The room is small and shabby. Two windows would let light in if they weren’t hung with old bedsheets—unmatched, tacked at the top. The floors used to be a good hardwood, but now they are dull and caked with what might be dirt but is more likely the detritus of life. I sweep them sometimes, to get the big pieces up.
In one corner is a bed—a rusted iron frame, a collapsed mattress and box spring, dressed with sheets of a slightly newer vintage than those on the windows, and a moth-eaten grey wool army surplus blanket. That’s enough.
Along all four walls are stacked books, some notebooks, lots of loose papers I need to deal with, mail I haven’t opened. The only letup in the pattern of books is by the sink, where the dishes and glasses and pots and pans are stacked. A cutting board covers the sink, and a hot plate sits on the cutting board.
I sit in the only chair, waiting. The chair is wooden and straight-backed. It is painted blue and then speckled with many other colors of paint, almost too artistically to be accidental. On the seat of the chair someone has written “Hot Seat” with a Magic Marker. I don’t know who wrote it. The chair was here when we moved in.
This is our princely manor, or so Morgan would have you think. He claims everything for his own, makes it his castle. I don’t know where he is now, but I have a suspicion. He has been gone six days this time. He will be back soon.
I sit in the blue speckled chair, experimenting with different ways of waiting. Chair facing door. Chair facing wall. Chair facing curtains—I briefly tack one sheet open, but the sight of the building next door depresses me. There is a woman who lives next door who hates our building for some reason, and I can taste her animosity. I close the curtain again, cross my legs, uncross them. I go to the shelf above the sink and pour a bit of Kahlua into a tumbler, then add the drink to my experiments: legs apart, tumbler resting on my right knee. Tumbler clutched tightly in both hands. Ultimately, empty tumbler on the floor beside the blue chair.
Eventually I go to bed.
Morgan and I are on vacation. We think it is a good idea for us to get away, to try and recapture what is missing. He says these things through his teeth before we go, but we go anyway. Is he really sneering, or is it just his English accent? I can’t even tell any more.
We can’t afford much, but we stay in a decent enough hotel. There is a beach outside, blue sky. It’s all not as fashionable as it could be, but it is clean. The room has two double beds, each with a dresser at the foot. I unpack my suitcase and put my clothes neatly into the dresser nearest the door, just the way I would have at home: underwear and socks in the top drawer, t-shirts and sweatshirts in the middle drawer, shorts and pants in the bottom. I hang my skirt up in the closet. There are no skirt hangers, so I fold it and drape it over a regular hanger.
Morgan is fiddling with the TV when I am through unpacking. “I’m going out for a walk,” I tell him. He looks up but doesn’t say anything, so I leave.
I walk on the beach, carrying my tennis shoes in my hand. I am careful not to step on broken glass. The surf breaks foamy around my ankles—the water is shockingly cold at first but I get used to it, or numb to it. It’s amazing how we can adapt.
I stay out a long time and act surprised at Morgan’s reaction when I finally come back to the room. I can see that he is hurt, but he screams at me in pure anger: “Where the hell have you been? Who were you with?”
“Nobody,” I say, but I smile a bit. Let him wonder.
We spend the rest of the evening patching it up, and then eat in the hotel restaurant right before it closes. I eat grilled chicken and a green salad, and he has something deep-fried just to spite me.
I am home again. Of course the vacation didn’t go well. I got a nice tan, though.
I am waiting again, but I’m tired of that lousy blue Hot Seat. It’s stiffer than I am. I stretch out on my stomach on the bed, pretending that a stream of sunlight is coming in through the window and pouring all over me; and that a cat has come to sleep on my back in all that sunshine, purring; and that I am surrounded by feathers and down, not this old itchy wool blanket; and that there is a man who loves me sitting at my feet, telling me a story.
I know where Morgan is. I should just call.
And then I do call.
“Hello, Rachel? This is Candace. Can I speak to Morgan please?”
Rachel is surprised, but she hands the phone to Morgan.
Oh, composed Morgan, refined and civilized Morgan, why do you always have to be so smug?
“We need to talk.”
He is coming over at eight. I have made a pile of all his things by the door. I was very friendly and did not burn them. This apartment, small and tawdry as it is, looks empty without his stuff intermingled with mine. Most of the books lining the walls were his, also most of the dishes. I have a few cheap wine glasses and two nice ones, a Christmas present from my mother. They look lonely on the floor by the sink, all by themselves.
It’s only six-thirty, but I go to the apartment door and peer down the carpeted hallway. All the other apartment doors are closed, of course. Including Linus’s, across the hall—a nice man, if you catch him early enough in the evening, before he’s completely sauced.
But that gives me an idea. Nothing but Kahlua in the apartment, which I really don’t like but I drink it anyway. Not tonight.
I check in my purse and see that there’s enough cash. I grab my jacket and leave, deadbolting the apartment behind me. I walk out of the building and into the night—it’s dark already, nearly winter—and up the street a block and a half to Fred’s Market. I wait in line and ask for a 750-milliliter bottle of Seagram’s 7. Fred also sells cigarettes individually, spread like a bouquet in a little basket by the cash register. I think about it but don’t buy one. They’re probably stale anyway, out of the package like that.
I walk back home. It’s so cold I can see my breath—I imagine that I did buy one of those cigarettes. I’m actually glad when I get back to the apartment building.
I crack the paper seal on my bottle and pour myself a respectable drink in a wine glass. I sit back down on the bed, and sip, and wait.
Morgan comes on time. I mean, he arrives on time—God knows when he came. Ask Rachel.
I am only an inch and a half down the slender neck of the bottle when he gets here. I have been temperate. I do not offer Morgan a drink but instead pour myself another one.
He does not take his stuff and leave. Instead, he begins weeping. He throws himself on my breast and begs forgiveness while at the same time protesting his innocence.
“What do you mean?” I push him away, but gently. I am touched, and getting drunk, but still angry. “You’ve been at Rachel’s for almost a month. I’m supposed to wait for you to sow your wild oats?”
“No!” He is desperate. “It’s not what you think! She’s just a friend. It’s you I love. It’s you I went on vacation with!”
“We fought for a week! You called her when I left the room! Don’t think I don’t know that.” But my arguments sound shrill and empty to me. Morgan, you are my husband. Love me, and stay. “Go. Take everything, just please go.”
Morgan stays two hours, pleading without real remorse. He is afraid of change. I drink Seagram’s and argue back at him, more clear-headed every minute.
Finally I wear him down. He picks up as much as he can carry and goes out the door, leaving it open. I stand in the doorway and watch him go down the hall. As soon as he turns and steps into the stairwell, I hurl my once-again-empty wine glass at the bottom of Linus’s door. The glass explodes on impact, making a huge noise.
Suddenly I am surrounded by people. Doors have opened, neighbors have come out of their apartments. And Linus is there by my side. He has been in love with me ever since I slept with him last week, just to have something to do besides wait.
I am drunk, raving, incoherent. “He’s gone!” is all I can say, but I keep repeating it. Linus herds me back into my apartment and shuts the door on all those inquisitive faces. He spots the half-empty bottle of Seagram’s and puts it on the highest shelf.
He tries to calm me down, but I am in a state. And the wine glass against his door was too satisfying not to do again.
I scoop up my glasses one by one and throw them at the radiator. They pop and shatter, and Linus tries to stop me. “People will hear you. Shh. It’s okay. Please stop throwing glasses. You’ll be sorry tomorrow.”
But I am choosing them carefully—I only break the cheap ones. I am sitting on the floor, enjoying my scene, enjoying the cathartic release of raw emotion. I know I will have to clean up tomorrow, but it won’t be a big deal. Just a pile of glass in one corner.
But then I turn, and in my drunken clumsiness my foot catches on one of Mom’s Christmas glasses. It is delicate and tapered; it sways and topples slowly, breaking with a little sigh as it hits the hardwood.
“No!” I feel suddenly cold and afraid. I cannot believe what I have done.
Now I am blind with grief and rage. I cry real tears as Linus holds me tight, afraid of what I will do next. I just weep from the bottom of my belly, spent and collapsed inside. What I loved is broken forever, never to be repaired.