QUEEN OF THE NIGHT
One of those nights I showed up
at his apartment, I followed him past the opened
containers of Chinese food in his kitchen to the bedroom
where he watched television. A plate was on the floor by
the bed, holding leftover noodles and smears of cottage
cheese. It seemed to me an inadequate meal but I knew if
I said anything he would say I was always watching,
always wanting to tell him what to do.
He sat down in a chair and I lay on the bed, sticking
my bare foot in his lap. I thought he must like me being
there, because he held my foot as if it were my hand.
Images came and went onscreen while I perused the room.
On the bureau was a sprawl of change and a small wicker
basket. In it lay medals won at swimming meets for men
over forty, their fake gold coins and flat-pressed
ribbons pinned to cardboard squares. One of the ribbons,
he told me, he'd won in New Orleans, and plastic carnival
beads frothed from a tall cup. When the Bosnian war came
on we turned off the set, to not see the street where the
bodies lay at odd angles, inert things.
We didn't talk about Bosnia, because after we'd
started seeing each other again he said I talked only
about dismal subjects. So for a long time I listened
carefully to what I thought before I spoke. Yet I touched
him more boldly, as though the line and texture of his
body composed a trustworthy language.
If he wanted to end our evenings he'd say he had to
work. I'd gotten where I could feel this coming,
translucent, jellyfish-like, something both amorphous and
palpable. I hated feeling dismissed, so I'd learned to
stand up fast, pretending something important awaited me
in the house where night circled all around. He had moved
onto the bed and taken off his watch, which he always did
before sex. He lay face down and I knelt, rubbing his
back. Since he'd moved out he'd lost weight, which I
didn't think surprising, given the kind of stuff he ate.
His body now might have belonged to a younger man, and in
the dark that was both exciting and annoying, as if he
were trying to trick me with a substitution. I did not
expect him to say that tonight he wanted to be by
himself. But he said he was sleeping badly. Getting up
and down might disturb me. Make him feel guilty.
Look, I said to his back, you don't want me here. Why
don't you just say it? Just say, "I don't want to
see you." Or say that you do.
You expect too much, his mouth moved against cloth.
Right, I said. You have your own place. You went after
another woman. Now that's over and you act like you want
to see me. Then you act like you wish I'd get lost. For
god's sake, make up your mind.
His head was buried in his arms, his voice muted by
his sleeve. You're getting worked up, he said.
Look at me. Is my voice loud? Do you see tears? Maybe
I'm too old. I break my glasses. Lose my keys. I thought
I was Queen of the Night. Even Queen of the Night can get
old, I guess.
No, he mumbled.
What? I said.
None of that sounds true.
I said I couldn't take any more of this. Because I
stood up he sat on the edge of the bed. Because he could
see me leaving he wanted to hold me. He kissed me and
laughed a little, the way you do when you are just
beginning with someone, and you often look at each other
and laugh for no reason. Then I was crying. I told him I
couldn't stand to think of never seeing him again.
I don't know why you love me, he said, still in that
good-humored, coaxing way. You should hate me.
He called at midnight, as he often did, saying, I
don't know, I don't know, let me have more time.
Since that night I'd been several times to his
apartment. I'd drop by, and he didn't seem to mind,
though each time it had been late, following an evening
with others when I'd had some wine. Wine made me feel he
must love me. A few weeks later, one night after coming
home I did not go in, but found myself running to his
apartment, which was only blocks away. I ran, past the
yards hidden in shadow, the sepia light washing over car
hoods. The air sparkled with fine rain, and I sensed the
deep wetness penetrating the earth. Faster and faster I
ran until I was where I wanted to be. I rang the bell.
Though there was a light, no one answered. I rang it
again, leaning against the stucco wall, breathing hard,
laughing at the pleasure of the run, at my damp, electric
hair. A third time.
You can't come in, he said. I have someone here.
I laughed at him, because I'd been drinking, and
because when I looked down at his feet I saw he wore
black dress shoes with his khaki pants. I thought this
error in judgment was a sign of his confusion.
Someone from out of town, he said. A woman.
What do you mean, a woman?- It was as if I'd become
No one you know. You have to leave.
You said you weren't seeing anyone. Where is she
sleeping? Let me in.
Get away. Leave me alone. I have a right to my own
I was left standing at the door. Rain's little kisses
on my face. His face was swollen, furious, screwed tight,
like someone in tears.
A wall that came just up to my chest separated the
sidewalk from a flower bed beneath his front window. I
stood on tiptoe, arms stretching across the wall,
struggling to reach tall stalks of flowers he'd planted
from seed. He had never had a garden, and his obsession
with it seemed to me like love.
They were nearly all dead now though still upright in
the dirt, the winter rain beating on them, turning the
foliage a dull bronze. The only things left were a few
stunted, end-of-year blooms. As long as any flowers
remained, he would not uproot them.
I reached the top of the tallest stalk, yanked it from
It came out with the roots attached to clay, a big
clump that smashed against the wall.
I ripped up others, flung them at the window.
The blinds were pried apart in the apartment next
door, someone inside peering this way, that, for the
source of the noise. Then his door slammed.
If I didn't go away, he would call the police.
I said I didn't care, and he disappeared back inside.
Then I was at his door again, ringing the bell. One
time. Twice. Five times. The door flung open. I demanded
he at once return to me, with another woman waiting on
the other side of the door, a silk slip I'd left in his
No. I'll call the police.
He slammed the door again.
What did I think was so funny? Far back in his
apartment I could hear his furious tread. He opened the
door and took the wadded knot of fabric from under his
I was back on the street, heels nastily tapping.
Motherfucker. Motherfucker, I softly sang. I was looking
for something. At the edge of somebody's garden I found a
stone that weighed heavy in my hands. Carried it around
on the side of his building to the bedroom window.
Motherfucker. Raised the brick, smashed it down against
the metal edge of the screen. The noise seemed very big.