(Perchance, another potable portion from a chapter of A Republic of Books, the ‘novel in progress’ to be found elsewhere on this site.)

 

When I arrived at 5th Street she answered the door with a deeply caught breath, as if she’s been furiously cleaning things up and I had arrived ten minutes too early. Or maybe she had ridden too fast on her bike. She immediately moved toward me to leave, pulling the door shut behind, but I didn’t budge, which got her plenty close for a moment. I could smell her sweat.

“There’s nothing to see, really.”

“Sure, I’d love to.”

She sighed and backed up.

I already knew from conversation that her apartment was more than twice the size of my place, at less than half the cost. I saw right off now that she likes blues and whites, and a splash of orange—like the orange of an apricot. The blues and whites remind me of a bed-and-breakfast where Margret and I once stayed in Holland. I remember that the bed was hard there.

I discovered several other things immediately, besides the fact that Deirdre had a Grey parrot in an enormous cage by the window.

“He only says one word,” she says, “I think he was too old by the time I got him at the shelter.”

Deirdre likes bric-a-brac. She has collected hundreds of odd objects from the places she’s visited on vacation over the years; mostly small stones and obviously kitschy figurines.

And I see too that she doesn’t keep the romance novels she buys from me. Or else she’s thrown them out recently. Beside the bric-a-brac, the bookshelves were relatively empty. Mostly she has a few classics and a few dozen more recent hardcovers that I figured might be Christmas gifts. Those looked like they were never read. All except two of them, which were mine. Those two were out on a coffee table where I would spot them right off, so maybe she had expected me to want to come in after all. But I had hoped they might be in her bedroom, maybe on the bedside table. But the bedroom door was shut.

I made what I thought was an obvious snarky remark concerning the lack of books in the place for a lit major.

“I thought you said you were a Lit major, for Christ sake.”

The Grey said, “Nuts.”

Deirdre says, “You have a good memory, for your age. Yes. Well, I just don’t keep a lot of books. They’re heavy. And it seemed like I used to move every couple of years.”

“You told me you haven’t moved in twenty years. You buy paperbacks!”

“Right. Well, when I do it the next time, I won’t have to worry about all that weight again, will I? I throw them away.”

And the Grey said, “Nuts.”

She has a television—what they more appropriately call a ‘monitor’ now—and this is enormous. I couldn’t guess the size, really. But it looked too thin to hold anything, much less a two dimensional image. She saw me assessing the thing from one side.

“Yes. I watch a lot of television. A lot of movies. And I know you don’t even have one. I noticed that when I was at your place as well . . . And I don’t know why you’re even here.”

I said the first thing that came to mind. I was trying to be witty.

“I do have one. I keep it under the desk where it can’t beg for attention. But I’m trying to broaden my horizons.”

“That’s very open-minded of you.”

“Sorry.”

She did that backward weave she does, and she says, “We are not alike, you and I. And I have no idea why this is happening. Probably some sort of desperation. You know, women of a certain age, and all that. Truth is, I’m a little disappointed in myself. I thought I was more self-sufficient.”

All I could do was admit the fact. “That’s two of us. Nature is perverse.”

“Are you saying this is perverse?”

“Yes. Haven’t you ever wanted to be perverse?”

“In the middle of the day?”

“Well, that’s a fine time. But I don’t think we should take advantage of that just yet. I only wanted to take a walk . . . And talk.”

And the Grey said “Nuts.”