Winter in Paris can be miserable, and after four days of omnipresent rain, Carson is feeling miserable herself. A relentless, inescapable shiver scampers under her skin like a rodent. The heating in the flat is, at best, completely useless, and being at the top of the building, the flat’s roof leaks — across the floors Carson has placed pots and bowls in the approximate spots to catch the persistent drips. And the electricity of the flat is as fickle as the affections of a young girl, leaving Carson in the nights she has insomnia drifting from each room with a flickering candle on a saucer like a haunted 19th century heroine.
Why did she leave New York for this cold, dripping paradise? For peace and quiet, for one. Mostly. To write, of course, because the arduous composition of literature is dependent on location. And finally, the real reason she has come to Paris has been, you guessed it — a man. Her on-again, off-again husband, Reeves McCullers pleaded with her to come — though injured in the war, he has fond memories of his time in Europe, and is trying to get a job at the newly established UNESCO. How could Carson have said no?
It is January 1947. Carson is 29 years old and often infirm. Before the war, her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, was published to her long expected acclaim. Preceding her trip to France, the novel was translated into French, so that upon her arrival she was greeted in a whole new celebration of her esteem. The French literati greeted Carson’s arrival like that of an allied general, and she met Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, but Carson’s lack of understanding of the French language limited their interactions.
Carson is lonely. She sits crumpled on the couch with her legs folded beneath her, almost every inch of her body covered by a tightly wrapped knitted blanket. A pen is gripped in her hands, she is writing, leaving paths of language strewn about pages like the darting, curving flights of swallows. Stolid white light comes in through the windows and rain patters at the roof. At a quarter to three, she hears wet footsteps coming up the stairs and the front door unlocks. Reeves comes in, casting his umbrella to the corner behind the door like a spent cigarette.
“Hello, honey.” He’s dripping from the rain, but smiling.
“Hi,” she murmurs, a grin overtaking her. She is glad to see him after a long day of solitude. Reeves carries today’s mail in his hands. “Anything good?” she asks.
“Nothing from UNESCO?”
“Well,” she says, her masterful language skills coming up empty in her mouth.
Reeves pulls off his coat and squeezes it over the sink, a habit he has established since the torrents of rain began that makes no sense to Carson but that she hasn’t asked him about.
“I met a swell American couple today,” Reeves says. “I invited them to dinner.”
“What?” asked Carson.
“C’mon, we haven’t entertained in ages.”
“I don’t know…I was thinking of a quiet night in.”
“Every night is a quiet night in, sweetheart.”
“It’s been raining like the Flood.”
“Look,” Reeves says. “It will be a quiet night in, sweetheart. There are only two of them. And they’re really very fun.”
“How did you meet them?”
“At a café.” Reeves chuckles. “I heard someone mention the Dodgers amidst all the French.”
Reeves has been having such a hard time finding work.
“Alright,” Carson relents. She begins to ponder what she’s going to cook.
Since before Lula Carson Smith was born, she was destined to be a world-famous genius. This was first discovered when her mother, Marguerite, visited a psychic when she was pregnant with Carson, who assured her, with the utmost certainty, that her first born child was bound for greatness. This prophecy was proclaimed by Marguerite far and wide across their southern town of Columbus, Georgia, and her conviction did not waver when the genius was born a girl.
It would take some time for this prophecy to bear fruit. Carson did not display her unlimited potential until one night when she was eight years old, returning from a night at the pictures to play the film’s score upon the parlor piano without training. Marguerite immediately recognized that Carson was a brilliant musical genius, and the next day signed Carson up for piano lessons with the local teacher. It soon proved that Carson’s musical inclinations were insatiable.
Carson practiced the piano for hours before and after school. Her talent was the brilliant light of the family, which like most families, rarely admitted its mundanity, but was all too aware of it. While Carson was not the most outgoing child, she was showered with affections her younger siblings would never receive. When Carson, lost in thought, as she often was, was interrupted by her curious mother, who asked what she was doing, Carson replied, “Thinking. Thinking’s fun too, mama.”
It wasn’t until Carson was thirteen and her mother found her a more talented piano teacher, Mrs. Taylor, that Carson truly bloomed. In addition, she quickly befriended her new teacher’s daughter Dani, who was about Carson’s age, an only child, and who hated playing the piano.
In a few months, the two of them were confidantes, and they would maneuver their bicycles around town or spend time at the equestrian club near Mrs. Taylor’s house, riding horses. Carson loved riding, despite her frail constitution.
But, despite all this, her musical life, her friendship with Dani, her doting mother, there was one thing Carson loved beyond all things, and that was the fantasies of her imagination. She cultivated this art, translated it into words, and performed these stories and plays for her family. Carson the writer slowly developed, mysteriously, but with the utmost certainty.
And one day, her father, Lamar Smith, patriarch of the genius’s loving, masterpiece-inspiring family, brought home a mysterious package.
“Carson!” He called from the bottom of the stairs.
She unwrapped it. It was a typewriter.
After increasingly fruitless glances into the icebox, Carson asks Reeves to go to the market, which he does with a big smile, taking his coat off the hook, retrieving his umbrella from the puddle behind the door, and telling her he loves her before he leaves. Why did she agree to this?
Since their arrival in Paris, Carson has impressed a few European guests, and a few America ones dreaming of tastes of home, with her cooking. Pork chops, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, pecan pie — Carson is a master of the recipes that matter. She decides on chicken-fried steak and fried potatoes. No American can refuse fried food.
She chops the potatoes and starts soaking them in a pot of water to remove the starch. Reeves returns when she is chopping the parsley.
“I’ve got everything you asked for, my beautiful angel,” he calls while coming through the door. He settles two grocery bags on the kitchen table. “Because that’s just the kind of guy I am…”
Carson smiles but says nothing, pretending to be intent on her work as she is still annoyed with him for making her do this. Reeves takes off his coat and squeezes it over the sink.
“Boy,” he says, “It’s not just raining cats and dogs out there, it’s raining giraffes and elephants.” Reeves approaches Carson from the back and wraps his arms around her shoulders, kissing the nape of her neck. “Thank you for doing this.”
She says nothing.
“Are you mad at me?”
“But you’re doing all this anyway?”
“Of course I am.”
Reeves kisses her neck again. “I love you, Lula.”
“Now scram,” she says, laughing, his kisses have tickled her, “I have a lot of work to do.”
At half past seven, they’ve had a few drinks, Count Basie is spinning on the gramophone, and there’s a knock on the door. Reeves jumps from his seat. “They’re here!” he exclaims.
Carson is finishing up in the kitchen. She hears Reeves swing open the door.
“Hello Reeves!” says a deep, cultured male voice.
“Hi Reeves,” follows, in a sliding female voice.
Carson peeks out of the kitchen. The Americans both have cheery, flushed cheeks, with a thin glaze of rain on their faces, and both are smartly dressed. Reeves takes their coats and each thank him. The man is tall, blond, dressed in the wool suit of a business man. But the woman has long, dark curly hair and is wearing a strapped red frock that leaves her brown shoulders and arms bare. She is beautiful.
“Sweetheart!” Reeves calls. “Come meet my friends!”
Carson wipes her hands, takes off her apron, and comes out of the kitchen. “Hello!” she says, feeling buoyancy and pretending to feel it at the same time.
“This is Charlie and Martha,” Reeves tells Carson. “Charlie, Martha — this is my wife, Carson McCullers.”
Carson shakes Charlie’s hand daintily. He squeezes too hard but he has a well-worn, honest smile. When she turns to Martha, she realizes she hadn’t realized from the kitchen how beautiful this woman is. Martha’s intricate, mahogany curls are a soft arabesque beckoning only the most tender touch, and her dark eyes rivet with compassion and creativity. She is Carson’s height; and Carson is short, so they stand looking as directly into each other’s eyes as geometry can allow. They shake hands gently. “I’m awfully pleased to meet you,” Carson swoons.
“Well, we’ve heard so much about you already,” says Charlie, as Carson recovers from Martha’s eyes.
“Yes,” says Martha. Her Yonkers accent is musical. “Reeves bragged about you!”
Carson laughs, but nervously. Normally she would take such fawning as deserved — but in front of Martha she loses her confidence. “Well,” she says, “I’m just me!”
“C’mon, you two,” says Reeves. “Drinks?”
“Gin and tonic for me,” says Charlie, flopping royally onto the sofa.
“Same for me,” chimes Martha, sitting beside him.
Carson listens from the kitchen as she makes her last minute preparations.
“Such dreadful weather,” Charles complains. “I’d rather have snow.”
“I’m damp as a duck!” Martha adds.
“Well,” says Reeves, knocking liquor bottles and glasses together, “This weather certainly takes getting used to. And I haven’t been working, so all I have to do is get used to it.”
“It must be amazing being married to such a great artist,” Martha observes.
“Of course,” Reeves says.
Carson sighs as she finishes stirring the gravy. She knows Reeves hates just being known as “the husband of Carson McCullers.” She dips her head into the other room. “Wash your hands everybody. Dinner is ready.”
“Great!” exclaims Charlie. “I’m famished. What are we having?”
“Chicken fried steak!”
“An American meal! Bless your hearts,” Martha says. “Charlie is sick of crepes and creams.”
“I’m a meat and potatoes guy,” Charlie says, affectionately jabbing Martha with his elbow.
“Well this is an old family recipe,” says Carson. “So I hope you enjoy it. Plenty of meat and potatoes.”
They assemble at the table and pass around the food. “Dig in, everyone,” Carson says brightly.
“This is delicious,” says Charlie. “One hundred percent U.S.A.”
“Yes,” agrees Martha. “It’s a godsend.”
“Thank you,” smiles Carson, her eyes lingering on Martha.
“It must be amazing to be a world-renown writer,” Martha says. “I bet you know all sorts of famous people.”
“Oh,” replies Carson. “I guess. “I don’t know any movie stars or presidents.” She laughs.
“Do you know any other famous writers?” Martha presses.
“Well, I’m good friends with Tennessee Williams.”
“The playwright?” asks Charlie. “My goodness. Not to my taste.”
“He helped me with the play I’m writing.”
“That’s amazing,” says Martha. She smiles at Carson.
Is there something between them?
“Oh honey,” says Reeves, lighting another cigarette, “Tell them your Hemingway story. They’ll love it.”
“I don’t know,” says Carson. “It’s a bit salty…”
“C’mon, it will be great, sweetheart,” Reeves urges.
“Well,” says Carson, laying down her fork and knife. The rest of the table stops eating, silences, rapt. “I was in New York last year to see my editor. Afterwards we went out to eat at a swank restaurant. We saw Hemingway at another table. My editor asked if I wanted to meet him. I wasn’t so sure, but my editor, Frank, pulled me over there. Hemingway commented that he had read my book and invited us to sit down. We dined and had a lot to drink. Frank excused himself to go home to his long-suffering wife, but Ernest and I continued drinking. When it was closing time, we went out looking for another bar, but I began to suspect he really wanted take me to his hotel. It was raining like crazy. He was stumbling-over drunk and kept stopping and putting his arms around my shoulders. But what was I supposed to do? The man is Hemingway.”
The table laughed.
“But fate intervened,” Carson continued. “He tripped and stumbled, landing on his knee in a gutter puddle with a shout. I tried to help him up, stumbling-down drunk myself.”
Carson rises to her feet and braces her hands on the table, directly addressing her audience. “He shook me off, his face red with anger.” Carson imitates Hemingway’s male — ‘I don’t need your goddamn help, McCullers! And I didn’t read your goddamn book. I don’t read goddamn girly nonsense.’”
Carson returns to her own voice. “I told the bastard, ‘at least my novels aren’t juvenile exercises in cock measuring.’” Carson sits back down, looking them all in the eyes one by one. “I hailed a cab and left Hemingway in the street.”
Martha gives a hoot, laughing, but Carson can tell Charlie is embarrassed he enjoyed the story. She looks at Reeves, who smiles back at her. He knows she tells the story the same way every time.
Carson was not popular in high school. In fact, it might fill you with astonished amazement to know that most of the other students considered Carson downright peculiar. She dressed in longer skirts and sometimes even trousers, wore her father’s shirts, and always chose earth tones over the vibrant colors of the other girls. Beyond that… she wasn’t quite there. The other students didn’t know that Carson practiced the piano for three hours before school and three hours afterward, leaving her ill-suited for exciting social engagements — not that the other students would have cared. Carson was just being herself. What choice did she have?
She still had Dani, and the girls continued their friendship despite Carson’s piano key-hammering schedule. They still rode horses, discussed boys and the secrets of life, and Dani would take roles in the plays Carson wrote to be performed by herself and her siblings. Carson edged on adulthood.
One day after school, the girls lounged around Mrs. Taylor’s back porch, drinking sweet tea and giggling.
“So…” asked Dani. “Who would be your husband — Bach or Beethoven?”
Carson laughed. “Beethoven of course. A man of great passion.”
“Noooo,” argued Dani. “Too serious. Brooding. Bach is playful. Beautiful. Airy.”
“Uh-uh,” protested Carson. “Too religious. I need a husband who’s a heretic.”
They laughed together. Carson felt a warmth in her belly. Sometimes, she thought about kissing Dani. She wondered what that would be like. She had never kissed anyone, not anyone at all. But — Dani was a girl.
A bee buzzed in from Mrs. Taylor’s rose garden and circled around Dani. She swatted at it. “Shoo, bee!”
Without thinking, Carson stood and clapped her hands at the bee, killing it between her palms in an insect mush.
“Jee-Zus,” cried Dani. “Why are you so weird, Lula?”
Carson wiped the dead bee on her trousers. It was sticky. She was going to have to wash her hands. “Bee stings hurt,” she explained.
“I know that! But you didn’t have to kill it…”
“I was trying to protect you,” Carson said, sitting back down, dejected.
“Well, if you’re willing to commit murder for me, how about doing my math homework?”
Carson chuckled but did not reply. She knew in that moment that she was in love with her friend.
Carson’s Hemingway story is very funny. But it’s not true. All her life, Lula Carson Smith has been known to fib, or stretch the truth; ‘decorate the story’, as she might say. Carson doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it, they’re just stories. She did have dinner with Hemingway, but after they left the restaurant, he just urinated in an alley and hailed a cab, leaving her without ceremony. It hadn’t even been raining that night.
“Well,” says Martha, “I read your book and loved it.”
“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?”
“Yes. Loved it.” Martha smiles, her eyes sparkling. “I was quite taken with the character of Mick and her dreams of music… You know, I attended Juilliard briefly to study violin.”
“I went to Juilliard too!” Carson replies, “But I didn’t last long…”
“Why not?” Martha asks, as the two men listen.
“I contracted rheumatic fever. Well, I put myself in a position to get sick, really. It was a whole big dumb thing.”
“I didn’t last very long either,” Martha tells her.
“Oh…” says Martha, forcing a smile at Charlie. “Life got in the way, I suppose.”
“I love music but it doesn’t allow me to express myself how I want,” Carson explains. “Writing allows me to do whatever I want. On the page.”
“Well,” Reeves interrupts, “The record is over and so is dinner. Let’s retire to the other room for drinks and smokes, shall we?”
The four of them leave their dishes at the table but take their empty glasses with them. Reeves knocks around the liquor bottles again as he refills everyone’s drinks. “Put something on, sweetheart,” he tells Carson. “Not the damn Andrews Sisters.”
Carson snickers. “Ok,” she says.
Talk turns to the future now that the war has been won. While the French people are pessimistic despite the vanquishing of the Axis, Americans are giddy with optimism.
“Although,” says Charlie, “We’re going to have to do something about the Russians eventually.”
“If they’re anywhere near as brutal as their literature, it won’t easy,” muses Carson.
Reeves laughs. “Unhappy communists are each unhappy in their own way!”
“Well,” Martha points out, “Don’t you think the world has had enough war for a while?”
Reeves and Charlie shake their heads in unison. Both are veterans. “The world will never tire of war,” Reeves observes. “It just gets temporarily exhausted with it.”
“Darn it, that’s enough war talk,” says Martha. “Who wants to dance with me?” She stands and sways the hem of her dress.
The men shake their heads. “You know I don’t dance, dear,” says Charles, smiling knowingly.
Martha grimaces. “Reeves?”
Reeves eyes Carson. “I think I’m too drunk to stand,” he laughs.
“Oh, poo!” Martha exhales. She turns towards Carson. “How about you, Carson?”
Carson blushes. “Me?”
Martha smiles. “Sure. I’ll lead. Charles — put on the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
By the Andrews Sisters. Carson stands, feeling tipsy. Her face is hot and her feet have their own opinions. But Martha’s beaming smile draws her across the room. Carson isn’t sure what to do — Reeves isn’t much of a dancer, either — but Martha takes her hands and pulls her close until their hips touch. The boys laugh. Martha puts her hand on Carson’s waist. Carson laughs and puts hers on Martha’s shoulders. The men laugh again, not knowing they’re anxious inside. Charles drops the needle on the record.
As soon as the drums come on Martha starts swinging Carson around the room, knocking a drink off a table, but she doesn’t hesitate, spinning, the Andrews Sisters start singing, music fills everything.
“That’s good, honey!” Martha giggles.
It has been a long time since Carson has let herself go like this. Horns blare ecstatically, she is intoxicated — not by drink, but by Martha’s heart beating hot against her chest. The music crescendos, Martha clasps her tighter, spins faster, Carson feels like she’s going to spin into outer space. Carson lays her chin on Martha’s shoulder and their cheeks touch.
The record ends and the boys applaud. Martha pulls back, letting go of Carson, and a the vacuum of her absence rips across Carson’s body.
“I have to go to the bath,” she says, delirious, quickly rushing out of the room.
The summer of 1932 was hot. Swim in the fetid pond every day hot. Carson and Dani spent most of their time outside under the trees or in some kind of watering hole, but at night what choice did you have with the insects?
One night in July the two of them were on Dani’s bed. They both lay on their backs, Carson’s head at the foot at the bed and Dani’s head at the top, breathing shallowly as they waited for a breeze to come in through the window. After a minute passed, talk turned to the opposite sex.
“I hate when boys are awkward and jerky. Sputtering arms. You know what I mean?”
“I guess,” said Carson.
“How is a person supposed to kiss something like that?” Dani wondered.
“I have no idea,” said Carson. “Sounds terrible.”
“I want to learn to kiss. For a real guy. But the boys at school have less control over their limbs and mouths than my cousin’s baby. I don’t know how you’re supposed to learn without doing it.”
An idea struck Carson. It was the perfect plan. Tendrils of fantasy spread from her brain to her heart. “We could practice,” she suggested.
“With who?” Dani laughed.
“With each other.” Carson lifted her head. Their eyes met.
“That’s silly!” Dani laughed again.
“I’m serious!” Carson sat cross-legged. Her knee touched Dani’s knee. “That way we would know what we’re doing, and when the time comes, boys won’t think we’re idiots.”
Dani was silent, lost in thought. “I guess that makes sense. Then we would be experts.”
“Exactly,” Carson agreed. She was exploding.
Dani sat up. They looked into each other’s eyes. “Well, what do we do?” asked Dani.
“I think we just do it.”
“Just like that?”
Carson was trembling, so excited yet so afraid. She could barely speak. “Yeah.”
They slowly leaned their heads together. Carson closed her eyes and leaned in further. Their lips brushed, and their teeth bumped.
“Ow!” Dani touched her mouth. “That hurt.” She hesitated, thinking. “I think you’re right, we do need practice.”
“I think so too.”
“Alright, let’s try again.”
They leaned towards each other again, slower this time. Carson was shaking, and as her lips trembled next to Dani’s she hoped she would survive this. But once their lips met — Carson was wordless. She moved her lips against Dani’s, not quite knowing what to do, but enjoying the sensation. Dizziness ensued, and they pulled apart.
Dani took a deep breath. “How are we supposed to breathe?”
“I think through our noses.”
“This is complicated,” Dani complained, giggling.
“That’s why we need to practice.”
“Okay,” said Dani. “Let’s try again.”
They kissed once more. It was their longest and most pleasurable so far, but it would also be the last. After what seemed like an eternity, they pulled back in concert. Carson smiled at her friend and they both giggled.
“That is pretty fun,” said Dani.
“Yes,” said Carson, dreaming of kissing Dani forever, “It is.”
Carson closes herself in the bathroom. Not daring to glance at herself in the mirror, she throws open the window, letting the cold rain spatter her hot face and neck. It’s torrential outside, windy and frigid. She tilts her neck back, arching into the rain, the collar and sleeves of her shirt getting damp. The only thing she can hear is the hammering rain and her own breath. She knows that back in the flat, someone has put another record on, Reeves and his guests are laughing and talking. But, for her, for now, there is only the cold rain, bringing her back to herself.
She sighs and closes the window. She is quite soaked now. She laughs. She has almost forgotten about the dance with Martha, but it races back to her. What pleasure that had been. How long will Martha and Charlie be staying in Paris? Maybe she and Martha will become great friends, and they will waste the days and nights together like a supernova of candles. Maybe…
Carson uses the toilet and washes her hands. She dabs her face and neck with a towel. There’s little she can do about her shirt. She looks in the mirror into her own eyes, feeling the unbearable faith that one day she will meet her true love, a prophecy that really matters.
She twists the doorknob and pulls open the door. To her surprise, Martha is standing outside.
“I have to wash up after that dance!” Martha laughs.
Carson laughs too. It’s like there’s a secret between them. Carson looks down the hall. She decides to act, in a moment of perilous flight. She leans towards Martha and kisses her on the lips.
For a second it seems like Martha kisses back. But Martha withdraws from the kiss crestfallen. “I’m sorry…” she says, and disappears into the bathroom.
“Ah,” Carson says, in delayed surprise, as the bathroom door closes in her face. She crashes down the hallway like a mountain tumbling down a mountain, falling into a chair in the common room amidst spinning noise and laughing men, until she hears the toilet flush and Martha’s heels clicking down the hallway.
“I’m feeling a little tired. What do you say we call it a night?”
Reeves helps them with their coats. Carson doesn’t get up, doesn’t turn her head.
“I’m sorry you have to leave so soon,” Reeves tells them.
“Well,” says Charlie, “We are headed down to Cannes tomorrow morning.”
“Maybe we’ll see you when you get back?”
“Maybe,” says Charles. “But it will be while. Martha wants to take a boat from there to Greece.”
“A yacht,” Martha chimes in, her joviality labored.
“That sounds just amazing,” says Reeves.
“Yeah, I hear the sun is lovely there,” says Martha, getting used to a world after her embarrassment with Carson.
Carson realizes they must think she’s in a drunken stupor. It wouldn’t be the first time. Or a big, random pit of depression. But Martha — she knows Carson’s heart.
“So long, Carson,” says Charlie. “I can tell my grandchildren I met you!”
She hears Martha’s shoes click over to her. Sees her legs, clad in real hose, available now that the war is over. Can’t look at Martha’s face, can’t look her in the eyes…
“Goodbye, Carson,” Martha says. “I’m glad I danced with you.”
“Goodbye,” Carson says, voice weak, crumpled wish audibly apparent. She sees red nails, feels a hand on her shoulder.
“Goodbye,” Martha says.
The shoes click away. The final goodbyes, lingering, like cigarette smoke after the cigarette is finished. The door opens, closes. Gone.
“You okay, Lula?” Reeves asks.
The prophecy was false.
It was the end of August. They had beautiful weather all morning for their ride, but around eleven it started to rain. Carson and Dani steered their horses towards the old Antebellum pavilion, where they could be dry, and wait out the weather.
The rain poured off the roof in a fast stream punctuated by plump, plopping drops that seemed to be in a contest to see who could out-plop the others. The sky was the lightest gray, almost white, and the light was still bright enough to make Carson squint her eyes when she looked in the sun’s direction. In the other directions, a thick mist came off the rain. Carson stuck her hand out from under the roof and let the rain splash jubilantly against her palm.
Dani had found a boy she liked — a miracle walking in trousers from two towns over. Carson tried not to be jealous. Dani explained paradise had a flaw — their attempts at kissing had gone awry.
“Maybe he should have practiced,” snickered Carson.
“With another boy?” Dani burst out in laugher. “Oh Lord!”
“What did you do?”
“I tried my best! And then everything afterward was like it was my fault, like I’m supposed to know what to do but at the same time be perfectly chaste…”
“Maybe we’re doing something wrong,” Carson suggested, her fingers tingling.
“You think so?”
“We only practiced the once.”
“Maybe we should practice some more.”
“I don’t know…” said Dani. “I don’t know about kissing girls. It’s different.”
“No, it’s not,” said Carson. “It’s just lips and lips. It’s the same thing. That’s scientific.”
“I don’t think so, Lula.”
“I just don’t want to.”
“I don’t see why not.”
Dani thought for a moment, frowning. She folded her arms across her chest. “I’m sorry, Lula.”
Carson sighed. What a mess she had made of everything.
“Why are you so weird?”
Carson didn’t have an answer.
That night, she lay in her bed going over the disaster in her mind, examining it in the most minute detail she was capable of, her state of heightened emotion very conducive to this. She had been so foolish. She knew things would be different now, forever, they would never be the same again. It was over. Everything was over. Sure, they would stay friends, but… she had scared Dani. She knew that now. She had showed Dani a part of her that Dani didn’t know about, a part she didn’t like.
Someday, she thought, drifting into sleep at last, I will meet someone. Someone right, someone who will love me, at last. And no matter what she looks like I will see her beauty and she will see mine. And she will know the real me and I will know the real her. It will be love. Real love.
Reeves surveys the kitchen and sighs. “We’ll leave the dishes until tomorrow, shall we, sweetheart? I’m bushed.”
“That’s fine,” says Carson, speech almost impossible, knowing that it will be her doing the dishes tomorrow.
She looks around the flat. The dance is so far away now. Empty glasses sit on end tables and ash trays are filled. The turntable is spinning static. Carson bends her body and lifts the needle, throwing the static into soundless oblivion. Now there is only the rain and Reeves’ footsteps creaking on the floor.
“I’m going to get ready for bed,” Carson hears herself say, as she runs her hands through her hair. “You close up and turn off the lights.”
Carson washes and changes into her pajamas, feeling the frigid air on her limbs as she does so. She uses the toilet, brushes her teeth, and climbs into bed, pulling the covers tightly around herself.
The wind outside batters at the building, and she hears the drip-drip sound of water falling from the ceiling into pots and bowls, each with its own timbre. The lights flicker. Despite the blanket, she is terribly cold.
Reeves changes into his pajamas. “Charming couple, aren’t they? I had a lovely time. Thank you so much for cooking dinner.”
Carson doesn’t reply and turns over on her side away from him. Reeves performs his nightly rituals in the bathroom and she listens as he coughs and blows his nose. At last he turns out the light and comes to bed. The bedsprings whine as he lays his weight on the mattress beside her. Reeves sighs, pulling the covers over him, moving closer to her and pressing his pelvis against her rear end.
“I don’t…” he says, gently, “I don’t suppose you’re feeling affectionate tonight, sweetheart?”
“Ah,” he murmurs, withdrawing from her and settling on his side of the bed. For all intents and purpose — as far as she is concerned — he disappears from this world.
Carson bites her lip and closes her eyes. What a fool she is. But it was something though, wasn’t it? The dance with Martha spins in her head and a smile forms on her face. A second later, her stomach turns. Why am I so weird?
She curls into a fetal position and struggles to warm herself. Her faith is always rewarded with disappointment. Another woman, another disaster.
Someday, she thinks, drifting into sleep at last, I will meet someone. Someone right, someone who will love me, at last. And no matter what she looks like I will see her beauty and she will see mine. And she will know the real me and I will know the real her. It will be love. Real love.