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COME CLOSER A NOVEL
By SARA GRAN
SOHO Copyright © 2003 Sara Gran
All right reserved.
Chapter One In January I had a proposal due to my boss, Leon Fields, on a new project. We were renovating a clothing store in a strip mall outside the city. Nothing tremendous. I finished the proposal on a Friday morning and dropped it on his desk with a cheerful little note-"Let me know what you think!"-while he was in a meeting with a new client in the conference room.
Later that morning Leon threw open his office door with a bang.
"Amanda!" he called. "Come in here."
I rushed to his office. He picked up a handful of papers off his desk and stared at me, his flabby face white with anger.
"What the hell is this?"
"I don't know." It looked like my proposal-same heading, same format. My hands shook. I couldn't imagine what was wrong. Leon handed me the papers and I read the first line: Leon Fields is a cocksucking faggot.
"What is this?" I asked Leon.
He stared at me. "You tell me. You just dropped it on my desk."
My head spun. "What are you talking about? I put the proposal on your desk, not this, the proposal for the new job." I sifted through the papers on his desk for the proposal I had dropped off. "What is this, a joke?"
"Amanda," he said. "Three people said they saw you go to the printer, print this out, and bring it to my desk."
I felt like I had stepped into a bad dream. There was no logic, no reason anymore. "Wait," I said to Leon. I ran back to my desk, printed out the proposal, checked it, and brought it back to Leon's office. He had calmed down a little and was sitting in his big leather chair.
I handed it to him. "This is it. This is exactly what I put on your desk this morning."
He looked over the papers and then looked back up at me. "Then where did that come from?" He looked back at the fake proposal on the desk.
"How would I know?" I said. "Let me see it again."
I read the second line: Leon Fields eats shit and likes it.
"Disgusting," I said. "I don't know. Someone playing a trick on you, I guess. Someone thinks it's funny."
"Or playing a trick on you," he said. "Someone replaced your proposal with this. I'm sorry, I thought-" he looked around the office, embarrassed. In the three years I had worked for him I had never heard Leon Fields apologize to anyone, ever.
"It's okay," I told him. "What were you supposed to think?"
We looked at each other.
"I'll look over the proposal," he said. "I'll get back to you soon."
I left his office and went back to my own desk. I hadn't written the fake proposal, but I wished I knew who did. Because it was true; Leon Fields was a cocksucking faggot, and he did eat shit, and I had always suspected that he liked it very much.
That evening I was telling my husband, Ed, about the little mystery at work when we heard the tapping for the first time. We were sitting at the dinner table, just finishing a meal of take-out Vietnamese.
We looked at each other.
"Did you hear that?"
"I think so."
Again: tap-tap. It came in twos or fours, never just one-tap-tap-and the sound had a drag on it, almost a scratching behind it, like claws on a wood floor.
First Ed stood up, then me. At first, the sound seemed to be coming from the kitchen. So we walked to the kitchen and bent down to listen under the base of the refrigerator and look under the stove, but then it seemed to be coming from the bathroom. In the bathroom we checked under the sink and behind the shower curtain, and then we determined it was coming from the bedroom. So we walked to the bedroom, and then to the living room, and then back to the kitchen again. After we toured the apartment we gave up. It was the pipes, we decided, something to do with the water flow or the heating system. Or maybe a mouse, running around and around the apartment inside the wails. Ed was revolted by the idea but I thought it was kind of cute, a little mouse with the spunk to make it up four stories and live on our few crumbs. We both forgot about the story I had been telling, and I never told Ed about the practical joke at work.
* * *
The tapping went on for the rest of the winter. Not all the time, but for a few minutes every second or third night. Then at the end of the month I went to a conference on the West Coast for two days, and Ed noticed that he didn't hear it at all while I was gone. A few weeks later Ed went to a distant cousin's wedding up north for three days. The tapping went on all night, every night, while he was gone. I searched the apartment again, chasing the sound around and around. I examined the pipes, checked every faucet for drips, turned the heat on and off, and still the tapping continued. I cleaned the floors of any crumbs a rodent could eat, I even bought a carton of unpleasant little spring traps, and the sound was still there. I turned up the television, ran the dishwasher, spent hours on the phone with old, loud friends, and still I heard it.
I was starting to think this mouse wasn't so cute anymore.
The noise wasn't so unusual, really; our building was close to a hundred years old and one expected that kind of noise. It had been built as an aspirin factory when the city still had an industrial base. After the industry moved out, one developer after another had tried to do something with the neighborhood, full of abandoned factories and warehouses like ours, but the schemes never took off. It was too far from the city, too desolate, too cold at night. As far as I was concerned it was better that the development hadn't gone as planned. Our building was still only half full. I liked the peace and quiet.
The first time we saw the loft I was absolutely sure it was the home for us. Ed needed a little convincing.
"Think of the quiet!" I told Ed. "No neighbors!"
Conduits were in place for lighting and plumbing but they had never been utilized. We would have to do major renovation. "Think of the possibilities!" I cried. "We can build it from scratch!"
Six white columns held up the place. Heat was provided by an industrial blower hung from the ceiling. "It has character," I told Ed. "It has a personality!"
He relented, and we got the place at half of what we would have paid elsewhere. We spent the extra money on renovation. Ed gave me free rein to do as I pleased. I was an architect and now I could be my own dream client. I designed every detail myself, from the off-white color of the walls to the porcelain faucets on the kitchen sink to the installation of the fireplace along the south wall, which cost a fortune but was worth the money.
The neighborhood, though, was sometimes difficult. No supermarkets, no restaurants, a few small grocery stores that specialized in beer and cigarettes. The edge of the closest commercial district for shopping was ten blocks away. and the nearest residential area was on the other side of that. But we adjusted quickly. We had a car to take us wherever we wanted on nights and weekends, and during the week we usually took the train to work. Our other concern when we first moved in was the crime, but soon enough we found out there was none. It was too desolate even for criminals. I did, however, come to be scared of the stray dogs that patrolled the neighborhood. The dogs kept their distance and I kept mine but I always felt it was an uneasy truce. I didn't trust the animals to keep their side of the bargain. Walking home from the train I would spot one lurking in a doorway or on a street corner, eyeing me with suspicion. I was sure I would have preferred a mugger, who at least would only want my money-I didn't know what these dogs wanted when they looked at me with their bloodshot eyes.
That fall I found out when a German shepherd mix followed me home from the train station one night. I thought running would only provoke him, so I continued to walk at a regular pace, faking nonchalance. The German shepherd trailed behind at an equally steady pace, also faking nonchalance. At the entrance to my building, a steel door up two wide steps, I put my key in the lock and thought I was home free-the dog stayed on the street. And then in one great leap he jumped up the two steps and attacked. With his front paws, as strong as human hands, he pushed me against the wall, ignoring my horrified screams, licked me right on my mouth and tried to seduce me. When I finally convinced him I wasn't interested, he sat down by my feet, panting with a big smile. I spent a few minutes scratching behind his ears and then sneaked through the door.
I would have forgotten about him except that the next day he was waiting for me at the train station again, and the day after that. Walking home with him became a routine. He knew a few simple commands ("sit," "stay," "no") and I was convinced he had started off life as somebody's pet. I even went to a pet store and bought a bag of nutritionally balanced dog biscuits for him. On our walks home from the train I used the biscuits to teach him a few more commands-walk, lie down, stop-trying-to-fuck-me (which we abbreviated as Stop). I hoped that if I got him into more civilized condition I could find a home for him. I would have liked to take him in myself but Edward was allergic; dogs, cats, hamsters strawberries, angora, and certain types of mushrooms were all hazardous materials, to be kept out of the apartment and handled with care.
But I was glad to have at least one friend in the neighborhood. And over the next few months it was my new friend, a nameless flea-ridden mutt, rather than Ed, who would be the first to see that I was not entirely myself.
* * *
Not that Ed wasn't attentive, not that he didn't noticed what was going on in my life. He just wasn't able to put the pieces together as quickly as the dog. Ed was my hero, my savior. Ed was the man who had imposed order on my my chaotic life. When I was single, I'd eaten cereal for dinner and ice cream for lunch. I'd kept my tax records in a shopping bag in the closet. I'd spent Saturdays in a hungover fog, watching hours of old black-and-white movies. With Ed I spent Saturdays outdoors, doing the things I had always imagined I should do: flea markets, lunches, museums. He did our taxes, with itemized deductions, every January, and filed the records away in a real file cabinet. Here was a man who could finish any crossword puzzle, open any bottle, reach the top shelf at the grocery store without strain. Here was stability, here was something I could rely on, my rock, day in and day out. Someone who loved me, who would never leave me alone. You can't blame this sophisticated, civilized man for not having the same instincts as a wild dog.
What we think is impossible happens all the time. Like the time Ed let himself into the apartment and then lost his keys, somewhere in the house, and never found them again. Like the Halloween morning where I opened a cabinet of dishes, all stacked in perfect order, and the stack of plates on the highest shelf came toppling down, one by one, to bounce off my shoulders and shatter on the floor. Or when my friend Marlene picked up the phone to call her grandmother and someone was already on the line; one of her cousins, calling to tell her her grandmother had died that morning. We could devote our lives to making sense of the odd, the inexplicable, the coincidental, but most of us don't. And neither did I.
* * *
Soon after the tapping began, Ed and I started to fight. We didn't fight all the time, we didn't change all at once. It was just a little bickering at first, I thought it was just a phase. I didn't know it was a part of a pattern, because I didn't know there was a pattern to see. I didn't know that it would escalate. If I had to pinpoint when the phase began-the phase that turned out not to be a phase at all but the start of a steady decline-I would say Valentine's Day of that year.
Our plan that Valentine's Day was to avoid the crowded restaurants and have a romantic night at home. I got off work first so I was in charge of dinner. Ed, due home at seven-ish, was supposed to bring flowers and wine. By seven, I had cooked dinner-veal marsala and broccoli rabe-set the table, and had a store-bought chocolate soufflé in the oven. But then Ed called at 7:15 from the office and said he would be at least another hour or two. Some numbers had to be checked and rechecked and they couldn't wait until tomorrow. I watched the news on television, and then a few sitcoms. I ate a bag of pretzels watching a hospital drama. At eleven the news came on again. Not much had changed.
Well into the nighttime talk shows, Ed came strolling in the door with no flowers and no wine.
"Hi hon," he said, and walked across the loft to the sofa. He leaned in to give me a kiss. I pulled my head back. How dare he, I heard myself think.
"You're late," I said. He's always late, I thought. The tapping in the apartment was especially loud that night.
"I know, I'm sorry," he said with an exaggerated hound dog face. "Apology accepted?"
"No," I said. "Apology not fucking accepted."
"Oh honey, I-"
"It's VALENTINE'S DAY!" I yelled. "Where the fuck have you been?"
"I called!" he yelled back. He walked into the bedroom to change into blue flannel pajamas and then yelled from there. "You knew I would be late!"
"You called four hours ago!"
Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. I was furious now. Nothing could make this okay.
"I'm sorry about dinner," he called, still in the bedroom. "I TOLD YOU I WAS SORRY!"
"You're always sorry!" I yelled back. "You and your FUCKING APOLOGIES !"
Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-it reached a sort of crescendo and then stopped for the night.
Ed walked out of the bedroom and I walked in, slamming the door behind me. I lay in bed and in my mind reviewed every late night, every broken promise of my marriage. An hour later Ed came to bed and I pretended to be asleep.
* * *
That night I had an odd dream, which I remembered very clearly the next morning. A red ocean was rimmed with a shore of darker crimson sand. In the ocean a woman played in the waves. She was beautiful and had big dark eyes; her only flaw was her huge head of black hair, which was matted into dirty locks. I watched her from the shore. She walked out of the ocean and the red liquid rolled off her skin like mercury. Then we were lying next to each other on the sand. Her teeth were as pointy as fangs. I thought they were pretty.
"I like you," she said. She reached over and twirled a lock of my hair around her fingers. I blushed and looked down at the red sand.
"Can I stay with you?" she asked. With my index finger I spelled out YES in the crimson sand.
Excerpted from COME CLOSER by SARA GRAN Copyright © 2003 by Sara Gran
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.