After our drive we returned to my apartment. The table was still set though most of the food had been wrapped and put into the refrigerator. We had wrapped the food before our trip to the park. Ordinarily, I would’ve thrown everything out but my neighbor was against that sort of waste. I’ve never been able to eat leftovers, but I went through the motions anyway, assuring my neighbor that I’d have lunch for tomorrow. My neighbor brewed tea and we sat at the table with the kettle set near the centerpiece. My neighbor was thin although she did have shapely hips and buttocks and a round belly. Her breasts were small and looked like they should’ve belonged to someone else. She’d make light of them from time to time. I never knew how to respond to that. There is no way, really, all one could do is change the subject. The post dinner conversation was riddled with awkward silences. Typically I would say something that would lead my neighbor to make certain deductions about my character, what it was I wanted; ambitions, attitudes, etc. In this case I made the mistake of mentioning the vantage point from my apartment to hers. I’d forgotten that she didn’t like to acknowledge our arrangements and practices out loud. She feigned an indignation I hadn’t seen before. I assured her that I’d never seen anything lurid. I added that I only looked into her apartment to see if she was home before calling. I may have said something regarding the sound of my voice on answering machines to further illustrate whatever point I was trying to make. After one awkward silence I think I asked my neighbor if the thought of being watched was appealing to her. She directed the question back at me. I answered yes. I was then admonished for being a pervert. This was also part of her heritage. Where she is from the women admonish the men for being perverts. At this point I changed the subject to Chinese food probably. This would’ve been met by either silence or derision, I’ve forgotten the particulars. After such there was a cooling off period, followed by half-hearted acts of contrition. First she would be in the bathroom doing I don’t know what. She’d be in there a long time. I’d listen for the sound of running water, cabinets opening and closing, sobbing. I never heard a thing. Then she’d come into the room barefoot and sit on the couch. She wouldn’t look at me. If I were on the couch she’d stretch her legs toward me, her feet coming to rest in my lap. I’d grab onto a foot, usually the left one. The left one was always my favorite. It seemed cleaner and more expertly constructed than the right; each toe in proportion with the next, each nail the proper length. The right one would invariably have a blister or callous somewhere. This might’ve had something to do with evolution or her peculiar gait. She seemed to drag the right foot when walking, like someone with cerebral palsy. Maybe she had a club foot. I don’t know what a club foot is but I think it has something to do with the direction the foot is pointed. But the left one was perfect. I’d start rubbing beneath the toes.
I’m mistaken, confusing this occasion with so many others.
That night she stayed in the bathroom. She said she couldn’t look at me. She said she’d had enough. I decided to wait her out. I knew what she wanted. She was playing a game. I said nothing. Every so often she’d say something through the bathroom door but I wouldn’t reply. I considered locking her in there, but realized there was no way of doing this. Eventually, she talked herself into coming out of the bathroom, with the provision that I’d be waiting for her naked on the couch. I agreed. She walked slowly into the living room, naked, as well, and stood against the wall opposite the couch. Part of the agreement was that I was not allowed to speak. This was not difficult for me. I usually speak only when spoken to. She stood flush against the wall, head up, determined. I studied her figure up and down before making eye contact. Her left breast was bigger than the right, though when I say bigger I mean relatively bigger. Neither breast was big. Her knees also seemed cock-eyed, mismatched. Almost every feature was asymmetrical, eyes, ears, hair, breasts, knees, etc. I looked at her. Then I realized her eyes were on mine. I didn’t look away. In fact, it felt like I couldn’t. It was as if we were both in a trance. She’d mentioned she had the ability to hypnotize, that she used to hypnotize people at parties. I was always skeptical of this but this night our eyes were affixed to each other’s. Time passed. Eventually we were finished. I knew we were finished when she blinked and changed expressions. I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Til then her face was blank, like a cadaver’s. She walked over to the couch and sat down and I followed her. I can’t say I enjoyed what had transpired as I didn’t understand what in fact had transpired. I didn’t know how long we were like this across the room from each other. On the couch she begged me to tell her certain things. I complied. Finally we went to bed. There was a knot in one side of the mattress, which was facing down. The knot happened to line up with the small of my back when it was facing up regardless where I might’ve positioned myself on the bed. There had to be more than one knot, alas. This particular side had been facing down for some time, though. I considered that it might be time for a new mattress, although I would retain the box spring, which seemed to be in fine shape. There was no headboard. I’m not sure whether headboards serve a functional purpose or are strictly ornamental. My neighbor complained about the bed and the knots, which she swore was preventing her from resting comfortably. At one point she jumped out of bed and stormed off, stomping her feet. She would do this. In her part of the world the women can be petulant. I did not respond. Her behavior was taxing in many ways. I waited for an earthquake or tornado, some natural occurrence to bring the building down around us. Nothing. Cleary, this was a test, though I wasn’t sure what would constitute a passing grade. I did nothing, which has always been my way. Later she came back. No words were exchanged as she climbed into the bed. Our bodies did not touch. This is when I realized her birthday was coming up in a week or two. My neighbor didn’t celebrate birthdays. She never said why, and I never asked. What we’d do is take a day trip somewhere we’d never been, masturbate for each other in a public place, and drink ourselves sick. What we’ve never done is have a cake with candles or sing the song. All it took was my neighbor to say, I’m not much for birthdays. I never even buy her a gift. Neither of us had mentioned her birthday so I don’t know what made me think of it. Then we fell asleep, her first. I could not look at her sleep. I faced the other direction so our backs were to each other and listened to her breathing. There was a howling wind coming from her nose, almost like wheezing. It was disturbing. I tried to think about something else and she started to snore. I turned around and put my hand on her shoulder, which seemed to calm her. The snoring stopped and started several times, every time a hand on the shoulder quieted her. It took some time for me to fall asleep, though I wasn’t uncomfortable, per se. Although abbreviated, the sleep I did manage was productive. It was dreamless. I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I had bad dreams. I never die in the dreams, but rather, I am always dead. In other words, my death doesn't take place in dream time. There is no collapsing to the ground, convulsing, gasping for breath. There comes the realization I'm dead in a coffin underground. There is no air, it is dark. I wake violently. I jump from the bed, knock things over, can't draw a breath. I look at the clock on the nightstand and wait for it to change. Sometimes this takes time. If it changes then I think I'm not dead. Death has to include, if not be defined as, the absence of time. But that night there was no such dream. In the morning I woke with an erection on the right side of the bed. Whenever I slept with my neighbor I’d take the right side. It wasn’t a formal arrangement, just a habit we fell into. I did not prefer one side to the other and did not attach any symbolic meaning to being on the right side, either. During this time I began to note what side of my body was facing down, instead of what side of the bed I was on. That morning I woke on my left side, though on the right side of the bed, a fact I was no longer keeping track of or was interested in. I usually woke on my left side. There didn’t seem to be any external factors influencing this outcome. For whatever reason, I was most comfortable with the left side of my head on the pillow. I think I fell asleep this way most nights, as well. I’ve always noticed how my breathing was affected by what side of my head was on the pillow. Generally, particularly during times of illness, the opposite nostril would open and the other would close. Meaning if my left cheek was on the pillow, the right nostril would be clear and the left closed shut. Certainly there is a scientific reason for this. It probably has to do with physics, blood flow, gravity, etc. I’ve always had a problem with congestion. I had to forego my normal routine except for the allergy medication, which was an essential. Time was I did not have to take allergy medication. But I would be lightheaded, have headaches and dizziness and I’d be miserable so eventually I’d relent and go back on the medication. I have always had to take some kind of pill or another. I tried to hide my erection from my neighbor, which was not subsiding. I knew my neighbor would take it the wrong way. She was still sleeping. She was beautiful when she slept. I considered going into the bathroom to masturbate but reconsidered. I also had to urinate and urinating always takes priority over masturbating. It is difficult urinating with an erection. One has to take angles and trajectories into account. I stood with my backside to the wall, three feet away from the bowl and let gravity do the rest. I’ll say this—the arc, against the backdrop of the lilacs, was impressive. Like a rainbow. In the bathroom everything was rainbow rainbow rainbow. Because it looked the way it looked and my erection was still prominent afterwards I decided to masturbate right there. This is when my neighbor walked in and cursed me for being a pervert. She accused me of masturbating to the image of the star of the movie we had seen together at her mother’s apartment. I’d made the mistake of commenting on the star’s toes, which my neighbor objected to. She remained hostile for some time and there was no calming her. I apologized and she ignored me. Eventually she asked if she could use the shower, which I also had to apologize for. The showerhead was on the wrong wall. Instead of the showerhead being parallel with the tub long ways, the way it is in every reasonable bathroom the world over, it jutted out into the middle of the tub. As a result the shower curtain hangs all over the person trying to shower. One cannot position one’s body in that tub without the shower curtain clinging to one’s skin. It is appalling. She was in the shower a long time, long enough to reconsider how angry she was, I think. After the shower she suggested we have lunch with her mother so I figured everything was fine. This was the mother who had uprooted the family. People who flee have it written all over themselves, but there were no traces of anything like that on her face. She would not leave her railroad apartment for weeks at a time, often not even changing out of her house frock. Worse, she did not know what to do with her eyes during conversation. Either her eyes would fish all over the room or she’d stare at you, unblinking, long after it was appropriate to look away, and always with an expectant look on her face. I did not want to have lunch with the mother. I said something.