Holly, Part 3

15 Jun

Holly stepped shyly back from her threshold and held the door for me. She backed into the far corner of the foyer, a closet of a room that showed inconclusive signs of actually having been a closet before some landlord had repurposed her building into a duplex. A short stairway led up to her neighbor’s door, locked. She smiled at me, keeping her back to the wall and maintaining a six-inch void between us. Again, I became unavoidably conscious of how pretty she was. My own face felt uncomfortable on me, and the need to form it into some expression overwhelmed me. Consciously, I smiled, feeling the unavoidable artificiality of it as I did so. It was the smile of a coerced first-grader on picture day. With relief, I saw she wasn’t looking at my face, and I let it go back to doing something it was more used to.

“Hi. Won’t you come in? I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding it.” She stepped backwards into her house, and I followed her.

“No, not at all. It was pretty easy to find. No trouble at all.”

This was not true. I owned a relic cell phone from the early 2000s, and GPS was yet a luxury used mostly by bored dilettantes who wished to know the exact latitude and longitude of their genitals. Mapquest directions lay crumpled in the passenger seat of my car, withered under verbal and physical abuse. Holly lived in an old house in an old neighborhood, one that had fallen into a slow decline rather than abject decrepitude. Antique woodwork crawled up the walls to high ceilings. Her living space was small and crammed with the sort of attractive clutter that makes a place seem cozy rather than infested. An old-fashioned kitchen abutted her living room, which also seemed to serve as an office, and a short hallway parallel to the living room led to a bathroom, bedroom and closet. Exposed pipes rattled. I thought about my own basement corner (a personal detail I had chosen not yet to share with Holly). Her place seemed better.

I dropped my laptop bag on the corner of her coffee table. Holly disappeared into the kitchen, walking with a soft, inflexible step, stringing inches of empty space together between us. With no sense of what else to do, I talked. She cut me off with the sound of tap water filling a teapot, and she began to make the gestures of a hostess. She asked me questions.

According to the internet, people lie in conversation about every three minutes. Yes, I’d love some tea. No, these ginger snaps aren’t stale. Yes, I feel perfectly comfortable. Perfectly.

Holly held a mug of tea between her hands, standing at the opposite end of her couch from me, not sitting. I sat and pulled the coffee table toward me, unzipping my laptop bag. I’d brought it so I could demonstrate my cosmopolitan worldliness by showing her a few episodes of Black Books, a BBC sitcom about a horrible Irish bastard who owns a bookshop in London. For some reason, this seemed to me to be a good idea.

As I removed my laptop and set it up, I chattered idly, unnecessarily explaining the premise of the show and ruining a few of its early jokes. She listened, smiling at me with polite blankness. The power cord had unraveled itself in the bag’s front pocket, and I yanked it out. As it came, the plug tip hooked on something at the bottom of the pocket, pulling it out along with itself. 

An unopened condom flew out of the bag, moving slowly in a gentle, overcranked arc to come to rest in an empty spot of carpet precisely equidistant between us. Helpless, I watched it fall, much in the way that someone across a room watches a fragile vase tip off a mantel. I felt slightly queasy and turned my eyes up into her unreadable face. Inscrutable, not looking at the floor, she looked back at me.

I batted a pillow off the couch so that it landed on the floor to cover the condom. “Whoops,” I said.

“Excuse me for a minute,” Holly said, although not necessarily as a reply. She moved off to the bathroom, closing the door after her.


Leave a Reply