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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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THE SORT OF LIFE

 

by Sidney Thompson

 


                Tony signed out for a late lunch at 2:00 but slipped out early, at 1:30, giving him, minus drive time, a full hour with Heather, who had the afternoon off today.  She was at his house already, having let herself in with the spare key hidden under the stack of empty clay flowerpots the previous renter had abandoned on the edge of the far right side of the front porch and which Tony and his roommate, Garrett, had left, for the last year, undisturbed.  With Garrett staying put at work, and with her seven-year-old son from her first husband at school and her second husband consumed with an all-day construction job forty miles away in Orange Beach, they’d finally, Tony and Heather, after a dry spell of two whole days, have a little time together.

 

                Until recently, he’d never gotten a hard-on thinking about lunch.  He didn’t know if there’d be time today for sex, wouldn’t take long, but from reading The Deal on Love, he knew he shouldn’t expect it.  It would be like a customer at the car lot expecting you to give him, pro bono, the accessories that he most desired, such as chrome step rails for a pick-up, but without going through the open and direct process of negotiation.

 

                Tony had lost his last two girlfriends after he’d bought them breast implants.  He didn’t want the same mistake happening again.  Not that he’d ever used the “love” word with Heather, of course not.  But their sex, and they’d had sex now only two times, had love all over it.  And he knew the reason, because they could talk with each other like they’d been friends forever and not just a couple months as waitress and customer, meeting at his house or at Hooters when she got off work and then more and more lately during lunch.

 

                He could talk to her about the dealership and about his goals, and she could talk to him about her husband and her ex-husband and her kid.  He was proud that it had all started very mature that way and for so long first, before last week, when everything got crazy.  And going for him, too, and it was no small thing, she already had her own set.

 

                The last time they’d met was at his house as well, but Garrett was there, in his room with the new girl from the front desk, taking pictures of her with his cell phone.  This would be the first time they’d have the place, or any place, all to themselves.

 

                Maybe he should’ve called Heather on the way, maybe she was expecting him to, but he didn’t want to hear what a fucked-up mess he and Garrett had left the kitchen in, or the rest of the house for that matter.  Hopefully, in the light of day, being sober, she’d feel comfortable enough to sit somewhere.  He’d apologized this morning in advance for how filthy the place would be, but her house could’ve been as filthy, or worse with a kid, so maybe she wouldn’t have even noticed.  Her car certainly was a dog, a 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer that was always cluttered with toys and clothes and empty coffee cups and twenty-ounce Pepsi bottles, and all that and more, from dash to dash, was evenly powdered with sand, cigarette ash, or PopTart crumbs.  No, he simply wanted to arrive and find her doing her thing, whatever it was.

 

                He nodded when he turned down his street and spotted her Lancer in his driveway.  It was the same unwashed white he’d always seen.  He spun the wheel quickly without braking, then braked hard behind her and threw off his seatbelt.  That was all that mattered.  She was here.  Now he was here.  For one hour.

 

                Since all he’d ever seen Heather wear was her Hooters uniform, he didn’t quite know what to expect and was eager to see her maybe barefoot and wearing a summer dress, or maybe a silk blouse, low-rider jeans, and heels, something bright or black to complement her black hair.  He jogged in long, slow strides from his car to the door, and as he reached with his key, the door swung open, and there she was—the white tank top, the short orange shorts, the suntan hose, even the white socks and tennis shoes, yet somehow she was more beautiful than ever, with a grin so wide to see him it seemed to tip her head to one side.

 

                “Tony!” she said.  She opened her arms, and the owl on her chest stared right at him.

 

                “Hoo-hoo,” she said with a laugh.

 

                He pushed his sunglasses up into the waves of his hair as if to stare down the owl, but then he raised his vision to take in Heather’s heavily eye-lined gray-green eyes and stepped forward for a hug, and she squeezed him the way he liked a girl to squeeze him.

 

                “I was called in for the dinner shift, if you were wondering,” she said.

 

                “Hey,” he said, smelling beyond the shampoo and cigarette smoke of her hair, smelling cheese and sausage, he thought, Italian, “that lasagna I smell?”


                “Yeah, lemme show you,” she said.

 

                Tony shut the door and let her draw him, her arm around him, toward the oven, and crossing the kitchen floor he had the alien sense it wasn’t his kitchen or his house.  The light seemed different, brighter maybe.  A swath of sun from the usually closed curtains sliced the room down its center.  Maybe that was it, or maybe it was the dishtowel lying neatly folded over the faucet, or the two bowls of tossed salad sitting side by side on the counter.  Cherry tomatoes!  He never thought to buy cherry tomatoes.  Garrett never thought to buy anything.

 

                Heather opened the oven, then with the pot holder bearing the singed imprint of a stove-top burner, she pulled the rack out to show Tony half a pan of lasagna, sumptuous in its layers, its saucy ricotta middle bubbling out into the eaten half’s vacancy.

 

                “What do you think?  Looks good, huh?” she asked.

 

                “Wow, looks awesome,” he said.

 

                She arched her shoulders in a childish display of pride and mimed applause.  “It tastes so good,” she said.  “I cooked it last night, really for us, and everybody raved about it.  I think it’s my best ever.”  She slid the rack back in and shut the door, laid the pot holder on the counter, and turned the dial from Warm to Off.  “And here,” she said, taking his hand and leading him to the salad bowls.

 

                “Nice,” he said.  He smiled, he liked seeing her proud, and he leaned in to kiss her, and she let him, but only a peck before stepping away and tugging his hand.

 

                “Come on, there’s something else,” she said.


                It seemed every light in the house was on.  He noticed that.  And then she stopped in the den, and he stopped, and then he saw it, the vacuum lines across the carpet, the oily glisten of furniture polish on the coffee table and TV top, and then he smelled it, above and beyond the smell of lasagna, some kind of exotic flowery freshness.  “My God,” he said.  “My God, what’d you do?”

 

                She grinned but this time her head didn’t tip, as though the weight of his question prevented it.  A moment of silence passed, and he wondered if what she’d done was a secret she wouldn’t divulge.

 

                Then he took another whiff.  “Is that, what you call it, Carpet Fresh?”

 

                “It’s a miracle worker,” she said, leaning into him, touching his arm with her breasts.

 

                “I guess so,” he said.

 

                “And take a look at this,” she said, leading him down the vacuumed hallway to the bathroom, and he couldn’t believe what he saw, the linoleum floor, the toilet, the tub, the tiled walls, the sink, the mirror—everything so clean it looked absolutely wet.  And so uncluttered, with dirty towels and clothes put away, with toilet paper on the spindle instead of sitting on the tank, with toothbrushes standing in a cup instead of lying across the soap tray, it looked new.  It was, all of it—and not the total annihilation of dust and mildew alone but also the lasagna, the cherry tomatoes, the Carpet Fresh, the grin, the squeeze, the press of her breasts, all of it together, he was certain—a cosmic glimpse into the sort of life he and Heather could have, you know, if she didn’t have a kid, and didn’t have a husband, and if he kicked Garrett out.