I Like

Russell Wangersky

There is so little left to be dancing for, Keith thought–and when there was dancing, it was him doing soft-shoe in the kitchen, alone, from stove to fridge and back again, getting out an onion, a carrot, the lemons.

Somewhere in the wall, the water was running, a hissing rush he knew better than most other sounds in the house–he wondered, was it the pipes that made the sound, or the choke-point of the tap, toning the pressure down?

Whenever it was flowing, the sound of the water radiated from the pipes to wherever he was in the house, so that anything from the dishwasher to the shower could make its own throat-clearing and steady comment.

Funny, he thought, how sounds can actually be accusing.

It was Anna in the shower washing angry right down into her skin, the water so hot that she’d come out branded in red blotches across her back, marked with flags combining penitent frustration with slow-developing fury.

Once, he would have listened for that shower, for those sentinel calling pipes, like a bloodhound scenting lost children, his face high towards the ceiling, his head turning back and forth to triangulate the sound, just so he could rush up the stairs to join her, pulling his sweatshirt over his head as he took the stairs two at a time.

Opened the bathroom door because knocking was unnecessary, just like invitations were.

Because she would expect him anyway, so they could just come together, obeying a kind of naked hunger that neither of them was remotely embarrassed about, almost dancing together through the curtain of drops.

Wet rhythm, tango, rumba, tile-rattling, grout-gripping pas de deux.

Anna was eager in a way that always pulled him right out of himself–with Anna, he thought, you might start self-conscious and self aware, but the concept of a separate self melted away quickly.

They’d met in university and had somehow managed to hang on through that curious gap when graduates suddenly change from moving in one similar direction to that post-college casting out in their own individual directions, and Keith couldn’t help but think that staying together was her doing: that she had managed against serious odds to drag him through with her, an alchemy made easier with the lure of raw desire.

Anna, with her small, intense face, a sharp nose and a tight frame of short blond hair. She had always had a penchant for hiding herself inside clothes large enough to be someone else’s.

She had planned on post-graduate work in English, but when the fellowship didn’t come through, she’d wound up as a newspaper reporter, doomed to the entertainment beat and the crushing duty of interviewing up-and-comers who were always on their way to somewhere else while Anna stayed solidly, pointedly in the same place.

Keith had toyed briefly with the idea of the police or the military and a whole bunch of other things–his own brief fantasy of heading somewhere, almost anywhere else–and ended up turning sideways into a surprisingly simple job inspecting elevators and pressurized tanks for the provincial government.

The inspections were so routine he couldn’t remember the last time one of the pieces of equipment had actually failed: a page or two of copied visual inspection reports, with boxes to check off and the occasional single line for a written comment. The all-important space at the bottom to mark and initial, but only when the fee was paid.

He could work all day, and then be completely unable to remember the location of the last building he’d been working in, the work stretching out behind him in a seemingly endless collection of cables, grease, pulleys, and confined spaces. When someone lost something down the crack between the elevator car and the shaft, he realized, they never, ever went looking for it: the adult equivalent of expecting monsters under the bed.

And for a while, their jobs–because they were jobs, not anything like careers–were enough, as long as there was also home and the sheer probability of each other’s arms.

When Keith thought about it, he guessed that Anna was probably less comfortable with it all than he was, less satisfied with the way things had worked out, and it reared its head in strange ways. Every month, new solutions had to be found to the problems that cropped up between them, problems that he wasn’t even aware existed until she mentioned them.

Problems with work he could handle: editors who were bastards or who demanded more work than they were willing to pay for, days that were so long that she ended up bringing home one of the portable computers from work so they could at least be in the same house while she pounded out the last few details a story needed before she could file it to the news desk.

Harder to comprehend were the problems between them: it was always a revelation to Keith when it turned out they had issues that he hadn’t even started to consider, that he hadn’t even known were there. He knew it was probably a weakness of his–knew it because she told him it was–and thought that he must be skating without ever thinking about testing the emotional ice between them, that he didn’t spend enough time considering where they were going.

Anna saw much better where the rough edges came together, he thought.

When they had time, they’d talk about it, and Anna would outline the problems and detail the possible solutions, and he’d agree desperately every time, worried that the best of his intentions did nothing but set them both up for more crushing falls.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” she’d say, exasperated, words like hands thrown up in the air, and she’d explain, and he’d listen to sentences that seemed to come out in a foreign language he didn’t understand.

Both of them always treading carefully, like they were driving on an unfamiliar road at night and trying not to pile into the unanticipated, last-moment potholes.

But they muddled along until they had married anyway. Then they bought a house that backed onto a uniform hill capped with a line of Gower Street rowhouses, all the houses the same height, all knit together at their tops, a unison of roofs. And Keith supposed that any anchor was supposed to be a good mooring, but then again, he didn’t really know much about ships…

Read the rest of this story in Riddle Fence #3 (coming soon).

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burning-down-the-houseRussell Wangersky is an editor and columnist from St. John’s; his latest book, the non-fiction memoir Burning Down the House—Fighting Fires and Losing Myself, was published by Thomas Allen Publishers in March, 2008. For more information, visit his website.

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