After the call ended he stood in the kitchen for another long minute, holding the
receiver between his shoulder and his neck, as if by not replacing it just yet he will
be able to grasp at the words that still hung from his ear, like a thread of reality
unraveled from something that never really was.
It was an old phone, with a plastic cord that coiled from the receiver to the device
itself, which was attached to the wall and had a dial. His wife bought it after much
searching at flea markets and second hand stores. They liked it because it had a feel
of old times about it, like a faint smell of breath absorbed in the furniture and walls of
He met the girl three months ago, at a demonstration for animal rights. He came to
take pictures; if possible, to capture moments of conflict between the demonstrators
and the police he could sell afterwards to the newspaper and some internet sites,
because that is the thing nowadays. So when one of the policemen pushed her down
on the sidewalk he was walking in front with the sign-bearing demonstrators, and
instead of taking a picture he let the camera hang on its strap around his neck and
hurried to help her.
She had a skinned knee, just a little scrape, no big deal, and she had hurt her wrist
trying to break her fall, but it didn't seem to be fractured. You may have a sprain, he
told her, will you be able to dress it at home? She said she wasn't sure. She had an
elastic bandage at home but she doubted if she'd be able to bandage herself using one
hand, her left.
They went to his car and he drove her home: A one floor house with a little garden,
at the very heart of the city. She didn't have any pets and from the meticulous
negligence in which articles of clothing and other items were strewn about, he
guessed she lived alone. For a minute their bedroom, his and his wife's, flashed
through his mind; the constant chaos of the nursery, the kitchen, the living room,
the day after the cleaner had come and made all their stuff disappear by putting it in
order. It was only a twenty minute drive separating here from there, and yet he felt as
if he had walked into another world, convenient, private, detached.
He sat down on the couch and removed his shoes. She went to get the bandage from
the bathroom, apologizing as is customary in these cases for the disorder in her house
– he heard her picking up clothes and shoes off the bedroom floor. The door of a
closet opened and closed. When she returned to the living room she took off her clogs
and passed him the bandage and the injured hand, which, he saw, had swelled and
turned a little blue. It will hurt at night, he said, and it will swell more if the bandage
is tight. He felt her breath fluttering on his face as he wound the bandage on her wrist,
and also some soapy smell, embedded in the natural odor of her skin.
When he finished he got up and brought some toilet paper he had moistened at the
kitchen sink, and gently wiped her scraped knee. He felt a shudder go through her
back as she got up from her seat and asked if he felt like a cold beer, and he nodded
and surveyed the ornaments on the walls and the books on the shelves, looking
for clues to her personality. She took two beers out of the fridge, opened them and
sat next to him on the couch. She turned on the TV and they both leaned back and
drank the beer straight from the bottle with a kind of relief. She switched channels,
eventually giving up and rolling cigarettes for both of them from her tobacco. He
told her about his work and about his wife and kids, the little one who just had some
motor or neurological problem discovered and how they kept dragging themselves
to examinations with him, and how ever since the whole thing started, fear moved
in with them and slept in their bed with them every night, and how he felt guilty for
neglecting his older son, and suddenly he got a grip and thought that maybe he was
boring her and fell silent.
She was eight years younger than him, six years younger than his wife, and she
told him about her involvement in social organizations and her work at an online
magazine as news editor. She had studied sociology and psychology, but had found
her way to her current occupation at random, through one of her exes. When she said
this he saw her gaze get lost for a minute at some invisible point over his shoulder.
She gulped, and drank the last of her beer.
Afterwards he would come there nearly every night, except for weekends. Now he
would always bring something with him: a six-pack of beer, a bottle of wine, freshly
baked bread with onions or olives or walnuts. Or he would call from the road asking
whether to bring some takeaway dinner. They would sit and talk on the couch in front
of the turned-on TV, or just silently empty the take-away boxes and smoke.
After about a month she asked him one evening if this thing happening between them
didn't bother him a little, and he said, what's happening between us? And she said,
you know, this thing that is coming into being. And he looked in her eyes and saw
the tiny double reflection of himself and said, I don't understand, why do we have to
define everything? But after leaving her house that night he sat on the sidewalk by his
car and cried. A strong sense of emptiness suddenly shook him, out there in the dark,
on the sidewalk, with the bats circling in the foliage of the trees above.
It continued for two more months, always at the same pace. They could talk about
anything except for the thing itself. Until that day when she called him at home – she
always used to call the cell, even though he gave her his home number as well. His
wife answered and said, it's for you, your lover, and he took the receiver, leaned on
the wall and listened into it. On the other side he heard the sadness in her voice when
she told him she had met someone a few weeks ago and that she needed to end their
relationship, because although nothing happened between them, in her heart it felt
totally wrong vis-à-vis the new guy.
And after the call ended he stood in the kitchen for another long minute, holding
the receiver between his shoulder and his neck, as if by not replacing it just yet he
will be able to grasp at the words that still hung from his ear, like a thread of reality
unraveled from something that never really was.