“So I love what you’ve done to the place,” he said, pouring himself a healthy dose of Maker’s Mark into the least cloudy glass he could find.
“Thanks,” she replied. “I really wanted to bring out the character of all four walls, kind of accentuate the power of the cube. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Why is your thumb wrapped in a paper towel and electrical tape? And where have you been staying?”
“Work work work,” he said. Inhaled as he sipped his whiskey. Felt it in his lungs. “The Boss doesn’t even bother to keep toilet paper stocked in the customer bathroom, why would he keep bandages for us employees? I pinched my thumb when my pliers slipped. Pretty sure it is too small a slice for stitches.Bled like crazy though.”
“And how many days in a row have you worked?”
“You should tell your boss to shove it.”
“Well, there’s more to it than that. For one, I need to pay rent on this place, being that I signed the lease and you aren’t interested in doing so.”
“That’s not fair! I will when..”
“I don’t want to fight right now,” he said, holding his greasy hands out in front of him. “Also, if I do take a little time off, like last Wednesday when I left for half a day, the place goes to hell and I end up with a heavier workload trying to straighten out all the mistakes and soothing angry people that were promised repairs I was never informed of.”
“I thought everyone filled out a work order for each repair” she said, returning to her reclined position.
“So did I.” He took another drink. His throat burned, almost made his eyes water. She was relaxed now, waiting for him to speak again. She had on black tights and a blue button-up that matched her eyes. She had on make-up. She hadn’t worn make-up for a couple of years. “So I have been sleeping at the shop. That’s the worst of it.”
“Well, back in my twenties, in the Midwest, we sold a lot of tandems. Nice long boxes. Tape an empty box closed again, it sags in the middle. Makes an ok mattress. Luckily we are in the middle of a fat bike boom. Those boxes are luxurious.” He realized, as he said it, that she might not even know what a fat bike was. In three years, she had only visited the bike shop once.
“You could stay here, you know.” She glanced down at her hands. “I mean, until Saturday.”
“Oh really? You are ALLOWING me to stay in my own apartment until Saturday? And what happens then? Your mother coming for a visit?”
Her gaze was still on her hands. Then the floor. Back to her hands. After he stared at her eyelids for an eternity, she finally matched his gaze. Shrugged.
“You have got to be kidding me. He’s coming? HERE?”
“You broke up with me, you know.”
“Sure, but you’d think he would at least want to wait until your, ah, ‘cycle of cleansing’ has come and gone? Then again, if he’s willing to do it here…”
“You are disgusting. He just wants to meet me.”
“Yeah, I am disgusting. What guy is going to drive all the way up from Florida just for a meet-and-greet? A little chat at the Starbucks?”
“He’s got more class than you,” she shot back. “He’s going places. Finishing grad school. He’s already got job offers.”
“Good,” he said, glancing around the place. “I hope this works out for you.” He disappeared into the bedroom and came back out with an old duffel bag. Took another swig of whiskey, straight from the bottle this time. “Maybe he can take over the lease to this place, and I can get the hell out of this East Coast armpit you dragged me to.” He went to the kitchen and grabbed his chef’s knife.
“What are you doing?” she asked, reaching for her phone.
“Calm down.” He pulled a few photos from the fridge, letting the magnets fall to the floor. Put them inside the box for the chef’s knife. “I just don’t want him touching this, or this, or this…” he continued with the “or this” mantra as he threw random things into the duffel bag, circling the apartment. He took the batteries from the remote control. The handtowel that said HIS. The last roll of toilet paper. His favorite hardcovers. A banana. A stack of old CDs. A VHS of “Fletch Lives.”
“You are crazy,” she laughed. He laughed too. What the hell else could he do?
It took some logistical configuring to allow him to balance his regular courier bag and the duffel bag on his back, hoist himself onto his bike, and then do it all over again when he realized he forgot his bottle. When he left she gave him a hug, told him that she really did care for him, he is drunk, he should stay the night. But he wouldn’t have it. Everthing seemed hollow. They had only been broken up for a week, but when he hugged her she felt different. Like it was just an empty clone of her.
He somehow got to the shop just before midnight. “First one here, last to leave,” he joked to himself. He was exhausted, but managed to brush his teeth with his toothbrush and a splash of Maker’s Mark. Realized he forgot to shower, his sole purpose for going back to the old apartment. “You know,” he told himself, “this was kind of fun ten years ago. A good story to tell about your youth. A Tom Waits song in the making. In your mid-thirties…not so much.” He pulled his clock radio from the duffel bag and plugged it in. Found an all night jazz station. Taped a bike box closed. Made his bed, planned to lie in it.