Monday, April 10, 2017

Love Floats by Don Herald

Nathan and Tilley's blossoming relationship is reaching a tipping point, but it's not just Tilley's psycho cat that threatens to come between them; by Don Herald.

NATHAN

The cat woke me up.

How can that be? I don't even own a cat. I always thought a dog would make a better pet; maybe a ferret. One or the other. A ferret wouldn't require that much care. It would fit my lifestyle better. Yes, a ferret would definitely be better than a dog. Way better. At least for me.

I lie still. Eyes deliberately scrunched shut.

Street sounds. Cars. Rock music from a distant radio. Rises, falls, fades. A deep motor growl. Diesel engine. Probably a city bus. Bird chirps. Robins. They're flocking back to favourite trees. Making muddy nests of dried-out grass blades in protected places. Fighting the doves for prime real estate. Nature never changes. Urgent voices. School kids - teenagers judging by the swearing and loud tones - actually talking to each other. Not texting. Amazing in this day and age.

Breath sounds. Light, wispy, slight fluttering at the end. Steady, rhythmic. Soothing. Is it me or someone else? No, it's someone else. But I don't live with anyone. No room-mates. No ferret. At least not yet.

The delicate scent of citrus. Faint but delicious. My favourite fragrance these days. She always wears it. I sometimes try to stand as close to her as I can, almost bending in half over the low counter at The Ernie. I have to be careful not to lose my balance and fall into her lap. Way too embarrassing if that were to happen.

I inhale slowly, deeply. The scent of her. It makes me hungry for her. I can imagine her touch, her smile, her delightful giggle. I can taste...

Something's poking my cheek. Once. Twice. A hard three, then a much harder four. Slight pin pricks. Perhaps it's my imagination. Whatever, it's determined. There's a snuffling snore beside my right ear. No. More like a purr. Cat sounds.

But I don't have a cat.

I open my eyes. A bit at a time. Being cautious. Not quite sure what I should expect from a possibly psycho creature poking claw tips at my face.

There're other eyes. Close to mine. Flecked amber with dark slits that expand and contract in, then out and back again. Tiger-like eyes. A pink, twitching square nose. I'm being sized up, the cat deciding how many meals it can get from this strange live thing in its bed. This uninvited thing - me - probably taking up its usual special spot on the pillow.

I roll my head to the left, trying hard not to disturb the staring cat. Not wanting to provoke an attack or at the very least, have it jump on my face and smother me. Dead.

An old wooden milk carrier - a faded blue Silverwood's Dairy stamp still visible. On its end, serving as a bedside table. A digital clock. White plastic case with faint, once moist finger smudges across the top buttons. Years of use apparently. Green, steady glowing numbers. Digital. 7:17. Beside it, a book. Hard cover. Barbara Kingsolver. High Tide In Tuscon. I read it recently. Just because she told me it was her favourite. Not my usual type of read though. When I told her my favourites were Baldacci and Rankin, she laughed, telling me it was good I was dating a librarian.

I'll have you reading Tolstoy and Chekhov, she promised, before you can even manage a grumbled 'nyet'.

A tissue box. Patterned in various shades of muted blue. A scratch pad, pale green. Top page has an odd brown watermark. A coffee mug perhaps. Ernest McGregor Library printed in dark green along the bottom. A bright yellow pencil with a sharp point. That's good. I can use it on the cat if I'm attacked.

At the thought, I'm amused for a bit longer than is healthy.

An open box of condoms. Trojan. Not my kind. Several ripped wrappers abandoned on and around Kingsolver. Ragged edges. As if someone used his teeth - maybe her teeth - to open them in a hurry. Not the cat, surely. But if not the cat, then who?

I shift my head back. The amber tiger eyes are gone. Orange fur ball wrapped tight, close to my face, not quite touching but crowding in. Taking back as much of its pillow as possible. A ferret wouldn't do that.

More purring. This time with a rough edge. Snoring, really. With a distinctive flutter at the end.

It's not psycho cat.

I gradually lift my head just enough to see over the sleeping animal. Russet hair. Fine strands all tangled randomly together. Usually it's all a long, carefully pleated braid down her back. Now spreading web-like across a pale yellow pillowcase, maverick strands spill recklessly onto the sheets pulled tight under her chin.

I remember now.

She asked me to unbraid it. Don't rush, she said. Enjoy the moment. I remember the feel of each strand falling loose over my fingers. I kissed her hair, burying my face deep into the gently curling ruby waves. The lush scent of her.

Citrus. Lightly scented grapefruit. I bought a tube after she told me it was her favourite shampoo. Never use it myself of course. But I put small drops of it on a tiny piece of crinkled tinfoil left open on my bedroom bureau. To remind me of her. Of my growing love for her.

The fair skin, a faint spray of freckles. Angel kisses, she once told me. Wispy, delicate lashes. Attractive borders for incredibly beautiful amethyst eyes. Innocent. Her eyes always dance with excitement. Or perhaps it's mischief. Biologically, that's not even possible. But, no mind as to the correctness of it all, her eyes surely captured me from the instant I first saw her.

Two months ago. No, more like three months ago. Has it been that long? That's nothing really, when you think that it might easily turn into a lifetime.

My hand moves slowly to the bare curve of her waist. Resting lightly, feeling the gentle rhythm of her breaths in my fingertips. Not wishing to wake her. Giving in to a wakening desire, I trace up over the ribs, seeking out and briefly cupping her naked breast. Back down, then up the beckoning curve of the hip, sliding my fingers over to re-discover a mound of russet coloured fuzz.

I shall not wake her.

I feel him stirring. When she discovered him in our first urgent fumbling last night, she burst out, oh Buster, my you are a very naughty boy. We laughed, no awkward apologies needed.

Fair's fair, I said, reaching with eager fingers down her belly into the light fuzz. It's Betty, I said. Don't know why really. It just seemed to be a perfect name for it.

Betty meet Buster, I said by way of introduction.

She laughed and sighed. I don't usually give it a name. But it's much more fun to give them names. Don't you think? Then she pulled me tight to her.

Betty just loves to meet Buster, she whispered in my ear.

Now, lying in her bed, I could see where my thoughts were taking me. Chill, Buster. I will the thought to him. Time to get out of bed. Let her sleep some more.

I slide out, doubly careful to not disturb either her or the curled cat. As soon as my head leaves the pillow, psycho cat unfurls his body and effortlessly shifts over into the nicely warmed space left by my head and shoulders. Re-curling, the cat looks a bit too it's-about-bloody-time. At least for my liking anyway.

After a bit of searching in the semi-darkness, I give up finding my undies, socks and denim shirt. Silent hops, first one leg, then the other. I pull on the crumpled Lee's. I'll leave finding the other stuff until later.

Being in Tilley's apartment is new to me. I'm curious about her private life away from the library.

But mostly I'm just hungry.

I slip from the bedroom, close the door then move through the small living room into the kitchenette. As my mother was fond of saying, it's so small you can't grab a cat by the tail and swing it around without hitting something. I chuckle at that image, especially in light of what I just stared down in Tilley's bedroom.

A small window over the sink looks out onto a spacious rear yard. Grass, still mostly brown, has green patches forcing their way back. Pale yellow, butterfly lace curtains tied back. New looking sink, faucets and counter-top. A beat-up toaster, a newish coffee maker, counter-size microwave and a shiny metal composting tub. A Disney themed dish towel neatly folded over the oven handle. The fridge is older. Its seen better days.

I look round the small apartment. The entire place has seen better days. Perhaps a Deputy Chief Librarian doesn't earn as much as I thought. But if we combine her salary with my teacher's pay, we'll be able to afford a better place in a less dodgy part of town. Something else to put on our yet-to-be-discussed list.

A few photos of psycho cat are pinned with multi-coloured magnets to the white-yellow fridge door. Two with Tilley; several more in various solo poses on the living room furniture. One lying on the bedroom pillow, looking like it's daring anyone, human or otherwise, to push it off. A dog or a ferret would never look like that.

An under-sized table topped with splotchy dark green Formica. Chipped black in a couple of places. Salt and pepper shakers in the middle, Micky and Minnie by the looks of it, both sitting on a plain white placemat. Two chrome tube chairs with vinyl green seats and black plastic floor sliders.

More books. Some of them are now featured on our national radio's Canada Reads contest. An old, well-thumbed Bible, leather bound with the SMH gold embossed in one corner. Sharon Matilda Honsberger. Now known by everyone except her parents and aged grandmother as Tilley.

A surprise find pokes out from the pages of one of the Canada Reads books. A green and white, deluxe three day pass to the Toronto International Comicon Show next month. Comics? Tilley is so interested in comics she's spending three days at the show? Comicon is the holy grail for comic fans from around the world. I didn't know this quirky fact about her. Wrongly, I guess, I just assumed a professionally trained librarian would not be interested in the lowly comic book. I'm intrigued but file this discovery away for future discussion.

I find three cereal boxes in the upper left cupboard. I choose a brand I haven't eaten since I was a kid because I'm immediately drawn to its cover photo. A bunch of whole grain, multi-coloured O's floating in a large, heart-shaped red bowl - all on an eye-catching bright orange-yellow box.

Somehow it seems appropriate I choose it after a night just spent with Tilley. A woman I'm coming to love. A woman I could probably spend the rest of my life with.

In another cupboard are short, orderly stacks of assorted plates, big and small, four cereal bowls and several rows of glasses and mugs, each of varying size.

Opening the fridge, I find a half-full box of 5% light cream. A quick sniff test confirms it's still good to go. Unfortunately I can't find any sugar, brown or white. No coffee either - instant, ground, tub or otherwise. There's a cheap plastic mesh tray with lots of tea varieties. Some extra strength Tylenol, nasal spray and several bottles of generic vitamins.

I dump some O's into the bowl, add cream, stir everything and sit down to eat. I read the story on the back of the cereal box.

Fascinating stuff. Apparently it's a proven fact that if you drop a single O into a bowl of milk, it will form a small dent on the surface and float there feeling lonely and unloved. Add a second O nearby and something magic happens. Mysteriously one lonely, unloved O drifts over and cuddles up to the other O as if attracted by an unseen force. The O's are now almost inseparable. Unless a greater force, a cereal spoon probably, breaks them up. But even then, the two O's will try and get back together no matter what.

At least that's how I understand the blurb on the box. The scientists even have a name for it. It's called the Cheerios Effect.

Excited, I get a second bowl from the cupboard, pour in some 5%, drop in a light brown O slightly apart from a light pink O. Sure enough, each shifts sideways towards the other. A hook up takes place right before my eyes.

It's our story. Tilley and me. Coming together in the bowl of life. Admittedly, it's a dorkey way to express it. But right now, we're living a version of it. Our very own Cheerios Effect. How cool is that?

I can't wait to tell her my discovery. Not quite an epiphany. But right up there nonetheless.

Yeah, I know I sound a bit crazy. But honest to god, I'm in love with her.

And love can work in very mysterious ways, don't you think?



TILLEY

I'm drifting quite happily in that white woolly twilight zone between sleep and awake when Brian jumps onto my pillow. He settles in front of my nose. I think he listens to my breath sounds. Likes the feel of the warm in and out on his whiskers.

Brian's my orange tabby. Stepped in through the open kitchen window about two years ago, seemed to take a liking to my place so he's never left. It's fair to say that now Brian and I equally share the space. I don't get too freaked out about where he chooses to sit, scratch, cough fur balls, roll or sleep. I pay the rent, keep our house warm and clean, leave yummy food in his bowl and lots of fresh water. That's just the way it is when you live with a cat.

Right now, Brian's licking my nose. His rough, sandpaper tongue moves in short, gentle arcs. Nostril to nostril, tip to bridge. He's always done it since the first morning he was here. It's become our thing most mornings. I can't say that I mind this too much. But it's not something I talk about with my workmates at The Ernie.

Usually when Brian finishes up his morning greeting, he hops over my head, lands on the pillow behind me. He settles in for some serious purring and a few hours of undisturbed sleep.

That's why in a few seconds, Brian's not going to be too happy. There's an unexpected head on his pillow. I didn't tell Nathan about Brian when we came back last night. Not that there was much time to talk about it. Oh god, that was something else.

I hope my boyfriend likes cats. When that cat gets it into his head to stare you down, it can be a pretty intimidating experience.

It's best I just lay here with my back to Nathan. Pretending I'm still asleep. Let the boys fight it out over who has first dibs on the pillow. My cat doesn't believe in finders keepers, losers weepers - so it should be interesting.

My money's on Brian. I give Nathan maybe ten minutes at best going face to face with my cat. Then Nathan will be off the pillow, out of my bed and finding his way into the kitchen to make fresh coffee.

Not that finding the kitchen will be too much of a challenge. I've a really little place here - this bedroom, a two piece john with a rusting out shower stall, a crowded but comfy sitting area and a ridiculously micro-size kitchen. You'll never see this place featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, that's for sure.

Did I just use the term boyfriend? Now that's interesting. Lately I've been wondering about this thing between Nathan and me. No denying we have this amazing connection. Share a lot of the same interests. He's got a great sense of humour, a job he loves and a hot body that I love. The sex last night was... well, given that it was our first time doing it, it was pretty darn incredible.

Oh! His hand is on my waist. What magic fingers that man has. It feels like he's reading braille. Oh, he's cupping my breast. Now he's heading south. Lie still. Really still. Don't encourage him or we'll be here all day. Oh, those fingers again. Uhmm...

Yep, there he's off the pillow. That took maybe five minutes. Cat 1 - Nathan 0.

I can just imagine Brian behind my head, settling into the fresh, warm space on the pillow, giving Nathan that don't-mess-with-me look. My cat sure gives attitude.

What the heck's that thumping? Sounds like bunny hopping at the bottom of the bed. I don't dare look. Must keep my eyes closed. I need some quiet time to think about us, about last night. Where all this might be going. Two months and three days since we first talked at the library. Is this relationship moving too fast?

Oh, now I get it. Nathan's hopping foot to foot trying to pull on his jeans as quietly as he can so he won't wake me. What a sweet man. Wonder if he's found the rest of his clothes?

Come to think of it, where's my bra? My panties? My god, where did we throw those things? Probably out on the floor in the front room along with his shirt and shoes. Likely his underpants too.

When I get up I'll have a look around here for my things. If no luck, I'll pull on my silk nightie and at least be somewhat decent for Nathan. I don't think I'll look too sexy for ol' Buster. Oh my god. Did we actually give names to our intimate parts?

Ok, the bedroom door just snicked shut. I can follow his movements by the squeaks in the floor. He's in the kitchen now. Cupboards opening. There's the fridge door. Now the closing thunk. I'm sure he'll find something to tide him over until I join him.

Join him. Why am I being so silly about this? Join him. It sounds so... permanent. So committed. Am I frightened?

What was it that Thomas told me when we split in our final year at college? True intimacy, Tilley. It's just not you.

Ah, Thomas. You were my first serious love. My college lover. That small heart tattoo inside my right wrist? An impulsive act, for sure. Summer of second year. We were both tree planting in northern Ontario. Came in to Thunder Bay for a dirty weekend and both got tats. Mine on the wrist, yours just above the left nipple. I wonder if you still have it. Probably you've had it removed.

Commitment phobic, you said during one of those heart-to-heart moments I so hated but you so loved to have. It's what psychology majors did, you said.

Of course, I denied it. You kept pushing me on it. I told you to leave. Take your stuff and not come back. I shouted it so loud I thought the neighbours would call the police. You refused to go. I had to just about throw you out the door, knapsack, books, clothes and all.

But I kept your toothbrush. Did you know that? And your favourite work-out tee. When it was pretty clear you weren't ever coming back, for a long time I put the tee under my pillow at night. So I could smell you. I felt safe when I had your tee close.

Hmm. Feeling safe. Commitment. Intimacy. Is that what's at the heart of this with me and Nathan? He's a great guy. Genuine. Sincere. Intelligent. Passionate. What you see is what you get with him. I like that about him. A lot.

He claims he can read me like a book most times. We always laugh when he says that. Me being a librarian and all.

But there's pages I will never let him read. Perhaps only give him short footnotes at the bottom of some pages. Give him something of me but not everything. Yeah, footnotes, not full pages. I like that image. It seems right to me. Pages with some footnotes all about true intimacy, commitment, feeling safe.

Sharon Matilda Honsberger. Age 31. Red head. Some call it russet. Born and raised in Elliot Lake in northern Ontario. Parents - Patricia and William, home care worker and high school teacher respectively.

I'm not quite fluently bi-lingual. An independent young woman. Some would say super confident and definitely opinionated. Deputy Chief Librarian at The Ernest McGregor Library, fondly known to everyone in town as The Ernie.

Presently in a relationship with Nathan Davey, elementary school teacher.

Some would say that my life is far from an open book. Very few are welcome to read the footnotes. Then take your chances with me.

Oh, and Brian of course. You'll definitely have to take your chances with him. Good luck with that, my friend.

Thing is, I know Nathan would happily take all of those chances with me. He'll have me just as I am with all the hidden strings still attached. I'm really mixing my metaphors here. It's not normal for a lover of literature like me to do that.

Maybe that's what this true commitment and intimacy crap is all about. Wanting to let each other read our hidden pages, trying to explain the cryptic footnotes.

I really never, ever had that kind of a relationship with Thomas. It was all physical with him. Well, mostly physical. Certainly it was gloriously physical with Greg. Then last year, I came scary close emotionally with Ethan. That might have gone somewhere if he hadn't left to take his Master's at McGill.

Tilley, he pleaded. Come with me. You'd love Montreal. There's always jobs for librarians. Your French is good. You'd love the lifestyle there. You ever been to Vieux-Montreal? Tilley?

I told him no. Made up some lame excuses. But he could read the footnotes.

Commitment phobic. There's no known cure, you know.

Nathan. You dear, lovely man. I know you're wanting more with us. Some days I want more of us too. Much more. But there's other days when it all feels just too much.

Tilley, I tell myself, let's just keep us simple. No hooks, no promises we can't keep. Simple. Oh, we'll keep the sex of course. I'll always want some of that in my life.

With Nathan we could have a life together. It's not like we're oil and water and will never really stay together, no matter what happens.

It comes down to this simple question.

Can I really share all of me with you?

Right at this moment, I think so.

But... what if...?

4 comments:

  1. Really nuanced and lovely - a delicate exploration of hidden worlds and contradictory needs. The device of Brian worked very well. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

    ReplyDelete
  2. thoroughly enjoyed this story, the doubts and hopes of a budding relationship.
    First class!
    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. It would be interesting to see a stat. on the subject but cats called Brian are rare, as are thoughts that they might have used their teeth to open a packet of condoms. I enjoyed the way the biogs on Nathan and Tilley gradually emerge.
    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete
  4. You captured the capricious nature of a cat delightfully. I also enjoyed the way your two characters saw things from different perspectives, yet had much in common. Your unresolved ending is tantalising and leaves the reader wondering how the story ends.
    Beryl.

    ReplyDelete