Undecided about what to read next.
O. was pacing the front hallway waiting for something — I didn’t know what — and I was sitting with my laptop thinking of what to write. We were out of each other’s sight, but I could hear the floorboards creaking under her impatient feet and she could probably hear that I was not typing.
Once I had written something about O. which I later realized was essentially a love letter. I posted it and, after ten seconds of horror, deleted it. I didn’t save the post anywhere else before deleting it, so it was gone, and in my horror I tried to wipe my memory of what it said. I was deeply embarrassed about having posted it, even only for a few seconds. I was afraid that O. had seen it and read it before her page reloaded, or somehow saved a copy or screenshot of it and read it. I couldn’t remember what I had written, only that I was gushing, breathless, awestruck, foolish. I was never that way — with her or anyone — but in a moment of weakness it came out of me.
There was no reason for me to think that she knew about that post, no indicators, but sometimes when she looked at me she seemed to know all the darkest secrets of my deepest soul, this being one of them, to torture me with her knowledge of it, and then to shrug and look away as though it was nothing. As though my deepest secrets were a speck of dust floating in a sunbeam. That was why, I think, I loved her so much. I felt safe with her. I thought there was nothing to worry about with her because she didn’t care enough to hold my faults against me.
O. left her place in the front hallway and stood at the threshold looking down at me. “If someone comes to the door, tell them I’m not around and won’t be for the rest of the day.” I nodded and she looked pointedly at my laptop for a moment, but I didn’t know what she was trying to say.
She turned around and went upstairs or downstairs, I couldn’t tell. I started typing when she was far enough away that she couldn’t hear the keys. At first I made a lot of mistakes and hit the backspace key more than anything else, but when the floors stopped creaking I had stopped shaking and finished the first paragraph. Then the doorbell rang.
O. yelled that she would answer it, and came running from where ever she had been — upstairs, I realized, from the sound of her feet pounding the staircase in the front hallway — and slid across the floor in her socks to the front door. She flung it open with a bang and screamed, “Otto!”
I placed my laptop on a nearby table, still open, and stood up to greet them. For a few moments I could hear that they were talking, but not what they said. O. was speaking quickly, excitedly, but in the same way she usually spoke to me — as though she were speaking to someone else; as though she invited no response. I felt foolish, more foolish than usual, standing there as though waiting to be formally introduced, but I stood my ground. When they came into the room, O. was still talking to Otto and ignored me. Otto pointed his chin in my direction.
"Uncle had his coffin made before he went on his first trip to Tunisia. He had a premonition he would die there. I’m pretty sure that’s why he keeps going back. Morbid. He wanted to make sure they got the measurements right, because he’s so tall. He’s also allergic to some types of wood, so he was very strict about what it was made from. I know, even though he’ll be dead! He’s so weird. I’m not sure what kind of wood they ended up using."
"I thought your uncle wants to be cremated," Otto said.
"Oh no, he wants to be buried in the garden, out back. He drew a map once where he wants to the burial plot to be, and how he wanted the headstone to look, but I’ve lost it now, and in any case that was before the gardener re-landscaped the whole thing. I’m going to get it. I have to try it out now that I’m thinking of it. Otto, you should see this."
"Need some help?" I asked. Otto shoved his hands into his pockets.
"No," she said, leaving the room.
Otto didn’t say anything, and neither did I. I thought at first he was her brother, but from the way she talked about her uncle to him, he couldn’t be. Then I had an idea who he might be, from the few emails where O. had mentioned her real-life friends, and that made me wary of him.
O. was still talking from the other room — the second pantry behind the kitchen, I thought — but we couldn’t hear what she was saying, and I was sure she didn’t care. We waited in silence, pretending to listen to her, until finally we heard something scraping across the floor in the next room.
Otto leaned towards me as O. dragged the coffin into the middle of the room and spoke under cover of the noise it made against the hardwood floor. “You know she’s lying, right?”
I wasn’t sure whether to trust him, so I shrugged. “Does it make a difference?”
He shot a lost look in O.’s direction, and then I knew I could trust him. “Yeah, I guess not. I guess it just pisses me off sometimes.”
"Don’t tell me you don’t invent some of your own realities." I knew what his look meant, and what it felt like.
"What?" O. said, straightening and looking from Otto to me and back again. We stared blankly at her and she bent down again to adjust the rug under the coffin.
"Fuck," he said quietly, tapping his fist against the floor in a gentle show of frustration. "Fuck." He looked over at my open laptop and gestured at it, like he wanted to punch it. "You met her online?" I nodded and he sighed deeply. "One of those." I couldn’t tell if he meant to offend me or scare me off. I wondered if O. had ever been in love with him. I imagined that she probably had been, a long time ago, and he believed it still held some power with her, while she knew it still held power with him.
He stood up, walking toward the front hallway. He knew she wouldn’t see him out. “Gotta go, O. See you Friday night?”
"Bye, Otto," she said as she stepped into the coffin, looking at the space around her body as though she wasn’t sure she’d fit.
Otto stuck his head back in the door and lifted an eyebrow at me as though asking a question, but I didn’t know how to answer him. He turned and a few seconds later the front door slammed. I stood up slowly, darkness swimming suddenly before my eyes. I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast alone late that morning. Outside the last of the twilight was fading. O. would soon be going to bed.
"What does the O. stand for?" I asked.
She laid down in the coffin and crossed her arms over her chest. “Nothing,” she said, closing her eyes.
#assignment in danger
We laid in the afternoon glow, bare arm to bare arm. I had just said something that I can’t recount, that I would never repeat. I wanted to take the words back but I held my breath and waited for O. to react. I expected her to jerk away from me, imagined that my thoughtless words transmitted themselves through my skin into her skin and sent a shock of revulsion through her. I waited for her to recoil, but she only continued to breathe into the light. Minutes passed and I thought she was punishing me. But then she said, “I’ve been thinking what to have for dinner. Would you help me make a stirfry?” I wanted to grab her and clasp her and grope her with gratitude. But I only said, “Sure.”
#assignment in danger
This book is essentially a fantasy of my life had I gone to university right out of high school and stuck to writing fan fiction instead of other things and hadn’t gotten into online relationships. Cath’s problems with meeting people and doing new things were very familiar. Not the twin sister or parental issues though. And I mostly wrote Sailor Moon fan fiction (too old for Harry Potter) and was never popular. And I did not have anyone in real life with whom I had fan fiction in common. (Still don’t.) And writing is a solitary thing for me, not something that I can do with someone else (except, kind of, long ago, for the life story exchanges with my few real life best friends and one internet best friend, Jessica). So not that close to my own life, but close enough.
I wish there had been more focus on Cath’s struggles as a writer of things other than fan fiction. I liked the parts with the writing professor and the fiction-writing course make-up chance, but then her story appeared out of the blue in the end. It would’ve been nice to see more of that process.
That’s the only negative thing I have to say about this book, and it’s not even enough to make me remove a star. Maybe I would’ve liked to see more about Cath’s relationships with online people? Like her beta reader who was mentioned in passing like twice? I never had a beta reader either. Anyway. I reread most of the book again after I finished, and then parts of it again. It’s due back at the library soon so I may have to buy my own copy.
(My Goodreads review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell)
I was sick for most of last week, so by Saturday I hadn’t run in seven days and was behind on my training plan and was very ready to go out. The temperatures were well above freezing — a relief after the whole polar vortex thing. Unfortunately I didn’t stop to think what the sidewalks would be like. Last week, even the sidewalks that were normally well-cleared were mostly covered in ice — thick ice where salt didn’t make much difference.
Just before I left home on Saturday I saw someone mention on Facebook that Bayfront Park was too icy for a walk, but I headed in that direction anyway. I was running at a decent pace on the clear parts — because running is fun and I was excited to be out and I wasn’t cold even though I wasn’t warmed up yet — but then trying to navigate the uncleared parts I did mostly a kind of flat-footed hop. I don’t know how I managed not to fall.
I thought a lot about turning around to go home and run on the treadmill. I passed the way to the park because it looked scary and kept going north. I ran on the street in the quiet neighbourhoods where people were standing in their driveways, pounding at the ice. I was listening to an audiobook but not paying any attention to it. I thought about a street I had passed closer to home that looked promisingly ice-free and finally turned around. The sidewalk turned out to be very well cleared and it led to another clear sidewalk and then another, so I did joyful loops — no flat-footed hopping! — and finished off with some 20-second strides — without worrying about landing on my ass! — and then I was ready to go home.
I took a different way home, along Main Street, figuring that a street where there are regular bus stops would be clear. I was wrong. A certain lot owned by someone who wants to build another condo — practically next door to ours — was kind of a deathtrap, because the sidewalk’s on a slant toward the street which meant that if I slipped I was going to fall into oncoming traffic. Made it past that block alive but barely.
Today, Sunday, I was initially going to use the treadmill because I didn’t want to bother with sidewalks again, but everything was less wet than it was yesterday and the sun was out and some of the warmth was hanging on, so I found an ice-free route to the joyful loop from Saturday and did some speed work. Two minutes fast and two minutes slow for 30 minutes — eight loops. I listened to the same audiobook from yesterday but actually paid attention. There were puddles which I had no choice but to splash through. I chased my own fading wet footprints.
The training plan gives a range for the fast pace and I beat it seven out of eight times, mostly without getting a stitch in my side like I normally do when I push myself. I walked for parts of the slow intervals but that was partly because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that and partly because it was hard to focus on maintaining a slow pace and I would run too fast. Finished with my best average pace ever for this distance. Only two workouts behind now on my training plan.
O. and I used separate bathrooms at her uncle’s house to get ready in the morning and at night before bed. I wasn’t exactly sure where hers was, because it was attached to her bedroom and it was one of the doors that was always closed. There was one set of double doors and two single doors, and I hadn’t spent enough time in her room to figure out which went where. I suspected one was a laundry room, the double doors probably the closet. My bedroom was just down the hall, either another room or a closet between our doors, and a lot of wall space covered with framed pictures I mostly found disturbing without looking closely at them.
I brought my own arsenal of toiletry items, but my bathroom came with a large variety of elegant sample-sized soaps, lotions, and perfumes. I only used my own things for the first few days, but on the third morning, confident and optimistic, I used one of the tiny individually wrapped soaps and a couple of squirts from one of the bottles of lotion, from the top of which I had to peel back a protective cover.
That morning in the kitchen, O. leaned close to me, in a sudden move that brought her nose to my neck, and my heart nearly stopped or at least sputtered. “Mmm, you smell different this morning,” she said, then pulled away to open the refrigerator. I didn’t trust myself to respond to any of her comments for the next half hour, but that was nothing new. I could only smile and nod and murmur noises of agreement or interest.
The next morning, I tried the same again, but O. gave me no reaction. The morning after that, I tried a different pair of soap and lotion, but still nothing. There were very few moments she came that close to me again during those two weeks we spent together. I went back to using my own products. I always wondered what products she used, what she would smell like if I touched my nose to her neck, but then I could not bring myself to come so close to her out of fear that she would pull away from me again as she did in the moments after we first met.
Instead I imagined her getting ready for the day in the morning and getting ready for bed at night. I could hear when O. was in her bathroom — the water in the pipes — and I was sure she could hear me as well. I imagined her in my own bathroom, since I couldn’t imagine her own with any accuracy. I imagined her bent over the sink, leaning close to the mirror, looking at herself, turning her head from one side to the other. The tap water running over her fingers and down her hands and up her arms, wetting the sleeves of her shirt. The water splashed in her face, the damp hair at her forehead and temples, the clarity of her eyes between wet eyelashes. I imagined her while looking at myself, trying to replace myself with her, trying to be, I think, her.
#assignment in danger
We leaned against the bed’s headboard in one of the three or four guestrooms we weren’t staying in. There were flat pillows in the smalls of our backs and books on our laps. We were reading there because that was where the late morning light was best, O. said, although we kept the blinds closed.
I was stifled with pleasure to be there, on a bed next to her, so casually, as if we were best friends or a married couple. I couldn’t focus on my book and hadn’t read a word. O. kept turning her pages as I stared at mine, and I was worried she would notice that I wasn’t actually reading. I didn’t want her to think that I wasn’t enjoying myself, sitting with her on a bed in the late morning of a weekday when normally I would be at work, stuck in my boring routine, like everyone else. I was so happy that I was afraid of doing or saying something wrong, so I kept as still as I could, nearly holding my breath, thinking about anything except how happy I was. I don’t remember what book she was reading or what book I wasn’t reading — only the quality of the light and the sound of her breath which at times seemed to overtake mine.
Eventually I couldn’t stay there any longer; I had to get away. “How about some tea?” I asked. O. made a noise of assent without looking up from her book.
I didn’t know whether her uncle had a kettle or what kind of tea there was or what kind of tea she wanted or how she took it. But I went downstairs to the kitchen and fumbled my way to a cupboard full of mugs and leaned against the counter in a state of bliss as I waited for the water to boil.
When I came upstairs again with mugs for both of us, having spilled some tea on the landing and possibly burned my hand, O. had finished reading and closed her book and opened the blinds and was looking out the window at her uncle’s garden. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said. I left the mugs of tea on a table in the hallway.
#assignment in danger
I sat on a rug with my back against the sofa, shivering in a cold draft from the fireplace. O. was standing on a chair, reaching up with a broom to clear cobwebs from the chandelier that hung in the middle of the room. Her first swipe showered flakes of dust in my direction, and I pretended to cough, hoping to make her laugh. She scrunched her eyebrows as though this made her unhappy with me, and I slouched further down against the sofa until I had a view of the dust bunnies beneath it.
“I can’t believe Uncle didn’t hire someone to keep this place clean,” she said. “How could he think the dust would just stop existing while he’s away?” Having cleared away most of the cobwebs from the chandelier, she let the broom clatter to the floor and hopped down from the chair. She reached up to neaten or mess up her hair, I couldn’t tell which, and stood with her hands on her head. She pushed out a loud breath at the sight of the new piles of dust on the rug and the coffee table and left the room.
I listened carefully but couldn’t tell where she went, because I wasn’t familiar enough yet with the house. Kitchen? Boot room? Upstairs? Everything creaked regardless of where one went. I tried to memorize the contents of each of the few rooms I had seen so far — the furniture, the windows, the doors, the plants, the hangings on the walls, and even the dust and dirt and general sag of things — so that I could remember it after I left. But I wasn’t sure of how the rooms connected yet, what the house as a whole was like. I couldn’t pull far enough away from each moment so far with O. in the room with me to place it in context, to understand each room’s place inside the house on a vast picturesque landscape by a river outside a shy little town, just one expensive flight and a three-hour drive away from where I lived.
O. hadn’t seemed to notice the dust yesterday, after I arrived and we laid on the rug together in the last of the day’s sunlight. She hadn’t seemed to notice anything except that we were finally together, breathing the same air, physically close to each other. We didn’t say very much, but we didn’t have to.
The feeling we shared yesterday dissipated this morning, and O. seemed to become impatient. I pretended not to notice, and eased away from her as she eased away from me. I didn’t let her see that I noticed any change. That was the way we had always been. When she didn’t answer my messages or respond to my emails for days or weeks or months at a time, I never asked her to explain or reproached her or brought it up later when she contacted me again. I hadn’t earned the privilege of feeling hurt or anger as a result of her actions. We had only been friends on the internet, and now that we had met, no matter how nice it was that first day, nothing had changed.
O. returned with a different shirt on, a handkerchief tied over her hair, faded pink rubber gloves, and an old-fashioned powerless vacuum sweeper, with which she began vigorously but ineffectively to get the dust out of the rug. I jumped up and gestured toward the thing to take it from her. Without looking up at me she shrugged and passed it over, handle first.
“No vacuum,” O. said, hands on her hips, watching me. “A house like this and I can’t find a vacuum cleaner, you know, with a plug?” Her body tilted with her half-angry expression of sarcasm. “How can we possibly stay here for two weeks without a vacuum cleaner? And all this dust?” I suggested that we could buy one, and she continued as though I hadn’t said anything. “No way am I investing in Uncle’s household. That nut. I can’t believe him. Well, at least he has plenty of rags and paper towels and things. I’m sure we can figure out something.” She marched out of the room, and I turned to watch her go. “Come and help me,” she called.
We spent the rest of the afternoon sweeping dust under the rugs and wiping down surfaces, leaving everywhere tiny piles of dirt that would not disappear no matter what we tried. O. would do a thorough job of one object or surface but then, fatigued, do a poor job of the next without seeming to notice. I resisted the urge to re-clean everything she touched and instead focused on my own objects and surfaces.
We stopped when O. was satisfied. We were filthy. O. handed me her rag, pulled the handkerchief off her head, and said, “I’m going to take a bath.”
#assignment in danger
Books in the Year 2013
It’s late on Dec 30th which means I still have a day’s reading left — and the holidays this year have proven especially fruitful in terms of reading; me and the couch, we never part for long — but to date I have read 73 books this year. Looking back on the titles, I remember something about most of them, which is more than I’ve been able to say in previous years. But what did I think of them all? An exhausting question, impossible to answer. All I can do is sigh deeply and give you more numbers. Seven of the 73 were audiobooks. Six were non-fiction. All were published in the 20th or 21st century. Nine were published in 2013. Three were by Barbara Pym; four were by Richard Stark. Four were about running; five I listened to while running. Nine additional books I started but did not finish (one at least I will take up again later). I’m currently reading four books, two of which are dippers/slow-burns and two of which I will probably finish before I go back to work on Thursday, if I put my mind to it. Next year, I think, I will read more.
This afternoon the sun was blazing again, warm enough for two layers instead of three. The snow was gone from the bay and the ice was melting, but even more people were out ice fishing on the little inlet off the boat launch. Tents and buckets set out among puddles on the ice. They seemed daring but of course knew better what they were doing than I did. The very cold temperatures recently must hold out well enough against a couple of days above freezing. And the deep freeze will return.
Part of today’s 14k run seems to have involved swimming.