By: Rebeka Singer
Robby sat on the stoop outside my apartment building, cigarette twitching between his fingers. I stepped in circles along the stone path that wound through the courtyard lawn.
I tiptoed, wavering, in scuffed patent flats, and looked at Robby to see if he was watching me. Wine from my plastic cup splashed over my knuckles and left an imprint on the stone, the shape of a lightening bolt or passing clouds. Those shapes twisted my brain, floating in a pool of wine and whiskey.
Most of the three-story apartment windows were dark by midnight. A few toasted lights glowed among scattered rows of windows. Robby stayed over so often that most of the tenants just assumed he lived there.
In the early evenings, we could see a white-haired man in a rocking chair, his walls lined with books. Every night he sat in his dim library and read. The scene, a magnetic painting. Longing, Robby watched him with a sniper’s eye.
“I’m confused,” I said. Robby said my voice sounded like smoke. He had said it even before I began smoking two months ago, just before the affair came out and Will left me. I inhaled my cigarette. Robby exhaled; smoke dripped from his lips. He lowered his gaze from me.
“So we’re nowhere?” He lifted the burning cigarette to his ear, so close I thought it would catch his matted hair on fire. “My god, Blair!” He shook his head, daring the flame to do it.
We had been drinking. We had always been drinking.
“I’m getting divorced, no? Jesus, Robby.” My voice cracked, dead bark in the wind. I walked up to where he sat and looked down at the crown of his head. I reached for his chin and raised his face. His eyes widened, squinty things burrowed above round cheeks. I let go. “ Do you know what I’ve sacrificed for this?“
He breathed deeply. He did this sometimes, not out of a thirst for serenity, but out of fear that his heart may explode and leave nothing but shrapnel.
“I just want us ALL to be okay. I want you Blair—for my own. I want to be better, for myself. I even want that brainless husband of yours, the aloof Prince, to find another wonderful life he can neglect and just…be happy.”
“He’s not a threat anymore, R.” I knelt on the step below him and stroked his bristly cheek. “You believe me, right?”
Withering things drifted in the skies.
“You don’t want me,” I provoked him
“Shut up! Just shut up!” He shook his head.
The sky hid its precious stars that night.
A light switched on in the street-level apartment directly behind where we sat. I perked up and Robby turned around. An old Hispanic mother of three pulled back her makeshift curtains and looked at us—an oatmeal face, I thought, in tone and texture. She didn’t scowl or shake a finger or tell us to quiet down; she just looked. Six eyes seemed to triangulate in that moment and we all knew something, something not one of us could say. Then her oatmeal face withdrew from the window and out went the light
We sat, heads lowered to the ground. I clutched his sticky hand. A fallen branch crushed underfoot. A man walked up the path, closer and closer out of the night. But even before I could make out his face, I knew it was Renner. Where do you get a name like Renner?
“Someone’s coming,” I said, imagining myself playing a game of Clue, moving the miniature replica wrench and red plastic marker into the Conservatory.
“People,” I whispered to Robby, even though I knew it was Renner.
“What kind of people?” Robby played along.
“A human,” I said. Ms. Scarlet moved through the secret passageway into the Dining Hall: the candlestick already lay on the floor.
“Ah, the worst kind.” Robby sighed. He wore a sarcastic close-mouthed smile and sipped his beer.
The mood stiffened. It was no longer just us at this midnight hour, in the midst of a lover’s quarrel, but a third party, potentially threatening, was breaking into our space.
I rested my hand on Robby’s shoulder. I knew what Robby was thinking, knew he may have even been scared of Renner, since Renner moved into his cousin’s apartment above mine a month ago after getting released from jail for a number of alleged assaults and drug possessions. The apartments talked—not so much the tenants, but the creaky stairs and drab mossy hallways. We all heard each other’s whisper among our own.
Originally published in its entirety in Eclectica Magazine, October/November 2013. This is an excerpt from And The Cunning Heart Whispers.
If you’re interested in learning more about fiction and developing your own stories and writing skills, you can sign up for Rebeka Singer’s creative writing class being offer at the Alliance JCC, beginning on February 18th.