He paced along the edge of the terrace, his fists stuffed into his leather jacket, fingertips biting into his cold palms. Cars zoomed on the highway below, slick with rain. Trees lining the roads, laden with dark rain, drooped towards each other. Skeletal coconut fronds bristled against the building like fingers of a sea-monster. The sky was a pale aching wound – blood smeared by rain, glowing ominously, pulsating with an ugly premonition, writhing like his guts. He couldn’t remember a night colder.
What would she be up to now? In her bed, applying scarlet nail polish to her wilted toenails? Ironing out imaginary wrinkles on the floral bedsheet with her wrinkled palm? Looking at old photographs from a distance, bleary blues and reds, and recalling such unsettling details as the shape of a wisp of cloud that drifted apart from others before disappearing in the sky that summer afternoon above the beach, the shrill cry of a heavy bird falling outward into the sky, the foreign tautness of her skin, her eyelashes ablaze in sun? She would then follow the circles on the carpet hemmed in by smaller hexagons into the barely visible slivers of bright red interstices. Her eyes, eager and watery, would pan from light to darkness and back.
What did he not know about her? She spoke her thoughts as they came to her, flimsy and effervescent, lest, perhaps, they congeal into real, tangible thoughts that she couldn’t speak. At first, he was thankful because she wasn’t like other women who hired men like him, for whom he was a precious man-candy. In fact, it had been her husband, or someone who should’ve been her husband but no longer was, who’d hired him. Although he couldn’t recognize the man, soft featured and donning his sunglasses in his dingy study, he could tell that he was a man of silent power. He was entrusted with the task of pleasing her, of easing her to the fringes of her life.
“She’s a woman of fine taste”
He had met her in her apartment more than a year ago. She sat on the edge of her bed, which he’d soon learn to be her ritual, dreamy-eyed and afloat. He cooked her pasta and poured Cabernet Sauvignon. He lifted her heavy tabby cat from the bedroom to the living room to the bathroom. He waited outside the shower with the cat. She kept the glass door open. Her knees were weak and sometimes she collapsed. He’d fear her death. It had surprised him first – that he could be afraid of her death, that he could be panic stricken, that he could laugh about it the day after, fondly, wryly, while patting the purring cat by her bedside while she read a novel without actually reading it. He slept on a sofa by her bed. One day, he’d walked out of the apartment, to collect his phone which he’d deposited at the entrance, many days ago, only to be pinned to the ground by the security guard.
“I just want to make a call”
“It isn’t time yet.”
“What do you mean?”
He knew what they meant. The contract couldn’t have been clearer. Thirteen months and thirteen nights. He’d have to be by her side. No contact to the outside world. And an offer he just couldn’t decline.
“And what then?”
“Then your services will no longer be necessary.” The burly man, possibly her husband, had retreated into darkness.
He didn’t know her name. He didn’t know who she was or what he was supposed to do. She rarely spoke about herself in her old parched journals. He had discovered those in her closet. She had a neat, heady handwriting with generous curlicues. Chiefly, she wrote about a man named Carlos, ‘a young, tanned man with a stubble that prickled her shoulders and eyes that melted her bones’. Carlos bought me a Proust. Carlos stabbed a man with a stone. Carlos was ‘a steam engine over me’. She wrote with fleeting specificity, drifting soon enough into a whimsical landscape of clouds and sun and sand.
A whistle tore through the rain. Black hooded figure of a security-guard approached towards him. He ran towards the door. The guard shouted something at him. He climbed down the stairs. He lingered outside her bedroom door for a while. Water dropped from his fingers onto the carpet. Years from now, he’d wonder if he imagined it, a voice, her voice, ‘Carlos’
A man shoved a fat envelope in his hands and pulled him out of the building into the rain. Water seeped hungrily into the bundle of notes. He squeezed it deep into his pockets. When he turned around, the man had slammed the door shut. He couldn’t remember a night colder. It had been thirteen months and thirteen nights and he wished they hadn’t counted those right.