In His Room
His cat had come from outside. He had come to the window and asked to be let in. Roger watched him, looked in his eyes, and tried to open the screen. It was rusted and difficult to move. Roger went into his kitchen to look for a knife. There were two. He took the small one (probably too small). He cut a slit in the screen. The cat smelled his fingers and licked his fingernails. Roger stepped back and Steven (his name had quickly become Steven) put his nose to the hole in the screen. He squeezed his head through, and then his body. He walked to the corner where Roger kept his shoes and laid down. He began chewing a shoelace and Roger sat down quietly.
Roger hadnt heard him come in.
He walked past him and Roger smelled him quickly. He seemed to pause by the bathroom. He closed the bedroom door behind him and Roger put his palms on the floor. Steven was watching him. He put his knees on the floor and Steven put his head down. His pupils were dilated. Roger sat down and crossed his legs. Steven hid behind the shoes but watched Roger closely. Roger began to laugh.
Nothing. Just the cat.
How was your day? Roger asked.
It was long. I need to go running.
For how long?
I dont know. For a while.
Roger stood up and looked at Steven. Steven exhaled through his nose and made a soft whistling noise. Roger looked up and agreed.
They had met a few Octobers ago through a mutual friend. It was dusk and chilly. Roger was waiting by the closed fountain when he came up carrying a table. They walked together and spoke of each other as exceptions to the rule. Especially him. At dinner he told Roger what he was looking for. They compared their hands. At the end of the night, they found themselves on Rogers couch, both pretending to be asleep. Roger laid with his eyes open, smiling, watching the sky inch toward dawn.
In the morning Roger followed him down the stairs, watching him try and maneuver his table around the tight corners. They embraced before he left the building.
The next time they saw each other was only a few nights later. Roger wanted to go out and celebrate something.
Why do you want to go out so bad?
Why do you wanna stay in?
He cooked Roger dinner. They ate something foreign. They sat on their couch and spoke of the future.
In general, Roger procrastinated becoming comfortable. He waited until it was past the right time, and then gave in.
Roger was still sitting on the floor when he got back from running. He was cold and sweaty. Roger looked closely and could almost see his breath. He went over and looked down to Roger.
Why are you just sitting there?
I have nothing else to do.
He sighed and sat down next to him.
Why do you do this?
Just be around like that.
Roger was quietly infuriated. This is my home too. I mean we both live here.
Roger was slowly leaving the room when the phone quickly snapped him back. He couldnt ever get very far. Roger watched him look at the phone and then answer it.
Hello? Yes, hi. Im doing well, thanks. No tomorrow is fine. Early? Sure. Eights good. Oh, thanks, yeah, shes fine.
At this moment, Roger felt the blood leave his face and then at once rush so quickly back that he thought his eyes would surely pop from their sockets. He was devastated and angry.
See you tomorrow. Good night.
When he hung up the phone, he avoided making eye contact with Roger.
I have to work tomorrow. Early.
He went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He leaned in as if he was telling it a secret. Roger squeezed himself tightly. He looked at Steven, asleep behind the shoes. He let himself go and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He watched Steven sleeping and noticed he had eaten half of one entire shoelace. This gave Roger a delicious sense of satisfaction.
He and Roger had been together for three months before Roger saw where he lived. He lived in a neighborhood Roger couldnt afford. Once inside, he left Roger sitting in his living room, perched on the end of a couch. He went into the bedroom to make a phone call and Roger sat there until he realized he would be more than ten minutes. He slowly got up and started walking around the room. He went over to his bookshelf and looked at all the titles without touching the books. Crichton, McCourt, Chabon. Maupin, Kingsolver, Hemingway. Hemingway? At that moment, he came back into the room.
Sorry that took so long. My sisters going through a crisis.
Dont worry about it. You have a really great place.
He came over to Roger and took hold of his elbows. Roger didnt know if he wanted his arms closer or kept far away. He kissed him on the lips and looked at the bookshelf beyond him.
I didnt know you were a Hemingway fan.
It was a gift.
He closed the refrigerator door and came back into the living room.
We have nothing to eat. Do you want to order out?
Its okay. Ill go get something.
Roger quickly got up and grabbed his coat. Once outside, he stood there with his back against the door. He let the air run over him. He leaned his head back but it hit against the peek-hole. He left his spot against the door and walked outside the building. It was lightly raining. He looked in both directions and realized he didnt know where to get food. He had to come back with something. He started walking. He found himself looking at his feet more often than what was in front of him. Before crossing at a corner he would look up and search for some place to go. At the fourteenth corner he found a deli. He crossed the street and walked in. He looked around and saw nothing of interest. He slowly made his way up one aisle and down the other. When he reached the soups he looked up and saw a young boy staring at him.
Whats your name?
The young boy made no effort to respond. He just kept staring. Roger picked up two cans of vegetable soup, paid for them and left the store.
In the middle of the night, Roger returned to the bookshelf. He went straight to Hemingway but could not touch it. It was a gift, he thought. He let his index finger touch the binding. Whose time, he wondered. He took a deep breath and pulled the book from the shelf. There was an attractive man on the cover, looking off somewhere. Roger was glad he wasnt looking at him. There was a train behind the man, about to hit him. Roger wondered why he couldnt see the train. He walked over to the couch with the book and sat down. He flipped through the pages and stopped on page 91. He read the story. Then he read it again. He knew this would be his story. It belonged to him already. That was okay because it was a gift; it was okay for him to possess it.
Roger closed the book and laid down. His eyes felt heavy. He put his hand on his heart and felt it racing. He put his arm over his eyes and tried to fall asleep. A few minutes after the book fell to the ground, he did.
Vegetable soup? This is your idea of a meal? Youve been gone over an hour and you come back with two cans of soup.
Roger had come back. He had walked back from the deli in the rain.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
You didnt even bring an umbrella. I swear to God, Roger
What are you wearing?
What do you mean?
You look ridiculous.
He walked away and into the bedroom. He shut the door and Roger knew he wouldnt see him for the rest of the night. Roger walked over to the full length mirror hanging between the kitchen and the living room. He wiped the wet hair from his forehead and looked at himself. He didnt understand. He never really had.
He found Roger on the couch the next morning and his book on the floor. He walked over to him and sat at the end of the couch. He put his hand on Rogers shoulder. Roger opened his eyes but did not move. He felt like he had been caught.
What are you doing out here?
I couldnt sleep.
Do you want some breakfast?
He got up from the couch and went into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and got out two apples, two bananas and a bundle of grapes. He cut up the apples and the bananas and put them in a bowl. He picked the grapes off of the stems and put them in the bowl with the other fruit. He got two smaller bowls from the cabinet and poured granola in each of them. Then he distributed the fruit evenly. He made coffee and brought everything into the living room.
I hope you like it.
It looks good.
I forgot to wash the apples. What do you mean?
I mean just that. I didnt wash the apples. Theyre probably disgusting.
Im sure theyre fine.
He picked up both bowls and brought them into the kitchen. He was visibly angry. He kicked the garbage can to make it open and dumped the contents of each bowl into the trash. After a few moments, he came back into the living room. He was no longer angry.
Lets go out for bagels.
Roger went into the kitchen and opened a can of soup. He poured it into a bowl and put it in the microwave for two minutes. He hoped it wasnt too long. He went back into the living room and over to the bookshelf. He picked up his book and brought it to the couch. Those four pages were the only ones worn. The rest of the book could have been new. He read his story. As the woman realized the cat was not where she saw it Roger heard a loud ding. He looked up and Steven was not by his shoes. He got up from the couch and ran into the kitchen. Steven was not there. He looked in the bathroom and underneath the couch. He looked behind the TV and then came to the closed door. He put his hand on the doorknob. He turned it and pushed open the door. The room was completely dark. Roger thought he could make out a lump on the bed, too big to be Steven.
Close the door.
Roger stepped further into the room and shut the door. He stood there in silence and waited for him to say something. He desperately wanted him to say something.
What do you want?
Its all he ever got.
Steven. The cat.
I let him out the window. He was crying to get out.
Roger felt his knees go limp and he grabbed onto the computer desk to keep from falling to the ground. Then he was filled with rage. He found the back of the desk with his hands. He pulled lightly. The desk moved forward about six inches. He wedged himself behind it and pushed as hard as he could. The desk toppled over and the computer crashed onto the wood floor. Roger heard him swearing as he left the room and shut the door.
Roger did not want to go out for bagels. He told him he was not feeling well and started walking home. As he walked home, it began to rain. He did not speed up. He did not mind the rain. When he got to his building, he sat down on the front step and watched the people run back and forth. He wished one of them would stop.
Roger went back out into the rain and ran around to the side of the building. He squeezed between the brick wall and the metal fence and went over to the pots. He looked up and he realized he was on the other side of his window. He looked into the apartment. He saw Hemingway on the floor and remembered the soup in the microwave. He saw the bedroom door shut. He felt something at his legs. He looked down and saw Steven. Steven looked up at him. He was breathing in and out making a whistling noise. He turned toward the alley and started walking. Roger, following him, was led into the darkness.