She looked good in sundresses. But then again, what girl doesn’t?
Z. was a woman of enormous appetites (for breakfast she took eggs Benedict with grapefruit and half a bottle of Gaston Chiquet) who lived in a garlanded townhome halfway up Mulberry Street with her boyfriend, Q., the magazine editor. This was in Brighthorn, that helix of cobblestone and dogwood, its sprinklers like cold teeth chattering. I’d go there Saturdays, in my best shirt, my cleanest shoes, and vault Z.’s emerald hedge before gliding up to the doorbell. She’d answer in slippers and bathrobe. Her expression pouty, all Chanel No. 5 and need.
“Enter,” she’d say, and beneath the transom I’d go. Up the pink, shag-carpeted staircase into the bedroom — helpless, stupid, as though drawn by the gravity of some jealous moon. After, we’d order Chinese and watch bad television over too much wine. Boozy, without grace, we’d fumble through a second performance, then take a shower together. I’d soap myself with Q.’s blackcurrant, blot myself dry with Q.’s Egyptian towel, daub wrists and neck with Q.’s cologne (Soleil Blanc, all pistachio and bergamot).
“Make yourself scarce,” Z. said. “He’ll be home soon.”
In fact, Q.’s imminent return was anything but certain. He’d spent the week crunching deadlines for Prestige, the lifestyle quarterly where he’d been installed as EIC of Personal Finance. In a cubicle of frosted glass overlooking the waterway — its jeweled surface aglitter with sun — he often worked consecutive overnights as publication neared, borne through on a steady diet of caffeine, amphetamines, and smokeless tobacco.
But it turned out Z. was right. There I was, rattling off my usual litany of arguments, when from the driveway came the familiar V8-purr of Q.’s Shelby — a cordite bullet with stomach pains. I risked a final smooch then it was out the window for me, over the lawn and behind the hedge, my hair still damp from the shower.
Z. and Q. embraced upon the threshold, and I watched the foyer swallow them in its darkness. Typically, three quarters of an hour was enough. These interludes I’d waste strolling one of Brighthorn’s footpaths: lush, highly curated tours of regional plant life, gardened so as to appear naturally grown. Gaining the viewpoint, I’d take my seat upon some white bench and observe the waterway beneath, its lapis lazuli surface swept round green mossy bends and out of sight.
I’d doze with a breeze in my hair, pink afternoon weighing on my eyelids.
Then I’d circle back to noon-dappled Mulberry Street. If my timing that day had been particularly good, Z.’s departure would very nearly coincide with my return. She drove off in her champagne-colored Prius. Once more I bested the topiary and sauntered up to the bell. Q. answered in boxer briefs and flashed me a boyish grin.
“About time,” he’d say, and beneath the transom I’d go. Up the pink staircase into the bedroom. After, we’d share a cigarette and discuss the stories of Chekhov in enthusiastic detail. Q.’s appetites were modest: for him nothing was so dreadful and fine as the Russians; the rightful place of Whiskey, especially Scotch, was to lord over its lesser brethren, those slumpfaced spirits.
At some undetermined later point — an hour, or perhaps two — we’d tear into each other a second time. Oblique sunlight, pleated curtains, a warm breeze playing hopscotch over bare limbs. Through the open verandah, the countless sprinklers of Brighthorn could be heard caroling their percussive hymns — brief odes to all that is shameful, beautiful, temporary, selfish, and gone.
He looked good in sweatpants. But then again, what boy doesn’t?
Willie Watt is a writer from Austin, Texas. He holds an MFA from New York University, where he studied fiction under Joyce Carol Oates and Jonathan Safran Foer—among others. His previous work can be found in Washington Square Review and Vanishing Point Magazine.
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