I can’t sleep, but when I’m sure my wife Vicky is asleep, I get up and look through our bedroom window, across the street, at Oliver and Amanda’s house. Oliver has been gone for three days, but his wife Amanda is awake. She can’t sleep either. It’s four in the morning, and there’s not a sound outside – no wind, no cars, no moon even – just Oliver and Amanda’s place with the lights on, leaves heaped up under the front windows.
A couple of days ago, when I couldn’t sit still, I raked our yard – Vicky’s and mine. I gathered all the leaves into bags, tied off the tops, and put the bags alongside the curb. I had an urge then to cross the street and rake over there, but I didn’t follow through. It’s my fault things are the way they are across the street.
I’ve only slept a few hours since Oliver left. Vicky saw me moping around the house, looking anxious, and decided to put two and two together. She’s on her side of the bed now, scrunched onto about ten inches of mattress. She got into bed and tried to position herself so she wouldn’t accidentally roll into me while she slept. She hasn’t moved since she lay down, sobbed, and then dropped into sleep. She’s exhausted. I’m exhausted too.
I’ve taken nearly all of Vicky’s pills, but I still can’t sleep. I’m keyed up. But maybe if I keep looking I’ll catch a glimpse of Amanda moving around inside her house, or else find her peering from behind a curtain, trying to see what she can see over here.
What if I do see her? So what? What then?
Vicky says I’m crazy. She said worse things too last night. But who could blame her? I told her – I had to – but I didn’t tell her it was Amanda. When Amanda’s name came up, I insisted it wasn’t her. Vicky suspects, but I wouldn’t name names. I wouldn’t say who, even though she kept pressing and then hit me a few times in the head.
‘What’s it matter who?’ I said. ‘You’ve never met the woman,’ I lied. ‘You don’t know her.’ That’s when she started hitting me.
I feel wired. That’s what my painter friend Alfredo used to call it when he talked about friends of his coming down off something. Wired. I’m wired.
This thing is nuts. I know it is, but I can’t stop thinking about Amanda. Things are so bad just now I even find myself thinking about my first wife, Molly. I loved Molly, I thought, more than my own life.
I keep picturing Amanda in her pink nightgown, the one I like on her so much, along with her pink slippers. And I feel certain she’s in the big leather chair right now, under the brass reading lamp. She’s smoking cigarettes, one after the other. There are two ashtrays close at hand, and they’re both full. To the left of her chair, next to the lamp, there’s an end table stacked with magazines – the usual magazines that nice people read. We’re nice people, all of us, to a point. Right this minute, Amanda is, I imagine, paging through a magazine, stopping every so often to look at an illustration or a cartoon.
Two days ago, in the afternoon, Amanda said to me, ‘I can’t read books anymore. Who has the time?’ It was the day after Oliver had left, and we were in this little cafe in the industrial part of the city. ‘Who can concentrate anymore?’ she said, stirring her coffee. ‘Who reads? Do you read?’ (I shook my head.) ‘Somebody must read, I guess. You see all these books around in store windows, and there are those clubs. Somebody’s reading,’ she said. ‘Who? I don’t know anybody who reads.’
That’s what she said, apropos of nothing – that is, we weren’t talking about books, we were talking about our lives. Books had nothing to do with it.
‘What did Oliver say when you told him?’
Then it struck me that what we were saying – the tense, watchful expressions we wore – belonged to the people on afternoon TV programs that I’d never done more than switch on and then off.
Amanda looked down and shook her head, as if she couldn’t bear to remember.
‘You didn’t admit who it was you were involved with, did you?’
She shook her head again.
‘You’re sure of that?’ I waited until she looked up from her coffee.
‘I didn’t mention any names, if that’s what you mean.’
‘Did he say where he was going, or how long he’d be away?’ I said, wishing I didn’t have to hear myself. This was my neighbor I was talking about. Oliver Porter. A man I’d helped drive out of his home.
‘He didn’t say where. A hotel. He said I should make my arrangements and be gone – be gone, he said. It was like biblical the way he said it – out of his house, out of his life, in a week’s time. I guess he’s coming back then. So we have to decide something real important, real soon, honey. You and I have to make up our minds pretty damn quick.’
It was her turn to look at me now, and I know she was looking for a sign of lifelong commitment. ‘A week,’ I said. I looked at my coffee, which had gotten cold. A lot had happened in a little while, and we were trying to take it in. I don’t know what long-term things, if any, we’d thought about those months as we moved from flirtation to love, and then afternoon assignations. In any case, we were in a serious fix now. Very serious. We’d never expected – not in a hundred years – to be hiding out in a cafe, in the middle of the afternoon, trying to decide matters like this.
I raised my eyes, and Amanda began stirring her coffee. She kept stirring it. I touched her hand, and the spoon dropped out of her fingers. She picked it up and began stirring again. We could have been anybody drinking coffee at a table under fluorescent lights in a run-down cafe. Anybody, just about. I took Amanda’s hand and held it, and it seemed to make a difference.
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