Marcia had already broken one of her basic rules Tuesday when the phone rang, and by answering it she broke another.
She had told her roommate one night, "Two essential rules of life, Judy, are: always sleep at home, wherever you spend the night, and never answer the phone in someone else's bedroom."
"Hello?" she said, her voice querulous with interrupted sleep. She had ended up on the phone side of the bed.
"Marcia?" It was Andrew.
Oh shit, she thought to herself, suddenly and utterly awake. On impulse, she nudged Walter and shoved the phone at him. As the earpiece moved away, she heard it again: "Marcia?"
"Andrew?" Walter sounded less awake than she. Too late, she realized she'd made another mistake. Now she was at the mercy of Walter's creativity. She could have claimed Walter wasn't there, or that he had slept in the living room. She could have pulled it off. Walter would blow it totally.
"Yeah?" Walter glanced up at Marcia's face, looking pained and horrified. Probably the strain of thinking fast.
"Yeah? Hey, c'mon, man. I can't give you the names of my company. Shit, that would be uncool. Indiscreet. Y'know?" He looked down, his concentration focused on the phone.
"Yeah. Well, it's sure not Marcia. C'mon." Another pause.
"Yeah, you think I'd fuck your girl? Thanks much." He looked up again, his forehead wrinkled in desperation.
"Well, it's not Marcia, man. Believe me. For one thing, she's prettier than Marcia. Marcia was never my type, y'know. Too skinny an' no boobs.
The phone buzzed.
"She doesn't want to talk to you. C'mon; she's embarrassed. Fact is, she split for the john as soon as she gave me the phone."
"In the shower."
"You don't know her."
"Yeah. I guess. Hey, Andrew, what did you want? It's five a.m., y'know, and I'm kinda, y'know, occupied."
"Yeah, I know; I should be studying."
"No, I didn't get to the fourth essay topic."
"I haven't thought about it."
"Wing it, I guess."
"Yeah, we pay for our crimes. See ya there, 'kay?"
He handed the phone back to Marcia.
"No boobs?" she said.
"Made it convincing," he said. Then he added, "You owe me." He glared at her accusingly.
"Owe you what?" she replied.
"I'll show ya." He did.
Afterward, she hurried home. Andrew would surely call her place, and Judy would say, oh, that she was out studying or something. This was going to be too complicated. Maybe it was better to just face the truth and let him shout at her awhile.
Driving home, she thought it through. If Judy said she was studying, he would want to know where. He'd call whoever Judy identified. Maybe Judy would be smart and say she forgot to ask where.
She should've called Judy before she left Walter's house. First thing, to head Andrew off. Give Judy the official story. She'd've been pissed. She liked Andrew, too, but not enough to sabotage Marcia. She'd've done it. Too late for that.
If he asked who she was studying with, she could come up with a girl he didn't know. Let's see. Ann Bradley. Ann owed her for introducing her to Leonard. Oh, did she ever. What a hunk. She could call Ann and set up the whole story. If only Judy picked that line. She needed a cell. She hated electronic stuff, though. And it hated her.
She passed a gas station. Maybe it's not too late to head him off. She glanced at the car clock. Nearly an hour ago. He'd have called her immediately. Maybe not. She made a U and pulled up next to the service station phone.
"Judy?" she said, when the connection went live.
"Who else?" Judy said in a snarling mezzo. Obviously she had been asleep. "Why aren't you home, and more important, where are you?"
"Did Andrew call?"
"Andrew is a civilized, well-brought-up young man who would know better than to wake me up at... Shit, Marcia, six o'clock in the morning? You know I'm not a morning person. And I just got to bed at four. I have a midterm at ten ."
"Andrew didn't call? Great! Listen, if he calls, tell him I've been studying for my Civ midterm, but you don't know with who."
"Whom. Just as a point of information, is that true?"
"Well, do you know who?"
"You know what I mean. I don't like lying to him."
"Yes it's true! All right?"
After a dubious silence, Judy murmured, "Right," and then the phone was silent again. Marcia was about to say goodbye and hang up when Judy spoke again. "Will you be 'studying' much longer?" she said.
"Don't be a smartass, Judith. I'm on my way home."
"You are a sorry bitch, Marcy."
"Love you too. See ya." She hung up, grinning in the half dark. Back in her car, she felt a lot less pressured. He hadn't called. Judy was right. He was such a dear. He didn't call because he didn't want to wake them. Now everything would be all right. She had time to call Ann. She would be there in what?fifteen minutes, and she would take his call herself. If it was too early to call Ann, she'd hold off on the name, indignant that he wanted to check up on her. Then she'd give it to him later, this afternoon maybe, after she'd had a chance to brief Ann.
Best not to get Judy involved. Judy didn't really know if she'd been studying or not. She knew Walter, but they weren't buds or anything. Walter was no rocket scientist, but he knew enough not to talk about this to anyone. Anybody. She had warned him, just in case.
As she unlocked the front door, she heard the phone. Her first impulse was to run and get it herself, then she thought about the added problem of explaining being a little out of breath. She closed the door as Judy said, "Hello" from the back of the apartment. As she threw off her coat, letting the couch catch it, she heard, "She just came in. Just a minute."
Bitch! That bitch, she thought as she kicked off her shoes, her eyes welling with tears over Judy's treason. Vicious bitch. I'll kill her, I swear. She scrambled to reorganize the story as she crossed the room. When Judy saw her, she offered the phone, saying, "It's Ann Bradley."
Too much, Marcia thought, taking the phone. I need a simpler life. "Hi," she said into the phone. "I was just going to call you. Let me get this in my room." She handed the phone back to Judy and continued into her room. When she picked up her own phone, an wonderful pink antique her daddy had bought her, she heard the click of Judy hanging up.
"Ann. What's cooking?"
"Are you ready for the Civ test?"
"Ready as I can be. How about you?"
"I blew it off and rented a movie."
"Not cool, A.B."
"I know. But it's going to be all essay, and I've been a good girl, taking notes and so on. I'll read my notes before I go to class. I just need a B-minus anyway."
Marcia heard the shower running. Judy was really up, then. Owe her for that. Marcia decided to buy lunch, take her to Garcia's after their exams.
"Look, Ann, I need a favor. We studied Civ last night, okay?"
"Your place or mine?"
"Was your roommate home?"
"I don't have a roommate. Sarah dropped out two weeks ago and went back to St. Louis. I think she's getting an abortion."
"Bummer. So you were alone last night?"
"Sure. What gives, Marcy?"
"Perfect." She took a breath and launched the official story. "I came right over after work. We studied Civ from midnight to four o'clock, thenNo! till five-thirty. We studied Civ from midnight to about five-thirty; you remember because you got a phone call at five-thirty from Sarah. She forgot about the time difference."
"Should I be taking notes?"
Marcia laughed. "Yeah. There will be a quiz! That's all. We studied till five-thirty, and Sarah called to say hello."
"So, who is going to give the quiz?"
"You don't know him. He's crazy enough he just might call you, though. If he does, don't volunteer any more information. Just the basics: midnight to five-thirty; you're absolutely sure about the time because your ex-roommate calledI don't think he knows Sarah eitherstudying for the Civ test. If he wants more, tell him you don't know him, none of his business, stuff like that."
"Don't I get a name? What if he tries something sneaky? Maybe I do know him." She paused, thinking. "Andrew?"
"Yeah. Andrew. I told you about Andrew."
"This is all very mysterious, Marcia. But my imagination is running full speed."
"Some other time, kiddo."
"All the details."
"Anyways, I called to see if you want to go to campus together. I thought maybe some of your studying would rub off. Nothing there, huh?"
"Masterson is a pussycat. His tests are supposed to be easy if you listen and take notes. He gave us the topics."
"Yeah, but you're a better writer than I am. I can remember the stuff, but he doesn't like the way I write."
The shower stopped. Marcia could hear Judy's radio, without the whitenoise of the shower. An announcer droning world news. "Let's get together before the test," she said. "I'll be ready to go to the library at eight. Shall I come by your apartment?"
The teakettle began to whistle in the kitchen. Marcia heard the clink of cups, then the whistle began to fade.
"So I'll see you about eight. Be cool."
"See ya." Ann hung up.
Marcia went into the kitchen. Judy's hair was in a towel. Her bathrobe was a thin cotton kimono, and it had two round wet spots where the muscles of her bottom touched it. She was making coffee in two cups.
"I'm really sorry about waking you up, Judy." Marcia came beside her and slipped an arm around her waist. "It really was an emergency."
"I don't like lying to him."
"Did he call? I thought Ann was him and about fainted when I heard you say I just came in."
"He hasn't called. You still want me to give him the studying story?"
"Please. Judy, it's really important or I wouldn't ask."
Judy handed her a cup. She turned to Marcia and dipped her face slightly to sip the steaming coffee. She looked into Marcia's face across the diffusing steam. Judy's pupils were wrong without her glasses, too small somehow. Her glasses always made her eyes look bigger, more the size they should be. "Well, I don't like lying to Andrew."
"You don't know you're lying to him. You know I wasn't home, and I told you I was studying. The only lie is that I told you before I left."
Judy sipped her coffee again, her eyes meeting Marcia's with unpleasant, appraising coolness.
"You don't even have to tell that one, if you like," Marcia added. "Say I didn't tell you last night; say I told you this morning. Say you don't know. I don't care."
"I'll tell him what you said. I just don't like it." She turned away and picked up the teakettle, adding a little water to her coffee. She left the kitchen by completing the turn away, not facing Marcia again. Marcia leaned against the sink, holding her cup in both hands. She heard the door open and the snap of a rubber band breaking as Judy opened the paper. She sipped her coffee, then took the rest with her into her bedroom. Undressing hurriedlyit was seven-thirtyshe hustled to the bathroom, holding her bathrobe like a towel clutched to her chest.
There wasn't time to wash her hair, so she bagged in a shower cap. She listened over the rush of water for the phone. When she stepped from the shower, the mirror was opaque with steam. When she opened the door, she could see Judy in the kitchen, her back to the hall. She was completely dressed and sitting at the kitchen table, her molecular biology text propped against the sugar bowl. Marcia had her robe draped around her like a mink coat; the apartment was chilly, especially after the steam heat of the shower. She hurried into her room and dressed quickly. By the time she was done with her makeup, it was 8:15. Just time enough to get to Ann's if she hurried. It wasn't until she rang Ann's bell that she realized Andrew hadn't called.
She ran into Judy at the Union. He still hadn't called when Judy left at nine. They didn't have any classes together, but she usually saw him in the cafeteria or the library, every day. This Tuesday she didn't. Susan Toomey had a math class with him Tuesdays. When Marcia asked, Susan couldn't remember whether she'd seen him or not.
"He usually sits in back," she had said, "and I was really focused on the test. Sorry."
They didn't have an answering machine, so there was no way to tell if he had tried to call during the day. When she and Judy got back from Garcia's that night, she decided it was time to call him. Ronny Vigil, one of his roommates, answered.
"He's not here."
"Well, when he comes in, tell him I called, okay?"
"Sure. See ya later."
She and Judy had a Lit final coming up tomorrow; the test was at noon. They spent an hour sharing speculations about the nature and content of the test, then they watched TV. Andrew didn't call. At ten, she tried again. No answer. She took Nabokov to bed with her. She liked Pale Fire, hoped being tested on it wouldn't spoil it for her. Dr. Winston told them to read it twice, first jumping back and forth from text to annotations, then page-by-page. She liked the jumping better. Of course, that was the way you were supposed to read it. She could hear Judy moving around outside her room. When Judy studied, she drank vast amounts of herbal teapeppermint, sassafras, chamomilea whole pharmacy of flavors. She was in the kitchen every half hour or so. And in the bathroom nearly as often, Marcia thought with a smile.
At eleven, she tried once more. This time David answered, but he hadn't seen Andrew either, didn't know where he was.
"Tell him I called," she said. It was a puzzle.
Wednesday morning, the alarm woke her at seven. She moved into the living room to re-read her notes on John Hawkes. Hateful writer. Yech. She had struggled through Blood Oranges. Winston thought he was great. He always mentioned John Gardner's popularity when Hawkes came up. "It's a measure of American literary taste," he usually said, "that Gardner is considered a major contemporary writer and Hawkes is unread."
She liked Gardner. And John Fowles, too. Winston liked Hawkes, and John Barth. All named John. Weird. She was doing her major paper on Fowles. On "The Ebony Tower." That might be risky, because Winston didn't think much of him. Gardner was totally out of the question, but Fowles should be okay. She would get probably extra points for bucking the teacher's opinions, though. Winston was that type.
Andrew still hadn't called. This was bad. He never went a whole day without calling or seeing her, one or the other. It had been two. It was weird enough that they hadn't seen each other yesterday. That almost never happened. But when it did, he always called, as if to make up for it.
On campus, outside the math building, she suddenly saw him hurrying up the stone steps. She was some distance away; he pretended he didn't see her. She almost called his name, took in the breath to do it, then didn't. He disappeared into the math building.
After dance class, she headed for the Union. She saw him again, going into the bookstore. This time he really didn't see her, and she caught up with him in the textbooks. She touched his elbow. "Hi, gorgeous," she murmured.
He flinched, then pulled his elbow away. "What do you want?" His face was grim with unhappiness; her heart melted.
"Save it, you miserable cunt," he hissed. She was speechless. Her hand fell away.
"Can we get a coke and talk?"
"Talk to Walter. I'm busy." He turned away and strode down the aisle. As she followed him, she noticed a couple of heads turned toward them.
She caught up with him and whispered, "Andrew. Andrew. We should talk."
He stopped. He shoved his fists into his pockets. The angle hoisted his shoulders a bit, like a man facing away from a cold wind. She was at once miserable and hoping he wouldn't make a scene. "All right," he said. "Let's talk." He moved past her, not violently but rudely, as if she were in his way, and headed for the cash registers. He did not look back to see if she was following. Once his hand came up to his face angrily. She observed the faces of the people observing his face. She shuddered mentally. She hurried to catch up, reached forward to take his hand. It hung in hers like a puppet's, lifeless. As they left the bookstore, she skipped a bit to catch up. Perversely, he moved a little faster, trying to stay ahead of eye contact.
She dropped his hand when they arrived at the cafeteria drink machines. She drew a Tab from the pop dispenser. He took coffee.
"You don't drink coffee," she said lightly.
"I understand if you drink enough of it, it rots your guts," he said to the coffee machine. He headed for the cash register. She followed.
"Are these together?" the cashier said, glancing at Marcia.
He laughed a single harsh bark. "Hardly!"
She dug through her purse, found some quarters, and paid for the soda. He was fifteen feet away when she turned from the puzzled cashier. He was headed for an isolated corner of the cafeteria. When she got to the table, he was sitting in his favorite sprawl, his head just clearing the back of the bench, staring at the coffee. She sat down.
"I'm sorry," she said.
He said nothing. He stared at the styrofoam cup. Finally he said, without moving, "For what?"
"For hurting you." She looked at her drink. Neither of them had tasted their drinks. The silence was not as long as it seemed.
"Nah. You're sorry you got caught."
"You don't believe that."
"I would have to kill Walter to stand ever seeing him again."
She examined his face. This, she thought, is not hyperbole. When other people talked of killing, it had a Wiley Coyote feel to it. This didn't.
"I don't care about Walter."
"I do. What could I do? For all I know, you were blowing him while he was feeding me that line of shit." He looked up then, for the first time. His eyes chilled her to the root of her spine, a cold touch below the elastic sensation of her panties. She told Ann later it was like seeing death, like seeing death for the first time ever. She began to cry, half with remorse, half from fear.
"I'm really sorry, Andrew."
"How many other friends of mine do you fuck on the side?"
"Walter is hardly a friend."
"Enemies then. Acquaintances. Total strangers." He paused. "How many?"
"No, I'm curious. I don't screw anybody but you. I thought that was the way it was." His hands moved on the table. "What do you mean, you don't care about Walter? You fuck people you don't even care about?"
"That's not what I meant."
"What, then? You wanted to talk. Talk." He shifted on the bench, looking out into the room.
"What do you want me to say? I spent the night with Walter Pearson. It just happened. It doesn't mean anything."
"That's where you're wrong. It means we're done."
"If that's what you want."
"Is it what you want?" His voice was suddenly rich with tears. She began to cry.
"No, Andrew. I want you."
"And Walter. Anybody else?"
"Don't." She wiped an eye clear with her fingertips.
"Marcy, what would you have done if it had been me? Can you even imagine it? You call me in the middle of the night, and a girl answers. You know from her voice that she was asleep. I take the phone from her and start some feeble song and dance about how we're studying together. Or it's my sister. Some total bullshit. The only thing you know for sure is that we weren't actually screwing when she picked up the phone, because she was asleep. But that's no real consolation, because it's proof that we were in bed. What would you do?"
"Hang up, probably."
"No, what how would you feel?"
"I don't know. I'd be embarrassed. And angry. I'd expect a better explanation."
"Go for it."
"What?" She stared uncomprehendingly at his grim, smiling face.
"Give me the better explanation. Let's hear it."
"I told you. It just happened."
"Hi, guys." Judy startled them, suddenly there beside the table. Andrew glared at her, and her smile faded.
Judy made a clowny, exaggerated grimace, widening her eyes, then took her upper lip between her teeth. Marcia smiled politely, but Andrew stared at her. She exhaled through her teeth.
"Right. I'll just sit, oh, in some other building. You kids get to know each other." She turned and walked away.
"She didn't do anything," Marcia said as Judy walked away.
"Neither did I."
"You were rude to her."
"That's not what I meant."
They were silent for a minute. More. The untouched drinks were approaching equilibrium. Marcia fumbled in her purse, found a lipstick and touched her lips with it. The silence continued. She closed her purse, looked at him. He was staring at a spot a few inches from his hand, which lay like a dead thing on his knee. He was immobile.
He began speaking in a monotone, as if to himself. "I try to imagine what could be worse than what happened to me yesterday morning. I've come up with a few things. They're all bad enough, but they don't make it any less..." he groped for a word. "...spectacular. The one I can't make go away is actually seeing you together."
"No. I need to see it. Here, I mean, in my head. I need to know what I think about sharing your cunt. I need to think about it."
"No. I thought I loved you. Actually, I do love you. I thought you loved me."
"Bad timing. You could have picked a better occasion. 'I love you' is just the ultimate 'I'm sorry.' It doesn't mean shit."
"What do you want me to say?"
"Lie to me! Convince me that nothing happened. Thanks for not trying that, but I wish you could rip what I know out of my brain and stuff a pleasant lie in the hole."
He was crying. His tears looked hot and out of place, as if they had been put there and he hadn't noticed. Their tracks on his face reminded her of the bleeding eyes of a lifeless Kabuki mask.
"Andrew? If loving you doesn't help, I don't know what to say. I've said I'm sorry. Tell me what to say and I'll say it. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it."
"Teach me how you think. Explain to me how you can love me and fuck a guy you don't even care about. Your words. Just explain it. That's what I need. Talk." Andrew shifted on the bench, facing the wall to his right. She looked at his profile, then at the table. The ice in her soda was all melted. A glaze of water was just visible in the meniscus. She reached across and took his coffee, still untouched till then.
"It doesn't mean as much to me." She sipped the tepid coffee. "Is that so hard to understand? Andrew, I slept with a half dozen boys in high school. You knew that. I lived with a guy for a while, my freshman year. I told you that too. It's just sex. I like it. I don't do everything with you. I need more than one person in my life."
"Isn't love wanting one person exclusively?" He was speaking to the wall.
"I guess. I don't know."
He swung to face her. "Don't guess. If I start sleeping around, will it bother you?"
"I'd wonder why."
"'Why'? I just need more people in my life. What would you wonder about?"
"I'd wonder why you needed more than you could get from me." The words were out before she thought.
"Right. Why do you need more than you get from me?"
"I didn't mean that."
"Yes you did. The truth is usually in the spaces between thinking. You should be enough for me. Ok. Why shouldn't I be enough for you?" His eyes were almost palpable on her face. She met them like she took sex, opening to them. Her pupils dilated a bit, a pulse of black center opening to the beam of his stare. She felt soft below her belly, looking at his fierce eyes.
"I want you," she whispered, "right now."
He wasn't even flustered. The words slipped by like spent arrows.
"Answer my question."
She sipped his coffee, looking into it. "Maybe you could be. Do you want that?"
"Forget about what I want. What do you want?"
She considered. "I don't think about that much." Silence. "I don't know what I want. I want to feel good about myself. I want to be happy. I want you to be happy."
"There isn't anybody else I care about. Really." He was searching her face. It was true, and he knew, examining her, that it was true. And it was, because it was true, utterly baffling.
"Drop Walter," he said finally.
He almost smiled. "I don't want to be so possessive. I don't want your whole life to revolve around me. If you didn't admit that you'd be as hurt as I was, if I was going with other girls, I'd figure I'm just a throwback Puritan. Maybe I'd try to change. I'm monogamous. I don't want to sleep with anyone else; I don't want to dance with anyone else. I want you, and I want you absolutely. But you have to understand that I want you that way or not at all. I won't be just one of the guys on your dance card. Wholly or nothing. I love you, and that's what love means to me. You can think of it as a malignancy or a handicap, but you can't expect anything different. I can't change it any more than a blind man can grow eyes."
"Don't change it. When I think of it, I feel like a doe under your claws."
His eyes filled with tears. "God I love you, Marcy."
Andrew went home for Christmas. He didn't want to. Or rather, he wanted Marcia to come with him, meet his father. She couldn't. She had to stay in Seattle. Her job at Dillard's didn't exactly slack off in the Christmas season. She and Judy both ended up staying, as it turned out. Judy didn't have enough family to make flying back to Memphis worthwhile. They got a tree, a little one, and bought a few ornaments.
Andrew called from Denver every couple of days. Including Christmas Eve. He always told her when he would call next, like dates. They negotiated, sometimes, when she had plans for the night he wanted to call.
On Christmas Eve, they talked for three hours. His voice on the phone was rich and dark, like coffee or molasses, too mature for a college kid. She loved to listen to him. He was so shy in person; the phone gave him the distance to talk. All she had to do was lie back in the pile of pillows on her bed and bounce the conversation back into the air occasionally. The best time was right after a bath, still warm and misty, lying on top of the comforter, his voice warm as sunshine on naked skin in the summer.
"I don't understand your mom, Andrew."
"Who does?" He paused. "Her own mother treated her like crap, and she used to tell me that she never deserved it. But she treated my sister the same way. Martha."
"How old is she?"
"Nineteen. She's married to a soldier, in Portland."
"You ever visit her?"
"That would be neat. We could drive down some time."
There was a long silence. Marcia sighed, more an exhalation than an expression of emotion. The room was dark; the phone dial glowed on the end table.
He broke the silence. "Christ I love you."
She said nothing.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?"
"Bothers me? How?"
"I think you want it to be simpler than love. I dunno. Sex maybe. Making love with you is the best thing in my life. But I love you, too. That's the big thing."
There was silence, too long, on the line. At last he said, "Thank you, Andrew darling. I love you too, and I miss you with all my heart and soul and being. I long for you as the dreary days pass while we're apart."
"Yeah. Like that."
They both laughed.
"I have to get ready," Andrew said then. "I'm going to a party."
"So. I'm pining away in Seattle, and you're running around partying with all your old flames."
"Where are you going?" It was 10:30. It would be nearly midnight in Denver.
"It's just some guys I used to hang out with. We're going to The Rafters. There's a special midnight show."
"Well, you better get moving."
"I'll call you Monday night, okay? I'm trying to cut back." It was Thursday.
"The honeymoon must be over."
There was a long silence on the line. At last he said, flatly, "Never." Marcia smiled the lip-licking smile of a sleepy child.
"I love you, Marcia."
"I love you, Andrew."
"Can I get that in writing?"
Judy was home alone Saturday night when the phone rang. It was Andrew. They hadn't spoken since the cafeteria. Judy had not forgotten the look in his eyes when she interrupted them. She glanced angrily at the front door, thinking, "Damn them both."
"She's not here," she told him before he could ask.
"Can you tell her I called when she comes in?"
"I don't expect her till Monday."
"Monday? Did she go out of town?"
"No. She's spending the weekend at the Sheraton."
She was sorry when she heard the tone of his voice. What was she getting herself into? She had to say something. "She'll be back Monday."
"No, Andrew." It came out in an exasperated rush. "An old boyfriend came to town unexpectedly and she's staying with him."
The silence stretched. She wondered if he had hung up. No, the sound of the silence was wrong. He was there. She was angry with all of them. Andrew's stupidity, Marcia's sluttiness, her own cruelty. There was no help for it. And no pleasure in it.
At last, he spoke, his voice flat, expressionless.
"Could you do me a favor?"
"If I can."
"Would you call her? Tell her I'm at home. She's got the number. No, give it to her." He repeated the phone number, had her read it back to him. "Tell her I'll be here fifteen minutes. Tell her if she wants to talk to me, to call in the next fifteen minutes." His voice was utterly toneless, almost like a zombie.
"It may take more than fifteen minutes to get her," Judy said. "Why don't I just give you the number and you call her?" She glanced at the piece of paper on the phone board with the hotel number on it, and Jack's room number.
"We've done that," he said. Done what, Judy almost said, but he went on immediately, before she could speak. "It's twelve-thirty-five here. I'll be at the phone until twelve-fifty. Tell her that."
"What if I don't reach her? Can she call you later? Tomorrow?"
"No. Just tell her." His voice was a lifeless as rocks dropping on concrete.
"Andrew. You're scaring me."
"Just tell her, okay?"
She glanced at the clock. "It's more like eleven-thirty-eight by my clock. Give me till fifteen minutes after I hang up, okay?"
"Twelve-fifty." His voice was unearthly calm. Her imagination began galloping. She caught herself getting a little hysterical.
"If she doesn't call," she said, "will you call me, talk about it?"
"That's not necessary." Then, as if an afterthought, "Thanks."
"At least let me look up the number."
"Twelve-fifty. I better let you go. Thanks again." The phone clicked.
She was stone still for a moment. It was so simple, so surreal. The clock in the kitchen made an audible click as the minute hand jumped forward. Quickly she punched in the number of the Sheraton, reading it off the note Marcia had pinned to the corkboard. She got Jack, asked for Marcia.
"Hello?" Marcia said.
"Andrew just called."
"He said he wouldn't call till Monday."
"Yeah, well he's a goddamned liar and deserves whatever he gets."
"What did you tell him?"
"The truth. I know how you hate liars."
"The truth! For God's sake, Judy!"
"Look, I'm sorry. It slipped out. He caught me off guard."
"Oh my God!"
"I'm sorry, Marcia. More for him than for you right now, but I am sorry."
"What did he say?"
"He said that if you wanted to talk to him, you should call him at home before eleven-fifty."
"Before eleven-fifty. Is he going somewhere?"
Judy sobbed, then caught herself. "I don't know. He scared me. His voice sounded, I don't know, dead. Please call him right now, Marcia. I'm scared."
It was eleven-forty-five.
"Wait! He insisted that I give you the number."
"I know the number. He's at home?"
"He insisted." She repeated the number.
"I know the number. I'll call him." Marcia hung up. She crossed the room with the phone, dragging it as close to the bathroom as she could. She dialed, and when the first ring sounded on the line, she put down the body of the phone and stepped into the bathroom with the handset, closing the door behind her.
It rang twice, three times, then again before he picked it up.
"Yes." Judy was right. That was the first thing that came to Marcia's mind. It was a dead voice. Flat, sucked dry.
"Andrew?" The question in her voice was fear rather than uncertainty. Of course it was him. "Honey."
"Yes." It was like a tape loop, the repeated word. Nothing.
"You said to call."
"No. I said, if you wanted to talk to me, call. Did you want to talk to me?"
"Of course, silly. You said you wouldn't call till Monday."
"I'm really sorry."
"Oh God, Andrew." She could hear, now, weeping on the line. It was a subtle sound but she was sure, something in the sound of his breath, a moist thickness.
"What did you want to talk about?" he said. It was like talking to two people. One was crying silently, the other was flat-voiced with clinical calm.
"Anything you want," she said. The cabinet was cold where it touched her shoulders. She clawed a towel down and wrapped it like a shawl around her. And the floor. She looked around for another to sit on. She took a fresh one off the towel.
There was silence on the line. Even the rich wet breathing became inaudible.
"Andrew, I love you."
"God damn you," he sobbed, "God damn you to the lowest circle of Hell for all Eternity. I'd give up any chance of Heaven to guarantee you a place in Hell."
"If you have something to say, say it. If you want to whine some more about loving me, shut up." She folded up around the phone, partially from the cold. She shivered a little. She was cold. She pulled the towel tighter.
"I don't know what to say. I can only tell you how I feel."
"How do you feel? No. Let me tell you how I feel. I feel like killing you. I'd like my hands on you right now."
"So would I."
"Cut it, you bitch. I don't care how you feel. You don't care about me. I'm nothing but a cock you're acquainted with."
"That's not so."
"Shut up. I'm done. I can't take this any more. Go back to bed. Or whatever I interrupted."
"Are you going to be all right?"
His laugh was short but hysterical. "Yeah. I'll be great. I'll be wonderful. I'll be just great."
"Really. Yeah. I'm going to be just fine. Mind your own business, okay? That isn't me; not any more. I'll be fine. Things are a lot simpler than anyone thinks. It's bizarre. How simple things are."
"I wish you were here."
"It would be crowded."
"Don't. Please. I'm alone. I want you."
"Don't be greedy. Go fuck the guy behind door number three."
"What? Stop saying my name. Why do you keep saying it? What is it?"
"I'll go home. Would that help?"
"Help what? Don't inconvenience your cunt for me."
"Please don't talk that way."
"God damn you. I loved you. I made contracts with you that you claimed you'd keep. I still love you. I wish I was dead. I wish you were dead. I wish I could call down lightning to fry me and then leap the phone lines and nail you to the floor like a butterfly." He was crying again. "Why did you do this? Do I mean so little to you, that you'd risk our relationship like this?"
"You mean a lot to me."
"Marcia, how? What are we doing? You've killed me."
"Don't say that. I want to see you. Can I fly to Denver?"
"No. You can't afford that. No."
"I'll do it."
"No. Just go home."
"Just go home."
"That's all you can do."
"Yeah." His voice had flattened out again. Again she heard the frightening emptiness.
"What are you going to do?"
"Sleep. I dunno."
"Will you call me tomorrow?"
"I won't call you again tonight."
"You can if you want."
"No. It would be bad if you weren't there."
"I'll be there. Will you call me tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Not tonight."
"Are you all right?"
"When are you coming back?"
"The fourth. Tuesday. Morning."
"I can't wait. I'll meet you at the airport, okay?"
"Ronny's picking me up."
"I can. I want to."
He was silent.
"I'll call Ronny and tell him I'm picking you up. Okay?"
"I miss you, Andrew. I know you don't believe me, but I love you. I want you to come back. I'd give you a knife and stand still while you put it in my heart, if that would make your pain go away. I love you. I never loved anyone like this, except you. I don't think I'll ever love anyone else this much, all through my life. I wish I could make the hurt go away, but I know I can't." She curled up on the floor, the phone line a beige umbilicus twisting away and under the closed door. "Andrew, what can I say to let you know how I feel?"
"I love you, Marcia."
"I know, darling. I know."
"I will. Are you going to bed?"
"Maybe. I'll read a while."
"What are you reading?"
"Pale Fire. You're right; I like it."
"The copy I gave you," she said, smiling to herself.
"I love you."
"Will you call tomorrow?"
"You're going home."
"I know. Silly. Call anyway."
"Good night." She could hear the undefinable sounds that suggested he was about to put the phone down.
"Andrew!" she cried.
"You'll call me tomorrow."
"Yes. I will."
"And I'll see you Tuesday."
"Good night. I love you."
"Good night. Love."
They hung up. She uncurled, sitting like a lawn Mexican on the tiles. She put the phone on her knee. The cup of the ear-hollow was hot on her knee. Her nipples were raspberried with chill. She got up. In the mirror she could see that her eyes were grey-socketed, the effect of the hour, of crying and exhaustion. She ran the water to bearably hot, soaked a washcloth, and squeezed hot water into her face, wincing a little from the temperature. The phone began to honk quietly, anxious to be hung up. She glanced down at it. More quickly, she toweled her face. She flushed the toilet, then grimaced when she realized there was no reason to. She opened the door. In the blue dark of the room, all was shadow and shade. The shape in the bed shifted.
"Who was that?"
"A boy I know," she said, crossing the room.