Once inside, she says to me, “It smells like a garden in here. What is that?”
I am walking in the darkness, Kate having closed the door behind us, to the table lamp. I am confident in my steps, until I feel the snap of a pencil, stumble over the spiral notebook that I had forgotten on the floor. I move my hand under the lamp’s shade, holding the base still. The light flicks on.
In her coat, Kate looks around my apartment: at my bookcase, my television and couch, the art, the photographs on the walls, the stack of newspapers on my table. She says, “I don’t see any flowers.”
“It’s one of those plug-ins. Necessary because of the dead animals in the walls, the dead something here,” and I knock the wall I share with a neighbor gently with my knuckles.
Kate says, “Ew.” She wrinkles her nose, works the buttons on her coat.
“I think I should make tea or something.” I check the thermostat, set high at 68, but I still shiver, can feel them start from the base of my neck and work their way to my tailbone.
“That or a bath,” and she drops the coat from her shoulders, revealing herself to me in shiny red dress with only one strap over her left shoulder, the right one bare. It is low cut, fitting her snug to the waist where it then flows out, stopping just above her knee.
I say, “What is this?”
Kate says, “What is what?”
“Your dress, I mean.”
“This is my dress.”
“What is it for?”
“I had a wedding tonight, my cousin’s.”
It does not look like a dress you wear to a wedding. “It’s very nice,” and I hold my gaze at her legs, her waist, fighting hard not to lift my eyes any further.
“It’s old,” she says, smoothing her hands down the sides of her thighs, “But thanks.”
“Are you cold? I can make us tea.”
“You probably need a bath. It looks like you need hot water in other places than your mouth.”
* * *
The hot water meeting my frozen toes and feet, a near painful tingling sensation that makes me catch my breath as I lower my body, bent at the knees, into the tub. I say, “The bath was a good idea.”
“I told you.”
“I’m not being a very good host, though, so just keep talking.”
I hear the whistle from the kitchen, Kate saying, “I’ll get you your tea.”
I’m not uncomfortable with the possibility of her walking into the bathroom with that mug. But there is a weight in my chest, something that her words triggered. Regret, maybe, for not having a bubble bath, and maybe her thinking that I did, that she could take just one step inside and place the mug next to the tub and not catch much of me soaking in the water, that I could position enough bubbles over the spots of my body that would be appropriate to cover. I am covered only by steaming water, crystal clear.
“It’s good,” Kate says, “That you keep your tea bags in a container labeled ‘Tea.’”
I am sinking lower, submerged to my chin, my bottom lip.
She asks, “Milk or sugar?”
I say, “No, thanks.”
And in a short time, while I’m stretching out my toes, thinking of how long will be too long to be in the bathtub tonight, with Kate here moving unguided throughout the place, touching and looking, not speaking, I hear her shoes, their patter on the hardwood, coming closer. Despite the warmth, I tense and wait.
She barely opens the door any further, places the mug on the tile floor, and pushes, says, “Can you reach that?”
In my bathroom, the tub is first thing on the right, my body, my back to the hallway where Kate stands. When it look, I see the mug steaming, Kate’s shadow over it. I say, “Yes. Thanks.”
She sighs and I feel through the wall her body shifting, her back to my back, sliding down to the floor to sit. “Just once, though, just once I want you to bring me a tea, a cup of coffee. It’s all I ask.”
I exhale a chuckle, alert now with her so close, her voice not loud so that I can hear her, but low and soft as though she were right in front of me. When I reach for the mug, I can see her hand just outside the door’s threshold.
I say, “I haven’t swept in a while.”
“That doesn’t matter right now.”
* * *
Kate says, “So how long have you been alone?” but I know what she means.
“Two years in April.”
“I remember reading about you, the both of you, and on television, too.”
“I remember,” I say. “I remember all of that.”
“She was very pretty,” she says.
“I remember the TV anchors calling her beautiful. A beautiful young woman losing her life on a local roadway.”
“You were air-lifted.”
“You weren’t? Those liars.”
“Ambulance. Really nice guys, the EMTs,” I say.
On the opposite side of the wall, Kate sits quietly, listening to me move the water around with my body as I make my way to my feet, streams rolling off my back, my ass and arms. “Are you okay talking about this?”
I say, “There were days it was all I talked about.”
“Do you still miss her?” asks Kate.
I say, “Only sometimes,” and I reach for the towel hanging on the bar opposite me.