by Attila Zønn
Gin lived on the top floor of a ten-story building on Ellesmere. When Freddie asked me to do him a favour and supervise a delivery at her apartment, I was eager to help because I wanted to see her sober.
But I had another motive for “helping Freddie”—her dumb act turned me on. There was a sexiness to her juvenile, simple mind. When she looked into my eyes and asked if I wanted a picture of her ass, it aroused me, and at that moment I wished she wasn’t Freddie’s girlfriend.
I didn’t buzz up but followed a woman on her way in. The woman looked nervous with just her and me in the elevator. I leaned against the opposite side of the car and affected disinterest just to give her comfort.
1005. I knocked.
Gin wore red plaid pyjama bottoms and a yellow T-shirt. For a second I thought I had the wrong apartment because she didn’t look anything like the girl I’d met at the shop. She looked pleasantly simplified— her red hair was damp and darker now, no makeup and without the ridiculous high heels, in bare feet she stood just below eye level.
“What are you doing here?” she said. She smiled but her eyes narrowed as they focused on me.
“Didn’t Freddie tell you I was coming over?”
She shook her head.
“Freddie wanted me to come over. He said you don’t want to be here alone with the delivery guys.”
She laughed. “Oh, did he? And you agreed to come here and protect me? That’s so sweet.”
She hugged me. Her damp hair pressed against my cheek and I smelled green apples.
She kissed me on the lips.
“I’m not worried about the delivery guys,” she said. “Freddie is. He’s like that. He’s pretty jealous. I don’t know what he thinks I’m going to do with them here. Maybe have an orgy all over the new furniture or something. But that’s Freddie.”
She pressed her body against mine and gave me a sly look. “I don’t know if it’s the delivery guys he should be worried about.” She giggled.
“Do you want a drink?” she said, releasing me. “I’ve got whisky.”
I closed the door and pried off my shoes.
“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said.
“It’s too early for drinks.”
“Oh? I always wondered who made up that rule how you can’t drink alcohol till the afternoon. You should be able to drink whenever you feel like it.”
“It’s not a rule, I guess it’s propriety.”
She smiled. “Oh, I like the sound of that word. Prop—what’s it mean?”
“It means accepted behaviour, like manners.”
“Is that like you should behave a certain way because a lot of people think that’s the way to behave?”
“I don’t like that word then. There’s no freedom in that word. As long as it’s not hurting anybody, people should do whatever. What do you think?”
“I’ve never thought about it.”
She smiled, came over and hugged me.
“I was hoping I’d see you again,” she said.
I hugged her back.
“Oh, my,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been hugged like that before. You really mean it, don’t you?” She put her head on my shoulder. “Hugs are nice. It makes you feel wanted. Freddie never hugs. ”
She pulled away, swept her arm in the air and said, “As you can see all the furniture is gone. We’ll have to sit on the floor.”
The living area was bare except for a narrow bookshelf, and a big screen TV in the corner. A red Persian rug covered the centre of the room over a blonde parquet floor.
“I don’t know why we need new furniture,” she said. “I liked the old furniture. It was comfy. I was used to it, you know? But Freddie said the bed felt worn, and it’s time to get a new one. I don’t know why he cares. He never sleeps here. And while we’re at it, he said we should replace all the furniture. But I’m used to waking up to that furniture. Now tomorrow morning, it’s going to feel strange like I’m living in somebody else’s place. I’ll have to relearn everything. That’s a pain.” She frowned.
“Change can be good,” I said. “It freshens things up.”
“I guess, but I don’t even know what the stuff looks like. Freddie picked everything. I hope there’s some yellow. I love yellow. Yellow is wonderful. It reminds me of lemons. Lemons are wonderful.”
I followed her into a galley kitchen. There was an electric kettle and a half-filled bottle of Jameson’s on the counter.
“I don’t have any ice, because, as you can see, I don’t have a fridge. I hope the new fridge has an ice maker. It’s so much easier getting ice if it has one. You just put your glass against the thingy, and you get ice.” She grabbed the bottle and said, “Will you have it neat?”
“It’s okay. I don’t want a drink.”
“No?” she said and put the bottle back on the counter. “How about I make you a cup of tea then?”
“Don’t trouble yourself. I’m good.”
“But it’s no trouble. I still have a kettle. There’s nothing troubling about making a cup of tea. Please—when I was growing up I was told that a guest should always be offered something.”
I smiled. “Okay, I’ll have one.”
She clapped her hands and said, “Oh, wonderful!”
She poured water into the kettle. I walked to the bookshelf.
“What happened to the old furniture?” I said.
“He gave it to his mother. It wasn’t really that old, maybe a couple of years.”
She had two shelves of assorted paperbacks and hardcovers, and below that, figurines of wild animals that reminded me of the figurines my Nonna used to get in Red Rose tea boxes. In the hardcovers, she had Poe and Conrad, Dickens, Hemingway, Joyce, C.S. Lewis—all collected works.
“You like to read the classics?” I said.
“Excuse me?” she said, and came up behind me.
“Your books—these are all iconic writers.”
She looked at me like she didn’t know what I was talking about.
“I guess,” she said, still with that perplexed look.
“You’ve read all these books?”
“I tried, but it’s hard for me to focus on one thing for a long time. And most of the time I had to run get the dictionary ‘cause every other sentence had a word I didn’t know. It was annoying. I just wanted to read, but the writer kept stopping me with his big words. I wonder sometimes if those guys use big words just to show how smart they are.”
“The writer writes using the language he knows.”
“Yeah, but I think the writer should write for the reader.”
“Why would you have all these books?”
“I thought”—she sighed and slapped her arms to her sides—”if I read the best I couldn’t go wrong. So I went to the library, and a nice lady helped me there. We made a list, I gave it to Freddie, and a couple days later a big box came with all these books. And here they are, still brand new. I like the smell of the books. I guess it’s the paper, the ink. I don’t know. I enjoyed the smell but I didn’t enjoy the words. I read a little bit of each one looking for the one that would jump out at me and make me feel good but—”
“Have you tried Romance?”
“I tried but I couldn’t stomach it. That stuff is silly. It’s not real.”
“All fiction isn’t real. Even these books aren’t real.”
“Yeah, but Romance is really not real, and it’s the same old stuff: There’s a girl, and there’s a guy. At the beginning, they don’t like each other. Then something happens. They click, they’re in love but then there’s a misunderstanding. They break up. Then the truth is discovered, and they make up and live happily ever after. It’s silly. I can’t read that stuff no matter how simple it’s written. No, I’m not really a reader. I realize that now. I just thought if I had these books around me that it would make me smarter, but reading them made me feel stupider.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “Don’t call yourself stupid.”
“Well, I know what stupid means, and sometimes I am stupid, but that doesn’t bother me in life, just when I’m reading.”
I saw a paperback copy of The Good Earth and pulled it out.
“Have you tried reading this one?” I showed her the cover.
“No, I gave up before I got to that one.”
“You won’t need a dictionary to read this one.”
“No? What’s it about?”
“It’s about a Chinese peasant farmer who becomes a rich man.”
She stared at me. I laughed.
“No, it’s really good,” I said. She took it from me and looked at the cover.
“It’s one of my favourites,” I said. “I read it every so often.”
“You read books a second time?”
“Sure, and I discover new things every time.”
She looked at the cover again. “Is there a movie about this book?”
“Yeah, it’s an old movie from the thirties.”
“I think I’d rather watch the movie.”
“The movie’s good, but the book is better.”
“Yeah, but in the movie, I get to see the people’s faces. When I read a book, no matter how they’re described, I always see the same faces, and they’re people I’ve known. And some of them aren’t nice people.”
“This is a good book. You’ll like it.” She smiled.
“All right. I’ll read it and then maybe we can discuss it.”
The kettle whistled. She laid the book down in a space among the figurines.
I followed her to the kitchen, saying, “If after you read the book, you might want to see the movie—” She turned abruptly and hugged me tight.
“You’re such a nice guy,” she said. “I don’t meet nice guys.”
She made tea then we took our cups and sat cross-legged on the Persian rug.
“What time are these guys supposed to be here?” I said.
“Any time,” she said. “They gave me a three-hour window starting from eight o’clock.”
Something had changed in her mood now that we were face to face on the floor. She wasn’t looking at me.
“Good tea,” I said and raised my cup to her.
She smiled, but she was pensive.
“It’s too bad,” she said, “that I’ve never had nice guys in my life. I mean, my dad is a nice guy, but he’s my dad. Maybe my life would have turned out different if I’d been attracted to nice guys.”
“Why? You’re not happy with your life?”
She shrugged. “It’s a life. I’m almost thirty, you know. I thought I’d be settled down by now, but here I am.”
I didn’t know what to say. I sipped my tea.
“That’s a nice TV,” I said.
“I don’t watch it. Only when Freddie’s here. He likes crime shows—you know, they’re supposed to be real, but they’re all the same thing too. That’s all he ever watches.”
“It’s a formula.”
“Yeah, and it’s a predictable formula after a few shows. Like, there’s a dead girl—it’s always a dead girl—a beautiful dead girl. Why is it never a dead guy?”
“They’ve got dead guy shows.”
“Yeah? Well, Freddie doesn’t watch those. He likes dead girls. So, first they investigate the husband or the boyfriend, and the evidence points to him but—it’s not him. Then there’s like some sexual predator who lives in the neighbourhood and the evidence points to him, and it’s got to be him, the cops say it’s him but—it’s not him. Finally, it turns out the killer’s this guy nobody ever thought of. Who just happened to be driving by as she’s jogging down the road. It’s boring, it’s the same shit every show, but Freddie is hooked.”
“Isn’t it funny though? When the killer’s the spouse? That they think they’re going to get away with it? That they think they’re smarter than the cops?”
“Well, I guess you have to live with someone and hate them so much that you lose your common sense.”
We sat silent for a while and sipped our teas.
“Yeah, that night after we left you at the shop,” she said. “We were downtown at The President’s Club, with a bunch of old guys in suits. Walking through the crowd I never had so many hands grab my bum. I don’t mind the pats so much, it’s when they pinch—that really bugs me.”
“You must get a lot of that hanging around with Freddie’s crowd,” I said.
“Yeah, old rich men. Plenty. But what am I going to do about it? It’s the life I’ve chosen. Men just want to grab my bum.”
“Don’t lump us all into one clump,” I said. “We all may be interested in sex, but we don’t all act like dicks.”
She reached out and touched me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I don’t know anything else. I just suck it up and carry on because complaining won’t do anything. It’s too big. And if you complain too much and all the time, people will stop listening anyways.”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017