Rachel Gerry (University of Toronto, Canada)
She opens the door and Seymour is stunned. She looks nothing like she is supposed to. She is far too tall. Her greyish hair is short and curly; it springs from her skull like a frizzy horizon. A Shih Tsu jumps up and down, scratching Seymour at the knees. He offers his hand.
It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.
She swipes her hand across her apron before taking his, smiling to reveal a set of yellowed teeth.
You as well.
He enters into her apartment cautiously. There is something Gothic about it, grotesque even. The place reeks of mixed foods on cotton. Stuff everywhere. Seymour toys with the idea of turning around and walking out the door.
Seymour is not a loveable man. Long ago he came to terms with the fact of singularity. At times he wonders if he really is composed of two people, a mother and a father. Whatever magnetism passes between individuals, whatever circuitry that allows them to connect, Seymour is missing those components.
He sits down at the kitchen table. The woman serves fired aubergine sticks with sumac and honey, burrata pea gazpacho and vignarola salad. For dessert, strawberry cheesecake.
It looks wonderful, he says. He means that.
He asks her about herself.
My family is from middle places, she says. Farms. Places where everything is spread out.
I like the country, Seymour says politely.
She swirls her spoon around the homemade gazpacho.
As the evening tears on, Seymour begins to enjoy himself. He tells her about his sister.
She went right off the map. Dropped contact with everyone, all the family. Next thing we know she’s mailing apologies from a rehabilitation facility in upstate New York. He spoons the remnants off his plate.
After dinner, she clears the table, leaving Seymour on the couch to admire the weather-caked windows and piles of books. The light is dim and dusky, like Jamaican sunsets. She walks back into the room, heavy steps knocking against floorboards and Seymour glances up at her small black eyes. He feels that beneath her overcoat of flakey skin, there might be someone real. He feels grateful to her for an evening of conversation, only now realizing the burden of his loneliness. He guesses that she hasn’t been with many men.
Let’s watch a film, she says, reaching inside a drawer and pulling out a VHS. Seymour nods. He feels somehow at home in this woman’s junky living room, her piles of stuff now comforting landmarks.
Phoebe! She is summoning the dog.
She picks it up and places it on its back between Seymour and herself. Seymour stares at the pink of its inner leg. The film is a romantic comedy. Nothing special. He is more aware of the dog and the occasional touch of the woman’s shoulder than the plot. Midway through the film, he places his hand on top of hers, and she allows it to rest. Both of them stare at the screen. Seymour can feel his heartbeat.
A favourite of mine, she says at the end.
I really enjoyed it.
He leans towards the window, allowing his breath to fog the dirty glass. The night is all wound down. It’s dark out, he says. Cloudy. His shirt brushes against a tea light perched precariously atop a stack of phonebooks and fizzles slightly. The edge of it catches, releasing a strong burnt-plastic type smell. She grabs a glass of water from the table and dumps it on his front-side, soaking his lower half. The cold slap is unexpected.
Quite alright! says Seymour.
I can’t let you leave the house like that.
She takes him by the arm and drags him across a thin hallway towards the bedroom. He stands behind her as she flips through drawers searching for a large t-shirt. Her bed is pink and silken. The floor is exposed, a neat white tile. It is the only room in the apartment that is not oversaturated with objects. A gust of desire surges through Seymour as he watches her sway. He knows that he doesn’t want to leave. He slips off his loafers, unbuttons his stiff, waterlogged shirt and places it neatly on the edge of the bed. He mobilizes, inching forward to meet her, to stroke her wiry hair. In unspoken agreement, they remove their garments.
She is nervous. She doesn’t want to be naked in front of the dog.
Seymour lies down on her bouquet of dusty rose pillows; he is pale and wrinkled. She undoes her girdle. Close up, her face is porous. In bed her largeness is overcoming; she covers his mouth and nose with her massive hand and he struggles for breath, deflating into nothing under the pressure of her surety. She is ethereal. Too good for this world.
Later, she snores. Seymour listens to the sounds of traffic seeping through an open window. A streetcar rolls past every few minutes. There was a time when he lived in an apartment not so different from this one, and he can almost feel it, that old apartment, where he was kept awake through the night by hollers streaming out from the bar across the street. He turns onto his stomach and presses his head against a pillow, which reeks of whatever chemicals are responsible for the energetic upturn of her hair. Her shoulder is bare and wonderful; better to look at; best to leave untouched. All night he has been quick to belong.
The dog jumps onto the bed, moaning lightly before licking the blanket and nestling itself on Seymour’s feet.
Rachel Gerry is a Toronto-based writer. She recently completed her Masters in English at the University of Toronto and looks forward to pursuing a career in writing and journalism. You can find her essays and reviews online at Novella Magazine.