“I’m tired,” proclaims Evelyn, finishing her food. “Pippa, honey. Nice to see you on my monthly grass visit. If you ever want to get out of this apartment and come play in the real world, give me a call, OK?” She looks at the rest of us: “Nobody else needs to leave.”
“No, we should get home too,” says Shigem.
“And I need to sleep,” says Alaia, “I’ll walk to the Metropolitan with you, Evelyn.”
Is Alaia going to ask me, I wonder?
“You too?” she asks me.
“I don’t think I am, quite yet. But I’ll be following you soon.” I look at Pippa, who gazes emptily through me.
Goodbyes are said to the other three, then once she has sat back down, tears run from her eyes. At first she tries to hide this, but then stops bothering. Her weeping feeds on itself, swelling quickly but quietly in intensity. I sip my tea. At last she stops, exhausted, blows her nose, blushes, tries to speak, mumbles “Sorry, I cry all the time but I hate it that I do.”
“Why d’you cry?”
“I don’t really know. Maybe because everything’s wrong. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop. It’s getting harder too: one day I’ll probably start and never stop. I have to drink a lot of water, to keep me topped up!”
“Is it of help?”
“No, I feel like a bomb that can never blow, it’s too wet.” She stifles a sudden savage sneeze, and in her head it sounds like celery fibres snapping. She raises her head from it, damp-eyed and sniffling. “When I was pregnant I drew the child’s outline in ink on my belly, but it didn’t last. Pain dripped through me. It made me so angry, I became this green seething gnome, which I hated, which made me even angrier… Quite fun, really!”
“Let’s have a sunny picnic,” I suggest, standing up.
She laughs through her sniffles and gets up too. “OK, sure. What, right now?”
I put my arms around her. “No, Pippa, not at four in the morning. I’ll call you and we’ll fix it. Let me take your number.” She scribbles it on a scrap of paper and hands it to me, then I follow her down the sitting room and into the darkness of the hallway from which I saw Kim returning earlier. She flicks a dim light on, half-illuminating a narrow, cluttered passageway, surprisingly long.
Halfway between the sitting room and the front door of the apartment, a bathroom door approaches me on the right, standing open, with a yellowish light on inside. I glance in, while we pass it. Nothing special there … but then I frown, drawing near Pippa at the front door, thinking back to my snapshot of that yellow-lit bathroom.
Nothing special about that room at all. Yet my snapshot does contain one detail that I cannot help but zero in upon now. I zoom in to it, in my memory. Yes! Mounted there on the wall, just beside the basin, was a toothbrush-holder. Hanging in this holder was a big blue toothbrush. And half-hidden behind that—a small black toothbrush.
Standing at the front door, she turns her head to face me as I near her. I take my leave with a kiss … and while I’m close, I look behind your eyes and see beneath the sadness a happy place, somewhere, remaining from before, that lets its sun through your eyes now and then, spilling onto other people if they’re lucky to be with you when it spills. In that place, the place you should have been, fountains fling up jets of spray on mossy stone cherubs; strips of lawn snake away between high beds of flowers, where you sprawl in the grass, and the parties last days and nights and afternoons and further nights. You run through the moonlight across the portico, along the terraces and down cool woodland paths to obelisks and urns in the dappled light of stars. You’ve never taken a trip to such a place from Asbury Park, but you’ve always known that once you lived there, strange to say—once upon a time you lived that life, Pippa Vail, for a lifetime, somewhere—an endless Indian Summer in a palace!
“Looking forward to that picnic,” I say.
She sends her empty smile across the lift lobby at me: “Me too.”
I head for the Metropolitan on dead quiet streets, towards the glimmer of the dawn across the ocean ahead.
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