There was somebody at the door. Just standing there.
“What do you think he wants?” said Ellen.
“He’s probably waiting for the 3.”
It was raining and the step in front of our door had a tiny roof over it which afforded a small amount of shelter.
We were lying in bed on a Thursday morning. Or maybe it was Wednesday. Or some other day.
“Is he trying to look in at us?” I said.
“You can’t see anything through there,” said Ellen. “The glass is all smeared up with fingerprints. And dust from the city workers’ leaf blowers.”
“Whose fingerprints are they?”
“Oh, probably some kids from the neighborhood.”
She thought for a moment, then she said, “Kids are oily, they have oily fingerprints.”
“And they leave them all over our front door,” I said.
“Then the light hits them, confusing the eye–which is just a kind of lens, you know. Did you know that humans and octopuses have the same kind of eyes?”
I said, “I was talking to somebody the other day on the subway and her pupils kept opening and closing, just like the lens of a camera. Every time I started to talk, her pupils would open up. When I stopped they closed.”
“Who was she?”
“Just some girl. I don’t know.”
“How old was she?
“And her pupils kept opening and closing whenever you said something?”
“It was pretty bright in there!”
“Do you always talk to girls on the subway?”
“I don’t talk to anybody on the subway. Not normally.”
“Was she gorgeous?”
“She was stunning, but I hate it when people younger than me seem smarter than I remember being at that age.”
Ellen laughed her “what an idiot you are” laugh.
“What do you expect me to understand,” I said.
“They haven’t been gnawed on by life yet. That’s all.”
“Have I been gnawed on by life yet?”
“You’re half-fucked, man.” She elbowed me in the ribs a little too hard.
Now I could see the outline of his head through the glass. He must have been wearing a hat. Or maybe an afro. Sometimes he turned his head a little, probably watching for the bus. Mostly he just stood there.
Ellen said, “He could be anybody.”
“Well I guess he must be somebody.”
“Do you think he’s ever killed anyone?”
“Probably,” I said.
“Maybe he’s wanted.”
“The FBI is probably searching for him right this moment.”
“I wonder if he has any children.”
“My arm is falling asleep, darling.”
She moved her head so that it wasn’t resting on my bicep, and I felt the blood flow into my hand again. We lay there for a while without saying anything. I was half erect under the sheet. You could hear the cars going by on the road–the swish of tires on a wet road was a sound I’d always found comforting.
“What color were her eyes?”
“They were blue.”
“That’s why you noticed her pupils opening and closing like that. You wouldn’t have seen a thing if they were dark like mine.”
I said, “What was that you were saying about octopuses a minute ago?”
“Oh, just something I read. What do they call it? Convergent evolution?”
“Sounds like some serious shit!”
“But I think they were actually squids we share eyes with. Not octopuses. I get them mixed up sometimes.”
“Everybody does, baby. It’s just one of those things.”
“I mean, I know the difference. The problem’s the words, not the things. It’s like foxes and wolves. But I’d bet people who live by the ocean wouldn’t make a mistake like that. Or fishmongers in Japan where they eat a lot of squid and octopus.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of people who live by the ocean in Japan who occasionally mix up squid and octopus,” I said.
“No, I think it’s probably just an English language thing,” she said. Then she said, “They eat a lot squid and octopus in Spain too. I was there for a wedding once.”
“You never told me anything about that.”
“It was nothing. I was ten years old.”
After a moment, she said, “They were squid. Now I remember it. They have the same eyes as us. We both have lenses like a camera. They developed independently though. Along some other evolutionary pathway from ours.”
“Are there blue-eyed squid and brown-eyed squid?”
“I don’t think so, no. But it’s fascinating, isn’t it? Nature has its limitations. It can’t just go wild. It has to color inside the lines.”
I laughed. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with how you chose to put that.”
“Basically I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“I don’t believe in God either,” I said. “Never have.”
The guy on our step had pushed himself up against our door, backing away from the rain. It was coming down harder now. His shoes and pant legs were probably getting wet, but his head would stay dry. I’d locked myself out of the house once during a thunderstorm and had to wait there for Ellen to get back from work. She worked at a golf course and came home when it rained. I’d stood there for around 30 minutes.
“Maybe that’s me out there,” I said, “and I’m waiting there for you.”
“You ever have the feeling you’re in two places at once, baby?”
“Me neither. I think I’d find it interesting though.”
She turned and looked at me with her eyes–it was like she was seeing me for the first time–then she rested her head on the pillow again and looked at the ceiling.
She said, “They’re both cephalopods, right? Squids and octopuses?”
“I think so,” I said, though I wasn’t at all sure.
“They both have our eyes, or something pretty damn close. They don’t have any ears though. Isn’t that fucked?”
“I wouldn’t want to see a squid with ears, baby. Or an octopus, for that matter.”
“Maybe you’re right. About God, I mean. It’s like there’s nobody calling the shots out there.”
I said, “Where do you get all this raw information from?”
She didn’t answer me. Just looked at me with her eyes, her whole face.
Then she said, “What if he’s some psychopath? The Boston Strangler, for example?”
“I think they already nabbed him,” I said.
Then I said, “Do you think animals have their own Boston Stranglers?”
“Do animals have brains?”
“Well then they have their own Boston Stranglers.”
“Brains are some serious shit,” I said.
Suddenly Ellen sat up and said, “You really don’t ever remember believing in God?”
“I honestly can’t say I remember taking any of that stuff seriously, no.”
“Ah, now. You just don’t remember your memories right. All kids fall for that crap about baby Jesus up in heaven, waiting around.”
Now she had managed to shock me.
“Maybe we should ask him in for a cup of tea.”
“Baby Jesus? Or are you referring to the Boston Strangler over there.”
“Wouldn’t you say it’s a little early in the morning for hobnobbing with capital one murderers?”
She sighed her consent, then said, “What do you want to do today?”
“We’re already pretty much doing it.”
“Don’t you have an appointment with the optometrist this afternoon?”
“That’s tomorrow,” I said–lied–and shut my eyes.
No one in my family wore glasses, and I didn’t want to be the first. I was practical-minded (often I made Ellen get back out of bed at night and brush her teeth because we couldn’t afford any dental bills) but I couldn’t face up to the idea of wearing glasses.
So I shut my eyes. Fell asleep.
When I opened them again, the rain had stopped. The guy who’d been waiting on our doorstep was gone. Ellen was snoring next to me with a book in her hand, a field guide to underwater life. Her obsessions were probably what kept her from realizing how unsatisfactory our lives were. The clock on the table beeped noon. I got up and made pancakes, one after another, piling them up between two plates to keep them hot, squinting at the tiny words on the side of the package, convinced it was going to be another fantastic day.
Photo by wildxplorer on Flickr