The Rusty Toque | Fiction | Issue 2 | February 27, 2012
A lonely girl listens to the radio one Monday night and hears the story of Eros and Psyche dramatized with lots of oboes and cellos and creepy sound effects. The next day she finally meets a guy, a guy she can look in the eye and not flinch, and so when he invites her out to dinner she doesn’t get as frightened as she usually would, she says “okay” and puts on her pretty green skirt and a black sweater, and luckily the restaurant is dark and quiet and the fear that usually runs like red ants through her body is not as bad as it could have been, not as bad as it often is just going for lunch in the food court, or getting a coffee with friends.
And when he calls her at work the next day and asks “What are you up to tonight?” he says it in a way that makes her feel really safe, and when he suggests grabbing some Chinese food and renting a movie, her heart falls backwards into a big soft couch and she is able to take a deep breath in and, even better, a deep breath out. It is important to know that that evening they really do fall in love with one another, they really do get to know each other and they do marvel at their uniqueness and their sameness, and although it is early days yet there is no doubt this is the real thing. This is not a story about people who aren’t in love; you have to get that straight right now.
Soon it is Friday, and she knows they’ll spend the whole weekend together. What she doesn’t know is that when he picks her up, it will be in a dark green car with tinted windows, driven by a man in a suit and tie, and that the house this driver takes them to will be more than an hour out of the city, tucked into a narrow valley behind a curtain of fir trees whose long boughs drip almost to the ground. Friday night they cook pasta with a rich tomato sauce, full of shellfish and spices, and they eat it on the floor in front of the wide fireplace. As they eat, and talk, and go to bed early, they burrow deeper and deeper into this uncommon and private place, into shared stories and affection, into a trust shut like big wooden doors against the world.
They spend all day Saturday together, but on Sunday morning he drives into town to pick up some groceries and a fat newspaper. She stays behind and wanders through the sunny rooms, and thinks about her basement apartment, which feels nothing like this; this is a house for adults, deeply upholstered and carpeted and safe. The kitchen is full of delightful food, of special things like imported cheese and crackers, and delicious pastries, and fresh bread and tropical fruit and interesting kinds of carbonated drinks, drinks with unusual flavours like persimmon and pomegranate. And his high wide bed is covered in downy pillows and duvets, and she sleeps in this bed as she thinks she must have slept as a child; she feels in his warm room that there is someone sitting close by, watching over her as she sleeps, and thinking.
The driver takes her into work on Monday morning, takes her directly to the front doors, and it is a shock to her system to step out of the car into the bright direct world of her office building, of traffic and many voices and people she doesn’t know, and she feels she has to squint to filter this world from her home-softened eyes.
Monday night he is there with the driver and car at five o’clock, is already waiting so that she doesn’t have to linger on the cold sidewalk. When they stop by her apartment so that she can feed her cat and pick up some clothes, he suggests that they bring the cat back as well. And she should bring lots of clothes—in fact, why not camp out at his place for a while? What is keeping her here?
All of this makes sense, and so she and the cat settle into their new home without a ripple. Soon it is November, and dark in the mornings, and it is harder and harder to pull herself from the deep bed, harder to climb out of the car onto the cold and crowded sidewalk. At work she has lost the knack for chitchat with her co-workers, but just stands at the window during her lunch-break, gazing north. One morning he suggests that she call in sick, and she spends the whole day tucked up on the sofa in the pretty sunroom, playing solitaire and drinking cocoa. By the weekend, going back to work seems unbearable. He suggests that she quit her job. She no longer needs the money, everything is supplied for her now. And it’s not much of a job, it’s a space-filler, a rent-payer while she’s looking for a real job. So she writes a letter tendering her resignation, and she writes another one giving up her lease, and one weekend they go and pack up her belongings and bring them back to the house, where the driver takes them up to the storage space over the enormous garage. She wakes up once that night, and thinks about those boxes gathered in the dark attic, and wonders how she would get them out of that space, what steps she would have to retrace, but she forgets all about them before long.
(Remember, you shouldn’t be worrying about this relationship: these people really are in love and I don’t suppose there is anything peculiar going on in that respect. And the money? I wouldn’t worry about that either, I’m pretty sure it’s all above board.)
The days go on, and they celebrate Christmas with delightful things they have ordered from catalogues, and as winter deepens they go into town less and less but have food and wine and magazines delivered to the end of the lane. They read, and play cards, and sometimes they go out in the snow on cross-country skis he has found in the basement. As they cut ribbons through the silent snow, she thinks that the world around them has disappeared, that there is nothing anymore but snow on the ground and in the sky. In the spring she works in the garden, and in the summer they spend long nights on the patio, sleeping on a makeshift bed of cushions from the sofas and chairs, surrounded by short candles in lanterns. And soon it becomes fall, and she realizes it is a year since she last left the compound, and then it is Christmas, and they surprise each other once again with sumptuous and clever things.
That winter, he goes out one day with the driver, into the city to pick up some supplies they need. They leave just after breakfast. She waits in an armchair, the cat purring on her lap. At lunchtime she makes soup, then tidies up the kitchen before returning to her chair. At five o’clock she sighs as it grows dark and they are not back, and she looks out the window into the dark trees. After she has made her dinner, she returns once more to the window and she waits there all night but they never come back, they never come back. And she sits there for many days, and the question in her head becomes louder and louder as the silence around her becomes brighter and closer: what then, what then? What am I supposed to do next?
INGRID KEENAN is a Canadian living in Upstate New York. Her writing has appeared in Room Magazine, Acta Victoriana, and Exclaim!