Tuesday, June 28, 2011
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Earliest memory. She read the underlined phrase from her small notebook by the lamplight. The toilet flushed in the other room. She put the notebook down.
“That’s a real cool lamp,” Rick said from the doorway. “I’ve been meaning to tell you that.”
Lief looked at him. He was already nearly fully dressed.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ve had it forever.”
He leaned against the doorframe. “It’s, like, vintage.”
Lief nodded. “It is.”
“I’m going to get going,” he said. “If that’s cool.”
She nodded again. “No, it’s cool,” she told him.
He took one step into her room. “I can stay if you like,” he said.
“It’s cool,” she repeated. “I sleep better alone.”
He approached her haltingly. “Okay,” he said. He kissed her forehead lightly. “So, I’ll talk to you next weekend?”
She smiled. “Give me a call,” she said.
He clutched at his coat. “I had a nice time tonight,” he explained.
She smiled. “Thanks again,” she replied. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
He was back in her doorway. He waved timidly. “Good night,” he said.
Lief sat upright in bed and listened to him walk through her apartment, open and close her front door. She could hear his shoes on her front steps, across the driveway, the tiny whine of his car starting in the cold.
She opened the notebook to a clean page. There were lots of them. The pen hovered over the page before she wrote something down, then scratched it out. She put the notebook back on the nightstand. Outside the wind was vicious; she could hear it whistle against the house. The lamp was too far away to reach, so she curled up beneath her covers and fell asleep with the light on.
The late morning light blared off the buzzer outside Glover’s apartment building. Lief pressed the button beside his name, then quickly returned her hand to her coat pocket.
Lief leaned into the speaker. “Hi Emily. It’s Lief.” She leaned back and waited. The front door unlocked.
“Glover’s out for a run.” Emily said opening her apartment door. “I don’t think he thought you’d be here so early.”
Lief forced a smile. “That’s okay,” she replied.
Emily walked uncomfortably away from the door. “Please come in,” she said.
Lief entered slowly. “I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you,” she said. “Glow is not exactly detail-oriented. He said eleven.” She took her coat off and tossed it across the table.
Emily sat down on the couch. “Where are your gloves?” she asked. “It’s freezing out there!”
Lief rubbed her hands together. “How’s everything going?” she asked.
Emily put her hands over her stomach. “So far, so good,” she said. “Everything checks out.”
They were silent for a minute.
Emily looked like she suddenly remembered something. “Glover said you were at a writing conference?” she said. “How was it?”
Lief shook her head. “It was alright,” she answered. She leaned against the wall. “I stayed in this old hotel while I was there.”
“It was in New York?”
Lief nodded. “Yeah. My room was right on the corner of the building. It must’ve been right against the elevator shaft.” She slid down and sat cross-legged on the floor.
“You can sit on the couch,” Emily said. She shuffled over to one side and patted the center couch cushion invitingly.
“Nah,” Lief said. “I’m fine.”
There was a radio playing from the other room. Lief strained to hear it.
“Was it noisy?” Emily asked.
Emily squirmed in her seat, trying to get comfortable. “The elevator,” she clarified.
Lief nodded. “I could just hear the gears going all night. I didn’t sleep all night.”
“The elevator was going all night?” Emily asked.
Lief looked toward the window. “I could see the elevator from my door, from the peephole? There were these two kids.”
“No.” Lief shook her head. “Teenagers. College kids. I heard them in the hallway, talking real loud. And so I went to the door, and they were getting into the elevator. It was like one-thirty.”
She shifted her legs under her. “I tried to get back to sleep, but I could hear the elevator grinding away, right by my head. It was deafening. Even after it stopped, I could still kind of hear it. At least hear where it was.” Lief stopped and wiped the corners of her mouth. “Like, the silence where the noise had been. I could hear it, if that makes sense.”
Emily made a little groan and Lief turned back toward her.
“You okay?” she asked. Emily nodded.
“Did they come back?”
Lief shook her head. “An hour later. Hour and a half, maybe. I can hear the grinding gears and I go to the peephole again, and the door opens and there they were. Just as noisy.”
Lief rubbed her face. “Where did they go? What did they do?” She sighed. “I mean, it’s easy when you haven’t slept and you’re cranky and just in a shitty mood, it’s easy to imagine that they get in the elevator just to wake you up. They make a lot of noise in the hallway, they get in the elevator that makes even more noise, and it’s like they did it all to just piss you off.”
She stretched her legs out across the floor. “But I kept wondering, where did they go? What happened between when they got on the elevator and when they got off? And thinking about that kept me up the rest of the night.”
Emily smiled. “That sounds annoying,” she said. “How was, like, the actual conference?”
“Eh,” Lief shrugged. “The stupid elevator thing was more interesting.”
They both sat silently. The radio murmured in the background.
“Is that ‘Storm Girl’?” Lief asked.
Emily strained her ears. “I think it’s ‘Poster on the Wall’,” she said. “I’ll go turn it off. They’ve been playing them non-stop all week.”
“It’s okay,” Lief told her. “Has there been any more news?”
“About the Debasers guy?” Emily asked. She looked up toward the ceiling. “I heard this morning that the coroner’s report said that it was an intentional overdose.”
Lief closed her eyes. “That’s sad.”
Emily leaned over the arm of the couch, trying to look out the window. “I don’t know where Glover is,” she said.
Lief opened her eyes. “Did you ever see him run?” she asked. “In college? Did you ever go to any of his meets?”
Emily thought for a minute. “I don’t think so,” she replied. “I think he wasn’t doing track anymore when we met.”
Then they were quiet again.
Emily made another small noise.
“Are you alright?” Lief asked.
Emily smiled and rubbed her stomach. “I’m fine.”
“How is everything going?”
“We just had the ultrasound the other day,” Emily told her. “It’s going to be a boy. At least that’s what the doctor said. I couldn’t tell from looking.”
Lief was silent for a long time.
“Everybody was convinced mine was going to be a boy,” she said finally. “Jackson, my dad, Glow. I didn’t want to know. I don’t even remember why I didn’t want to know.”
“Oh, Lief,” Emily said. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
Lief had tears down her face. “Can I tell you something?” she asked.
Emily nodded. “Of course.”
Lief gasped for breath. “I’ve been sleeping with this guy for the past couple of weeks. We met a bar. He just comes over and we have sex. He’s nice enough. He’s not a jerk or anything. But I don’t know anything about him. I think he told me what he did for work, but I honestly don’t remember. I have no idea what he does when he’s not at my apartment.”
Emily shifted again in her seat. “Well, I mean, you know how guys can be.”
Lief shook her head. “I like that I don’t know. I don’t want to know,” she said. “If I didn’t have to know his name, I wouldn’t.”
Lief punched her leg. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” she said. “I haven’t told anybody. You just seem so nice.”
“You and my brother,” Lief continued. “You’re going to make such great parents. You’re both such nice people.”
They were both silent again for a minute.
“Are you alright?” Emily asked. “Do you need some water or something?”
Lief shook her head. “Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” Emily told her.
Somewhere a different song had started.
Lief wiped her eyes. “Did my brother tell you that I went to school with Andrew Scioli. The Debasers guy?”
Emily sat up. “No, he didn’t,” she said. “Did you know him well?”
Lief laughed. “No. Not really.”
She laughed again, but it didn’t sound like anything was funny.
“He ruined my favorite sweater, though,” Lief said.
They could hear church bells, distant and muffled, through the apartment walls.
“What kinds of things do you do at a writers’ conference?” Emily asked.
Lief stood up and stretched. “Pretty much just bullshit,” she replied. “You’d think it would be about story structure, or whatever, but it’s not.”
“So, what is it?”
Lief went over to the window. She could see the church faintly down the block.
“I studied writing in college,” she said. “It was just a bunch of pretentious assholes. Their stories weren’t really stories. More like ideas about stories. That’s why I ended up leaving the writing program.”
She laughed. “I went to one workshop at the conference. It was about memoir writing. The teacher was like, think about your earliest memory. And I couldn’t think of one. I was just sitting there forever trying to remember anything interesting, and then I realized that I hadn’t heard anything else he said.”
She sat back down on the floor. “I just went back to my hotel room. I just stayed in there most of the weekend. I watched TV.”
She sighed deeply. “I’m not a writer, Emily,” she continued. “I thought I was, but I’m not. I paid a lot of money to go to this conference, like maybe I could force myself to be a writer. But I’m not. I’ve never been.”
Emily looked embarrassed. “Writing’s hard work, I bet,” she said. “You should keep trying. Don’t give up.”
Lief drew her knees up to her chest. “Have you read my brother’s book?”
“Norrin’s?” Emily asked, then nodded.
“What did you think of it?”
Emily arched her back and slowly shifted into the middle of the couch.
“I thought it was sad,” she said. “I felt so bad for the girl.” She paused. “Have you read it?”
Emily smiled. “I didn’t want to ruin it for you,” she said. “But you know how the girl traveled back in time and couldn’t get back? I just wanted her to get back. The further back she got, the more I worried I got that she’d never get back.”
Lief stretched her legs back out across the floor. “What did you like about it?” she asked. “What made it a good book?”
Emily scratched her head. “I don’t really read too much,” she admitted. “I guess I just like reading about good characters.”
Lief smiled. “You know me and my brother don’t talk.”
Emily nodded. “I mean, Glover told me,” she said. “He didn’t say why.”
Lief again looked toward the window. “He probably doesn’t even know.”
“Could I ask?”
The heater rattled.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” Lief said. “I really looked up to him a lot when were growing up. And then he moved away, and I don’t know. I guess he just let me down.”
“He left when your mother died, right?” Emily asked. “Glover said he never lived with your brother.”
Lief shook her head. “I don’t know why he left.”
Emily adjusted herself. “Your family doesn’t really talk about stuff,” she said.
Lief felt a scratch in the back of her throat. She could feel the soreness when she swallowed.
“I probably need a glass of water,” she said. “Can I get you anything?”
Emily tried to lift herself from the couch, but Lief put out her hand. “Stay right there,” she said. “I can find a faucet.”
She went into the kitchen, pulled two glasses from the cabinet, and turned on the faucet. She filled both glasses and put them on the counter. She leaned against the sink, looking into the living room; it looked empty from where she was standing. But she could hear Emily shifting on the couch out of sight. She picked up both glasses and brought them back into the room.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “Where is my brother?”
Lief sat beside Emily on the couch, and they drank their water in silence.
“What about your family?” Lief asked. “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard you talk about them.”
Emily let some water spill from the lip of her glass, and it dribbled down her chin. “Oh, they’re fine,” she said, wiping her face. “It’s me and my brother. My mom and dad.”
“Are they excited for the baby?”
Emily nodded. “Oh, yeah,” she replied. “Although I know my dad would like it if we were married. He knows Glover’s a good guy. He’s just old-fashioned.”
Lief drank the rest of her water. Her throat was still sore. “I think I’m getting a cold,” she said.
There were footsteps outside the door, and then Glover came in. He pulled off his knit cap and his hair was soaked with sweat.
“Hey,” he gasped, short of breath. “Leap, why are you here? Is it twelve?” He looked around for a clock.
“You said eleven.”
He kicked his sneakers off and wiped his brow. “I’m gross,” he said. “Let me hop in the shower.”
He handed Emily a brown paper bag. “They only had powdered,” he said.
Emily looked inside. “I love jelly donuts,” she explained. “I just crave them all the time. Especially the glazed ones.”
“Emily and I have something to ask you,” he said. “So just let me get washed up. I’m disgusting.”
Lief smiled. “Everything about you is disgusting, Glow.”
He gave her the middle finger. “I’ll be right out.” He bent over and kissed Emily gently on the forehead.
“Thanks,” she said.
Lief balanced her empty glass on the couch arm. She could hear the water running.
Emily took a bite of her donut. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m starving.”
She took a few more bites. “Why do you guys call him Glow?” Emily asked.
“Our dad’s a nickname guy,” Lief explained. “You can’t meet him twice before he’s got a nickname for you.”
“He calls me M&M,” Emily interjected. “My last name’s Murray.”
Lief made a little noise. “I didn’t know that,” she said. Emily nodded, powdered sugar on her chin.
Lief continued. “Glover loved this little glow worm doll, you squeezed it, its face lit up?”
“So that was all Dad needed.” She closed her eyes. “So Norrin was Norm, and I was Leapfrog.”
Lief could smell the jelly from the donut.
“My mom’s name was Ann, but he called her Queenie,” Lief continued. She opened her eyes and made another tiny noise.
“I hadn’t thought about that in forever,” she said. “He always called her Queenie.”
They sat there together. Emily finished her donut.
“I think you’re very nice, too, Lief,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you that.”
The pipes knocked together as the water shut off. Somewhere in the distance something sounded like church bells, but it could’ve been anything.