Vapor, page 8
I paced the living room, itching to vent my lack of inhibition before Damon came back. First off, I hummed “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music,” to draw pleasure from the room’s reverberation, followed by a tune from “The Double Life of Veronique”—always my favorites when it came to testing the resonance of a hard, bare, and promisingly resonant room. As I walked around, I kicked my heels on the marble parquet and increased the loudness of my humming. I was surprised at how good it was, the reverberation; I had almost expected the clouds to act like carpet, absorbing and ruining the echo.
Still wound up, I ran my fingers along the back of the couch to make sure it was as awfully vinyl as it looked. It was. The kind that likes to stick to your skin. I opened my mouth a little, and my eyes a lot, to give the couch the gaping treatment such an unworthy fabric in such a beautiful living room deserved. At least it was a rough, textured vinyl, so it did not shine. I scraped my fingernails across it, producing a menacing, grating sound. I kept this up a little longer than one would expect.
Having entertained myself sufficiently for now with the couch, I directed my attention to my next object of fascination (other than the clouds, which I didn’t want to harm or dishevel): the musical fountain. I stuck my finger under one of the drops to block its fall. As expected, I pierced a hole in the melody. I watched the drop tremble on my fingertip, fragile and vulnerable, like a tear, crushed it against my neck like perfume.
“A poetic end for a musical drop,” said Damon, watching me from the doorway. “Dinner’s outside.”
I followed him onto the terrace, trying to console myself with the thought: better to have been caught catching one of his drops than using his couch as an emery board.
Outside, a table was set for two. The food had been ordered from a nearby restaurant; a practice he often indulged in, he informed me. A very good restaurant, I decided, after my first bite.
I didn’t like how much I liked him. It frightened me. I didn’t want to be in such a vulnerable position. I was in no mood to suffer over love; that most frivolous yet most potent source of suffering.
I stared at Damon and tried to find defects. I looked for a flaw in his face. The problem was, he looked like a model. I tried to find that unattractive. Some women did. I didn’t see why I couldn’t: that typical charming smile. So … typical of gorgeous men.
The physical plane wasn’t working. Perhaps I’d have more luck on the intellectual one.
For example: Good music makes no sound. What rubbish. Unfortunately, it was not entirely uninteresting rubbish.
Why not then try coming down on his mannerisms. Yes, mannerisms are a good thing to pick on. I searched. His were so … They were perfect, actually.
No. Don’t give up. There had to be a flaw. Try harder. I held my breath and clenched many muscles and stared at him hard, until I felt my eyes bulging.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, just as I found what I was looking for.
“You look a little flushed.”
“I don’t feel flushed.”
What I had found was a slight popping out of the jawline on both sides when he chewed. I latched on to that for dear life, as onto a life buoy. But it was a very flimsy buoy that could only keep me afloat while he was chewing; as soon as the slightest wave came along, such as one of Damon’s ordinary charming or surprising comments, the buoy and I would sink. And there were other waves as well, such as the fact that everybody’s jaw does that when they chew. I fought the wave: just because everybody’s jaw does that doesn’t mean it’s not unattractive. I held on to the buoy.
But it and I were no match for him. He was simply so prodigious, in every way. At least in my eyes.
Before dessert, I grew cold.
We moved indoors and sat at the end of a long glass table and ate a floating island. A dessert I had never heard of or seen before, it consisted of a large bowl of warm liquid custard, with whipped egg whites floating in it. After serving me and himself, he pushed the large bowl to the side.
We ate slowly and talked, and I was smoking, and I noticed absentmindedly that my cigarette had never produced so much smoke. So absorbed was I by our conversation that it took me a while to notice that I could barely see Damon’s face behind the smoke. This phenomenon was gradually becoming more pronounced, which I found extremely strange, and I wondered what could be wrong with my cigarette. I was about to remark on it when I realized my cigarette contributed only slightly to the effect. We were not sitting in a cloud of smoke, but in a cloud, period. It must have drifted onto us. I interrupted our conversation to briefly express my delight.
Damon nodded slowly, smiling, and we continued talking, bathed in this mysterious foggy atmosphere that endowed our every word with depth and perfection. Or so it seemed.
I was suddenly distracted by a pitter-patter coming from the dessert bowl. Drops of God knows what, from God knows where, were splattering onto the liquid custard. The floating island was sinking under the weight of what I soon realized were raindrops. This foundering made me nervous.
“I don’t mean to interrupt you,” I finally said, “but the cloud is raining on the dessert. And sinking it.”
Damon leaned toward the bowl and looked. “So it is,” he said. He covered the bowl with a plate.
Raindrops started falling on me as well.
“It seems the rain likes desserts,” he remarked. “Shall I cover you with a plate too? Or should we just get out of the rain and take a walk in the woods? The weather tonight is worse indoors than out. There’s a section of the woods you haven’t seen. I saved it for after dinner because it’s particularly pretty at night. I have a warm coat you can wear.”
He opened a closet and took out a large down coat. “I haven’t worn this in years. I no longer wear opaque clothing.” He said this with the same finality, with the same entirely justified self-righteousness as the people who say, “I no longer wear fur.”
We entered the woods from another side of the house, but this time we did not walk randomly through uncleared foliage; we followed a beautifully manicured path made of stones, grass, and moss, with flowers along the edge. Lamps were hanging from tree branches at regular intervals, lighting the way. We passed iron benches, some black, some white.
We arrived at a small clearing and sat on a white bench. We listened to the crickets and the rustling leaves. I wrapped the coat more tightly around me. And I waited. I leaned my head back. He did too. We couldn’t see the stars because a lamp was shining near us. Damon got up and turned off the lamp. We were now in the dark, and the stars were bright. I was a little nervous, and optimistic, expecting him to turn toward me and make his move at any moment. He sort of had to. It would be just too silly of him not to.
Time passed. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what he was up to just sitting there, doing nothing. I decided I would not do anything to make the situation less awkward; I didn’t want to make it easy for him to get away with doing nothing. So I sat, absolutely motionless and rigid.
That didn’t seem to work. So then I sighed impatiently, sort of a huff.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered meekly.
If he didn’t find this awkward, why should I?
After about fifteen minutes, he turned to me and said, “It was nice, wasn’t it?”
“Walking into the woods and sitting here.”
We got up and walked back to the house; I was dazed. I looked at my watch. It was 11:00 P.M. He had an hour left to make his move, and if he didn’t do it by twelve, then I would have to, in time to catch the last train, depending on the outcome. My stomach flipped with unease as I realized that it would be like “Cinderella,” in reverse. By midnight, instead of escaping, I would be pouncing.
Oh, I forgot to show you the pool,” he said, as we walked back. “And I should take you on a tour of the house.”
The swimming pool was in the basement. It was very standard-looking, in a very standard-looking room, except that there were numerous rubber ducks, of various shapes, sizes, and colors, lined up against one wall. I suddenly wondered if he had children or was somehow involved with children. I asked him.
“No,” he answered simply.
He took a yellow duck and carried it to the pool, squeezing it once along the way, which caused it to make the classic rubber duck squeak. He squatted, placed the duck on the water, and gave it a gentle shove. It sank. He looked at me, as if to observe my reaction. I wasn’t sure what reaction he expected me to have. But he kept staring at me expectantly, perhaps waiting for me to seem astonished. Well, I was sorry if I wasn’t astonished, but I wasn’t. Even though rubber ducks usually floated, so what if one sank? So what if there was something wrong with it? Damon took another rubber duck and handed it to me, motioning that I should place it on the water. I did, and the duck sank. Damon was staring at me with so much expectancy that I was suddenly struck by the absurdity of it and burst out laughing.
“Okay,” I said, “I give up. Why are the ducks sinking?”
He seemed relieved by my question. His intense expression disappeared, and to my surprise I saw that it wasn’t just relief, it was sudden mild disinterest.
He waved his hand dismissively and said, “Oh, I’ll tell you another time.”
I decided I would not satisfy him by begging him to tell me. So I ignored my twinge of exasperation and said nothing.
We went back upstairs and sat side by side on the blue vinyl couch. Conveniently, the glass clock was straight in front of us. It was now 11:32 P.M.
Once again, Damon asked me about my dreams and desires, which naturally led us to the topic of acting, among others. But of all my desires, I didn’t mention the one that was the most recent and, right now, the strongest: him.
“I wish this moment didn’t have to end,” he said, to my delight, at five of midnight.
“It doesn’t have to,” I replied, hoping this wasn’t too forward.
“Yes, it does,” he said sadly, and added, “I want to remember the way you’re looking at me now. I wish I could take a picture of it, and I would, if I didn’t loathe photographs.”
“I can look at you this way again.”
“I hope, for your sake, that you will be able to, but even if you are, your look will be a shell—perhaps a very beautiful shell—but a shell, empty of your heart, empty of sincerity.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know. I wish it could stay that way.”
“You’re being enigmatic.”
“Yes. Grant me that, just a little longer.”
He stared at me sadly.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
“The alternative,” he answered slowly. “The exquisiteness of it.”
“What alternative? To what? You’re being so mysterious.”
“I asked you to … grant me that,” he almost whispered.
“I should warn you that you are now officially entering the realm of melodrama,” I could not resist teasing. But I immediately felt guilty, for I hadn’t noticed the tears in his eyes.
Choosing to ignore my warning of impending corn, he said, “This moment will never exist again; the innocence of it, the selfishness of it. The simplicity and purity of it. The sweetness. And the open doors, the potential, the blank future. Every path is still possible, but soon will no longer be. Is there anything significant you would like to say to me?”
“Perhaps, but it might be a little premature.”
“And later it will be too late. But that’s the way it is; part of the way things are, part of the sadness. But necessary. And good.” He paused. “There are so many things I would like to say to you now, so many assurances and reassurances, and truths. It would make things easier for me. But I mustn’t. It would be counterproductive. However, having said even this much has made me feel slightly better.”
“Well, not me.”
He laughed. I laughed too, despite my annoyance at his mysteriousness.
He gazed at me. “You are already slipping away, I see.”
I could only attribute this statement to his having sensed my irritation.
“But no,” he continued, “I’m fooling myself. This is but a pale shadow of what will be.” He sighed, and his tone lost its bitterness. “We’ve talked about your dreams at length. Now I’ll tell you one of mine: it is the hope that whatever dreams of yours come true, I will have played even just a small part in their actualization.”
I was touched. Now was the perfect time for me to kiss him. But that was the problem. It was too perfect; so perfect that it would have been silly.
Dong went the clock, slowly. It was the first stroke of midnight, making the moment even more perfectly silly for kissing. Therefore, to create a little diversion, I asked, “At what time is the last train?”
Dong; the second slow stroke.
“You’re not thinking of leaving, are you? I was hoping you could stay.”
“I don’t know,” I muttered, trying to appear thoughtful. I then looked at him, pretended to be overcome by the intimacy of the moment (dong), and leaned forward to kiss him.
He moved away, to avoid my kiss.
I smiled faintly, with embarrassment (dong), and got up from the couch.
“Well, I should be (dong) going,” I said, with feigned casualness. The strikes of the clock were tragically making the situation even more awkward and confusing, if such a thing were possible. Not to mention the fact that they were loud, obliging me to raise my voice, making it harder for me to sound casual. “I think the last train is at twelve-thirty,” I lied, to make sure I wouldn’t miss the last train at 12:40. “Would you mind dri(dong)ving me to the station, or should I call a cab?”
I walked to the door, and just as I was about to pick up my overnight bag, he took my (dong) hand. I faced him and waited for him to do whatever he intended to do. Dong. But he did nothing. Dong. We just stared at each other. And then it became awkward. I looked at him sadly, disappointed. Dong. I almost felt sorry for him. He seemed pathetic to me at that moment. I turned away again, to pick up my bag, and did.
“No, Anna (dong), don’t,” he said softly.
I gave him another chance. I waited a few moments to see what he would do, but he did nothing, so I finally gently said, “This is getting silly, don’t you think? I really should be going.”
He took my bag from me, placed it back on the floor, and pulled me toward the staircase.
“What are you doing?” I asked hesitantly, not wanting to ruin the romance, if that’s what it was. But then I decided that if that was what it was, it was so little, so late, that there was not much I could do to ruin it, and things could only go uphill from here.
“Making you happy,” he answered, leading me up the steps.
“I’m not sure you can.”
“I’ll give it my best shot.”
“And make yourself very unhappy in the process, is that it?”
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Please, I don’t want you to force yourself,” I said. Sarcastically, of course.
He didn’t answer, but just kept pulling me up. He held my hand rather tightly, and I started getting the uneasy sensation that I might not be able to free it if I wanted to.
“Perhaps I should let you know that force is not the greatest turn-on for me,” I said.
He did not soften his grip. I had not imagined our trip to the bedroom would unfold in this manner.
“This is very unromantic,” I snapped.
All he answered was, “Come.”
“I’m not interested anymore. Please let go of me. What you’re doing is repellent. Do you care?”
Secretly, I thought: who knows, the approach is not my favorite, but it might turn out to be worth it, or at least interesting.
We arrived at a door at the
I immediately turned away and tried to run out, but Damon was apparently prepared for this reaction. His grip was painful, and he dragged me toward the bars. I screamed at him to stop, to let me go. I kicked him, and punched him, and dug my nails into him, everywhere I could. I tore his flimsy outfit. His shirt popped open, a few buttons flew off. But it was all in vain. He flung me inside the cell, and slid its door shut between us.
I tried to slide it open, but it was, predictably, locked.
“I apologize for what just happened,” said Damon, panting. “I feel very bad about it.”
“Let me out of here!” I shouted. “Why do you have me in here?”
“I’m a little shaken up, and so are you, so maybe it’s better if I come back later, when we’ve calmed down.”
“No, don’t leave me in here! Why are you doing this? Tell me!”
He paused by the door and seemed to hesitate. He said, “I can’t right now. I’m not up to it.”
Speechless, I watched him walk out. He left the door to the room, but not to my cell, open. He moved down the hallway and disappeared through a doorway on the left.
I turned and pressed my back against the bars, holding two of them tightly in my hands. For a while I couldn’t let go, afraid the cell would suck me in, absorb me, become my master, my container. Then I realized it already was.
Against the left wall were television monitors eye-level on a shelf. Five of them, side by side.
In the far left corner was a regular-looking television set. Straight ahead were two windows, facing the garden. Then the back of the cell branched out to the right, but from where I was standing, I couldn’t see to where. I stepped forward, hoping that by some miracle the branch led to a way out.
A bowling ball and a hammer were lying in the middle of the cell. I was perplexed, but more interested in the branch, which, to my distress, I now saw was just an extension of the prison; a more private area, with a bed, and a night table topped by a lamp and an alarm clock. These homey furnishings chilled my blood; a bare prison cell was scary enough, but one with plush beige carpeting and a comfortable-looking bed was truly terrifying. I tried to block out what it meant.
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