It has begun.
At 4:53 a cab (white, nondescript) parks before your colorless abode with it’s russet brown shutters (extremely tacky) and I’m in it. This shouldn’t surprise you. For months now Valerie and I’ve been exchanging emails, planning the day I’d be sitting in a stuffy shuttle of perspiration and must, observing your unclipped bushes and unwashed windows (your Wal-Mart garden and over-mowed lawn) with a raised brow. A day where the sun shines at mega watts and over-zealous children (basking in the early moments of summer break) take advantage of the warmth. This day.
At 4:55 the Cabbie (long beard, too many teeth) turns down the radio (Taylor Swift, numbingly annoying) and fixes a pair of green eyes on me through the rearview mirror. They’re nothing like yours, Rueben. These are dull and somber and infinitely weary. These are enveloped by years of wrinkles and cracks. These are blinking rapidly, squinting in annoyance, startling me because they haven’t connected with mine since leaving the airport. These eyes watch a young girl zip by on her bike as his lips part to ask, “Luggage?” And I think about this for a moment. Shake my head when I decide I can manage by myself and I tell him this.
I say, “Nah, I’ve got it.” And he nods, removing his baseball cap to scratch at a receding hairline, before popping the trunk. The next minute or three is a sequence of trivial motions I forget before I even set about doing them. Me, slinging my two tote bags and excessively large purse over a set of sweaty arms. Me, slamming the trunk shut and walking around to the passenger side window. Me, digging in my wallet, pulling out a wad of cash and handing it to the Cabbie. Me, pivoting on a pair of dirt-ridden Keds and Seattle-pale legs to face your home with a victorious smile.
Behind me, a mound of pebbles scream under the pressure of the retreating taxi and a dog barks in the distance. A boy screams for his runaway ball and a mother tells her daughter to stay out of the street. This is your neighborhood, your sanctuary, your home and for the next three months or so I get to call it mine as well. Ours.
When a car (blue, in dire need of a wash) whips past me, flinging auburn curls in and around my face, I start up toward your house on a pair of wobbling knees. I toss a hand through my hair and look around. Your driveway is cobblestone and your car isn’t there. Your pathway is granite and your grass is fake. Your porch is enclosed and your doors are french. And I don’t knock right away. I’m too nervous. For a minute I just stand there, taking in the white patio chairs and table. The watering pot by that lone plant. The pair of discarded Nike slippers beside the welcome mat. I take in all the quirks that makes this house your home and I love them hard because I love you. I do, Reuben.
I can’t find your doorbell so, at 5:01, I knock. I step back. I wait. And I wait. And there’s no movement behind the doors for a while. Rather the hum of what sounds to be a ceiling fan and the distant buzz of a television. Maybe a radio? I’m not sure. Either way, it isn’t until 3:03 that I hear footsteps approaching and make no mistake, darling. These aren’t yours. These are soft and quick and light. These don’t walk, they slide. They glide. These belong to my sister. These belong to your wife. A snap of the latch and one tug of the door later, this notion is confirmed. Valerie stands before me in a pair of dark grey yoga pants and a sports bra. Her hair is a bronze knot at the top of her head. Her chest heaves. Limbs are sweaty.
“Jane.” She breathes and I know she’s been working out. She looks smaller. Prettier. I don’t like it. And almost as though it’s a second thought, she wraps a set of thin arms around my shoulders and pulls me in for a hug. I return the gesture with a loose grip of my own and surreptitiously sniff her neck. She smells of sweat and kale. Nothing like you and I am relieved. Perhaps the marital strain she’d complained about to Mother a few weeks back is true. Perhaps you really are short-tempered and angry at the world. Perhaps I’ll be the white-winged angel who’ll swoop in to save you and you’ll finally love me like I do you. Perhaps.
At 3:05 Valerie (finally) untangles her arms from my shoulders and when she pulls back she runs a pair of dull green eyes along my face, assessing me. I’m not sure what she sees but whatever it is it makes her eyes narrow infinitesimally. Whatever it is, she makes no comment about it and instead invites me inside. She tells me to set my shoes by the front door and I’m certain that your anal ways have remained. And because it’s you, because I want to please you as much as I can whenever I’m presented the opportunity, I remove my sneakers with not one protest.
While I’m stuffing socks into my left shoe I run a curious pair of green eyes along the foyer. It’s vast but not dauntingly so. A standard though tall set of stairs off to the right.
Hardwood flooring. A colorless coat armoire to my left. A grand light fixture hanging high above my head. Beautiful. Simple. You.
When my foot touches the cool floor and I turn to face Valerie, she tosses a tiny smile my way and plays with her bun. “Thirsty?” She asks, dropping her arms as though they weigh a ton and I shrug.