فصل 40

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فصل 40

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  • زمان مطالعه 11 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Night

CHAPTER 40

The heat at night is worse than the heat in daytime. Even with the fan on, nothing moves, and the walls store up warmth, give it out like a used oven. Surely it will rain soon. Why do I want it? It will only mean more dampness. There’s lightning far away but no thunder. Looking out the window I can see it, a glimmer, like the phosphorescence you get in stirred seawater, behind the sky, which is overcast and too low and a dull gray infrared. The searchlights are off, which is not usual. A power failure. Or else Serena Joy has arranged it.

I sit in the darkness; no point in having the light on, to advertise the fact that I’m still awake. I’m fully dressed in my red habit again, having shed the spangles, scraped off the lipstick with toilet paper. I hope nothing shows, I hope I don’t smell of it, or of him either.

She’s here at midnight, as she said she’d be. I can hear her, a faint tapping, a faint shuffling on the muffling rug of the corridor, before her light knock comes. I don’t say anything, but follow her back along the hall and down the stairs. She can walk faster, she’s stronger than I thought. Her left hand clamps the banister, in pain maybe but holding on, steadying her. I think: she’s biting her lip, she’s suffering. She wants it all right, that baby. I see the two of us, a blue shape, a red shape, in the brief glass eye of the mirror as we descend. Myself, my obverse.

We go out through the kitchen. It’s empty, a dim night-light’s left on; it has the calm of empty kitchens at night. The bowls on the counter, the canisters and stoneware jars loom round and heavy through the shadowy light. The knives are put away into their wooden rack.

“I won’t go outside with you,” she whispers. Odd, to hear her whispering, as if she is one of us. Usually Wives do not lower their voices. “You go out through the door and turn right. There’s another door, it’s open. Go up the stairs and knock, he’s expecting you. No one will see you. I’ll sit here.” She’ll wait for me then, in case there’s trouble; in case Cora and Rita wake up, no one knows why, come in from their room at the back of the kitchen. What will she say to them? That she couldn’t sleep. That she wanted some hot milk. She’ll be adroit enough to lie well, I can see that.

“The Commander’s in his bedroom upstairs,” she says. “He won’t come down this late, he never does.” That’s what she thinks.

I open the kitchen door, step out, wait a moment for vision. It’s so long since I’ve been outside, alone, at night. Now there’s thunder, the storm’s moving closer. What has she done about the Guardians? I could be shot for a prowler. Paid them off somehow, I hope: cigarettes, whiskey, or maybe they know all about it, her stud farm, maybe if this doesn’t work she’ll try them next.

The door to the garage is only steps away. I cross, feet noiseless on the grass, and open it quickly, slip inside. The stairway is dark, darker than I can see. I feel my way up, stair by stair: carpet here, I think of it as mushroom-colored. This must have been an apartment once, for a student, a young single person with a job. A lot of the big houses around here had them. A bachelor, a studio, those were the names for that kind of apartment. It pleases me to be able to remember this. Separate entrance, it would say in the ads, and that meant you could have sex, unobserved.

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door there. He opens it himself, who else was I expecting? There’s a lamp on, only one but enough light to make me blink. I look past him, not wanting to meet his eyes. It’s a single room, with a fold-out bed, made up, and a kitchenette counter at the far end, and another door that must lead to the bathroom. This room is stripped down, military, minimal. No pictures on the walls, no plants. He’s camping out. The blanket on the bed is gray and says U.S.

He steps back and aside to let me pass. He’s in his shirt sleeves, and is holding a cigarette, lit. I smell the smoke on him, in the warm air of the room, all over. I’d like to take off my clothes, bathe in it, rub it over my skin.

No preliminaries; he knows why I’m here. He doesn’t even say anything, why fool around, it’s an assignment. He moves away from me, turns off the lamp. Outside, like punctuation, there’s a flash of lightning; almost no pause and then the thunder. He’s undoing my dress, a man made of darkness, I can’t see his face, and I can hardly breathe, hardly stand, and I’m not standing. His mouth is on me, his hands, I can’t wait and he’s moving, already, love, it’s been so long, I’m alive in my skin, again, arms around him, falling and water softly everywhere, never-ending. I knew it might only be once.

I made that up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what happened.

I reach the top of the stairs, knock on the door. He opens it himself. There’s a lamp on; I blink. I look past his eyes, it’s a single room, the bed’s made up, stripped down, military. No pictures but the blanket says U.S. He’s in his shirt sleeves, he’s holding a cigarette.

“Here,” he says to me, “have a drag.” No preliminaries, he knows why I’m here. To get knocked up, to get in trouble, up the pole, those were all names for it once. I take the cigarette from him, draw deeply in, hand it back. Our fingers hardly touch. Even that much smoke makes me dizzy.

He says nothing, just looks at me, unsmiling. It would be better, more friendly, if he would touch me. I feel stupid and ugly, although I know I am not either. Still, what does he think, why doesn’t he say something? Maybe he thinks I’ve been slutting around, at Jezebel’s, with the Commander or more. It annoys me that I’m even worrying about what he thinks. Let’s be practical.

“I don’t have much time,” I say. This is awkward and clumsy, it isn’t what I mean.

“I could just squirt it into a bottle and you could pour it in,” he says. He doesn’t smile.

“There’s no need to be brutal” I say. Possibly he feels used. Possibly he wants something from me, some emotion, some acknowledgement that he too is human, is more than a just a seed pod. “I know it’s hard for you,” I try.

He shrugs. “I get paid,” he says, punk surliness. But still makes no move.

I get paid, you get laid. I rhyme in my head. So that’s how we’re going to do it. He didn’t like the makeup, the spangles. We’re going to be tough.

“You come here often?”

“And what’s a nice girl like me doing in a spot like this?” I reply. We both smile: this is better. This is an acknowledgement that we are acting, for what else can we do in such a setup?

“Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.” We are quoting from late movies, from the time before. And the movies then were from a time before that: this sort of talk dates back to an era well before our own. Not even my mother talked like that, not when I knew her. Possibly nobody ever talked like that in real life, it was all a fabrication from the beginning. Still it’s amazing how it easily comes back to mind, this corny and falsely gay sexual banter. I can see now what it’s for, what it was always for: to keep the core of your self out of reach enclosed, protected.

I’m sad now. The way we’re talking is infinitely sad: faded music, faded paper flowers, worn satin, an echo of an echo. All gone away, no longer possible. Without warning I began to cry.

At last he moves forward, puts his arms around me, strokes my back, holds me that way, for comfort.

“Come on,” he says. “We haven’t got much time.” With his arm around my shoulders he leads me over to the fold-out bed, lies me down. He even turns down the blanket first. He begins to unbutton, then to stroke, kisses beside my ear. “No romance,” he says. “Okay?”

That would have meant something else, once. Once it would have meant: no strings. Now it means: no heroics. It means: don’t risk your self for me, if it should come to that.

And so it goes. And so.

I knew it might only be once. Goodbye, I thought, even at the time, goodbye.

There wasn’t any thunder though, I added that in. To cover up the sounds, which I am ashamed of making.

It didn’t happen that way either. I’m not sure how it happened; not exactly. All I can hope for is a reconstruction: The way love feels is always only approximate.

Partway through. I thought about Serena Joy, sitting down there in the kitchen. Thinking: cheap. They’ll spread their legs for anyone. All you need to give them a cigarette.

And I thought afterwards: this is a betrayal. Not the thing itself but my own response. If I knew for certain he’s dead, would that make a difference?

I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was.

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