Knowing you, he opened the bedroom window at dusk and tied the curtains back with their twisted cord. You’d come home in a few hours and would want the house to have filled with cool air by the time you’d showered and made yourself ready for bed. He’d understood you almost perfectly, and for so long that he no longer realized just what he was doing then. His left hand ran a wet kitchen cloth across the pine to wipe away dust. Long sheaves of light came in through the mesh-screen and warmed the dark blue blankets left rumpled on the mattress. He paused, only to leave those where they were. He had nothing to prove to you anymore. The thought made his shoulders pull together with the quiet tension which often accompanies a lie. He noticed. He didn’t care. You’d been apart for years. Nothing could happen, he told himself. He wondered how you’d look and what you’d be wearing when you came to the door. Bullshit, he thought. There was a sudden slam as the window fell shut on its own. He went to the bookshelf, took out a thick hardback and used it to prop the window open once more. His left hand dropped its cloth and rubbed the back of his head, feeling the stubble catch against his fingertips. It was an old habit. And one he knew you’d recognize. Another unimportant detail, he assured himself. Closing his eyes, he wondered if you might smell the same, somehow. Opening them, he turned and focused his view on a crack running down the far wall. You were nothing special now, he reminded himself. Reaching out with his right hand, he cinched the curtain cord just a little bit tighter and pulled the wrinkles from the gathered cloth.
Her plates were made of a clear brown glass and there were white lace curtains hanging from a bar above the kitchen window. There were always white lace curtains, even in the movies, he thought to himself. She stood over the sink and offered him a glass of water, which he declined. It’s too cold, he said, and my fingers aren’t working right. He wanted coffee again, though he didn’t tell her that, knowing that if he did, she’d feel obliged to stop what she was doing and fix him a cup. He laughed quietly just then, thinking that he should have brought lighter gloves. Something for inside. He laughed again and winked away her curious glance. She smiled, turned, and walked into the next room to do laundry. In a few moments, he would smell the scent of detergent over that of baking cheese, but not just yet. He waited for her to return, counting change, stacking coins, wondering what the train fare would be from the city to the place whose name he couldn’t remember. He didn’t know what it would take, but she would know how to make it happen. And that was such a strange thought for him, something he wasn’t used to anymore. He’d learned to count on himself. It was a lonely confidence. Setting down the last coin, he turned to stare through a gap in the curtains. His eyes took him across the roofs of the neighborhood, past the television tower, and toward the old mountain which sat like a lump of stone in the distance. He saw clouds wrapped around its shoulders, cold clouds made of countless snowflakes. He shivered somewhere inside of himself. Cold was something he knew. Looking back, he saw the fabric of the curtain sway as she returned to the kitchen and shut the hallway door behind her. Her chair squawked across the parquet floor. You’ll need a better jacket, she said as she took her seat across the table from him. She nodded sympathetically and he heard what she wanted to say next. Without the right jacket, you’ll never be warm here.
There had been a long list of things in his mind just a few minutes before. Lovely things. Promising things. Those unlikely November figs clinging to their branches, green yet unripened, partly-hidden behind yellowing leaves. That lone blackberry vine reaching up the farther than he thought it should. An unsteady red from the chimney of the foundry beside the railroad tracks. A cup of steaming broth with the white flesh of a sliced matsutake floating just beneath the surface. It had felt vivid, rich, clear for a moment. And yet, the list had lost meaning. When he got back home, he laid down on his bed and stared out the window toward the west. The cloudy sky which he could see was just veering toward the gloom of evening. It had been a dry day, but he wished it would have rained. He told himself that would have provided some excuse for feeling so unproductive. Nothing had happened. A dried-out old Christmas tree sat in the yard and waited to be burned. By the drive, trimmed brush stayed in a pile which wanted to be taken apart and dragged away. Now, his pad of lined paper laid on his quilt with no words magically appearing. As if anything had ever magically appeared. He felt suddenly low, defeated, creatively dysfunctional. Nothing was happening. He rolled a yellow pencil stub between his fingers. He could feet the indentations, the marks from someone’s teeth, random impressions marring a smooth surface. It must have been another writer’s pencil at some point in the past. It must have been. If he knew anything about himself, he knew that he’d never chewed a pencil.