Peter Gannon is a writer who lives in New York City. His work has appeared or is slated to appear in The Alembic, Slow Trains, The Talon Magazine, and The Ledge Poetry & Fiction Magazine. He has a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University. John Irving, John Cheever, and Ha Jin are among his favorite writers.
An old, tattered sofa lay at the curb, and Sheila, one of the Irish girls who lived in the apartment below Larry, was coming down the driveway, a garbage bag in hand. "How's it going, boy?" There was a trashcan near the sofa and she tossed the bag in as he crouched down to put on the leash. "Your dog is deadly," she said, and she dropped herself onto the sofa. He explained that Jeb, a mutt who looked a cross between a cocker spaniel and terrier, didn't belong to him. He was watching him because Claudette had gotten a summer internship with Belvedere, a lifestyle magazine in New York, and her building didn't allow pets.
Looking up at him, her blue eyes peering over thick-rimmed glasses, she said, "Where in New York is your girl?"
"The West Side."
"Em, I haven't been out of Boston much, but I know a thing or two." She reached down to rub Jeb's floppy ears. "My cousin Hughie's on 96th and Amsterdam. He works at a pub on 79th. He says it's a good place, but the work . . . well, it's murder."
He pointed to the sofa. "Is that yours?"
"Aye. I had a delivery this morning, a new one, grand altogether. And I'm glad to be getting rid of this old thing, but I changed me mind about where I want the new one." She was wearing a crucifix necklace and she began tugging at it. "Would it be too much for ye to come in and help me move it?"
# # #
"Nancy hasn't been home in days," she said, and she led Larry into her living room. "She must be on another bender." Her place was no better than his: scuffed walls, splintered floors, a cracked ceiling. On a wall hung a poster of David Hasselhoff in nothing but swimming trunks. The new sofa, made of brown leather, was in the middle of the room; on either side of it were armchairs. "I don't like where it is. It's arseways. I was thinking about turning the sofa to the side, like over here." She stood near one of the armchairs. "And then moving the chairs across." She threw up her arms. "Go ahead. Move the sofa, will ye?"
He got behind it and pushed while she moved the armchairs, and after some trial and error, they got the furniture to her liking.
"Would you like something to wet your whistle?"
Before he could respond she was heading for the kitchen. He looked around; to the left of the Hasselhoff poster was a watercolor of Galway Bay. Brown hills and blue water. He sat on the sofa. It was soft, and his body sank into the cushion. He began wondering about her. She'd only moved in a couple of months before, and he'd only seen her a few other times. He'd seen Nancy more, a plainer-looking girl with penciled-in eyebrows. A few moments passed and she came in holding two glasses of iced tea. "Cheers," and she handed him one and dropped down beside him. "Comfortable, huh?" Putting her glass on the coffee table, she crossed her legs; they were long and shiny. "I've been running around all morning. I'm jacked!"
Not quite knowing what to say, he replied, "It's good to be busy."
There was a long pause. He began tapping the armrest with his hand while her fingers played with the crucifix and then, looking embarrassed, she said. "I'm fond of your hair," and she pinched one of his brown strands. "Deadly." And he shifted in his seat. "So when's your girl coming back?"
"I'm going down there soon," he replied, sipping the tea. "I usually take the Amtrak."
"At Copley Square?"
Jeb, who he'd tied to the porch, started barking.
"It's a long time to be apart, and ye are a fine thing."
Her light brown hair was in a ponytail, a rubber band holding it together. Undoing it, she let her hair drop to her shoulders. Using her thumb as leverage, she shot the rubber band across the room.
"I better see what's wrong," he said and he put down his glass.
"He's just carrying on, is all."
"No, no," and he stood.
"There should be no concern."
"I better check."
Outside, Jeb was growling at a Rottweiler across the street. "Quiet down," Larry said and he untied him from the porch.
"Are you coming back?" She was in the doorway, holding the glasses, an unlit cigarette between her lips.
"I have to walk him."
She looked disappointed and, holding up one of the glasses, said, "But you haven't finished your tea."
# # #
While walking around the lake he thought about what she'd said. An entire summer was indeed a long time for him and Claudette to be apart, and Sheila was pretty—eyes as blue as the lake, a tapered face, sensual lips, a dancer's body—though not as pretty as Claudette; her teeth were bad, for instance, crooked and slightly yellow, and there were pimples on her forehead, and the skin on her neck looked a little leathery.
But he thought she had something Claudette didn't have, and he couldn't quite figure it out.
That night, while washing dishes, he heard the roar of a muffler. He parted the curtains and saw a blue van pulling up to the curb. A man with wild eyes and a bushy mustache jumped out and ran up the porch. He began knocking on Sheila's door. For a while, the man stood with his arms crossed, a scowl on his face. She must be out, Larry thought, and he wondered who the man was.
After a while, the man headed back to the van. When he got to the curb, he began eyeballing the sofa. With his hand, he tested the cushion and then he sat on it and began bouncing up and down in an exaggerated way. The van's passenger door swung open and out jumped another man. He was bald and had a wolfish grin.
Jeb started barking so Larry went to fill his bowl. When Larry returned to the window, the men were lifting the sofa into the van.
# # #
Larry would think about Claudette while working in the library on the dissertation that he had tentatively entitled: Class and Culture in the Postmodern Novel. He would imagine her in her cramped New York apartment getting ready for work, her dark hair dripping wet, her blow dryer humming, one of her bath towels hanging on the bed's headrest. He thought about her standing in front of the full-length mirror in her black satin bra, fixing the straps, applying eyeliner, stepping into her heels. He'd sometimes grow aroused and force himself to think of something else. He'd see her standing on the 72nd Street subway platform in the sweltering heat, droplets of sweat underneath her delicate nose, The New York Times in her hands, the ink bleeding onto her fingers, the downtown train rushing by, her skirt rising just high enough for a man to notice. She was part of the Times Square throng, pushing through, and turning in front of the Conde Naste building. He'd close his eyes and see her hurrying through the wax-shined lobby to the elevators. Upstairs, she'd be in a cubicle proofreading. Fact-checking. Later, going for sushi with colleagues.
He'd eventually free himself from these images and his tired eyes would take in the reading room, the empty wood carrels, the soft seating; they'd sometimes fall on the librarian, an obese, dark-bearded man, who'd be chewing on sunflower seeds, or, because of the weak air conditioning, fanning himself with a hard cover book. Boredom sometimes forcing the man into a light sleep.
What am I doing here? Larry would ask himself.
Claudette had wanted them both in New York, but because he'd been behind in his work—and blocked, extremely blocked—he had argued against it. And he had his job: teaching English to foreign exchange students. The money was good and he needed it. Unlike Claudette's parents, his couldn't afford to pay tuition.
They had never been apart, not once in their two years, so he'd reasoned that a brief separation might do them good. Perhaps somewhere in the dusty stacks—or elsewhere, his apartment, the lake, the Amtrak—he'd find the answer to whether he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. (And she was pressuring him.)
He'd go back to his dissertation, work a little more, go to the men's room and wash his hands with the pink liquid soap, or get another coffee from the puffy-eyed man in the cafeteria.
# # #
One day, while getting the mail, Larry saw Sheila in the yard. She was on her hands and knees beside a rusty wheelbarrow. "How are ye, boy?" With some difficulty she stood. Her hands were dirty and she wiped them on her rumpled shirt. Pretending to be more interested in the mail than in her, he stepped off the porch, his eyes on an envelope's postmark.
She was wearing an unusually short skirt and, as she bent over to pick up a shovel, he could see her red panties hugging her curves. "So, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Tending me veggies." She straightened herself and leaned against the shovel. "Some peas and radishes." He tore open a letter from his school. "I'll make sure to give you some," she said. "Tomatoes too."
It was a tuition bill and he looked at the amount owed and grew tense.
"Some bad news?"
"No," he replied, smiling and stuffing the letter back into the envelope. "I knew getting a PhD would be expensive."
"Em, you must be smart. What are you planning on doing?"
"At a university. I hope to anyway."
A muffler roared; the blue van was pulling into the driveway and the same man Larry had seen a few weeks before jumped out, grunted at Sheila, threw him a hard stare, and disappeared into her apartment.
"Don't get me started! Nancy went back to Sligo and she gave her room to a real git. He brought back that old crap sofa. It's in his bedroom. And did I ever give her a piece of me mind!"
# # #
Once, while Larry was checking his citations, the doorbell rang. A short man with scraggly hair was on the porch. "Patrick?"
"No," he replied, biting into a slice of frozen pizza. The man—he had protruding eyes and a narrow face—smiled and nodded as if he and Larry were privy to something. "There's no Patrick here," Larry added. Looking perplexed, the man leaned forward and clasped his hand. "I don't know what to tell you," Larry said, closing the door halfway, and then concern spread over the man's face as his eyes swung to Sheila's door. Larry was about to tell him to get lost, when the man muttered something and wandered off.
# # #
One weekend, he visited Claudette. Terence, Belvedere's articles editor, had given her tickets to the Philharmonic. "One of our advertisers gave them to Terence," she said, as they walked out of the French bistro where they'd eaten.
Near the corner of 68th and Columbus, a man in an army cammie was selling old books and magazines from milk crates. Claudette stopped to take a look. "Terence says the conductor's a woman. We're going to a perfume launch next week."
She talks a lot about this guy, Larry thought, and for a moment he wondered if anything was going on between them.
Picking up an old issue of Life—Sophia Loren was on the cover—she said, "He says whether or not I end up working for Belvedere, I should be in New York." She started paging through the magazine. "There are just more opportunities."
"I could move, I suppose," Larry replied. "I told you. If I had to . . ."
"But I think you'd really like it here."
He gave her a doubtful look.
"I do," she said.
"I just don't know if I'd find work . . ."
As they turned into Lincoln Center, she smiled and, looking around, exclaimed, "Isn't this so cool?!" SUVs, stretch limos, and buses were in long rows like railroad cars. Horns honking. Women in form-fitting dresses; older, paunchy men in suits. Yellow cabs were pulling up to the Empire Hotel.
An invading army of cultural elites, Larry thought, as he took her hand and they walked up the plaza steps.
But she's right, he said to himself, as she handed him the tickets: orchestra seats. It is pretty cool. But he just wasn't feeling it, not in the way she was anyway.
The Lincoln Center fountain was lit-up and, as they neared Avery Fisher Hall, she was still smiling as one would at something wonderful, a warm breeze unsettling her hair.
But he kept his feelings to himself. He was hoping the idea of moving would lose momentum, die quietly.
# # #
While looking out the window to check on the weather, Larry saw Sheila on the porch watering a window box of geraniums. He quickly got dressed and walked outside.
"How's your girl?"
"Busy," he replied and he sat down on the porch steps. He had taken the Amtrak back the day before. "Thanks for looking after Jeb," he said to her.
"He's such a joy!"
And he began telling her about the concert. The symphony. The concerto. The pianist and cellist.
"I've never seen such a thing," she said.
"It was my first time and, frankly, I'm in no hurry to go back. I'm more blues and jazz."
"Will she live here when she returns?"
He smiled at the prospect. "No."
Because this place is too much of a dump, he thought, but sensing Sheila might not be fully attuned to that, and not wanting to insult her, he replied, "She has her own place." She put down the water can and sat next to him. On the back of her hand was a peace sign, a hand stamp from a bar or nightclub. They were sitting close, and she smelled of perfume, lily of the valley, and he felt an erection coming on. "But I could move in with her," he added. "She wants me to." He bowed his head. "She's got a nice place near Kenmore Square, but she might not be coming back at all. If they offer her a permanent position, she'll probably take it. What about you? Are you seeing anyone?"
"No." She folded her hands and for a moment their knees touched. She explained in vague terms how she had been in a serious relationship in Ireland but that it had ended badly.
"I thought maybe . . . now that you're living with . . . what's his face?"
"Patrick?" She looked sick. "Are ye gone in the head?" And then, lowering her voice, her eyes filling with fear, she said, "Em, I think he's spreading lime."
"Dealing!" She pulled out a rubber band and tied her hair into a ponytail.
"How do you know?"
She jumped to her feet and pointed to the telephone wires. A pair of work boots was dangling from them.
"That's the signal that drugs are being sold."
He raised his eyes to the boots. "I've never noticed that before."
"Because they weren't there!" She put her hands on her hips. "Wankers are knocking on me door all hours of the night."
Larry remembered the man with the scraggly hair. "Some low-life . . . last week . . ."
"Now you're suckin' diesel!"
"Are you sure?"
A few moments passed. She began tugging on her crucifix. And then, growing somber, she said, "Em, I had a drug problem."
"I was off me face every waking hour. I worked at a golf course. In Salthill. The pro shop. Well, I nearly lost my job. My father got me into a program at the Holy Name of Mary, outside our village, and it's a good thing too, but things are not so good living with this bastard, and let me tell you, he's a real peculiar class of bastard."
# # #
One Saturday morning, when she was visiting Larry, Claudette went to the supermarket to pick up groceries. When an hour had passed, and she still hadn't returned, he wondered what was taking her. He parted the curtains and saw her in the yard with Sheila. They were sitting across from each other at the picnic table, both of them smiling, their mouths moving, Claudette's grocery bags on the grass near the garden. They seem to be getting on well, he thought, Claudette studying Sheila as she rose from the bench, Sheila's sorry eyes on a butterfly fluttering about. Then Sheila reached down for her shovel as Claudette stood to avoid a swarm of gnats. Jeb was lying underneath the magnolia tree. A few moments passed and then Claudette came into the kitchen.
"Your neighbor's real sweet," she said, as he took the bags from her. "But with that accent I can barely understand her." She crossed her arms. "She wants to be a dental assistant."
A dental assistant, Larry thought, and he put the bags on the table. She never told me that.
"She's taking classes at Lincoln Technical in Somerville. But with teeth like that . . ."
"Her teeth. Have you noticed?"
Of course, he said to himself, as he pulled an apple from one of the bags.
"She needs to get them fixed," Claudette added. "She'll never get a job with those choppers!"
Biting into the apple, he felt a twist of anger. Give her a break, he thought. For Christ's sake, Claudette, not everyone has had every advantage like you: childhood summers in Barnstable, Miss Porter's Prep School. Then trying to sound as disinterested as he could, he replied, "She's a cool girl. She promised me vegetables from her garden."
From the refrigerator, she pulled out a jar of mayonnaise. "I'm having turkey on whole wheat. Do you want the same?"
"I think she's had it rough."
"But those teeth." And she showed him hers, as if to demonstrate the contrast. Then, shaking her head, she continued, "And they can be fixed so easily."
While Claudette made her sandwich, Larry snuck a peek out the window. Sheila was filling her water can with a hose.
# # #
One morning, there was a knock on his door and through the torn screen he could see Sheila standing on the porch, an unlit cigarette between her lips. "Patrick left the tub running and the entire place is flooded!" Inside her apartment, a peninsula of lukewarm bathwater was spreading across the hallway. "I don't know where he ran off to!"
"Let me help," Larry replied, and from a closet she grabbed a couple of mops and handed him one. He started soaking up the water.
"I thought having a man around, even one that's spreading the lime, might be of some benefit, but as you can see, it's nothing but trouble."
# # #
One evening, after teaching a particularly frustrating class on the past participle, Larry pulled into the driveway to find a crowd gathered in the yard. Loud heavy metal music was playing. Patrick was by the magnolia tree, pumping a keg. As Larry got out, his eyes searched for Sheila. Why hadn't she invited him? He didn't see her; but a scar-faced man holding a cigar, the tip of which was a red glow, waved him over. "No, thanks," Larry yelled and ducked inside.
Upstairs, he parted the curtains. Cars were lined up and down the street. More were pulling in. It looked as if the party was just getting started. He undressed and tried falling asleep but there was too much noise.The doorbell rang. Sheila was on the porch in a white ruffled shirt and black pants, looking distressed.
In the living room, she said, "They're in the house sniffing the white powder, and it's not good for me to be around." She had just gotten off work; she was a server at a catering hall. With a shaky hand, she lit a cigarette. "I have to be up early for me other job."
"Stay here." He buttoned up his pajama.
"Are you sure?"
He nodded and her eyes started getting teary. "I'm sorry," and she began sobbing. "It's so hard! Why did Nancy do this to me?"
He looked for tissues in the kitchen. Even with the music blaring outside, he could still hear her sobbing, and he considered the possibility that something might happen between them. Claudette would never know, he thought, as he opened a cupboard, and he grew excited at the possibility—Sheila's sensual lips, her long legs—but then he began feeling guilty.
He and Claudette were committed. But every time he called or visited all she seemed to talk about was New York or Terence. He pulled out a Kleenex box from underneath the sink and began wondering if anything was going on between her and Terence; he imagined him, broad-shouldered with hungry eyes. And he remembered Claudette's comments about Sheila's teeth. But it wasn't like she had said it to Sheila's face. And, as much as he hated admitting it, Claudette had a point. And wasn't that what angered him most?
Holding out a clump of tissues, he said to Sheila, "Here you go," and she grabbed them and wiped her eyes. Jeb had come into the living room and was lying at her feet. Larry sat beside her.
"I'm not imposing, am I?" She raised her glasses and dabbed her eyes. Her lips started quivering and she began crying again. "I'll be in recovery for the rest of my life!"
He put his arm around her and pulled her close.
"You're doing the right thing," he said.
"I'm a weak person."
She looked up at him and the urge to kiss her grew strong. Her cheeks were moist and smeared with eyeliner. She pushed her chest against him, and he moved in.
"But what about your girl?" And he stopped. "I had it done to me," and she pulled away.
Feeling awkward—he hadn't expected resistance—he leaned back, while she straightened herself and fixed her shirt. She stood and crossed her arms. For a while, she said nothing. "And Claudette is so beautiful!"
He nodded in agreement and imagined Claudette in Terence's arms.
"The bastard got her pregnant . . ."
"My ex," she replied.
"She was a real tramp, you know. A hairdresser." Her eyes swelled with rage. "Twins!"
# # #
He lay in bed. Someone had called the cops, and the loud music had stopped. His mind was still on Sheila. She had something that transcended the physical, he thought. Overpowered it, really, and he tried grasping at it. A strange vulnerability? An elusive, independent heart?
His father's grandmother was from Ireland, and he had heard stories about her hardships, leaving on a Cunard Line ship from Southampton at the age of 19, never seeing her mother and father again, making her way from New York to Boston, working as governess for a wealthy Back Bay family, marrying a dockworker in Southie, soon after the dockworker dying of asthma. Marrying again, this time to Larry's great grandfather, a ditch digger from Lowell.
The bathroom door's hinges squeaked. He heard the toilet seat being lowered. A few moments passed and he heard a flush. Sheila's silhouette was in the doorway and he began imagining her with nothing on. For a while, they stared at each other. "Sheila . . . are you all right?" She didn't respond, so he climbed out of bed. She was still in her work clothes.
"Ye are a fine thing," she said, and she headed down the hallway.
# # #
He'd just gotten off the Amtrak and so when he walked into the restaurant—a Lower East Side tapas place—he was still carrying his overnight bag. Claudette had gotten off work a few hours before and was at a table in the back with a group of colleagues. She introduced him, and, amid a chorus of hellos and a few handshakes, he sat down beside her. She wanted to know how his dissertation was going. "I met with my advisor a few days ago."
"Some minor rewrites, a few things in the later chapters."
Terence was there—soft-bodied, narrow-eyed, about 35, with graying blond hair—not at all what Larry had envisioned. He was quiet, seemingly deaf to the lively conversations around him. For a long time, he wore a mournful expression. At one point, one of Claudette's other coworkers, a cheerful, loud woman named Kelly, tried pulling Terence into a conversation, but he just muttered something about his fiancée's parents owning horses in New Jersey. On occasion, Claudette would try to engage him, but he seemed more interested in picking the pear slices off his spinach salad. Confident that nothing was going on between them—in fact the whole idea now seemed absurd—Larry put his arm around Claudette and ordered another beer.
But in no time he was thinking about Sheila. What if she hadn't rebuffed him? What if she had met his kiss with equal passion? And for a moment, as he sipped from his bottle, he imagined her lips on his. Would they have slept together? They might have, he thought. And, so, what was he doing?
He wasn't sure anymore, and he felt a rush of doubt as he realized that if that had happened he might be seeing the world differently? Would he be telling Claudette that things were over? Probably not. Would he be telling her that he needed some time? Maybe.
Anyone on the outside looking in would surely question his sanity. Claudette was a hell of a catch. Look at her! The waiter's even checking her out. Expressive, flashes-of-light eyes. A proud smile. Hair that always seemed to draw him closer. He kissed her neck. And with a future!
The group began thinning out; eventually he and Claudette found themselves alone. She looked glum and explained that she'd barely eaten and was a little drunk. "They're having another bad quarter," she said. "They lost four advertisers, two hundred subscribers." She finished the last of her wine. "They're not going to be offering all of us jobs."
"Well, they'll pick you."
"Yes. They'll take you."
"I'm not so sure, Larry."
She shook her head.
"Well . . . it wouldn't be the worst thing," he said.
"Don't look so happy," she replied.
"Happy?" He grimaced. "I'm not happy."
He went to pick up his bag. "Come on. Let's get out of here," and she squeezed his forearm.
"I miss you," she said.
"It's not easy. Over three hours on an Amtrak," and he put his hand on hers.
"I hate not being together. Jeb. The Cape. But I really want this job."
# # #
A few weeks passed and he didn't see or hear from Sheila. Then one night, while driving off to teach class, he spotted her in the garden. She was picking up empty beer bottles from a party. She had on a T-shirt that was a couple of sizes too large. While he was visiting Claudette, Sheila had watched over Jeb again, and he wanted to thank her, but he was running late, so he just waved. She smiled faintly and gave him a look that seemed to say that she was all right, but that things downstairs were still tough and that she was taking everything one day at a time. Patrick—a baseball glove on one hand, a tennis ball in the other—was on the porch huddled with a ruddy-faced man in a dark suit. No doubt dollars will be changing hands soon, Larry thought.
The next morning, he knocked on Sheila's door. For a while, he waited, but no one answered. Days later, he tried again, this time Patrick opened. He was shirtless and muscular. "Neighbor!" Patrick cried, his eyes widening. When Larry asked for Sheila, a smirk played across Patrick's lips. "Sheila who?" But Larry didn't take the bait. "I'm only kidding," Patrick finally said. She was at her other job, he explained: working as a cashier at a donut shop. Larry glanced inside the living room; he could see a rotund woman with braided hair on the new sofa; she was breastfeeding an infant. The Hasselhoff poster. The Galway Bay watercolor. "I'll tell her Prince Charming came knocking," and Patrick closed the door.
A few more weeks passed, and Larry still didn't see or hear from her. There was a donut shop in Oak Square and, one day, not knowing whether or not it was the one she worked at, he walked by. But she wasn't there.
Then one night he came home to find a basket of vegetables in front of his door.
# # #
Belvedere didn't offer her a permanent position—they hired only one of their three interns—and on the phone, through tears, Claudette told Larry she was coming home. The next week, he was in her apartment, a newly renovated one bedroom on Raleigh Street, sprawled out on the bed next to her. She had her head propped up with pillows, reading his dissertation. The Sox were playing the Yankees that afternoon, and Jeb was barking at the window. Larry climbed out of bed and parted the curtains; fans were crossing the street between bottlenecked cars.
"So far, so good," she said, putting down the manuscript.
"I'm thinking I have to restructure the third chapter . . . the part about the dominating classes exploiting through mass media."
"No, no, no," she replied. "It's brilliant. Don't touch it."
He felt his face reddening; her over-the-top compliments always embarrassed him. "Wish we could go to the game," he said.
She got out of bed. "I'm just happy to be back." And she started straightening the bed.
She raised her eyes to look at him. "You always doubt me. Why?" And she threw a pillow at him.
Catching it, he replied, "Ahh . . . because I'm an idiot." But he had to admit she did seem intent on finding work there; in fact, she had already lined up an interview for a part-time position with Boston Magazine. "You want to walk Jeb?" he asked.
She gave him a sly smile. "Have you thought about what we talked about?"
He dropped the pillow on the bed. "Moving in?"
He started for the living room. "Where's the leash?"
# # #
One day, while walking around the lake, wondering if he should just move in right away with Claudette or wait until his lease ran out at the end of the year, he bumped into Sheila. Her face was sunburned and the skin on her forehead was peeling. "How are ye, boy?"
"I've been looking for you," he replied. "Thanks for the vegetables."
Then in a solemn tone she explained that her visa would be expiring soon. "I've decided to go back home." He was surprised; she had never mentioned returning to Ireland. "I can't take it no more. He's got the mother of his child living with us—another druggie—and they're always fighting, and the wee one cries all night."
"You can stay with me."
"No . . . I mean Claudette's back."
Her eyes widened. "She is!"
"Yes. They didn't offer her that job."
"No, it's okay."
"It's not good to be apart and she's so beautiful!"
"So, I could stay with her. She wants me to. I told you. You could stay at my place . . . until you find something else."
She waved him off. "I've already made up me mind. Anyway, it costs too much to be a dental assistant, and I'm already fifteen thousand in debt." She straightened her glasses and looked as if she were about to cry. Then she explained how she had done the math and that she'd be better off in Ireland, working at the pro shop and washing bed linens at her Uncle Frank's hotel, than cleaning teeth in America. "People expect too much here." She had sold her new sofa to a dishwasher at the catering hall. Her other stuff was of little to no value; she was leaving most of it behind. "Do you need a coffee table?"
# # #
A few weeks later, he said goodbye to her on the porch, a peck on her cheek as Patrick waited in his van, the engine running, looking over a map for the best route to Logan. Wondering if he'd ever see her again—and thinking he probably wouldn't—he found words hard to come by. Patrick honked.
"I have relatives in Ireland," he said. "Derry . . . but I've never met them."
He shrugged. "I just haven't," and he thought she looked amazingly calm for someone who was about to change her life. "Maybe one day I'll make it over. Hey, if I go, I'll look you up."
Afterward, he began looking after her garden, and, one day in early autumn, when he was putting what would be the last of the tomatoes into a bag, his mind on defending his dissertation, he heard a loud crash. It had come from the porch. He dropped the bag and ran to the front of the house. The door to Patrick's apartment was open, and two men were inside wrestling with him. One, who had greasy red hair, had him in a headlock, while the other—short with a pointed chin—was holding him by the waist. When the short man saw Larry, he held up a badge. "Police!" Seconds later, a car with a revolving light pulled up and two more men jumped out, guns drawn. On the porch, they handcuffed Patrick and led him to the car.
As they drove off, Larry felt light-headed, his heart racing. The cops had left the front door open. He went up the porch to close it but instead peeked inside. The old crap sofa was in the middle of the room and it seemed to be tugging at him. He stepped inside. The Hasselhoff poster was ripped in half. The Galway Bay watercolor hung crookedly. He walked over to it and for a while admired it.
With the painting tucked underneath his arm, he stepped out onto the porch. He lifted his eyes to the boots swinging from the telephone wires, some crows perched nearby. He held up the watercolor. The glistening bay made him think of the lake, and he imagined Sheila on the bay's shore—her sensual lips, blue eyes, long legs—and he saw himself coming down one of the brown hills—an anxious, confused look on his face. He got to within a few feet of her, and she began tugging on her crucifix, her shoulders went limp, and she disappeared.