categories: Cocktail Hour
[The ongoing saga, 500 words at a time, more or less. This week’s written on the plane from Boston Logan to Indianapolis this morning, and revised in a nicer hotel than Ted’s. Tune in next week for more, always more! To start at the beginning, scroll down to Episode 1]
The Weight of Light
Ted woke to bright sunlight, woke again to darkness, felt heavy as a Richard Serra wall, felt the pillow sinking and sinking under his head, groaned Quiet, he remembered. Be quiet. Cautiously he patted the bed around him, the remains of a plastic tie catching painfully at his wrist. A red light shone intermittently close. He reached for it, found he could touch it. A clock. 3:57. On a table. He sat up, made out the lines of a small room, a dresser, an old TV set. Lamps. A motel room. He stood and tried the door, which opened out to a parking lot, not a single car, orangey halogen lighting, unreal, also a stiff, chill breeze, stars above.
Sign: Hi-Way Motel.
Tumbleweed blowing through the lot.
He shut himself back in the room, threw the chain bolt.
In the bathroom he drank copiously, vomited, drank more, collapsed to his knees, crawled back toward the bed.
He woke next on the coarse carpet, lay there a while in bright sunshine coming in a tiny window at the back of the room. He pulled himself up, sat on the bed, stared at the clock: 9:21. 9:22. 9:23. His pants were twisted around his legs, the plastic ties still on his ankles. He picked up the old-school phone to call 9-1-1, but a woman answered: “You been in there two days.”
He’d been involved in a crime, he felt strongly. And didn’t know who he was talking to, caution. “Do you serve breakfast,” he managed to say.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” the woman said.
“Anything at all?”
“Honey, I got nothing. And I ain’t riding you nowhere, if that’s what yer asking. Couldn’t even if I would, got no vehicle.”
“Just tell me where I am.”
“They said you was ill.”
“I’m feeling better.”
“They said you might be a little whacked cracker.”
“I’m fine. Just very hungry.”
Abruptly the woman hung up. In moments, the door opened and she was pushing at the chain. “Now let that chain off, honey. You got nothing to fear.” She stuck a banana through the crack in the door to prove it, that he had nothing to fear. He staggered up and took it, peeled it, ate it, all of it, two bites.
“You was hungry,” the woman said.
“Who do you work for?” Ted said.
“Black Jack Brainard,” the woman said jovially. “Who the heck do ya think?”
“Yessir, the emptiest little motel this side of the divide.”
“Who left me here?”
“Couple of gentlemen. Could not have been nicer.”
“Do you have a name?”
“No, I mean, did they leave a name?”
“Please ta meet you, too.”
“Did they say anything at all.”
“They had a nice truck. Big, fat, white shiny truck.”
“Is there a taxi?”
“Well, Jack will be back Sunday. He might ride you into town.”
“What day is it now?”
“What town is it? That he might ride me into?”
“Well, it’s Enid.”
“It was a big Dodge Ram, beautiful.”
“They said they’d be back.”
The Weight of Light so far:
“A Heavy Weight”
Ted rushed up the stairs from the A-train at Columbus Circle with the crowd, a shuffling mass of humanity heading for work, as he was. Ahead of him a man in a suit slipped and stumbled, caught himself, stood again, then fell. The crowds just coursed around him, but Ted stopped. The poor guy’s face was right on the cold cement and hardened gum and spittle.
“I’m all right,” the man said.
“You’re not,” Ted said.
“I’m not,” the man said.
“Call Ellen, please,” the man said. And his eye rolled back.
“Yes,” said Ted. He cradled the man’s cheek off the cement in one hand as everyone else in the world hurried up the stairs past them, fished his phone out of his front jacket pocket with the other, placed it on the step, unlocked it with an awkward finger, then punched the right buttons: 9-1-1. He touched speaker and the ringing seemed very loud. A Hispanic voice, female, said, “What is the nature of your emergency?”
And Ted, always efficient, answered every question as the crowd from his train dwindled. The stairs were almost empty now, and two more people had stopped, a black woman in a dashiki and a subway worker with a first-aid kit. The woman murmured kindly to the victim, took over the cradling of his head. The worker, admirably prepared, admirably trained, opened the kit, prepared a syringe, gave the guy a shot right in the neck, then helped Ted turn him on his back, began a clumsy administration of CPR. The woman murmured in prayer; the worker pumped the victim’s chest; Ted held the victim’s legs up high per instructions. Very nice shoes.
Surprisingly quickly, the EMTs were there, a tall bespectacled fellow in a St. Vincent’s jacket and a short woman dressed the same, but with a bright, leafy tattoo climbing her neck. The woman took over the chest compressions from the worker as the tall EMT administered oxygen and thanked them all. Ted kept holding the guy’s feet even as the woman in the dashiki removed the beautiful shoes. A third EMT brought a stretcher down, and he and the tall fellow loaded the victim on it and carried him up the stairs while their colleague kept up her dogged work. The subway worker followed them. The black woman hugged Ted and he hugged her back, silently. She smelled of cooking. “Lord Jesus, help him,” she said. She patted Ted’s shoulders, then handed him the guy’s shoes. Probably they’d cost two thousand dollars: Ferrangamo.
The woman bustled down the steps to the squealing of a train arriving. Ted climbed out into the sunshine, carrying the shoes. The ambulance had already pulled out. No sign of the subway worker. He held the shoes and watched a long time. And then he simply walked to his new office, all the new faces, all the pleasant smiles, found his desk over the gallery floor, put the shoes in one of the empty drawers in his desk, opened yesterday’s file on his huge new I-Mac, stared at the meaningless words and images and icons a long time, found himself weeping copiously, no one to tell.
He’d have to find Ellen.
The Weight of Light
Of course the incident stayed with him. The next day he left the office after the morning meeting. Found he couldn’t concentrate. From the street he called St. Vincent’s Hospital and asked about a man who’d fallen in the subway. “No such report,” the woman at the admit extension said. He asked for the EMT office and she connected him without a goodbye.
“Mr. Swallow,” the next desk said.
“Yes,” Ted replied. “How’d you know my name?”
“Oh, it comes up on the screen here with your address and, like, your college girlfriend’s astrological sign.”
“You don’t sound like you’re kidding”
“You’re calling about Mr. Allway. I was one of the guys on the steps at Columbus Circle egress 12. I’m Rick. I happen to be on desk this morning. But.”
“How is he?”
“I’m afraid he’s dead. Likely, he was dead when we arrived. Aneurysm, likely. Pronounced in the wagon. We took him straight down to the morgue at Bellevue. His wife was there before we finished the paper. Poor kid, crumbled.”
“He asked me to call her.”
“I’m not allowed to tell you her phone or her name. But you know the first name. Same last name as the deceased. A two-one-two number, which means Manhattan. His name was Richard, like mine. The prefix is two-five-five. That’s the Village. They’re on Bank Street. There are two more numbers I’m thinking of. Five-four-five-four, and twenty-nine.”
“Rick, thank you.”
“One might be a street address, one might be a phone number.”
“Okay. Got it. You’re a good man.”
“Not everyone stops,” Rick said.
“It was the decent thing to do.”
“You were his last human touch.”
“I thought of that. Often it’s you, I suspect.”
“It’s a heavy weight, Mr. Swallow.”
“It’s a very heavy weight, Ted.”
It was a very heavy weight, all right. Ted hadn’t had so much trouble picking up the phone since he’d been in high school and wanted to quit chorus. His father had said fine but made him dial Mrs. Conklin himself, and her disappointment in him was so palpable that he’d changed his mind mid-conversation, finished out the chorus season in misery, one of only three boys in the risers, and worse, the one who’d tried to quit.
It would be easier from the office. Morning would be best. For the fourth consecutive day he scanned the newspapers and Googled galore, but there was no mention of Mr. Allway, nothing he could find, anyway.
Finally, a week after then incident, he did it. Punched the numbers. The message machine at the other end picked up, one of those mechanical voices, a generic greeting. He hung up. You couldn’t leave such a message on an answering machine. After lunch he tried again, got the machine again. His first client meeting took up the afternoon and it was successful, two hundred fourteen prints for the new W hotel in Philly and a great conversation after with the artist, one he’d brought with him from Markson-Markson, ha.
That kept him busy through the afternoon, contracts and billing. At five he called Ellen Allway again. The phone rang a dozen times. A weary, wary voice: “Hello?”
The Weight of Light
“Mrs. Allway, this is Ted Swallow, Theodore. I was on the subway steps when your husband fell. I tried to help. I’m sorry for you loss. I only call because he said to call you.” And they’d been the poor guy’s last words.
“ … Okay.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. Terrible.”
“No. No. I mean. I’m sorry. Thank you for calling. It’s good to know.” She began to cry. “Pardon me. Perfect stranger. Your kindness. It’s overwhelming.”
“There were some others there as well.”
“All so kind.”
“Have you someone there with you?”
“He should be home soon.”
“I have his shoes. If you want them. We had to remove them and they were left there when the ambulance went.”
“My sister, I mean. My sister is here.”
“Is there a service?”
“You keep the shoes. I guess that would be best. You just kept the shoes.” She was crying again. “I don’t know. A service, yes.”
He stayed on till she subsided. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.
“The shoes aren’t important.”
“I know. I’m sorry I brought them up.”
He had his own problems, of course. The new job was new because he and his wife had broken up their gallery business when they split, all fairly amicably. He’d got their modest apartment in the West Village and moved into the city, she’d kept the house in Jersey and much of their social circle with it. The apartment was barely furnished, though he had items coming from storage—nice pieces that had been left by his parents, a few other picks. He’d bought a bed to replace the old one, bought a new fridge. The fridge remained empty. The nights remained solitary. The job got to be more fun. He’d never had four meetings a day, not ever. He bought a few new shirts.
Friday a week after his talk with Ellen Allway, she called back, a different woman, fresh and bright, still a little sadness. And in her brightness the slight trace of a British accent, something that had been hidden before, or suppressed. “You know,” she said, “I think I’d like to meet you. I wouldn’t mind to see where it happened. They say it will help to know where it happened. You can tell the story to me. I mean, if you’re inclined. And I’ll buy coffee. We can talk and you can tell me. If you’re inclined, I mean.” Definitely British.
They made a plan for Sunday, meet at Fedora, an overly nice restaurant in his neighborhood. But a landmark. And then they held a silence. He listened, but she didn’t seem to be crying.
Finally, she said, “Sunday then.”
“Sunday. Oh, and I could bring the shoes.”
“Your husband’s shoes. The ones he was wearing. The EMT removed them, the guy from the ambulance crew, and they were left behind. I can understand you wouldn’t recall my saying so. They’re nice shoes.”
“Oh, very nice, I’m sure. Yes, I suppose. Bring the shoes.”
“And Mr. Swallow?”
“Please tell no one of our plan.”
“No one,” he said, a little amused, but intrigued: the odd needs of a woman in mourning.
He buzzed down to reception and asked Bonnie if she or anyone on the floor had a shopping bag. Shortly she trotted out of the glass elevator with something pink in hand—a shopping bag from La Petite Coquette, garish pink, neatly folded. Well, that would do, and he’d dispense with duty.
The Weight of Light
The Fedora is in a basement space, down five or six cement steps from the street, and old, one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in the city. Ted walked down and looked—no customers as yet, so early in the day. Outside he held the pink underwear or maybe dildo bag and tried not to pace. This was a mission of mercy. A woman approached—she looked like she’d sounded, rather plump and a little short as her husband had been, his age, mid-fifties. He started to greet her but she walked straight by with a cross look—wrong woman. Late for the appointment, a very tall, very distracted woman in a very straight black dress stopped. He’d paid no attention to her approach. “Mr. Swallow?” she said.
“You’d expected someone older?” She might have been a model, that kind of overly angular beauty. The shoes felt heavy in his hand.
“No,” he said.
“It’s in the basement?” she said, pointing down the stairs.
“It’s nice,” Ted said.
“Does it have a back door? A rear exit?”
“No, it’s built right into the ground.”
“Let’s find another.”
Around the corner there was an espresso joint and she ducked in there among the dozen people clicking at laptops. “Better,” she said.
She didn’t look like someone who had ever cried, too brisk and efficient for that. And briskly, efficiently, she ordered a latte. He got juice. No need for nerves now. Her hair swept over her eye and she was made up plainly, her skin very pale. “You’re nice,” she said.
“How are you holding up.”
“It’s bad,” she said. And then she did begin to cry, dry little sobs into the black linen napkin the waitress had brought.
“Okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”
“I didn’t treat him well,” she said.
“Probably very well,” Ted told her.
“No, not well at all.”
He patted her arm.
At length, she said, “Do you know where he was going?”
“When you met?”
“I don’t. Of course I don’t.”
“He was going to a meeting. A project he’d been working on for years. He’d sunk all our money into it. Our apartment, too, in effect. Completely sunk, I’m learning. Double and triple mortgages. There was to be a handsome payout and he’d finally achieved it, the life project, his opus magnum.”
“Magnum opus,” Ted said, and wished he hadn’t.
“Hocus-pocus,” Ellen said without inflection. “He was going to meet his investors and they were going to sign and he was to come home with a check, these people he’d been courting for years, finally on board, all of them. At his lawyers. A contract. Finally the money, Mr. Swallow. By Skype from Dubai and Finland and Singapore, a consortium, with a couple of factotums in person. He’d been talking about it for weeks, months. And now, you see, it’s not going to happen. And so I’m left with less than nothing—an apartment going under the waves, Mr. Swallow, and mountains of debt. If he’d only been able to sign!”
And now she wept again.
Ted was nothing if not practical: “But surely his product or service is still of value?”
“He was the product, Mr. Swallow. He was the service. He designs systems. Designed. I don’t even have any idea what this one was all about or only sort of. Movement of capital between corporations, between banking systems, political systems. It was fascinating. He talks about it all the time. Talked. It is fascinating. He did talk. Oh!”
Ted patted her arm.
She only talked faster: “I just spent an hour at the lawyer’s this morning. And he hasn’t told them yet. About the death. Only the fall. And, well, this is awful, but. This is awful but I don’t know you. And yet I have a favor to ask. I’ll reward you. We’ll reward you.”
“None needed,” Ted said. “I just wanted to help.”
“You’re kind. I knew you were kind. If you’d just come this afternoon to the lawyer’s, sit at the meeting.”
“It will be nothing. Honestly. Sit at the meeting as my husband. Sign his name on the papers. That’s all. And all the money would come through. Mr. Rickets has already post-dated a death certificate. Mr. Rickets our lawyer. He knows the city systems manager. He can get it through. My husband will die next week.” Her eyes were deep and brown and she gazed at him steadily now, seeming to find something inside him he’d never known about.
Slowly, he said, “I don’t see how you think I’d get away with this.”
“They’ve never all met.” Honestly, her face, her hands, her hair falling across her eye. Her felt himself falling into her as if falling into a great abyss. You’d fly a while.
He said, “With respect, Mrs. Allway: impossible. These people all know your husband. Knew him. This is not a ruse for real life.”
The typists around them in the coffee shop were taking notice, subtle stares.
Ellen lowered her voice: “Only the man from Singapore has actually met my husband, and he’ll be joining us on Skype. This afternoon. You can wear a hat, a bandage, some makeup, you have had a fall, an injury. They won’t look closely. You won’t have to say anything at all.”
“You’re in shock,” Ted said. “You are desperate. I understand. You are in mourning. Perhaps I can help you some other way. Your lawyer is taking advantage of you.”
“Mr. Rickets is a dear friend. And he’s just trying to save my life.”
“This will never work. You’ll just find yourself in more trouble.”
“Oh, Mr. Swallow, please. You’d be a simple stand-in, nothing more, then on your way. You could even wear his shoes.”
The Weight of Light
Mr. Rickets office turned out to be the entire 61st floor of the Branch building on 57th street, quiet and softly lit, elegant work stations, elegantly dressed people at work, mahogany everywhere, including every scrap of trim and all the many bookshelves in the conference room, which was outfitted with a large hidden screen upon which a Cisco systems interface showed a pair of plushly similar conference rooms waiting empty, one with stainless steel trim, Ted noticed, the other black stone.
Ted took the seat offered by Mr. Rickets’s secretary, a very tall young man with freckles and an absent manner. In normal circumstances Ted thought, he’d say something about having worked for Cisco Systems a few years at the beginning of his career. The shoes felt good on his feet, soft as slippers. Mr. Allway’s shoes. This same secretary had given him a hat to wear over the false bandages a make-up artist had applied over false scabs and a realistic black eye and already, not a lie told, Ted felt far too enmeshed in Mrs. Allway’s plan. He had yet to meet Mr. Rickets and only meeting Mr. Rickets, he thought, would give him a compass to work with.
But the doors opened with an airlock sucking sound, and another secretary, a tough little older woman, showed Mrs. Allway to his side. “Oh darling,” she said and sat beside him, fixed his collar, pecked his cheek, patted concerned at his bandages, touched his chin to turn him a little and look at his wound, warmest concern, took his hand in hers, gloved like Jackie Kennedy’s hand would be eternally gloved. Ted felt a wish rise up that he really might be Mr. Allway, squeezed the gloved hand, got nothing in return. Her warmth was a rehearsal, and that was all, or not all, as they’d been advised to imagine themselves closely watched from the second they entered the room.
Freckles stood in a corner with his hands crossed over the front of his pants like someone hiding an erection or expecting to be kicked, his face perfectly blank. Soon, the doors sucked opened again, and the little tough lady showed a portly, florid fellow to the opposite side of the table. “Ach,” said the man, quickest glance at Ted, longer look at Mrs. Allway: “Ve heard of your fall, terrible.”
“I’m recovering nicely,” Ted said just as he’d been coached. The accent had been mimicked perfectly for him: this was counsel for Fortune Industries Dubai, a man Mr. Allway had talked to often on the phone, apparently, but had never met.
Onscreen a secretary much like the secretaries at work here entered the stainless steel room, straightened chairs, and then her bosses filed in, seven tidy men in black and white, the Shanghai contingent. And then the black stone room filled, three men in headscarves and kaftans.
“Mr. Allway,” one of them said. “My blessings!”
“Mr. Medwallah,” Ted said. He’d got his three squeezes from Mrs. Allway.
“Terrible,” said Mr. Medwallah.
“It was no Sunday ride in a Ferrari,” Ted said as he’d been instructed.
This elicited the expected laugh, and then more, the Dubai team leaning in to hear the story. A 140 mph ride in Medwallah’s car after a meeting in Cairo. Mr. Allway had fainted.
The Shanghai contingent listened politely.
Finally Mr. Ricketts entered, a perfectly unremarkable man in rumpled chinos and a blue blazer. “All here?” he said.
The Weight of Light
“The Need Shall Not”
“One and all,” someone said halfway around the world.
“Then with no further ado,” said Mr. Ricketts.
Signatures were appended to documents in three conference rooms. The fax machine beeped and whirred. “Did you get my gift?” One of the Shanghai set said.
Mrs. Allway squeezed once.
“Mr. Soo, so good to see you. Don’t you see I’m wearing them?” He put his feet up on the table to general laughter.
“A great trick,” said Mr. Soo. “To learn your shoe size.”
“I was happy to help,” said Mrs. Allway briskly.
The German fellow gathered the faxed and original pages offered to him, inspected each, added his own signature, and more faxing and whirring and signing ensued. When the next wave of paper was before him, the German opened a padded book and wrote, tore off the document, an outsize check. “Velcome to The Project,” he said to Ted.
In the distant offices, everyone clapped.
Ted took the symbolic check, held it long enough to see the amount, written in the most elegant hand, with curious plurals: Thirteen millions, five hundred thousands dollars and no/ 100ths.
Ted said, “Thank you.”
“The first of ten,” said Mr. Medwallah.
“And that only the start,” said Mr. Soo. “If the path we’ve painted proves passable.”
“Mr. Allway must get back to his rest,” said Mr. Ricketts.
Ted bowed his head as he’d been instructed: man with a headache.
The screens went blank, the German got up and was shown out.
Mrs. Allway dropped Ted’s hand.
“Well done,” she said.
Mr. Ricketts handed Ted an envelope. “A token of our gratitude,” he said. “Your consultation has been very much appreciated.”
Ted opened the envelope. A check for $35,000. “No, no,” he said.
Mr. Ricketts only shrugged.
Mrs. Allway got up with no more than a cold nod his direction, her beauty only more severe. Freckles showed her out.
Mr. Ricketts pushed a piece of paper in front of him. “Just sign this invoice.”
Consultation services, it said. With his full name, which he hadn’t given anyone, and his accurate address and phone, simple and to the point, a little unsettling.
He signed it. If she was going to be like that, one mercenary to another.
“Don’t think of it as hush money,” the lawyer said. “We have other, much more effective ways to keep you quiet, should the need arise.”
Ted said, “The need shall not.”
The door to the fine room sucked open and freckles returned. “Mr. Allway,” he said.
“Swallow,” Ted said, standing.
And freckles showed him out, a stiff hand on Ted’s elbow. They got into the waiting elevator together and stood in perfect silence as the doors closed. Smoothest elevator Ted had ever felt. When the doors opened, he was surprised to be facing the roof and the sky and a thousand midtown buildings. Also a helicopter on a landing pad, blades whirring and popping at the wind. Another, much bigger man joined them, took Ted’s other elbow forcibly and with Freckle’s help overcame Ted’s efforts at resistance, threw him bodily up into the hold of the chopper, where another big man laid him efficiently face down and strapped his wrists and ankles together with plastic ties even as the aircraft lifted off, even as it swung out over the world and away.
Ted struggled, wriggled till he could turn his neck, and looking straight into his eyes was Ellen, her mouth covered in duct tape and her hands and feet tied like Ted’s.
The Weight of Light
The big man had taken the co-pilot’s seat, and he and the unseen pilot shouted back and forth in some fast language that sounded Asian, though the big man had looked more European, maybe Slavic. Behind their backs on the icy steel deck of the chopper, Ted lay in misery, the plastic bands cutting into his wrists. Ellen began to writhe, her eyes very wide, a message there, writhed and wriggled till her face was upon his. “What?” he said in her ear.
She murmured behind the duct tape, pressed her cheek to his mouth.
Oh. With his teeth, he tugged at the edge of the tape, managed to loosen it, but clearly it was not drugstore duct tape, instead something stronger, much stronger, industrial gaffer’s tape likely, the stuff they used in the galley, fifty bucks a roll, black as a winter night. And how it must pull at her skin. She nodded urgently, though, and he continued his tugging. The helicopter’s engine was loud, the rotors beating the air. Ted tugged, Ellen moaned—the tape stuck hard, the pulling must hurt terribly. He licked under the edge of tape he’d lifted, slathered her cheek, trying to soften the adhesive, tugged again to fresh groans, licked, tugged again, very hard to keep a grip with his teeth, tiny increments of progress. The pilots just kept talking, shouting back and forth, big, carefree laughs and snorts. The steel of the helicopter deck vibrated jarringly, icy and getting colder. Ted pulled and licked and bit at the tape till it had come loose to the edge of her lips, and now the licking and tugging and pulling was something like kissing, especially as the tape came far enough for her to start licking, too, increasing moisture, and their tongues touched, no way around it. His heart beat with fear and fury and terrible unfairness. He bit hard on the small flap of tape they had finally freed and pulled at it. She moaned and tears came to her eyes. He tasted blood—the tape was tearing her skin. And still she nodded. He pulled again and their tongues licked and the tape came free another half inch and now he could understand her. “Hurts,” she said.
“Hurts,” he said back.
“I’m sorry,” she said as best she could.
He tugged a little more at the tape and it was more and more like kissing as they worked together to free her lips, and then it was kissing, or seemed to be, a startling deep kiss on the deck of a helicopter, he kept realizing, with everyone back at the new gallery wondering why the new guy hadn’t made it to the afternoon sales conference, his first presentation.
He pulled at the tape once more and kissed her salty, bleeding mouth and she kissed him back.
“They’ll kill us,” she said. “They’ll drop us in the sea.”
“How are your teeth?” he said. And then he writhed and wriggled and got his wrists to where her mouth was as the pilots went silent, oblivious of their cargo, the chopper beating on. She chewed at his binding and chewed a long time—her mouth must be raw, and suddenly he felt the loop loosen. He pulled one hand free, then the other, and flopped himself facing her, delicately removed the rest of the tape. “Who are they?” he said.
“Dangerous,” she said.
Ted daubed her lips, small gestures so as not to get the notice of the big man. He had a tiny, sterling-silver penknife in his pocket, a souvenir from his brother’s wedding, his own initials engraved on it. Easy to cut her bindings with it—just these plastic loops, then to cut his own feet free.
“Put them back on,” she said. “So it looks like.”
She was right. He looped a cut piece of plastic around her feet, one around her wrists, same for his feet, slithered against the bulkhead so his hands wouldn’t be visible.
Shivering, they waited for their flight to get wherever it was going, and time to fight. He watched her a long time, and really, you’d only think she was peaceably asleep, her lips bleeding badly under the bit of soggy tape she’d flapped back over her mouth.
The Weight of Light
Ted’s thoughts began to drift in the electric boredom of the chop and roar of the flying machine, the cold steel on his cheek, the woman he barely knew seemingly sleeping, and all the women he’d known seemingly sleeping, something in him listing them and rather combining them, a woman named Leslie in that town with the towers in Italy, that hill town with the great square and the many minarets and towers and Leslie the woman in the town with the towers in Italy and her hair so red it was almost orange and her Italian phrases in that town with the towers and her breath in his ear at the cafe in the afternoon where as it happened they’d both landed after fights with travel companions in the town with the towers in Italy and drank glasses of wine first at tables adjacent outside beneath the campanile in the town of many towers in Tuscany, was where it was, the Tuscan town with many towers, and red clay roofs and then together as she invited him to her table or somehow they got talking in the town with the towers in Tuscany–the bell tower, that was it, the bells in the tower began to chime and it wasn’t noon but near enough and so loud and they both jumped in the square in the town with the towers in Italy and laughed and kept laughing and maybe it was more gradual than that, she sliding down the banquette toward him one silken millimeter at a time and he perhaps inching toward her and the laughter gone and no one in the cafe and no one on the square on a work morning or noon but a swarm as the bell finished its ringing and the two of them, Leslie and Ted, but no banquette, just their chairs sliding together, and the check came for the drinks and they pooled high-denomination bills in the day of the Lire in the the town of towers in Italy, like half a million Lire to pay for all the wine they’d drunk and the food they’d eaten separately and then together and didn’t make it far, just to a wall over the ocean or a lake, a spot of no particular seclusion where they kissed very naturally and subtly and actually sweetly, the world’s longest first kiss on a wall in the town with the towers in Italy, no sweeter than the kiss Ted had just shared around duct tape with Mrs. Allway, Ellen Allway, a kiss around duct tape and now she slept, more than a kiss in both cases Ted felt passionately, passion unto tears as he realized Ellen had been drugged and that that was why she slept so suddenly and soundly and why she’d kissed in him extremis, really kissing, the kiss of the century, beyond all kisses in its, its extremity of circumstance, and Ted cried, wept in passion and the realization that he too had been drugged, his battle to not sleep to keep, to keep his thoughts making sense but they didn’t make sense they made love Leslie’s silken skin and her kisses more than memory as if part of the structure of his mind the kisses her skin the hotel room she’d taken nothing like the pensione he’d found himself in but four stars and her skin and freckles and wet and his and he’d been drugged he realized in the town with the towers in Italy or no, no, fight to remember, on a helicopter, this helicopter, chopping he knew not where, cold steel at his cheek, and Ellen more than asleep in his gaze and he all but asleep in the town, no, no, helicopter with towers in Italy, red hair, red, red hair and kisses and duct tape and the taste of blood and he’d been drugged that water they’d brought him in the board room or a syringe you’d hardly feel in a scuffle and he couldn’t any longer couldn’t keep them open and his eyes shut on a last image of Ellen and a kind of vastness and he breathed…