She’d always hated his piles. She was thirty-four now, standing in the center of the sun-sopped living room of their split-level home, and they’d been married at thirty, and had begun dating, casually, three years before that, when they were both twenty-seven and he was fresh out of grad school and living in a shoebox apartment on Cherry Lane, and he wanted to be an artist, he said, the night they met, and, “If you want to be an artist, doesn’t that mean you already are?” she asked, the question genuine, she having grown up in a place where no one wanted to be anything but what they already were, and he bit his bottom lip when he listened to her speak and he drank his dark beer in full-throated gulps, and her whole life back in the town she was from, population less than six hundred, boys had asked her out on dates — her hair long and black and tied in a bow — and she’d gone on a few, and slept with none, and turned down most of the offers outright, because Jess-Ann wanted to do more with her life than “make some guy look awfully good,” as she’d overheard two boys in her high school say, and so by the time she’d met him and she’d downed her third Bud Light and he his fifth froth-topped Guinness, by the time his eyes lit with talk of art — of Bruegels and Hoppers — it was as if the bar and the stools and the neon signs and the surrounding chatter of her entire life had dropped away, and they were floating in space, just the two of them, alone together, the connection tumbling them, hands and mouths, onto his apartment couch, her head cocked to the side, his lips on her neck, and it was then, in the middle of an act she’d never before completed, that she first saw the piles of books.
That she first became uncertain.
“You’re quite the reader,” she said.
“Kind of,” he said, kissing the spot where her shoulder became her underarm. “Mostly, though, I have to keep them in sight so I don’t forget.” His goatee grazed her bare breast. “So I don’t forget the things I want to remember not to forget,” he said, laughing.
“Are there always so many?”
“Piles,” she said.
By the time they’d been living together for a few months, she’d gotten a feel for the piles, the four rotating stacks on the coffee table, the twelve rickety towers lining the living-room wall, the magazines in the kitchen, the sticky notes on his desk, the insurance cards huddled in the glove compartment of his car, and she’d never met anyone like him, so passionate and driven — he’d be a photographer, he said, sharper than Ansel Adams; he’d be a painter, he said, more groundbreaking than Picasso; he’d be a lithographer and sculptor and graphic designer, too, better than the best in each of those arenas — and so a year and a half later, when he asked her to marry him, she said, “Yes, on one condition,” and she didn’t have to say what the condition was because they both already knew. “I fucking love you,” she said, “but your piles are driving me absolutely crazy. It feels like if I breathe too hard something’s gonna topple.”
“It’s not me,” he said, straightening a stack of records.
“Then there’s a ghost that comes in and piles things up?”
“It’s O.C.D. or A.D.D. or something with a ‘D,’” he said, refusing to be formally branded.
“Every surface I clear,” she said, “you go and immediately cover.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, adjusting a Miles Davis record. “I can’t control it.”
“Fuck.” She hugged her arms around his head.
By the time he was walking down M Street to meet her for dinner, a fancy night out, an anniversary treat, they’d been together, in one form or another, for seven years, just short of that magical, infinite eight, and he was a block from the restaurant when a cyclist blew a red light behind him and a Benz barreling down the street saw the cyclist and swerved to avoid a collision and the hard turn of the wheel snapped the front axle and the car’s tire went wobbly and black marks scratched at the ground and he was in the air, flying, and then he wasn’t, and the doctor said maybe he’d live and maybe he wouldn’t, and then he was gone and she was thirty-four and standing alone in the sun-sopped living room of their split-level home and the windows were open and the insects were buzzing and the very last thing in the whole entire world she would have wanted to happen then would be for all of those piles to vanish.
Ryan Bloom’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Guernica, New England Review, PEN America, Black Clock, The American Prospect, and a variety of other publications. His translation of Albert Camus’ Notebooks 1951-1959 was nominated for the 2009 French-American Foundation and Florence Gould Foundation Prize for Superior English translation of French prose.