Monday, June 20, 2011

EIGHT: Where the Heart Is

The afternoon he argued with Diana about getting married—a week before Moira’s memorial service--Les went looking for an apartment. There were few apartment buildings in Falkes Hollow and the ones that were livable were occupied long-term with little hope of vacancy. The ones that were available were student apartments being vacated by graduating seniors and already spoken for by next year's seniors. And even those were few: It had been just a decade since students were permitted to live off campus and that privilege was still reserved solely for seniors. He thought he might take a senior apartment for the summer and find something permanent in the fall, but they were already rented to summer school students. By dinnertime he was discouraged and hungry.
             In town he ate a ham sandwich at Ent’s Diner and went to his office. There was nothing to do in the office. He didn’t want to risk having one of the students come to talk about Moira, so he walked the mile to the athletic field and then walked the track for nearly an hour. And then he sat in the stands as the evening deepened. In high school he had been a promising javelin thrower and guaranteed he would have been starting quarterback of the football team senior year had it not been for fuckwad coach Findlay and his asshole requirement about wearing a woolen hat every day after practice. Les had refused to do it. None of his buddies wore hats no matter how cold it got and he wasn’t going to either. Coach Findlay gave him an ultimatum: wear the hat or quit the team. He quit the team. By the time he got out of the service and went to college, he was too old to care about playing either football or track and now he couldn’t even remember who it was who got to be starting quarterback.
And what the hell was he going to do about tonight?
He had never spent the night at Diana’s and the night after an argument about marriage was not the time to start. He could sleep on the floor of his office but he imagined Olivia Troute in the morning using her master key to open the door for some innocuous reason and discovering him lying on the floor between the desk and the filing cabinet. He’d rather sleep in the park.
There was always the Super 8 out on the highway.
In the end he told himself it was his goddamn house and he was going to sleep in his own goddamn house. He did, however, wait until all the lights were out before going to the goddamn house. Then like an intruder he opened the front door as quietly as possible and carefully went up the stairs. The door to the bedroom was closed. Well, he wasn't going to sleep in the bed anyway. He went downstairs to the study and slept on the sofa.
In the morning he awoke early and ate a bowl of corn flakes. He decided against getting a change of clothes from the bedroom. He hoped Lydia would stay upstairs long enough for him to wash in the downstairs powder room before leaving. She did, though he was certain it was not out of compassion for him. 
            He left before anyone else was up.
It was still Reading Week for two more days and then three days of written exams. He had no appointments or meetings scheduled and no formal written exams for his acting and directing students, so he could spend the rest of the week looking for an apartment. 
            All day he searched, futilely, until he had even considered taking a room in a private home. By late afternoon, strung out and exhausted, he decided to go to his house and stay there, damnit, for however many days it took to find another place to live and he would not let anyone there treat him like an intruder.
            When he got there, Lydia was in the kitchen putting sandwiches on a tray. He went into the kitchen as casually as he could and not overly energetically he said, “Where’re the kids?”
Lydia concentrated on the sandwiches. “Derek has Little League and Patti is in her room with the Balfour twins.”
“Doing homework?”
“Studying the principles of Jedi combat, I think.” She said it with neither humor nor engagement.
It occurred to him that having Patti in the house might help to buffer things.
“I’ve been looking for an apartment,” he said.
For the briefest of moments he sensed a tightening of the muscles in her jaw.
“Ah,” she said.
“Not that it’s a surprise.”
She folded napkins on the tray.
“It’s harder than I thought,” he said.
            “This is a small town.”
“Yeah, I gave up on the twentieth-floor corner condo with an ocean view.”
She didn’t take the bait.
“I mean you are not anonymous,” she said. She opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of orange juice. "It will be noticed."
He knew he should step back from confrontation, but he felt himself digging in. “That is not my concern.”
“Make up a bed in the study,” she said, taking two glasses from the cupboard.
"I can't do that."
"It would be best to do that."
“My mother and father spent more than a year not speaking to each other while occupying different floors of our house,” he said. “I won’t do that.”
“If I recall your family history accurately, your mother was the one having the affair, yes?” she said as she poured juice into the glasses. "With the chief of police, wasn't it? Or was it the manager of Tortman's Department Store?"
In his pockets his hands made fists, but he said nothing.
“Actually, your adultery disappoints me,” she said. “To be perfectly candid, I was insulted.” She put the carton back in the refrigerator. “A bank teller.” She brought out a bowl of green grapes. “I would have thought a branch manager. Or at least a loan officer, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
For a minute he stood watching while she washed the grapes.
“Things haven't been right between us for a long time,” he said.
She patted the grapes with a paper towel. “And so you take refuge in the baby sitter.”
“I’ve been unhappy.”
 She put a tiny bunch of grapes on each plate.
“You,” she said without inflection.
“I didn’t want it to happen.”
Now she was cutting the sandwiches into triangular halves. “It is not something that happened, Les. It is something you did.”
“Not deliberately.”
“Something you continue to do.”
And before she could say anything more, he was reaching for her and saying, “I’m sorry,” and she growled and the knife stabbed into the back of his hand.
She looked at him, tears in her eyes. They did not overflow. “The chilldrenne will be relieved to hear when you are gone from this house that it all happened against your wishes,” she said, “and that you are sorry.” 
             She picked up the tray and left the kitchen and went into the hall and up the stairs.
“Lydia, you will not walk out of this room!” he shouted and ran after her, blood dripping from his fingers. "Stop, goddamn you!"
             Patti was standing at the head of the stairs looking down at him. Her mouth was open and her eyes were wide.
Lydia went up the last three stairs and past Patti into the hallway. “I brought you and Amber and Whitney a snack,” she said. “Come and eat it.”
Patti stared a moment longer at him and then followed Lydia back to her bedroom.

A few minutes later when Diana opened her door to him, Les said, “Can I stay tonight?”

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