The Utility Room

7

As the couple rose from the car, Ellen leaned against the living room window, gazing into the shadows on her lawn, just as she was the day her ex-husband moved out, loading a moving truck with the help of one of his friends, a man who smiled sheepishly at Ellen and kept his eyes down the entire time. Now Ellen could see the man and woman walking towards her house with their heads held high, the sunglasses on their faces hiding their eyes, moving up the driveway with the easy gait of a couple gliding down a beach. Her fingers tightened on the keys in her hand, two of them, the receipt from copying them today still in the pocket of her cardigan. This is what my life is like, she thought, at twenty five and divorced: observing the happiness of other people from afar; a life as a serial video store customer staring out from windows.

They had asked to come through the back door. As a signal, Ellen had left her garage door open. She parked her car in the center now, taking both small spaces with her sedan. It struck her that she drove a Camry, a married person’s car. She looked down at her hands and imagined them dotted with age spots, and to vanquish the image from her mind, she pressed the keys into her palms, the sharp edges digging into her skin. Their knock, three loud raps, jolted her attention, and she rushed through her kitchen to the mud room and yanked the door open.

“Ellen Boyle?” the woman said.

“Yes.”  Boyle was her maiden name, and the sound of it still struck her as foreign. “You must be Brenda and Percy. Please come in.”

Ellen stepped aside, and the couple entered. She wondered if they noticed she hadn’t used their last names. She had assumed they would be, in some way, pernicious and slick: Percy in a jet black suit and gleaming gold cufflinks, Brenda in expensive heels with gaudy rings that clinked loudly when her hands moved. But they were neither of these things. They were plain. Percy had a slight paunch, pleated khakis, and wore penny loafers. Brenda was slim, her hands pixyish, and Ellen suddenly felt very protective of them.

“Thank you for seeing us, Ellen,” she said, “on such short notice.”

Ellen nodded. “Can I get you something to drink? Water? Coffee?”

“No, we’re fine.”

“Okay, then,” Ellen said. Uncertain what next to say, she shoved her hands into her pockets and again, as it had regularly since Nicholas had moved out, the urge to cry gripped her like a fist. Once, this mud room had a small television and wicker furniture that they had dragged out onto their back patio for summer barbecues. Just last year they had even redone the tiling. Now Ellen could feel the February chill pass through the windows and the cold tile under her feet; the room, empty of all furniture and with only two cardboard boxes marked “Goodwill” in the corner, felt as still as a mausoleum. “Why don’t I show you the room?”

Ellen led them into the kitchen and turned right. The utility room was here, tucked between her living room and mud room along the long stretch of her corner lot. After she saw the ad and spoke to Brenda, Ellen had moved a queen sized bed from the guest room—now her unfurnished study—and went to the attic for the night table and the mini fridge positioned in the corner. Beneath the windows, there was an armless chair whose origin she couldn’t remember. The closet was empty, and along the opposite wall hung vintage travel posters of Budapest and Shanghai, places Ellen had never been and, she now knew, likely never would. She had vacuumed and dusted, even considered painting the room. But why bother? Why would they care?

“Here it is,” Ellen said.

She hovered in the doorway, feeling like an intruder in her own home. The couple went to the windows and looked into the yard; as if on cue, the shadows from the tree branches vanished as bright sunshine broke through the sky and threw warm rays on the bed. It is a well lit room, she thought, watching as the white walls absorbed the light and made the room welcome. Percy sat on the bed. He leaned over and opened up the top drawer of the nightstand, then closed it again. He had nice dark hair and a pleasant face. Ellen would have never thought of him as an adulterer.

Brenda eased around the room, studying every object like an appraiser, absorbing it all in as if the experience of this silent survey would be a memory to cherish. Perhaps it would. Ellen shifted her shoulder, digging it into the doorframe. Was Brenda the adulterer? Were they both? Ellen hadn’t asked. She had asked so little of Brenda and Percy that only now, absurd as it was, did it occur to her that she knew nothing about the couple at all. She only knew they were paying cash, the first three months up front.

Brenda came around the bed, and Percy stood up. She walked to him and pressed her palm against his shoulder. Ellen recognized this touch—an intimate one, a silent thank you. She used to touch Nicholas this way when they were first married and thought of themselves as adults, a couple who used body language and hidden codes to navigate parties, express lust or impatience or call for help with the brush of fingertips. Palm against the shoulder: a grateful touch; for his existence and his presence. A rush of raw anger flushed through Ellen. Where had these gestures gotten her with Nicholas? Where was this understanding of intimacy, of what was unspoken, when she was still married? Ellen hugged her chest.

“So?” she asked. “What do you think?”

“It’s perfect,” Brenda said. She looked down at the mattress. “Thank you.”

“Twice a week, yes?”

“Do you want to know the days?”

“No,” Ellen said. “I’m at school during the week. It doesn’t matter.”

“Because, sometimes, we might have to switch days.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Ellen stepped into their room—already: their room—and handed her both keys, which opened the door to the garage. From her purse, Brenda removed a bulky white envelope. When Ellen squeezed, the bills inside collapsed together.

“You should count it,” Percy said, his voice soft and shy.

“I feel like a mobster,” Ellen said, fingering the hundred dollar bills. Percy smiled. Had she made a joke? Was a white envelope with fifteen hundred dollars funny? And did it matter, if it helped her pay her mortgage every month?

Brenda sat down next to Percy. Ellen stared at the couple sitting on the mattress from her old guest room, their hands pressed together on his lap, serene for just a moment in their own world, in their small room, in the presence of nothing else but a woman who rented them a private place to make love for an hour, twice a week.

 

“So you’re a pimp?” Jeannie asked.

“I guess so. I kinda feel that way.”

Ellen and her friend Jeannie sat outside on the coffee shop patio, sunlight streaming through the tree branches, on an unseasonably warm February day. Across the street, seminary students tugged outside by fifty degree weather that simply couldn’t last sat on park benches and frowned down at the massive books in their laps; on blankets spread out against the grass, couples ate sandwiches and drank from thermoses. Dogs raced across the stretch of lawn, their owners lazily slapping a leash against their thighs as they strolled through the park, their path chosen at random. Ellen wiggled in the metal chair and thumbed her ceramic mug.

“What are they like?” Jeannie asked.

“Friendly. They’re just like us, only middle age.” Ellen watched a bearded man race by on a bike, questioned where he was going. “I wonder if he has children.”

“Maybe she has children. Maybe she’s the bad one.”

“Maybe neither of them are. I really don’t know. I didn’t ask. I know their names, and when they left, I wrote down their license plate. It’s amazing how much information you can find out about someone online. Even got their credit history. They seem like regular people who just want to pay cash so there’s no paper trail for their spouses to find.”

Jeannie shrugged. “You have her phone number. Why don’t you call and meet her?”

“No phone calls. What if her husband answered the phone? Besides what would I ask her? ‘Who’s this guy you’re fucking? How many children do you have?’ I can’t do that.”

“Wait, remind me. They found you, or the other way around?”

“I found them on Craigslist. This is better than a roommate—they only show up during the day when I’m at work, and I don’t have to sell the house. I mean, half my mortgage, in cash? Financially, it’s perfect. It’s a good business transaction.” She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Christ, I sound like Nicholas.”

“Have you heard from him?”

“No. The divorce is settled. Maybe if there’s tax stuff next year, but otherwise I don’t have anything to say to him. I heard he lives in the county.” Ellen pulled her knees up to her chest. “I heard he has a girlfriend.”

“Sweetie,” Jeannie leaned in and put a hand on Ellen’s forearm, “I’m so sorry. What happened? He didn’t call and tell you that, did he?”

“Gossip. The fifth grade teacher’s husband saw him at a bar, he told her, she told me, why, I don’t know. They said she was young.”

“We’re young.”

“She meant college age, twenty one. Maybe.” Just then she was grateful that Jeannie was unmarried. Ellen stared at her left hand, and the sight of the pale skin where there once was a diamond ring set against a plain gold band made her furious. Jeannie tugged her chair closer, put her arm around Ellen’s shoulders. She leaned in and rested her chin against Ellen’s arm.

“Why am I even upset?” Ellen asked. “I don’t love him. He’s gone. I never see him.”

“Dating anyone?”

“I can’t. I went out with that chemist twice, remember?” Jeannie nodded. “On the second date, when he touched my hand at dinner, I jumped, knocked over my wine glass. His fingers were so cold, like he had dipped them in ice or something. Nicholas always had warm hands.” Ellen shrugged. “I’m just not used to being touched like that.”

“Being single sucks.”

“We’re not single,” Ellen spat. “I’m divorced. It’s not the same at all.”

Jeannie leaned away, unwrapping her arm from Ellen, her chair scraping on the concrete as she pushed away, her eyes finding something interesting in the park again, and grabbed her latte. She sipped, and said nothing. Ellen regretted her words and stared intently at Jeannie, hoping for eye contact. She hadn’t meant to insult her. It was simply true: the freedom of being single and unmarried wasn’t at all like being abandoned for “irreconcible differences,” hearing the gossip of him now in the arms of a bubbly twenty one year old, emptying their home of photos and splitting the wedding gifts, fighting over possession of items they once bought as a couple. She wasn’t single; Ellen believed she was discarded, trash rotting along the edges of a distant highway. Her single friends might as well have been from a different planet.

 

In the spring, when she came home from work on Mondays and Thursdays, the windows in the utility room were always open. The top edges of the bed sheets and comforter were neatly turned down, like in a hotel. Sliding open the drawers, finding nothing, Ellen walked around the room, sniffing the air, searching for the scent of sex. She opened the fridge: four bottled waters and a bottle of chocolate syrup. Ellen checked the rug for syrup stains and found nothing; crouched down, she ran a finger around the seal, the cuttingly cold air blowing out against her ankles, and she stood up and pressed the fridge closed. She cranked the window in, latching it locked, knowing next week she would once again find this room opened to the world. Why do they leave the windows open when everything else in the room remains so neat and exact?

On Thursdays, Ellen would find the sheets in a small pile by the door. The trash can was always emptied and relined with a plastic bag from the grocery store; the hall bathroom remained spotless. Other than the windows and the clump of sheets on the floor, it was as if they were never there at all.

 

In June, on the last day of school, all the teachers went out for drinks, a celebration of their one week off before they began summer classes or the other odd jobs many of them would have for the next ten weeks. Ellen had found work as a study hall monitor for Saint Louis University. She was to sit at a desk in a large lecture hall from nine to four, have people sign in, and then act disinterested as the athletes and marginal students sent text messages and downloaded music while she spent her entire day sipping bad coffee and perusing library books and magazines she brought with her in a tote bag: books on starting a small garden in her backyard, how to provide nutrients to the soil, what to grow, when to plant; articles on money management and investing and budgeting, the things that she had foolishly left to Nicholas; books on western history, immigration, the Mississippi River. All her curiosity and wonder from college, an entire part of herself, had vanished in her marriage, swept aside by the role of wife and the demands of creating the foundation for a family she never had.

“You are so lucky,” one of the other teachers said. “I’m working at a summer camp again. How did you get that?”

“Beats me,” Ellen said. She didn’t want to admit she knew a friend of Nicholas’ that had promised her the position last summer.

They sat outside; the weather was still pleasant, not too hot for a St. Louis summer, and in their group of eight people, all of them comfortably drunk and vulgar now they were away from elementary school ears. Ellen leaned back into her chair. She craned her neck, stared straight up into the warm, dark sky, feeling the pleasant buzz of her gin and tonics drying her tongue and relaxing her muscles; the stars above her, constant and unblinking, filled her with a wonderful sadness. Here, among her colleagues, friends perhaps, she had never felt more alone. Maybe this was how Brenda felt at night, washing dishes and listening to her children play in the other room, the steam from the sink clouding her kitchen windows, the hot soapy water blistering her skin, a drone of baseball announcers from the television in the family room where her husband sat. Or like Percy, perhaps in his office at home, planning how to send his kids to college, the stereo playing soft baroque music, and he would raise his eyes and stare into a silent fullness of his imagination and picture, somewhere across town, Brenda. In their homes, filled with people, they too were alone. Ellen swirled her neck, facing the other teachers as they erupted with laughter; all she caught of the joke was that St. Peter had said something about seeing a house.

Blurry-eyed, she gazed to her left. Across the patio, a man smiled at her. He had brilliant teeth, gleaming like a searchlight. Ellen blinked. The man waved, ducking his head slightly, and the gesture, so shy and child-like, touched her. She continued to stare at him, waiting. He looked at his friends—all men, dress shirts stripped of ties and their sleeves rolled up—down at his beer, back at her, back at his friends. Pleased she was wearing a skirt, she smiled and twisted her hips in his direction, crossing her legs at the knee, pointing towards him with her toes.

Finally, he got up, walked across the patio and stood over her. She didn’t stand; he didn’t seem very tall, and Ellen was suddenly afraid she might tower over him.

“Your glass is empty,” the man said, pointing.

“Gin and tonic.”

“I’ll be right back.”

The clacking of his shoes on the pavement carried him away from her, and she leaned forward, trying to hear his steps, studying his dark suit pants, his posture. He returned quickly, handing Ellen her drink and easing into a chair that someone had vacated.

“I’m Daniel,” he said.

“You have beautiful teeth.”

“Thanks. I’m a dentist.”

Ellen laughed loud and obnoxious at such a perfect joke.

“No, really,” Daniel said. “I’m a dentist, practicing for the last three years. I guess I did an okay job putting my own braces on.”

She smiled this time. “You must have. I’m a third grade teacher. Our year just ended and we’re out celebrating.” She nodded at her glass. “I guess you can tell.”

Daniel, it turned out, was as plain as vanilla yogurt, and she adored him for being so ordinary. His appearance was clean and neat; his haircut was inexpensive and a little sloppy, and the skin under his jaw sagged, and yet his smile was kind, his eyes crinkled with kindness, and she could imagine looking up at him, tilted back in a dentist chair, and feeling completely relaxed. When his friends hollered that they were leaving and they exchanged phone numbers, he pulled out his business card, flipped it over, and wrote down his home number, and this gesture, like his smile, Ellen found perfect in its sincerity and simplicity. She pressed the card between her hands, watched him walk to the parking lot, and waited for him to turn and wave, as she knew he would, and though she wasn’t certain, she figured that when he called her and made plans for dinner, she would do so while picking out her outfit, hearing his voice while staring at her clothes, the closet doors open, and struggling to decide over which of her heel-less shoes would be cute enough to go with a summer dress.

 

Brenda had left a note, saying they had borrowed two glasses, and apologized for doing so; they would bring their own next time. The note stated they had rinsed the glasses and set them in the dishwasher; Ellen lifted a glass out and sniffed, but it had been rinsed out, and she had no idea if it had been filled with water or whiskey. Ellen peeked in the utility room and verified the windows were open. A summer breeze nudged the curtains from the wall, and Ellen watched them flutter away from the outside world, careless and free. She cranked the window closed.

 

On their first date, Daniel parked in the driveway. Through the open windows along the side of the house, Ellen heard his footsteps as he walked around to the front door. She stood still, listened as he rapped on the screen door, and from her vantage point, looking down the main hallway, beyond the end table and closed doors, he stood visible through the glass, the porch light shining down on him from above. She felt a wave of happiness that had been absent from her life for months. A shiver of delight ran through her for this moment free of solitude and loneliness; she knew everything else that evening would pale in comparison. She walked shyly down the hallway, eyes on her feet, smiling, and let him in.

“You look terrific,” Daniel said.

“Thank you,” Ellen said. “Do you want a drink before we go?”

He slid his hands in his pockets and turned his head towards the living room. He appeared to be thinking hard about the question, as if he had never before been asked such a thing. It struck Ellen then, sweetly, that he was nervous.

“No, I’m okay.” He took a step into her living room. “I love your place.”

Ellen removed her sweater from a coat hanger. To her, it was still a room with all the small pieces of her ex-husband removed: certain photographs replaced, visible dust remaining where the frames didn’t hide right, the smaller television she pulled from the basement to replace Nicholas’s big screen, the preposterous number of unlit candles she placed around the room to make it feel like her own.  She rubbed the fabric between her fingers, focusing on its thick texture.

“I like the chair by the window,” she said. “It’s a good place to read.”

Daniel studied the oversized red chair, and tilted his head to study the scratch marks near its legs. “Do you have cats?”

“No, I’m allergic. The chair was from a yard sale. After I got it, I vacuumed it a couple of times, and it was fine.”

He moved towards the front door. “I can’t believe what people get rid of. So much of it is still good.”

Ellen nodded, followed his lead, pleased when he held the door for her. She locked up, the latching of the dead bolt thrilling. The keys dangled from the door and she held her hand away, watching the keys jangle together, a night at home literally locked away, her breath held tight within her chest, savoring this moment, which felt monumental in a way she couldn’t entirely understand. It’s one date. Nothing more. She slipped the keys into her pockets, and walked alongside Daniel to his car.

They drove into the city, the cars racing around them as Daniel drove slow, staying in the right lane, taking them into St. Louis. He said they were going to a Turkish restaurant. The restaurant’s exterior was a dark brown wood, the kind of bland design appropriate for a late sixties dentist office. They parked on the street and crossed the tiny, gravel parking lot, all seven of its spaces full, and entered through the front door.

Inside, the teenage hostess smiled, and with two menus in her left hand, she gestured to her right. Beyond the hostess, behind a half-drawn curtain, Ellen could see the small bar, the patrons all male, wearing leather jackets, smoking pungent cigarettes and drinking vodka.

The hostess led them to a booth in the far back corner, giving Ellen a wonderful view of the room. Wide swaths of warm red drapes hung down from the ceiling, and table lamps gave each booth an inviting glow. The small cluster of tables in the center of the room were candlelit, illuminating, it seemed, nothing but couples, their bodies leaning towards each other, fingers intertwined, a bottle of wine on the table. Exposed beams were chocolate brown, and from tiny speakers around the room, Turkish music played. Servers ducked in and out of the kitchen; distantly, Ellen could hear the sizzle of food, and a spicy aroma lingered in the air. The tension slid out of her shoulders; she rested her forearms on the table, and resisted the urge to be too forward and reach out, like all the others in the room, and take Daniel’s hand.

They ate slowly, talked for hours, and finished their bottle of wine. When they stood to leave, he took her hand. In the parking lot, leaning into him, feeling slightly drunk, Ellen blinked at the bright yellow lights across the street. Focusing her eyes, steadying herself against Daniel’s body, she pointed.

“Ted Drews,” she said. “I didn’t know we were that close.”

“Wanna go?”

“Absolutely.”

They crossed the street, and hopped into one of the long lines, surrounded by a sea of loud, laughing teenagers, smiling parents and their baby strollers, dogs with wagging tails, the on-duty cops laughing and joking with the men they knew. With their ice cream in hand—Daniel had butter pecan, she had cherry vanilla—they found a concrete bench overlooking the busy street. Cars raced by intermittently, and teenagers laughed as they dashed across the street to and from their cars. Ellen remembered then the first time she had come here with Nicholas. They had just moved here, and he insisted it was the best ice cream ever. She found it unremarkable, told him so, and the night, like this one, was important in how unimportant it was, how casual and effortless their intimacy had been, their lives in front of them heading endlessly into the horizon.

“Hey,” Daniel said. “You just went a million miles away.” Ellen blinked. How long had she been sitting quiet?

Finally, she nodded. “I guess so.”

“So, I have to ask you something.”

“Okay,” Ellen said, steeling her stomach. She could feel the disappointment edge into her face, waiting for Daniel to screw this up.

“If we have triplets one day, can we name them Huey, Dewey, and Louie?”

Ellen snorted, and ice cream dropped onto her lap. Embarrassed, she laughed harder, tried to blot the ice cream with her napkin. Daniel handed her his napkins.

“Let’s just call the third one,” Ellen said, “something evil. Like, Leftovers. Really give him a complex.”

“I like it. Or maybe just call them One, Two, and Three. Maybe in French so they get picked on in school.”

“That would definitely happen.” Ellen shook her head, relaxed. “There’s this girl I had this year, and her family is German. Her last name is Schnitzel and no one could pronounce it right, and the boys started calling her shitheel. They can be so cruel, and yet—and this is terrible to admit—really clever, too. It bothered her for a few weeks and then she started wiping her shoes on all their pants and all the boys developed crushes on her. Isn’t that bizarre?”

“Kids are tougher than we give them credit for. I get the same with my patients. Their parents terrify them with their own fear, and then they find out a cleaning is really easy.”

Ellen balled the napkins into her hand. They finished their ice cream, and Daniel took both their paper dishes and threw them away. When he returned, he took both her hands, sticky and warm, and leaned in. He kissed her gently, first her lower lip, then her upper, then fully, and after, pulling away, he gazed at her mouth, avoiding her eyes, still just a little shy.

 

As Ellen and Jeannie stood in the foyer, their shopping bags still dangling from their hands, Ellen’s laughter froze. Down the hallway, Brenda stood holding an envelope. Color rose in Ellen’s cheeks, embarrassed to be caught coming into her own home, and as she set her bags down, furious that she felt so.

“Sorry,” Brenda said. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“Summer break,” Ellen said. “We have today off.”

“I see. Well, I was going to leave a note, but I might as well talk to you in person now.” She flipped the envelope over, studying it as if she had no idea how it appeared in her hands.

Ellen walked into the kitchen. “Problem?”

“Yes and no. This is your last payment. The keys are tucked inside, too. We won’t be coming back here.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Brenda said. She looked at the floor and smiled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be obtuse. You’re not an employer. This has always been such a cryptic arrangement, hasn’t it? I mean that Percy and I broke up. We won’t need your room anymore.”

“Oh,” Ellen said, looking beyond Brenda’s shoulder into their room. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

She shrugged. “It’s for the best.”

Jeannie’s heels clicked softly behind Ellen. She turned. Jeannie waved meekly.

Ellen looked at Brenda. “Do you want to have a drink?”

“Yeah,” she said, “that’s a good idea.”

“Let me use the bathroom.”

Ellen left them alone, and closed the bathroom door. She put the toilet seat down and sat; chin in her hands, she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t introduced Jeannie and Brenda. Her stomach turned over. Why was she nervous? She wasn’t the adulterer. And this was her house, not theirs. She leaned against the toilet tank and sighed, the porcelain chilling her lower back. She knew nothing about Brenda. What had happened here, in this house, her house, over these last six months? To them, to her, she wasn’t even sure what she was considering other than the acidic burn in her stomach. Alone, she sat still for what felt like a very long time. Finally she stood. She flushed the toilet and turned on the faucet, clutching the sink as if she could rip it from the wall. In the mirror, her reflection peered back at her, her blue eyes wide with worry. Of what?

As she opened the bathroom door, she could hear laughter. She followed the noise as if enchanted, leading her into the kitchen, curious, and she watched Jeannie pour what must have been their second martini; on the island was both gin and vermouth. A third glass, without olives, waited for Ellen.

“Oh, hey,” Jeannie said. “You okay?”

“Better now,” Ellen said, picking up her drink.

Jeannie nodded to Brenda. “Ellen started dating again.”

Brenda gave Ellen a genuine, kind smile. “Good for you. That must be so exciting.”

“Yes,” Ellen said. What else had they been talking about? “He’s a nice guy, Daniel. We’ve only been out twice, but still, I think it’ll turn into something.”

“I’m jealous. All that wonderful stuff to look forward to. That’s such a rush.”

“Are you all right? I mean, with Percy.”

“Yes, I suppose.” She looked at Jeannie, who shrugged. Clearly Jeannie had already asked Brenda this. “I wasn’t looking for anything like this, and when it started, I never really expected it to last. That made it better, in some way, because I really loved every moment we had.” She swirled her drink, stared down into the stem. “It was never going to last.”

A thousand questions ran through Ellen’s mind, none of which she felt were appropriate to ask. She wondered if, after this day, these drinks, and the next few minutes of conversation they would have, if she would ever see Brenda again. Crossing her arms, the martini glass resting gently against her elbow, she again looked into the utility room. The drapes drifted away from the window, shifting with the breeze.

“What should I do with the room?” Ellen asked.

“You could rent it out still,” Jeannie said.

“I suppose.” She looked at Brenda. “I think of it as yours. My ex-husband had his things in there. I never really spent anytime in that room.”

Brenda said, “Maybe an office? A game room?”

“Beer pong,” Jeannie winked.

“When I was younger,” Brenda said, “I was great at that game.”

They laughed, and the stories of their college days, their drunken stupidity and reckless happiness, began, each story funnier and bawdier and more absurd. As they spoke, pouring additional martinis, the afternoon turning to evening, Ellen failed to keep her mind in the conversation, stirring a malleable question as if it would finally solidify: what would she do with that room?

 

Daniel put the car in park, but he didn’t turn off the ignition. Ellen slid her hand on top of his.

“Turn off the car,” she said. “Come in.”

They entered through the mud room, Daniel’s hand on her hip. She laced his fingers in hers, and in the doorway to the kitchen, she pulled him close and kissed him. She wrapped her arms around his neck; he pressed his hips against hers. Their feet stumbled together, and Ellen spun from him, around the edge of the doorway, away from the kitchen, and with Daniel still behind her, she found herself facing the utility room. His breath was hot against her neck, his right arm rewrapped tight around her waist. Through the open windows, the streetlights illuminated the untouched room.

“Here?” Daniel said.

What had Nicholas kept in this room? Ellen couldn’t remember. She somehow pictured it as cluttered, filled with boxes and an ugly, crooked desk and a dusty stereo system playing loud rock music. But she found that there was so much missing: when she tried to remember one specific memory of the room, one object, one moment with Nicholas, anything, she found that she could remember nothing at all.

“Ellen?”

“Yes,” she said. “This is my room.” They yanked the bedspread away, and their bodies became urgent: buttons fumbled over, moans and grunts and gasps uttered fast, shoes kicked off with the laces only loosened, belt buckles snapped, and Ellen kept her hands on him, clutched the back of his neck, guiding him down on top of her. She squeezed her eyes shut, and opened them again, staring up into the ceiling. With the windows open the room was so bright, and Ellen focused on a single streetlamp, its light shining on a street beyond her that bended and turned, its destination still to be explored.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Photo Source: You Are A Fly On My Wall

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About Author

Michael Nye's work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Crab Orchard Review, and New South, among others. His debut short story collection, Strategies Against Extinction, is now available. Visit him online at mpnye.com.

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