Lauren Wallach
WITH A KISS

There is a man singing outside my window. How I have always wanted a man to sing to me outside my window. But everyone is too sane to do such a thing. Something about his singing. What is it? Because I had wanted it and it began to happen. Even though this man doesn't know what his singing has become for me, even though he is probably insane. It is an insane sort of singing. He’s a part of this cold February night. He’s giving me a feeling that I know, like someone’s out there for me.

                                                           *

There’s another man outside my window. We met at the Christmas party. He doesn’t know how many hotdogs I’ve just eaten. That all I eat is meat now. (And spinach and when it’s time to drink, some mix of vodka and vegetable juice, or seltzer, or in the style of martini. There is no more wine. Nothing with sugar. I’ve already changed myself, my balance. I’ve already killed off all the yeast. Which means I’m ready.) He also doesn’t know about the cockroaches I occasionally kill. Or how I’ve been masturbating before this thick curtained window. Just now. As the other he was singing. A coincidence. The window faces the street, and a building across where the man I know lives, though at the time, I did not know for certain that he lived there, I only had a feeling. And then one day at the bookstore we discovered the coincidence.

                                                           *

Sometimes I wonder if I liked it better when I was simply feeling I was across from him masturbating. Before I knew for certain that he lived there. When I had only to say I imagined it all. After all, people like it better when they think I imagined it all. Paul liked it better.

                                                           *

At some point Paul said he couldn’t make it to my birthday party. It was Easter, after all. At some point, Thais asked, but what is slow? What is “taking it slow?” We don’t see each other very much, so inevitably it is very slow moving. That isn’t slow, Thais said. Erika’s face was stern and Anna’s was soft, but that’s always their faces. That isn’t slow, no, not slow, it’s nothing, movement that doesn’t move, pretend knowing that doesn’t really know.

                                                           *

I’m having a Birthday Resurrection party in honor of the auspicious timing, including the fact that I just moved the night before. If anyone asked why I moved I say it’s because of my cat. Theodore Valentine had been living with my father for the past two months because the woman I was living with, Linda, had birds, and wasn’t comfortable with a cat. I didn’t blame her. I don’t know why I even asked. I suppose I had wanted to stay. But I knew Theodore Valentine would eat those birds the first chance he got. He’s very fast and elegant. In my new apartment he kills the cockroaches for me. I only find dead cockroaches now. He leaves them at the foot of my bed. I pick them up with paper towels, their antennae sticking out, and carry each one to the bathroom, flush them down the toilet.

                                                           *

Linda keeps her birds in beautiful, ornate cages in her bedroom, at the other end of the apartment. There are a few little ones, and one big one. I never hear them, and have only seen them twice: once from a distance when I peeked into her room, and once when she let the big one out. Her name is Lughnasa—named after the play, Dancing at Lughnasa. Linda is an actress, and this is her favorite play. When I saw Lughnasa out of her cage in the living room, half her feathers were gone, she was mostly just skin with little patches of red and green. What happened to her? I asked Linda. She plucks her feathers out because she’s sexually frustrated, Linda said. I hoped that this was not symbolic. I stared at Lughnasa and Linda as they walked back together to Linda’s room. I was left alone in the living room, and looked out of the three big windows that face the street and the apartment building across. There was a party in one of the windows. I saw beer bottles and fancy sweaters. I don’t drink beer, but I admired the men’s sweaters.

                                                           *

The last night before my move farther out in Brooklyn we kissed in front of my apartment. It felt like a going away present. Or a marking of a certain territory. We were suspiciously living across the street from each other. Still, nobody knows why. (Yes, despite the Tarot, and the signs, and the books lent, and dicussions discussed, and the counter-intuition—and the drinks, all those drinks, and the Olives. Despite—can I call you Olive? Oh but you never eat Olives…Despite it all, nobody knows why we lived across the street from each other. To say there is no reason would be to deny every reason there ever was. I don’t care how you disagree. If you’re a nonbeliever you won’t be looking twice at me.) Only once. His leg between my legs. The kiss was good and the kiss was long, and a man walking by yelled out, get a room! And even this became good and long and the imagined room—it was all very good, and it was all very long. It is still long. Still almost there, in front of that apartment building, like two spirits. But not spirits—the outline of spirits—only an outline, like a painting that was never finished.

                                                           *

The heat from his hand on my back at the bar. Because in one moment he placed his hand on my back to ask if I was OK. Because we were drinking. And he mentioned my father. And I wanted to tell him about our duets. It’s not that I became sad but there was a sadness that was underneath that almost came out. Or did. But it was combined with a certain excitement, so I don’t think it brought him down. He was curious. There was a thrill in the conversation. He placed his hand on my back and it was very warm. There was a circle of heat after he moved his hand away that stayed there.

                                                           *

If I had touched him with more than my mouth. But I didn’t, not that I can remember, for we mostly kept a safe and special distance. Like the distance between two apartment buildings directly across the street from each other. Knock Knock. Once he was there when I opened the door. Once I snuck around and met him on his side, which was also the other side. I surprised him.

                                                           *

In his apartment I tell him that I believe in books because I believe in objects, in energy, in what can be placed inside of things. This is the way it is when you believe a life like this. For two months I knew I lived there with purpose. Across, sullen and mysterious and a bit wild, on edge. And then I moved in the middle of a night, and in the van with the men I hired, I texted Paul to say goodbye. He wrote: fare thee well, adieu, have a nice life! That’s my favorite song, I wrote back. What is? He asked. Those words. Fare thee well. Adieu, Adieu, Adieu. They’re from a song, Tavern In The Town. Ah. Ok, he wrote. I will sing it tonight on Court Street and think of you.

                                                           *

Yes. He would sing it and think of me. Where I would be courted. You see I was haunting Court Street because I was in between worlds. What is that called? To be everyday unfinished. There was a street called Court and I lived there and worked at a bookstore there and lived across the street from a man there, and the walls were a stale green and the cockroaches appeared every once in awhile, and I killed them. One that I couldn’t bare to kill all the way I covered with the small tin garbage can, and there it lived on, if outlines have a life at all. If shells can say anything.

                                                           *

At the bookstore he had said, you’re like a ghost then, when he had first found out about the coincidences. Ghosts stay in one vicinity until they’ve gotten what they came for.

                                                           *

There is a painting I discovered at the bookstore: The Painter’s Daughters With a Cat. One girl drapes her arm around her sister. She sits on a stool or something that makes her higher, and looks like the important one, the wise one. Her sister, slightly below her, looks annoyed and bored. She slouches, and accepts the arm around her shoulders. They have the same eyes, which are wide and come to slightly upturned points, though the sister below, her eyes are not as open, because she is annoyed and tired. She wants it over with. And yet despite this, their gazes cannot be escaped, no matter the disturbed feeling. Perhaps this is why they cannot be escaped. The older sister is to be feared. The younger is to be avoided. The older sister holds in her arms an invisible cat. Only invisible because it was never finished. If you look very closely you can see the wild outline. Its mouth is open. But for the most part you can’t see it. Most people can’t see it. This is my new favorite painting.

                                                           *

A finished scene. Fare thee well. There was one kiss on Court Street. To say, this is what I came for. To be kissed on Court and leave the next night. But this is not what I came for.

                                                           *

I’ve begun to wear a warm, soft black cashmere sweater that I found on the men’s rack in a second hand store. It didn’t smell at all. It felt new, entirely mine, meant for me. It’s the perfect summer sweater. On and off so easy. I’ve worn it every day since I bought it over every sleeveless collared shirt and pink summer dress. Blue. Over everything. And when it’s in between-the weather—I tie the sleeves around my neck, like a cape.

                                                           *

How long will you grow your hair? Forever. Forever!? Yes. Forever. Why? I like that, he said. Forever. He liked that I would grow my hair forever. The forever quality, the indefinite. The never ending. The idea of it. Though, all hair stops at a certain length eventually, like a death. But hair is already dead. So perhaps it’s not like death. It’s like something else.

                                                           *

Our duet.

There is a tavern in the town, in the town. And there my true love sits 'em down, sits 'em down…and drinks his wine mid laughter gay and free, but never, never thinks of me… fare thee well for I must leave thee do not let the parting grieve thee and remember that the best of friends must part, must part. Adieu Adieu kind friends Adieu Adieu Adieu…

                                                           *

But things are different this time. This time, the men, they want me, at least half of me. They think, this time, that I am very pretty. On my first day back to Court Street, after the kiss, and the move away, and the bad birthday party, I’m late to work, in a taxi. The entire ride I watch the clock by his dashboard nervously, and he makes conversation every once in awhile. He asks if I drink coffee and I say yes. When we arrive at the bookstore he says he’ll come back and bring me some. Then he puts out his hand for us to shake hands goodbye. I give him my hand, but he doesn’t shake it. He holds it firmly and pulls it to his mouth to kiss. I say, but now it’s inappropriate, pulling my hand back, but he holds my hand and won’t let go. No he won’t let go. You know you are very pretty then, he says. Oh no, he won’t let go.

                                                           *

This time. I slip out of the taxi and open the gates to the bookstore. It is morning on Court Street. The street is bustling. Men and women are going to work. Children are going to school. Wet hair. Briefcases. Make up isn’t settled in yet on anyone’s faces. Some gaze into the windows longingly or blankly I can’t tell which anymore. I’m opening the locks, thinking about the grip on my hand, pulled closer and closer to his mouth. And later on a thought: will he still bring the coffee?

                                                           *

Once I imagined it all. Twice. And there were other times I know occurred that I can’t now recall. Before the window. Still. On my stomach. My arms crossed into my groin. “The corpse way.” And there, I thought of you. I felt a very deep pleasure. Deep and filled in. A release. And everything I imagined was released. And everything I imagined was filled in.

The exact scenario doesn’t matter. Something perverted, obscene. Something I wouldn't have shared. All very fleeting. If you were alarmed by my surprise. Because I was surprised. I was surprised afterwards. Because then you were there. Well, not really there. But close. Just beyond the insane man, singing.





Lauren Wallach was born and raised in Brooklyn. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and her work has appeared in The Collagist and Joyland.