098: The Dress

Henry followed the impression of the elbow, for he had judged the image, the impression, the dream of movement as an elbow. The elbow belonged to a woman. Work had been difficult, long, and somewhat disorienting, filled with numerous seconds, some of which he remembered, others lost, lost in the sound of typing, overindulgent chatting, and arguments in offices whose occupants had neglected to close the door.

Many cups of coffee, seconds filled with letters and words and the syntax of new programming languages (sometimes the computer screen would flicker, sometimes he’d get a call) he had little time to learn (At work, he thought, everyday I have to learn my life all over again. It’s crazy).

Seconds: we can name them: here they are: home, close the car door, fetch the keys, open the front door, close the front door, and then it happened

something quick, something fast, an elbow disappearing around the corner into the living room.

But the living room was empty when he followed that impression, that image, that instance of time into the room. He’d expected

empty rooms once silent and absent of any human presence would erupt with life

or with the owner of the elbow but as he entered the living room, he saw nothing, no owner of the elbow, no human being, just an empty room. And then he heard a strange swishing. It sounded like a dress, a dress touching against the wall of the stairwell.

He moved to the stairs, slowly. He edged one of his eye balls passed the corner and looked up the stairs and saw her standing there, wearing the dress, the dress his lover had left behind (she’d departed in a storm, an argument, a sort of storm, maybe a brief drizzle, something about her interests including his face and hands no longer), his neighbor’s daughter.

One Monday morning he’d got in his car ready for work and she’d been in the backseat, asleep (there’s no need to address what she wore, how she looked, as these really don’t matter, and why should they, as his neighbor’s daughter was aslumber in the back seat). Then he smelled peaches (yes, peaches are better than any image of attire). Another day–yes, this happened many times–he’d come home and there would be a dinner and his neighbor’s daughter would approach him and hand him a fork. Outside the market, she’d walk behind him and to the car with a bag of groceries and she’d say, “Bread and grapes. You forgot them. You can’t leave the market without bread and grapes,” which he found strangely logical.

He talked to the neighbor. “Well, she lost her job. I’m retired. My energy’s gone and I can’t follow her constantly. Her accounts fled with the recession, you know. Don’t you think that would make you a little crazy?” Henry found this strangely logical.

On another routine complaint: “She’s looking, sure. Isn’t everyone? Count yourself one of the lucky ones, Henry. No harm done.”

Sometimes the dinners were good. Sometimes she would turn to the oven and say, “I forgot to turn it on. There’s something big, wet, and raw in there. Sorry.”

She laughed when he said, “But are you sure it’s dead?”

He watched her in the dress at the top of the stairs, a red dress, prom frumpy (which would suggest old fashioned), the fabric crisp and sharp. She began to turn slowly, moving her body in motions that brought to Henry memories of the dance and the punch bowl and the floating glitterball high above and the broken heart. A slow tune, a little slower than what a turtle must be thinking. Electric strums and rum tums on stretched skin, bleeding music, so slow you want to paint your ears red and eat the pages of Ulysses with warm milk.

He said up the stairs to her: “I don’t have a dance to take you to, my dear.”

She turned slowly to that invisible tune. She had a smile on her face soft as a fresh paint brush. She said down the stairs to him: “That’s okay. I’d rather be with the elephants. Yes,” she said, “I’d rather be with the elephants.”

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