Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did you hear the bells on my ankle bracelet?

Got back so late the stairwell was dark, so I held onto the sticky railing all the way up to the top floor, where you were sleeping with the door to our apartment ajar, the curtains inside drawn and windows open. It was chilly in the room, but I stripped down to nothing before I crawled under the duvet and nosed your shoulder. A wind blew the white gauze curtains out like ghosts in the room, and I guzzled your whole mug of cold tea, schwushing it around in my mouth before swallowing.

You groaned and rolled over into me, and I pushed you back, snuggled into your warm spot and drew my knees up. Things rolled around on the floor of the attics at each corner, but you didn't wake. I put my hands on your hipbones and slept.

In the middle of the night the wail of a train drew me upright, shivering and clutching for blankets or pillow, anything to anchor me in the dark, to hold me to you, your waking moments and unguarded smile, the ways I'm undone by the unbuttoned pyjama top worn and wrinkled with our life, torn at one elbow where so often you leaned reading late at night while I made my way home somewhere, the tink tink of jewelry accenting slow leather-soled footsteps.

Failing you, and finding you still here, warm at my fingertips, the wind howling in the night outside, the frayed white sheets, the alarm clock ticking loudly in a quiet so full of waiting I could hardly breathe.....

Big Guy, where are you?

He disappeared! Last she saw he was making his way down the car to the exit, carrying a briefcase. She thought about this awhile. . Well, I guess he'll find a couple of seats empty so he can spread out and sleep. Me, I have not been able to sleep sitting up since The Eighties. Haven't been able to drink three shots of aqua viva since about then either. Cripes.

The train rhythm soon put her to sleep, and night closed in. All around her were sleeping passengers, but she was unaware. Every now and then a sound of fumbling footsteps or a thump against the door of her compartment would half rouse her, but nothing rang bells, nothing pulled her out of the muzzy sleep of too many glasses of booze at bedtime. Just after dawn, a tentative tap at her door did wake her.

She sat up, pulled a worn flannel shirt on over the tank top nightie, and she slid out of bed. Who's there, she called out. It was the conductor, with a note in his hand. That guy you were drinking tea with in the lounge last night.....he asked me to give you this, but I forgot until this morning. Sorry. He handed over a thick folded letter, and went on down the corridor. She stepped out into the narrow space and raised the shade. Sun was just burning the edges of things out there. Wide far-reaching fields, with here and there a lone boxelder or locust, a row of cottonwoods along a stream bed to the right, and not much else.

I need coffee, she murmured, unfolding the pages. Seven altogether, written on both sides, in blue ink. Dear woman, it began, I don't know your name, but I will call you Ursula for now.....