In the beginning, there was a brownstone with a crackled façade and a ground floor apartment for rent. I took the tour. Hardwood floors, a tiled fireplace, and a country kitchen. But the rooms didn’t get much light. I wanted sunlight, the kind that slid from four windows into the diamond-bright bathroom, the kind that did not reach the window-free bedroom.
Then I took a closer look at the kitchen sink. It was a farm sink of sorts — very large, very white, and rather old. In fact, it was wonderful, wide and deep enough to wash a large dog.
I could wash a dog!
Time for the moving boxes. As I taped and folded, I imagined washing dishes in the huge, white sink. I like washing dishes. But I’m fussy about sinks, need elbow room. Now there would be elbow room to spare. No more splashing water onto the floor; no more stepping in splashes; no more dampened slippers.
I had, essentially, signed a lease on a sink, in Brooklyn.
Life proceeded along as usual until one night at a fancy party I spotted a tall man. He was hoarding some kind of frenetic energy and seemed vaguely lost. He was wearing sneakers. I had to talk to him. It turned out we had spoken once on the telephone, months before. Then he had sounded glum; now he was a sprung rhythm. I was all ears. Suddenly I had sprouted two new erogenous zones.
He did not live in the vicinity. E-mails, telephone calls. Finally, an evening meal in Brooklyn.
He threw the newspaper all over the floor. He had abominable taste in clothing. He snapped the beans using a knife and fork and a plate. Too often he did this whistle thing, a sort of “sheesh” without saying the word.
After dinner he stood at the sink rinsing dishes. I watched from the doorway. Here was the man who would never bore. Here was a club I wanted to join. Instead of feeling hemmed in, monitored, pedestaled, or any other annoying emotional byproduct of being romantically involved, I felt comfortable.
I observed and waited. This was unusual for me, waiting. Generally I’m in motion — Hurry, or it may be too late. (Too late for what? Everything.)
Not any more. Now, time was in step. Here was Nowdom, somewhere near talk-show healing territory: I was okay, he was okay, our parents did the best they could, everything was going to be all right. I felt no inclination to kick the man out of my home. Nor did I feel self-induced pressure to talk through silences or to reach into my mental files for some bit of wit intended to charm and delight. My critical faculties had eloped to God-knows-where. In their stead a song from that 1970s musical Pippin floated into my mind, the one the woman sings about missing the man whose face was far from fine, who wasn’t a hero, who didn’t outshine the sun, and who wasn’t a simple, good man. Like this man, I told myself.
The main point was that I knew my own heart for the first time in a long while (as the song might have said). And the other main point was that he, knowing instinctively my feelings, would return them in kind. Then we would fly to Cuba for dinner, just like they did in Guys and Dolls.
Somehow I was missing the larger points: that musical theatre or, say, the fact that an overindulgent fantasy life could be ruining my chances for a normal relationship (whatever that was). Or that a woman in her early 30s was interested in shaping her life to fit a wanton stage. When my college English professor advised his students to “Make your life a work of art, kids,” he probably didn’t mean it this way.
The dishes were done. To the bedroom, then. “It’s a coffin,” he said. I laughed. It was funny — he was funny.
In the middle of messing around, we stumbled into a stop-and-start conversation that halted with him saying something on the order of, “You mean bad sex!” I came up short. The phrase “bad sex” hadn’t turned up in my lexicon, and I didn’t know what to say. I tried to say something. He turned over. Did I kiss his back? It was a wall of a back. No kissing allowed. He had retired for the evening.
I hadn’t meant bad sex (how could sex with him be bad?). But his barking tone had risen up so suddenly, I lost the presence of mind to point out that he was trying to put words in my mouth. Everything was so much better when he was rinsing dishes at the sink. I wanted to go back.
Morning arrived. He had found the coffee bean grinder and was grinding. I listened from the coffin. Now it seemed he had stepped again into that song, only this time I was in the audience instead of the woman who loves the misfit. Maybe it was worse than that. Maybe I had been playing a role, of the woman who loves the misfit? But I did adore him, as much as you can adore somebody you barely know. I was willing to take a chance. That was close enough.
“Milk?” I offered.
“Black,” he said.
We drank our coffees. His socks were balled up on the kitchen table. He performed his paper-strewing gesture again, and then it was time to catch his train. I good-byed in my robe, and looked toward the dishes just long enough to decide to take a bike ride in Prospect Park.
Feels like a beginning, I thought as I pedaled. There was a beginning. Really, there was.
Things didn’t work out.
The sink didn’t work out either. Beyond its perimeter lived an entire set of realities — shouting landlords, leaky pipes, questionable wiring — that could only be overlooked for so long. One evening the sink didn’t drain. There was gray water in it for almost three days. Eventually the plumber came by.
Eventually I left Brooklyn.