after sleeping in one Saturday. His days were planned immaculately, accounting for traffic, unexpected interactions, and potential burned-out light bulbs. He was accustomed to three squares a day, that is, he used three squares of toilet paper daily.
Arthur pulled into his workplace’s parking lot and hit stop on his timer. 15.32 minutes, 6 ¼ miles. It was his third trip from home to work that morning. On his first trip, he had to brake for a squirrel crossing the street, easily adding 45 seconds onto his total time. The he hit five red lights on his second trip, surpassing the 3.2 to which he was accustomed. On Arthur’s third trip, he made it through conditions statistically insignificant enough to consider the time worthy of his data log.
Arthur stepped out of the car and reached for his coffee mug, which was conspicuously absent from the cup holder. Panicking, Arthur did some quick math in his head. The weight of the Thermos probably wouldn’t have affected his travel time. But what if it had spilled? What if the sun had caught the metal in such a way that Arthur couldn’t see, and had to slow down? This had to be accounted for.
Arthur got back in the car and headed home to retry for a fourth time. He was still 40 minutes early for work.
One thing I need to do: get rid of the meat in the freezer.
Christ, who would buy so much meat? I could grill for three summers and still have half my freezer full.
I guess it’s not my fault. They listed the fully-stocked freezer as a perk when they sold me this place. But how could I know how much meat could fit in a standing unit? I don’t want to throw it away. My friends and family don’t want to take any. I wonder why? I mean, the stuff doesn’t taste terrible, a little sinewy, but it’s edible.
Could it be the mysterious labels on the packages? Kevin. Jeannine. Mr. Foster. Who names the animals they have butchered?
Could it be the shady circumstances under which the previous owner left? If only I didn’t work from home, I could load this stuff off on my coworkers. Let me tell you, buying a house after two years abroad was hard work, and I thought I’d found a real deal! These vaulted ceilings are great-the last owner even had noise reducing panels installed. And the realtor paid for what they called the most thorough cleaning they’d ever seen.
Oh well, that’s the price you pay for luxury away from the daily grind of the city. Yeah, I step out onto the veranda and can actually breathe the air outside. You can’t get that in the city. I can be free here, and if that means having to eat frozen rump roasts and bits of Chuck, then I’ll gladly make that trade.