Hunting for Duck (5)
I made myself a coffee and sat down to look through my pages. I sat for almost an hour, crossing out bits with a pencil, making notes in the margins, trying to think the whole thing forward as I went. But it wasn’t working too well. A number of things – but also that feeling, like last night, of someone else in the apartment. I liked to read my stuff aloud as I worked, and I couldn’t do it. I was listening all the time for movement. I kept looking at the wall, on the other side of which she was. I rolled a sheet of paper in, then lit a cigarette. I began typing.
I liked the way the story was going - the new direction I was taking with it. It flowed along smoothly. And then I reached the crucial bit. There they are, Tom and Steve, in the bar that night, getting comfortably oiled after the day's good hunting... and Steve brings up his great idea. The two of them bagging some women as well. The cat's away, type of thing. Then his confession - his little affairs to keep things 'right', as he puts it. That's what he says. 'Buddy... I just need that buzz. I love her... but shit. Six years in, she just don't do it for me that way any more. So... what's the harm? ' This is where the realisation hits Tom. The leverage this knowledge gives him. The deal he could make. If she didn't do it for Steve... well... what was the harm? Catch him out with his own words. Throw them back at him. I was lost in it. I just kept going. I could see it all taking shape as I typed.
At eleven-fifteen, I stopped for coffee. A heap of pages in just over two hours. The best work I'd done. I'd almost forgotten I wasn't alone.
Then a sound broke in. The creak of a handle along the passage. I sat there waiting. Then Marlene appeared at the kitchen door. She was wearing a white bath robe which wasn’t really big enough. She had it quite loosely tied, too, so it hung open at the top just a bit. She waited a second before pulling it together. Her hair was mussed up, like someone had run their hands through it. She had no make-up on and her skin looked pale and dry. But her lips were red. She looked at me for a moment before twitching a smile.
“Not disturbing you or nothing, am I?”
“That’s okay. I was just going to make a coffee.”
She came in.
“I’ll make it, if you like.”
I picked my pile of pages up again and started to flick through them. Marlene set the kettle to boil.
“Not really. Strange bed, you know? It’s so quiet here, too. I’m used to noise at night. People fighting, traffic. That’s why I’m so late. I need to do stuff today, too.”
She took a mug down for herself, then came over for mine. Her feet sucked against the floor tiling. She stood right behind my chair. I felt the sleeve of the robe brush against my shoulder. And I could smell her. Cheap scent, soap... something.
“What you writing?”
“Just a story.”
“What’s it about?”
“Two guys on a hunting trip.”
She set my mug down beside hers on the top and spooned in coffee.
“What they hunting? Bears?”
She bent one leg slightly so that just the toes were touching the tiles. Her instep was curved like a tongue.
“You take milk and sugar?”
She put the sugar in and took the milk from the fridge.
“So, what happens on the hunting trip? They get any duck?”
“No? Do they get anything else?”
I sniffed and turned a page over. It rattled in my hand.
“Yeah. They get laid.”
She turned and looked at me seriously for a moment – like she was shocked. I raised my eyebrows. It was nothing. But it was there. Then she laughed.
“Sounds like my kind of story.”
The kettle boiled. She turned back to make the coffees. Then she brought mine over and put it on the table next to the typewriter, touching her hand on my shoulder as she did so. Just quick – but I could feel it. Then she brought her own coffee to the table.
“Mind if I sit here?”
“I mean, if you’re working…”
“I’ll have my coffee first.”
She sat there, sipping her coffee, staring at the floor. Then she looked up at me and I turned back to the page in the typer. She did that every time. Waited until she knew I was looking, then caught me. She knew her game.
“Sal says you’ve had stuff published an’ all.”
“Just one thing, yeah. It was mainly thanks to her, too.”
“I’ve never met a proper writer before.”
“I’m not a proper writer yet. I’d like to be. It doesn’t pay much unless you’re one of the big guys.”
She put her mug down and clasped her hands around it.
“So, how do you become one of the big guys?”
“Hard work. Time. Talent. And some luck, I guess.”
She twitched her nose.
“Well, you must have the talent or you wouldn’t have been published.”
I arched my eyebrows again. We sipped our coffee. Then she put her mug down again and stretched back in her chair. I could see the shape of her, pushing through the fabric of the robe.
“And what about your luck?” she said. “Do you feel it’s good?”
I put my own mug down.
“I dunno. I think it might get better.”
“Hmm.” She poked her fingers into her hair and pulled a length of it down over her forehead. She sucked on her lower lip.
"How was Sal this morning?"
"She was okay. She's gone to work, anyway."
She nodded. "She's tough."
I took out a cigarette and lit it.
"Mind if I bum one of those?"
I held the lighter for her and she touched her hand to the back of mine as I did so. She blew smoke into the air, where it mixed with mine.
"Bit like the booze," she said. "I've tried to stop it, but can't. At least I'm not on any of the other stuff now."
I didn't want to ask about it. I thought I'd leave it to her to talk, if she wanted to.
"Sal never liked smoking," she said. "She give you any grief over it?"
"Only yesterday, when I smoked in the bedroom."
She pulled a wide grin. "And today it's the kitchen, eh? Spreading it around the place. Surprised she hasn't got you to try quitting."
Hm. "She has, but I... haven't."
She made a small sound in her throat. "Gotta keep some of yourself for yourself, eh?"
"So... things are good."
It wasn't a question - more like she was answering a question she'd asked herself.
"Maybe one day I'll get lucky," she said. "Shitbag after loser after fuck-up. That's what I always get. A decent one for a change. It's not much to ask, is it?"
"I don't think so."
She smoked her cigarette and drank her coffee. Nip - sip - nip - sip. I'd never have taken her for Sal's sister if I didn't know. There were slight facial similarities, but they were different in all the other ways. Definitely all the other ways. I thought about that look in Nate's eye that day. That smile he had, and the way he spoke. And just her sitting there, next to me, smoking one of my cigarettes... the way she did it. It was all there. She knew it, too. I was glad the table was there. I was so hard it was beginning to hurt. She turned again and saw me looking. This time I didn't look off straight away. I held it a moment. It was all right there.
"Tell me some more about this story," she said. "What happens?"
I told her the nub of the plot. Steve's plan... and then Tom's plan. As I did so, I could sense something. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. In the way she was looking at me. When I finished, she just nodded. She took a last puff of her cigarette and ground out the stub in the ashtray.
"My... the way your minds work, you writers," she said. "The stuff you think about. So, instead of a duck, they get a fuck! Fuck a duck, eh?"
She finished her coffee and got up. She just stood there a moment, looking down at me, pushing her finger against the surface of the table.
"Well... I think I’ll take a shower if that’s okay,” she said.
“Of course. You don’t have to ask.”
“Ok. I won't."
She walked over to the door. I waited for her to stop, to turn, to look… but she went straight out, loosening the tie on the robe as she did.
"I might need a cold one after that," she called back.
I heard her go into the bathroom. I heard her step in the shower and slide the door across. I heard the water go on. I just sat there, feeling that bulge pushing harder against my fly. I wound a fresh sheet into the typer, then looked at the page. Waiting for words.
But I couldn't think for shit any more. I sat listening to the water spraying, running down, trickling, draining.
And then I heard the sigh... just as I was supposed to.