Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chapter 8 - A Sending

Jeremy went back to the park every night, sometimes just for a walk around the pond, sometimes to stay and wait to see if she would show up. Sometimes he knew she wouldn't be there. Sometimes he thought maybe she would be.

He got stopped once for loitering after curfew, but he was just given a warning. Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night.

Friday night he thought about the fact that last Friday he had missed her, and how guilty and angry with himself he had been about it, certain he had blown every chance with her, and how unbelievably she'd proved him wrong about that the very next night. He was an emotional wreck, bouncing back and forth between being depressed that he hadn't seen her in so long (every hour without her had become a week, and five days had been an endless torment that showed no signs of letting up), and being angry with her for treating him this way. He wanted to give her a piece of his mind. He wanted to . . .

He sat down on the stone near the archway where they'd first met. What he wanted, he knew, was to hold her, to kiss her, to make love to her again. Even just to hold her in his arms. Even if she said up front that that was all, no sex, not even kissing, just to hold each other, that would be enough.

Well, of course, it wouldn't be enough, but it would be considerably better than nothing, which is what Jeremy had now.

He sat quietly, and tried to banish these tempestuous thoughts from his head, tried to calm himself. He crossed his legs as he'd been taught in a yoga class he took back in college, balanced his hands on his knees, sat up with his back straight, head held high, and closed his eyes. Deep breath in, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, deep breath out, 2, 3 4, 5, 6, deep breath in, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, deep breath out, yes, calm, quiet, restful, counting, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 --

"Jeremy, go home."

His eyes snapped open. He was all alone, sitting on a stone, no one was anywhere near him. Yet he had heard distinctly, Liliana's voice whispering in his ear. He had been positive she had been there, right beside him. He could have sworn he'd even felt her breath on the side of his face.

He shook his head. This was all getting way too weird. He looked around, even sheepishly looked under a nearby bush, just to make sure she wasn't nearby playing a trick on him. He'd had a lifetime's worth of pretty girls making fun of him in 8th grade.

There was no doubt about it. Liliana wasn't there. But she had spoken to him, clearly and distinctly, and even if she hadn't, it was probably time to go anyway.
All the way home, he'd tried to figure out what had happened. She'd said that women read minds. Did that mean she could send her thoughts to him by way of telepathy? Was she taking pity on him? Was she aware somehow that he'd been going to the pond every night? She'd said the first night that she'd been watching him. He still didn't understand exactly what that meant.

Jeremy wasn't a superstitious guy, but enough weird things had been happening that it unnerved him when he turned onto his street in time to see a black cat saunter across it, right underneath a streetlight, leaving no doubt as to the fact that it wasn't a mostly black cat with a little white her and there but a coal black silent Halloween cat, crossing his path with trouble.

"Great," thought Jeremy, "just what I need."

But perhaps the cat was harbinger of some other kind of luck altogether, he thought later, because he felt something, some electric charge in the air, as soon as he entered his apartment building. He found himself running up the stairs eagerly, fumbling for his keys and throwing open the door as if in expectation of something he had waited for without knowing what it was.

The apartment was quiet, but . . . different. He couldn't put his finger on it.

And then he could, and the obviousness made him feel an oblivious moron for not noticing it right away. The apartment was clean. The microwave pizza box he'd used as a plate the night before because all the plates were dirty was gone from the coffee table, the cups and plates and knives and forks all vanished from the living room, the "dining area" table and the counter between that and the kitchen. His heart thumping, he didn't even dare imagine what else he might find.


The voice came from his bedroom. He rushed in, and there she was, naked in the moonlight, arms held out to welcome him.

He didn't ask how she got into his locked apartment, or why she didn't call or where she'd been all week. A part of him knew that these were really important questions that shouldn't be ignored, that he was just asking for trouble down the road if he accepted this situation as it was, without probing and analyzing and trying to find out what was going on. But it was all he could do to keep from literally ripping his clothes off and taking her without even a word of greeting, so fierce was the longing inside of him. He reached out for her with something like a sob, and held her long in his arms saying only "Thank you," over and over again.

It wasn't until much, much later that he thought that maybe the black cat might have been a warning, after all.

Chapter 7 - Aftermath

When he went back to the park to retrieve his car, Jeremy discovered a parking ticket. $20.00 for "illegal overnight parking." Well, it made sense if the park closed at 10:00 p.m. you weren't supposed to leave your car there overnight. He sighed and put it in his pocket.

He walked around the fountain pond. He'd become so familiar with it by moonlight this last week that it looked unfamiliar and alien in the daytime. The sunlight seemed harsh, the colors garish. What would have seemed a month ago, even a week ago a perfect fall day now seemed insubstantial and ephemeral, the temperature too warm, the breeze too weak to whisper across the leaves the way it had last night. The whole scene lacked atmosphere, he decided.

He drove home slowly, still tired from last night despite having slept past noon. If he died right now, he told himself, he could die happy.
Of course, many of us have said that to ourselves, and whether or not we mean it, it very seldom happens that we die at that moment, nor that we remain that happy for very long.

He was listless and withdrawn from himself the rest of the day. He managed to force himself to go grocery shopping, but he felt so unwilling to exert the energy to cook that he bought mostly frozen dinners and then topped it off by swinging by Steak 'n Shake and getting dinner from the drive-through.

Eating his hamburger, fries and chili, washed down with a chocolate shake, staring at the glowing screen on which cavorted actors and actresses desperately trying to entertain and/or engage him, he had the sudden realization that despite having just had the kind of evening that he would have predicted would Change His Life Forever, nothing had changed. He was still the same Jeremy Morrison, living in the same apartment, driving the same car, he would get up tomorrow and go to the same job. His life was just the same as it always had been, with the notable exception that he had finally managed to excise himself of his virginity. But without Liliana, without her actual presence in his life, her body next to his, her voice in his ears, he was still the same bored, unhappy loser he had always been.

He was getting morose again, he realized. And he wasn't even drunk.
He got out his laptop and tooled around the Internet while watching TV. Idly, he looked up a phone directory and searched for the name "Dougal."

He almost wasn't surprised to find that there weren't any Dougals in Missouri. There were nine in Illinois, and over 250 in the country, but none in Missouri.

He suspected that it wasn't really her name anyway. She had said it wasn't false, but she had also asked that he call her that, which wasn't quite the same as saying it was her name. He was beginning to think he had gotten himself involved in something he didn't understand, that there was more to Liliana than just a beautiful woman who enjoyed his company.

He still didn't know where she lived, or how to get in touch with her. He resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to go to the fountain pond every night, on the off chance that she'd be there. He couldn't bear to think about the fact that he had almost missed her Friday.

Jeremy yawned. It wasn't even ten o'clock yet, and he was ready for bed. He decided to skip the news, and shut down his computer.

Lying in bed, he couldn't sleep. He was tired and wired at the same time, the way you get if you stay up two days on too much caffeine and adrenaline. He lay awake, staring into the semi-darkness, thinking of Liliana. He could see her face, almost reach out and touch her milk-white breasts. He longed to feel her arms around him. He almost wept at her absence. The bed next to him felt empty, the way it might if she had lain beside him every night for a decade and then suddenly left, instead of sharing it with him just once.

He wondered if he was going crazy. Wondered, indeed, if she was real. No, she had to be real, the waiter and the restaurant had interacted with her. She had really been there, taking up space, chatting with him, eating food, so there seemed little doubt that she had really come home with Jeremy, really made love to him like a wildcat -- not that he had any standard by which to compare her, except for imaginary stories and pornographic videos. He'd always assumed, and really, was still fairly certain, that the women in those movies did not act like the vast majority of women, that sex in the real world was far more tame and maybe even a bit boring compared to the way porn goddesses comported themselves. But Liliana could have taught most of them a trick or two, and threw herself into lovemaking with passion and energy he suspected he would never have gotten from, say, any of the girls at the Velvet club Friday night.

Or maybe he was wrong. Maybe everyone in the world really was getting screaming over-the-top world-ending physically and emotionally draining sex all the time. But he doubted it. He suspected that last night he had been very, very, very, very lucky. If he never saw Liliana again, he had a night to remember for the rest of his life. And if he did see here again . . .

Could one fuck oneself to death? As he drifted, finally, off to sleep, Jeremy contemplated the possibility. There was a smile on his face.

* * *

Jeremy was still listless and sleepy the next day at work, and Cecilia actually barked at him once when he started to shelve a cart of books in the wrong century. He was sure he would have caught himself before he actually put the books on the shelf. He always checked and double-checked the number. Still, it was disconcerting. It would have been bad enough if he'd taken a cartful of 500s -- natural sciences and mathematics -- over to the 600s -- technology and applied sciences like medicine and engineering. But he had a cartful of philosophy books (100s) and Cecilia caught him headed toward languages (400s). It was embarrassing, to say the least.

He went to the park that night, even though he knew, somehow, that Liliana wouldn't be there. He got there at eight, strolled around a bit, and ended up walking back and forth the whole length and breadth of the park -- which was about a mile and a half by half a mile. He always kept returning to the pond. He stayed after curfew, but left before midnight.

The next day, after all that walking, he was so tired he could barely get up and make it into the shower. He thought of calling in sick, but he wasn't really sick, he was just tired, and he'd had bad luck with pretending to be sick or something in the past. Not at the library, but at a previous job, he'd had a tendency to invent emergencies like illness or car trouble to excuse absences when he really just didn't feel like going into work that day. Invariably, it seemed, whenever he did that, whatever problem he'd pretended to have would happen, and he'd have to pretend something else happened, and he'd end up missing three or four days before the cycle would get broken. In fact, now that he thought about it, that was how he'd ended up getting fired from that job.

So he got dressed and went to work, but he wasn't at his best, and he knew it. Indeed, without him saying anything about being under the weather or even that he was tired, Cecilia came up to him around noon and told him to take the rest of the day off.

He went home and went to bed. He slept for several hours, woke up at nine p.m. He was refreshed and alert, and the thought of just eating something and going back to bed, which was what he knew he should do, seemed impossible. He would have to move around, do something to make himself tired again . . .
He told himself that he wouldn't go to the park. He'd just take a walk around the neighborhood. Or maybe in the other direction, away from the park. But he knew he was lying even as he mentally uttered the words. He called himself on it as he got dressed. "What the hell are you doing? You're in no condition to do anything tonight even if she's there!"

She wasn't there, so that didn't matter. And he did force himself to just walk there, go around the pond a couple of times, and walk home. And he was much better the next day.