It’s awful nippy here, inside and out, even though this is only mid-fall. Shut tight in front of me is the glass door, which I can’t hardly open, on account of being tired, and a bit wobbly on my feet. Even so I can hear a sound, a muffled sound from the other side, out there on the balcony. From this angle I can spot him, kinda: at least his outline, bent over the desk, and the slant of the shoulders.
And I can’t barely see a face, but somehow I can tell it’s a familiar voice out there, saying, like, Here is one thing I hope she knows: she deserves better.
Which makes me shiver, even in my coat. The man, he’s tapping his fingers tensely on the edge of the record player, pressing one key, then another, which brings up the voice saying, louder now, She deserves better, and again, deserves better, then, better.
That voice, it’s Ben’s voice—but them fingers, they’re the old man’s fingers. The instant he hits Pause is when my doubts go away, and like, I know who it is.
So I don’t even need him to turn around, and I don’t even want to ask him, like, Where was you, ‘cause I don’t want to hear no lies, and no long stories either, and above all, I tell him in my heart, I don’t want to admit how lonely I am here, in this place, which isn’t my home, Lenny, without you.
Still absorbed in his work with his back to me, he tries to slide open a drawer, a drawer which I haven’t noticed in his desk before—not even the other day, when I went through the jumble of his papers, looking for clues, any clues of where Lenny had gone, or with whom he might be staying, or how he expected me to pay all them bills, because, like ma used to say, money don’t come cheap.
I hope he finds things in place now, still in the right state of disorder. I hope I didn’t mess up no pages of his writing—or else, his stories will make even less sense than they already do.
The drawer is damn clunky. It rattles a bit under his hand, like, the slides under it must have gotten rusty. Then it comes to a full stop, hanging in midair. He leans in to put his hand right there, inside the mouth of it, and his fingers are swallowed up by a deep shadow, which kinda scares me, like I’ve seen all this before, in a dream or a movie or something.
So in distress I gulp for air, just about to cry out to him, Stop! Pull out, Lenny! Your hand—no, don’t talk, don’t even breathe a word—it’s about to be bitten off, like, if you don’t hold your tongue, right now, hold it from telling me a lie.
Which is the moment he freezes, like he’s just caught a sound, the light sound of my footfall. There’s a chill in the air, which I can see right here, in front of my nose, ‘cause like, the vapor of my breath starts rising, curling in the air and clouding the partition between us.
Lenny turns over his shoulder, and even before he can sense who’s standing here, watching him, you can tell he’s jolted, real shaken even, on account of not expecting no one here, at this time. He screws up his eyes, so I bet he’s looking for his own self, mirrored back to him—only to catch sight of me.
In a flash he spots my outline, like, through them spots on the murky glass.
Lenny gets up from the chair, awful stiff, and in one limp he comes to a stand right there, opposite me. My God, he looks strange today, and not only because he looks kinda naked, I mean, without them glasses. His gray hair isn’t even combed, like he’s awakened right this minute, after a fierce fight with a pillow or something—or else, he hasn’t slept a wink last night, just like me.
Only in his case it happened who knows where.
Me, I look straight at him. His eyes, they have something wild in them: tender one second, mad the next, with wrinkled skin under them, sagging like squashed, hollow bags. He leans into the glass, laying his hands left and right of me, but I can’t be sure what’s in his head, like, if he wishes to plead with me, knowing I’m soon gonna forgive him—or else, he wishes to wring the life out of my throat.
But he don’t try to do neither one nor the other. Instead he says, “Anita,” kinda gruff, “where is my son? You must know where he is, don’t you?”