I had thought he meant alcohol but say, again, “Anything.”
He walks over to the TV set and it turns on like a sudden flash, booming, and the news is just beginning and he turns the volume up in time to hear the announcer say: “… the channel nine news team with Christine Lee filling in for Cheryl Laine …” and William walks back to the bar and pours the two of us drinks and he, mercifully, doesn’t ask why I’m not there. I turn the television off at the first commercial break.
“Where’s Linda?” I ask.
“Palm Springs,” he says. “At a colonic seminar.” A long, dull silence and then, “Supposedly they’re fun.”
“That’s nice,” I murmur. “You two still getting along?”
William smiles and brings me a drink that smells strongly of guava. I sip it cautiously, then put the glass down.
“She just finished redecorating the condo.” He motions with his arms and sits down on a beige couch across from the reclining chair. “Even though the condo is temporary.” Pause. “She’s still at Universal. She’s fine.” He sips his juice.
William doesn’t say anything else. He sips his juice again and then crosses his tan, hairy legs and looks out the window at palm trees lit by streetlamps.
I get up from the chair and walk nervously around the room. I move over to the bookshelf and pretend to look at the titles of the books on the large glass shelf and then at the titles of films on tape in the shelves below.
“You don’t look too good,” he says. “You have ink on your chin.”
It takes five minutes for William to say, “Maybe we should have stayed together.” He removes his glasses, rubs his eyes.
“Oh God,” I say irritably. “No, we shouldn’t have stayed together.” I turn around. “I knew I shouldn’t have come here.”
“I was wrong. What can I say?” He looks down at his glasses, then at his knees.
I walk away from the bookshelf and over to the bar and lean against it and there’s another long pause and then he asks, “Do you still want me?”
I don’t say anything.
“You don’t have to answer me, I guess,” he says, sounding confused, hopeful.
“This is no use. No, William, I don’t.” I touch my chin, look at my fingers.
William looks at his drink and before he sips it says, “But you lie all the time.”
“Don’t call me anymore,” I say. “That’s why I came over. To tell you this.”
“But I think I still”—pause—“want you.”
“But I”—l pause awkwardly-“want someone else.”
“Does he want you?” he asks with a quiet emphasis, and the fact refuses to escape me untouched and I slump down on a high gray barstool.
“Don’t crack up,” William says. “Don’t go to pieces.”
William gets up from the couch, puts his glass of papaya juice down and carefully walks over to me. He puts a hand on my shoulder, kisses my neck, touches a breast, almost knocking my glass over. I move away to the other side of the room, wiping my face.
“It’s surprising to see you like this,” I manage to say.
“Why?” William asks from across the room.
“Because you’ve never felt anything for anybody.”
“That isn’t true.” he says. “What about you?”
“You were never there. You were never there.” I stop. “You were never … alive.”
“I was … alive.” he says feebly. “Alive?”
“No, you weren’t.” I say.“You know what I mean.”
“What was I, then?” he asks.
“You were just—-I pause, look out over the expanse of white carpet into a massive white kitchen, white chairs on a gleaming tiled floor—“not dead.”
“And, uh, this person you’re with is?” he asks, an edge in his voice.
“I don’t know. He’s”—I stammer—“nice. Nice. Good for me.”
“He’s `good’ for you? What is he? A vitamin? What does that mean? He’s good in bed or what?” William raises his arms.
“He can be,” I mutter.
“Well, if you met me when I was fifteen—”
“Nineteen,” I say, cutting him off.
“Jesus Christ, nineteen,” he spits out.