In the morning the cat started to meow. He brushed up against my arm, rubbing his face against it urgently and letting out a high pitched trill. I turned over and reached out my arm toward the place where the bed was still warm, but there was nothing there anymore… Just sheets folded over themselves.
The light crept in and I could not hide from it. I sat up, and looked at the cat, who was staring at me and purring. “Okay, I know,” I sighed. I got up and cracked a can of foul smelling food, and put it out without even taking it out of the can. For this effort he made a seemingly relieved groaning noise.
I went to the bathroom and splashed cold water across my face. It was warm and muggy and I was still drenched in my own sweat. A flash of a moment pressed itself upon me… I thought her name was Natalie, but I wasn’t sure. There was no last name in the fog… Just a vague presence now, and a sort of detached loneliness.
The morning seemed much further progressed than I had intended. I had hoped to get up early and make breakfast, but it hardly seemed worth it now. There was a dull ache and an aversion to the sun rattling in my head. The bed, in the corner of the room, was drenched in burning white light. It, surprisingly, was the only part of the room that looked disorderly. The rest of the room was blank. Hardwood floors, white paint, a writing desk… That was all that occupied the space. On the floor, by the bed, there were some torn editions of Bunin’s stories and Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, with the corners chewed off by the cat.
I went to the kitchen where there were still a few empty bottles of beer along the formica counter, and one which was only half empty. I recalled a hand pressing itself to my own, pulling me away from the kitchen. My heart seemed to jump at the shock of being touched unexpectedly, even now. There had been some conversation about nothing much, preceding that, but nothing significant it would seem. The glassy memory was imbued with a sense of embarrassment, at what I’d have liked to believe was an uncharacteristic lack of charisma on my part… I had felt all night as though the situation were slipping away from me.
I had gone out in the evening to meet Jane. She was my first friend when I moved to town a month ago, and I had hoped it was evolving… She invited me to the party and of course I went… Slavishly, almost. About a half an hour in she disappeared with someone else and I knew my chances were shot. I felt a burning sense of disappointment and a sort of embarrassment for putting myself out there… but it was not as though there had been anything definite there. Worse than that, I didn’t know anyone else at the party, and I was drunk. I couldn’t go anywhere else, but I felt distinctly out of place there.
I never really noticed Natalie. From the start she seemed out of my league, confident and probably too young for me, so I didn’t bother trying to make her acquaintance. Besides, my complete failure to insinuate myself further into Jane’s life left me feeling self-conscious. As I felt myself sobering up, I got up to leave. Natalie turned to me casually as I passed and placed her hand on my arm. She asked me if I would mind dropping her off at home.
“I’m drunk,” she said. “I’d like to get out of here.”
“Sure,” I said, looking at her with what I’m sure must’ve been a confused expression. It seemed to make no impression on her.
She got in the car, and for a long, awkward moment, we sat in silence. I could feel her looking at me out of the corner of her eyes, though I tried not to notice. She seemed to want me to do all the talking, and only spoke to give me directions. I was still in a state of disappointment and did not really understand the situation or what was required of me. I struggled to make the necessary small talk, while avoiding the usual stupidities. When we got to her house she hesitated and asked if I would want to go to mine instead.
“Are you sure?” I asked, grasping the implication of the suggestion made at such an advanced hour.
“Yes,” she said dryly, without any readable emotion.
I broke from looking ahead at the road and glanced at her. Her hair was cropped short and she had a dark maroon lipstick on. I could imagine her reading Camus and listening to the Magnetic Fields, speaking in various shades of exasperated sarcasm. She looked bored, and I really could not discern why she would have wanted to spend any more time with me. I felt old, perhaps for the first time in earnest.
When we got to my apartment she followed me upstairs. She seemed undecided, but not exactly shy. In the kitchen I offered her a beer, and I started drinking enough to talk about myself. Thinking about it later, I feel embarrassed about how openly I shared. I felt, suddenly, like I wanted to connect on some emotional level. There was part of me that felt like I should try to make something more than a one night stand out of the situation. I’m not sure I really wanted that, or that I specifically wanted that with her, but my loneliness made me vulnerable… Looking back on it, it is clear she didn’t want anything like that.
She let me talk, and never interjected with her own back story… She never shared or disputed ideas. But, I got animated, and she did not get impatient with me either. The whole time she held her beer in front of her face, and peered out over it, watching everything. It all seems now to have been calculated.
Eventually, she grabbed my hand and pulled me gently toward the only other room in my small apartment–a gesture with no small amount of grace. She undressed economically, letting her dress fall away from her shoulders with the hint of a shrug. I could barely make her form out from the darkness… She took care of her own needs efficiently, and we fell asleep without speaking. In the night we woke, wrapped around each other’s bodies. She pushed against me under the sheets, and we repeated the process.
In the morning she was gone. Her presence seemed like a ghost, still existing in that space, in my memory. I was reluctant to let it go. I remembered her presence in the kitchen the most. All night, as I had spoken awkwardly about my past, she watched me… It was as though something lingered in the corner of that room. I could still feel the sensation of being watched. Despite doing my best to put it out of my mind, to see the previous evening as final–something solidly embedded in the past–her image remained. Only by the evening, after walking in town for an hour, did the sensation finally lift, and I felt pleasantly alone again.
By the time I walked up the steps from the street, the aching to share my inner-most self had been replaced with a self-loathing embarrassment for my sentimentality. Afterall, I wasn’t even sure of her name, and I could no longer remember her face.