James’s apartment was a mess. The brown door to the hallway was stripped
and flaked. It didn’t latch completely. Doors opening and closing from the hall made
his suction on its hinge. Sunday mornings were the quietest. His desk was to the right of the French
doors that led to a small rusted steel balcony were left open overnight. It overlooked
Hillsborough Street. The front sidewalk could be seen from the desk. His untidy four-foot long desk was made of particleboard. On it sat his
Smith-Corona “Silent-Super” portable manual typewriter—circa 1950s—the centerpiece.
It was clamped to its valise. It was painted light blue, but the color had faded to
a mute gray. A sheaf of paper loaded into the typewriter platen, blank, flicked in
the breeze from the doors. The desk held a stone coaster given to him one Christmas from Sasha.
A collage of musical instruments patterned it. There was a clear glass ashtray now
opaque from quashed butts. Utility bills were stacked in the back corner stained with
dried coffee lines that made them look like old maps. A stack of boxed ink ribbons
looked like one move away from losing at Jenga. An old cream-colored phone with a
spring-coiled cord flanked the desk. The desk chair was of an uncertain wood. It was
a swivel with a thin black cushion. James blamed this chair for his hemorrhoids. The apartment was one room. His bed was to the left of the French doors.
A single. James snored—a soft sound. His eyes were unable to completely close. Long
pauses in his breathing used to alarm Janet.
They were in bed. “Why don’t you just go see a sleep disorder specialist?” Janet said. “I will.” “When? You always put these things off, James. If I get you a number,
will you call?” “This winter. I promise. I’ll call this winter. I’ve got too much going
on now… with the book and all.” Janet turned her back. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?” “No, I’m not.” “You are. Just admit it.” “I’m too young to go to a sleep doctor. Those somnologists are for old
folks.” “There’s no such word—‘somnologist’.” “There is now.” “Screw you.” “That’s no way to talk to your husband.” “Fine. Die in your sleep for all I care.” “Maybe I will.” “Fine.” “Fine.” “. . .” “. . .” They fell asleep. Hours. “Plums,” James murmured. He stood, naked. He put on his slippers and walked
out of the bedroom. He walked down the hall and down the stairs. At the bottom he
placed his hand on the knob of the balustrade. He looked at the front door. He didn’t
hear the TV in the family room. “Dad?” James gazed at the front door. He took two steps forward until his nose
was inches from it. “Dad? What are you doing?” Sasha looked at him, horrified. She tuned away.
“Stay—right—there. Don’t move,” she said. She climbed the stairs. “Mom! Dad’s naked!”
she shrieked. Janet stood at the top of the stairs with Sasha. “James! Come back to bed. You’re sleepwalking again.” He turned to Janet and said, confused, “Plums.” “What?” Janet sighed and walked down. She took him by his elbow. “Sasha,
go to bed.” Sasha shook her head and darted to her room. Janet brought James upstairs, sat him on the bed, peeled back the covers
and patted the pillow. James lowered down and the house returned to silence. He denied
the episode each time it was recounted to him.
James stirred in his bed. From the front door over to the left was the
kitchenette. It contained a sink, stove, and ample counter space. The oven didn’t
work. Wrappers, cartons, stained Tupperware and vegetable husks littered the beige
counter. Black-domed roach traps sat in the corner behind the toaster oven. A small Formica card table with two plastic chairs was in front of the
sink. A half dozen empty bottles of Scotch lined up along the edge. A spider made
it to the lip of one. It repelled to the hardwood floor. It hustled across the kitchen
to the living area and disappeared behind the radiator. In the living area was a maroon-colored easy chair, its threads frayed.
The lever that lifted the footrest broke years ago. It was the single item he kept
from the marriage. There was one more chair—the newest addition to his home—a Poäng
chair he had bought from IKEA. Three separate radiators warmed his apartment—in the
living area, in the bathroom, and near his bed, the latter two worked. The bathroom was small. The toilet seat was loose, and when sat on, shifted
off one side of the bowl. The tub doubled as a shower. The shower certain was drawn
shut. It was plum-colored. The phone erupted on his desk. James shot up from the bed. He gasped
and tumbled at the phone. “Hello,” he said through a film of saliva. He looked at the alarm clock
on the floor next to his bed. It read 8:30am. He took an unfinished rocks glass of
stale Scotch from his desk. He sipped. “Ah, hello. James? Did I catch you at the wrong time?” “No.” He scratched his beard. “Well, I’m wondering how things are going?” “Fine.” He flicked a Marlboro Red from a soft pack, lit it. “Well, you know, I’m really calling to see—um—well, you see, my boss’s
asking about—you know—” “No, Diane. I don’t know.” James was trying to wriggle into his robe. “Why do you have to make this so damn hard?” “I’m knee-deep in the Persephone book, Diane. Call off your dogs.” “My boss’s asking for at least a chapter… just one chapter. Surely you can break etiquette just this once and send us a chapter?” “You know I never send anything unless it’s complete.” “James, let me level with you.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “This could be it, you know?” “It?” “Yes. It.” “What are you getting at, Diane?” “You realize that Aphrodite was rather disappointing. And I stuck my neck out for you. I promised that you could
deliver the best one yet. Now, if you can’t finish it, you need to let me know, so
I can drop you.” “Drop me?” James said. “James! Am I getting through to you? What’s that sound? You’re drinking
this early?” “It’s orange juice.” “Bullshit.” “. . .” “Your Ex, called me,” Diane said. “Bullshit.” “No, she did. She’s worried. And quite frankly, I am too.” “Quite frankly… you can drop the clichés. You’re like a machine.” “Stick it, James. You drink too much.” “Listen—” “No, you listen, James—you send that first chapter or you can forget about writing for us
again.” “But—” “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you need a wake-up call. No editor
wants to deal with an alcoholic. Trust me.” “. . .” “Send me the first chapter in two weeks.” “Fine.” “And one more thing, James.” “Yeah?” “Why don’t you get with the program and buy yourself a goddamn computer.
Email, you know? Not to mention you’d be able to produce a clean revisable draft.” “I’ll have your chapter in two weeks. You could use a drink yourself.”
James slammed the phone. It hopped off the hook. He kicked the receiver. It hit the
wall he shared with his next-door neighbor. James’s hands shook. He finished his drink. He walked to the refrigerator,
scooped ice into his glass, and poured himself another Scotch. He paced back and forth from the kitchenette to the balcony. He heard
the receiver making an alarm. He grabbed the spring cord, pulled it up into his hand,
and pressed the hang up button. He dialed. “Hello.” “. . .” “Hello? Hello?” “. . .” “Janet, give me the phone,” a man’s voice said. “Hello.” James hung up. He put out his cigarette. James dialed another number. “Hello.” “Hi, Sasha. Where are you?” “Dad?” “Yeah, hun?” “Are you drunk?” “No, hun. I’m just calling to tell you I love you.” “You’re drunk.” “Where are you, hun?” “You only call me ‘hun’ when you’re drunk.” “Where are you, Sash?” “I’m in the car on my way to school.” “Come by and see me after school, will ya? I just miss you is all.” “I can’t, Dad. Carlton’s taking me to the mall after school.” “Who?” “Carlton. Mom’s new husband.” “Husband? Since when?” “Daa-aad… come on… you knew this.” James hung up. He put down his glass and stared at his shaking hands.
He sat in front of the typewriter. He scratched his beard and put down his cigarette
in the ashtray. He pressed his hands to his eyes and stifled a snort. He collected
himself and swiveled. He stared across the room where the wall met the ceiling and
noticed a blemish high on the wall. James pushed his bed to the wall. He got up and put his finger on the
blemish. He looked closer. It was a hole, dime-sized. There was a little light through
it. He put his eye up to the hole and there was his neighbor, Aurora. She was in her
bra and panties washing a glass in her sink. She wiped her hands and did a pirouette. She filled a watering canister
at the sink and went from plant to plant. “There you go. I thought you were thirsty,” she said. She hummed to “The Man in Me” by Bob Dylan, which he heard through the
wall. James inhaled. She was taking off her bra, her back to him—her panties.
Her ass was like two half loaves of farm bread. A moon-face tattoo winked from the
small of her back. Cursive words arched above it. James couldn’t see what it read.
She turned to his wall. Her breasts, like good-sized avocados, her waist
curved in, her hips wide. She looked, absently, at the hole—then down. James heard
the dresser drawer open. He watched her select clothes. She tried on several t-shirts.
Panty-less, she slipped into blue jeans. James stepped off the bed, grabbed his Scotch and sat in front of the
typewriter. The phone rang. “Hello.” “James?” It was Janet. “What?” he whispered. “Sasha told me you called her.” “So?” “James—” “. . .” “Are you alright?” “What do you care?” “Quit acting like a child.” “Fuck off.” “There’s no need for that.” “What do you want?” “Carlton and I want you over for dinner.” “What for?” “I don’t know, James. You’ve isolated yourself. We thought you might
want to have a good meal for a change. Sasha’s told me how you eat noodles all the
time. James, you can’t refuse a home cooked meal.” “Watch me.” “Oh, don’t be a fool. Besides. Carlton wants to meet you. He really hopes
to get along with you. Because, you know, he loves Sasha like a daughter, and she’s
even said she wants you two to meet.” James scratched his beard. He swirled his ice. He licked his lips. “Do it for Sasha,” Janet implored. “When?” James whispered through his teeth. “Thank God…” “Janet, when?” “Tomorrow. 6:30. I’ll have Sasha pick you up.” “She has her license?” “Of course. You did call her on her way to school.” He hung up.