Polly 3

15 Nov

So, I’m told that the earlier story happened first, temporally as well as narratively. Also I’m told that during the hours Rachel mentioned earlier, sometime between the ending of Harry Potter and the emphatically chaste and robotic hug we shared when she left, I tried and failed to persuade her into conjunctive nude aerobics with me. She refused, giving me a medium-length, gently-broken speech that amounted to “I know better than that.” That sounds about right.

Summer passed. It was hot. My room had the sort of insulation that intensifies heat, creating the sort of oppressive humidity you find in the attics of old houses. Along with her candle, Polly had given me a tall stalk of bamboo set in a small, blue ceramic pot filled with rocks. All I had to do to take care of it was keep the pot mostly full of water (the water turned out to be fortunate, as probably lapping at it kept Blackula alive during the weekend I went away, accidentally leaving her closed in her my room with nothing to do but think long and carefully about which of my clothes she’d target with deliberate and resentful hate-shits. Still, those are world famous for being less trouble to deal with than a dead cat), and to this day it remains the only plant I’ve cared for not to suffer negligent herbicide.

Once, I killed a roommate’s marigolds.

My bamboo, however, stayed alive. With water and with the heat, it grew. The heat also kept the wax of Polly’s candle soft, its scent fluid and easily discernible even while I kept it covered. When she’d made it, she’d poured the candle into a sort of copper dish with a stone or ceramic design on top, and she’d set the wick in the center. I rarely burned it because when I did, I’d think about Polly, which made me enormously horny and very, very sad.

She hadn’t visited much over the summer. For my birthday, she’d come to visit and spent a long evening, but she rebuffed my other attempts to see her. She selectively ignored me with such effectiveness that, not for the first or last time, I became convinced she no longer wanted me. Even so, I craved her attention in the same way a dialytic ex-lush wants a vodka tonic.

One day, a few weeks in to October, we were chatting online while her husband sat next to her, playing something explosiony on their Xbox. We rarely spoke in the vocal sense of the word. It remains true that, while it’s bad form to ignore, for hours on end, your romantic partner and anyone else who happens to be in the room in order to spend phone time with your presumable ex, this same behavior gains superficial acceptability if only you have the good taste to use a laptop as the medium of neglect. The latter holds especially true if your partner likewise distracts himself with gadgets. She asked me in passing what I planned to be for Halloween. I hadn’t thought about it.

“Me, five years ago,” I said. It’s a convenient costume, although it does have a drawback in that no one can tell I’m dressed up when I’m wearing it. I don’t often let go of things, and most of my clothes are ten years old anyway. “What are you going as?”

“Little Red Riding Hood. You should come out with me,” she typed. “I have a school thing that I have to go to earlier in the evening, but we could go out later.” The words “school thing” could mean almost anything. She taught at a variety of institutions, her daughter was enrolled at the local elementary, and her husband worked at a nearby university. None of it mattered to me. It had been months since she last suggested we see each other.

Of course I said yes.

We talked. The air felt thick and stagnant for October. I owned a fan. It pushed around the humidity and indoor smells while failing to cool anything. My mouth went dry. I sucked on an ice cube, and briefly I lit her candle. Almost immediately I lidded it and opened my window, aiming the fan toward the screen. The white noise made it harder to hear the neighbors on our right fling vile and lazy curses at each other from porch to porch.

On Halloween, Polly came out her front door to meet me, as she usually did when her husband was home. Her short hair had been dyed red, and she wore small star stickers at the corner of one eye. She’d traded the Riding Hood costume for dark, tight jeans and a thin, glam polyester shirt, the type that’s mostly green but shifts colors like an oil slick when it moves. She pulled it tight over her torso, hugging it to her slim body and the slight curve of her breasts. “Hi.” She smiled. “Can you see through this?”

I looked and then looked away. Daily during the previous week, she’d made it explicitly and implicitly clear she wouldn’t touch me anywhere I wanted to be touched, and I didn’t at that specific moment feel like tormenting myself. “No,” I said.

She looked confused, pouted, and pulled the shirt tighter. “Really?”

I looked again, irritated and hiding it badly. “Really, no.”

Later that evening, I’d learn what I was supposed to notice. She’d worn pasties.


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