We’ve skipped over again and are passing the last of a shitty joint back and forth in a studio apartment I haven’t lived in for years, in a town that no longer resembles my memories. It’s a one room cottage twenty feet from a major railroad. Its moldy walls are thinly webbed with ancient cracks and seem to breathe due to the sharp angle of the floor. Pipes with shoddy wiring in them encircle the room and run to a 30 year old furnace that hasn’t worked in ten.
The passing freighter is a respite from conversation. Neither of us is sure of how to proceed without being more obviously phony than is desirable. So I recline on my bed and he perches on a chaise comprised of dirty laundry and books. We pass our Bammer Brown Pinner to the music of rumbling earth and rattling walls. A stick of nag champa drops a long ash as the end of the train passes.
“Want a beer?” Not waiting for an answer, I reach for the fridge. This involves climbing over and around both the clutter and my guest, a feat that looks complicated but that I accomplish with a practiced, off balance grace. I feel his eyes track me as I navigate the chaos; they slither across my skin and leave a trail of goose bumps. Distracted for a moment, I almost slip on a sock I thought I’d lost. I grab two bottles from the fridge and a slice of cold pizza for myself.
“You sure they aren’t broken? I think your hut slid a few feet.”
“You get used to it. It’s like being rocked to sleep. The speakers on my TV are shot though.”
I hand off the beer and we settle back into our respective positions. There seems to be less space than before, and I am aware of my con-man’s proximity. He radiates an easy heat that seems always just out of reach. And I am so very cold. I inch closer under the guise of searching for a lost bit of cheese.
Sensing my ploy, he retakes the lead. “How’s the pizza?”
“Shitty. Or else I’d offer.”
“A hospitable one, aren’t you?” Finally, he’s fishing again. I thought I’d lost him.
See and raise. “When it suits me.”
He pretends to consider this flip remark and its implications for a moment. “Would it suit you to offer a stranger a place to lay his head for the night?” It would seem he’s finally settled on a course of action.
I, however, have not. “I might be convinced of it.”
He recognizes my indecision but mistakes it for naive invitation. “And how could I convince you?” Unknowingly showing his own uncertainty, he leans forward the smallest amount, to remind me of his warmth. He is so precise in his carelessness. I wonder if he can dance.
Sipping my beer, I ponder the question for a moment and then forget it, letting my mind go blank. I swallow slowly, wipe my mouth, and say the very next thing that pops into my head. “Tell me a story.” My voice is low and round; a quiet cat prowling for quieter prey.