Words falling, dropping against the floor in Cuban jazz rhythms.
“What’s hid-ing in the ten-e-ment hawwwls?” she sing-songs, her fingernails trailing against the old hallway that’s wearing thirteen coats of off-white paint. She looks over at me for acknowledgment of her creation, and I smile and force an audible amount of breath out of my nose to let her know I’m amused.
I look back down towards the end of the hallway, the dark door to the stairwell glowing red under the EXIT sign. This subtle disassociation is enough to annoy her.
“Cassander,” she says.
I look back over. She stops short for a moment, fingernails frozen still waist-high on the wall. She waits a long moment for me to say something even though I’m looking right into those gift shop birthstone eyes.
“What?” I whisper.
Full-bore loud: “Wh-hat’s hiid-ing in these ten-ement-ement hawwwls?!” The song gets bitten and swallowed by shrieking laughter.
“There’s only one door,” I say, trying to synch up with her half-sane mood. “The door to my apartment. The rest of them open up onto Hawaiian diving cliffs. Blue thunder below.”
“Ooo!” she squeals. “Let’s go, then. I’ve always wanted to!” Before I can grab her, she runs to the nearest door and tries the knob. It gave an annoyed rattle in her hand, and she turns on me, mouth wide and eyes rolled back in mock devastation.
“Fuck the Hawaiians,” I say.
“Fuck the Hawaiians.”
“Shoot to kill on my orders,” I say, edging towards my apartment’s door.
She points finger pistols and me, Pow, POW!
She starts humming the same tune, only without the words this time. Her eyes tell me what she’s thinking, though, the same question going through her head. Unasked, unanswered: who are your neighbors? Why don’t you know them? For some reason it is a serious question for her, a deep flaw in my character. It bothers her to be with the guy on the floor who keeps to himself. She stares at me as I pull out my keys and put them in the lock, staring until I feel paranoid and vaporous.
“You’ll never guess what I bought today,” I say, trying to distract her.
“What, what, what?!” She actually claps.
“The bullet that killed Kennedy.”
“You’re joking!” she says, now over-exuberant, really milking it.
“The magic bullet. On eBay.”
“Your first religious relic. I’m so excited to see it.”
The door swings into the apartment, scrapes against the linoleum. Disaster, economy. She tiptoes over the scattered clothes, papers, odds and ends, and approaches the bed that takes up most of the only room. She spreads her arms wide like takeoff and falls face first into the quicksand of blankets and sheets. I lock the door behind me.
“Give me the fuck of a lifetime,” she says and sticks her butt in the air. She says this every other day. I take one step towards the bed, and she rolls over quickly onto her back. “Oh my god. You were going to do it, weren’t you? You really were about to just rip my skirt and shove your cock in my ass! Don’t lie to me, Cass. The thought didn’t even cross your mind, did it? It was pure instinct. Mad, primal instinct. You want to impregnate me, don’t you? Deep down, that’s all you want out of ol’ Maisy, isn’t it? To leave your slobbery seed on the walls of my uterus like some kind of cave painting.”
“You hungry? Thirsty?”
She puts her finger on her chin in the universal sign for thinking, then just blurts again, “Whooooo’s hiding in the tenemenemenemenement hawls!?”
I fall down on the bed, too, and start taking off my clothes. “Old ladies. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re all old ladies. They’re all grandmas who knit all day. Sometimes I can’t sleep for all the sounds of the knitting. Kit-kit-kit-kit.”
“Bullshit,” she accuses, but I don’t respond, and the echo of her curse absorbs into the walls eventually and the room is silent except for our blinking eyes. For a long moment, we both consider nothing.
…and later I will finally convince her to abandon her going-out clothes, the long skirt with maroon and black diagonal stripes and the white blouse and the pins in her hair and her hose and she will be left in a black bra with itchy frills and my arms tied in a sailor’s knot around her, my chin on her shoulder, and we will breathe and float and glance cross-eyed at the digital clock and before we fall asleep we will end up saying something tender, something viably affectionate and let each others’ saliva cool on our exposed skin, but until then I can only edge closer to her, bit by bit until she is ready to be touched and try to make out what she is saying. She is mouthing words, I can hear her lips touching then pulling apart in syllables, and now her breath is rising up and giving the words tone and whispery shapes, and now she is barely audible, her vocal chords vibrating at the lowest level, reciting something:
“Clothesline. Pile-driver. Flapjack. Power slam, elbow smash. Vertical suplex, knee drop. Backbreaker, half nelson, scissor kick…”
“Maisy,” I say.
“You are insane.”
“Then caress my ears with sanity. Tell me a story.”
“There were no landmarks, but it was definitely Tennessee,” I say, not meaning to pause and tease her, but I do anyway.
“What time was it?”
“It was mid-day or late-afternoon. I was on vacation. I was in the backseat, laid out, looking up through the window. On this car…the cab or whatever it’s called sort of slants in. Like this. So that if you’re laid out in the backseat, you can look up and your vision isn’t blocked by the roof. I was looking up at the sky, which was terribly dark for mid-day. A hurricane or a storm caused by the outer fringes of a hurricane farther east was chasing us down. We had been driving through it all morning, but we were slowly outrunning it. We were on our way to Graceland. My mom had a fetish. Or a…collection that needed adding to, at the least. She looked over her shoulder and said, ?Are you all right?’ I nodded. She winked at me. ?The sky is breaking up, up ahead. You’ll see it soon. It’s a very beautiful kind of breaking up, the split between black and gray and blue.’ And I knew that my mother could understand me. She knew what I was looking at and why I was looking at it. The sky. She didn’t tell me to sit up or to read a book or anything. She let me be.”
She says, “That’s not a story. That’s a fucking daytime TV monologue.”
“I’m going to slice all your ribs apart tonight while you sleep. You won’t even feel it. Then when you wake up, you’ll sit up real fast like you always do, and everything will just slide out in thin lasagna layers.”
“I can hear your commas. Did you know that? When you speak I can actually sense punctuation. You’re anal even in your speech patterns.” She blinks. “So let’s do that sometime.”
“What?” I ask, propping myself up, easing closer to her.
“Go cliff diving.”
I smell the scent of lips and hear one whisper-quiet kiss.
Ryan Sparks is an author and musician living in New Orleans.