He arrived at her house on his bicycle, chained it to her porch, buckled his helmet to the rear rack, and knocked. A helmet, seriously, now he has a helmet and it’s not for hockey, not for a Ducati, it’s for a bicycle. He hadn’t wanted to drive, because he was afraid he might run over something.
She opened the door, wearing, at four in the afternoon, men’s flannel pajamas rolled to the knees and elbows, her hair held back with a pencil, a second pencil behind her ear, and a third pencil in the pocket of the flannel top. “You,” she said, and tilted her head, which made the pencil behind the ear slip, which she caught and held in her teeth like a rose. Instantly he liked her house. He stood in the doorway, then stepped in as she stepped away and they both stood in the half-moon foyer. He tried to think of why he liked the house, and it was the smell. It didn’t smell like his house, he realized; what his house smelled like was baby, because of the baby. They had a flirty thing at work. At work she ’d said, “Come over, I’ll show you my sketches.” But here she was with the pencils. She wasn’t an artist; by her own account, she was a closet writer. Still he held out hope.
“Thank you for this,” he said in the blank space that made up the entrance. Nothing had even happened yet and he really meant it, because of the hope.
She helped him take off his windbreaker and left to put it somewhere. He looked around the living room and then sat on the sofa. Everything was so harmless. He went to her fridge and got a soda. Harmless, rooting around her fridge. He sat back on the sofa, pushing a blanket into a lump on the other side. Harmless. She’d come over and pick up the blanket and sit where it had been and lean against the arm of the sofa with her knees up and her feet pointing at him. They’d be like two machine parts at angles on velvet outside of time. The soda was harsh and he remembered wondering as a kid how they could call it a soft drink. I’ll have a soft drink, he imagined saying with tiny “ha-ha-ha” huffs from a scene like this. What’s so funny? A scene from the ’50s in which next she ’d appear in something more comfortable than men’s pajamas. What happened was he felt self-conscious. Instantly, hope was gone.
That’s when he saw it: as if in place of hope was a structure the size of a voting booth or a Porta Potty, over near the fireplace. The structure was composed of heavy-duty plastic, cylindrical, size Adult, in midnight blue, with blue curtains. He put his soda down on the glass top of the coffee table and approached the structure cautiously. He poked the curtain.
“What’re you doing?” he called, but the curtain sucked up his voice.
He drew the curtain and stepped inside. He drew the curtain again and stood in darkness.
The booth, if anyone asked him, he would have to say, in all earnestness, recognized him. In the dark he cycled through his senses: he felt fizzy, as if he ’d been lowered into a giant body-temp version of what he’d been drinking. The lack of the smell of baby was overwhelming, mingled with the lack of the scent of his marriage, and then to top it off the lack of the scent of a woman with pencils in her hair. The inside of his mouth was still sweet. He heard faint static, and then he realized the booth was mic’d. Little colored lights were waking up all around him, even under his feet. The mic spat and then he heard the woman say through the speaker, as if shockingly near and calling anyway, “In a minute, I’m writing something down before I forget.” In the booth, more and more lights were blinking on and establishing independent rhythms. He could sort of see by them, but all there was to see were the blinking lights, the patterns of blinks and buttons in red, green, and white. It does know me, he thought. The booth began to shake a little. He didn’t know what to do. He could hop out or he could blast off, or something else that he couldn’t think of. He was so scared he took his penis out and started fooling around with it. He kept his eyes open to the cacophony of tiny lights. He hoped beyond hope that by the time he was done he’d know, by god, what would happen next.