It was a Thursday and Bunny Lopes was performing her toilette while she waited for a kettle of water to boil for tea. She saw that it was a quarter to six and the doors to the Polish Hall opened at seven-thirty. It might be wise to eat something first so she wouldn’t have to choke down any store-bought cookies or tuna casseroles reheated for the night’s event. Last week the food had been a letdown. The square-dancing club (of which Bunny was a charter member) met once a week at the Polish Hall on Mellus Street. In the last few years, due to death and decrepitude, the club’s membership had declined, and it was no longer certain there would be enough dancers to make up even three squares, much less the twelve they’d had in the old days. But tonight, as on every Thursday, Bunny saw no reason why she shouldn’t go and enjoy herself.
In the mirror she added some smoky eye shadow and studied her reflection before trying out a coquettish smile. For a woman of seventy-four she didn’t look bad. That morning she had been to the hairdresser and acquired an over-sprayed bouffant with wispy bangs. “Make me look like Brigitte Bardot,” she’d instructed Henry, “or any other blonde bombshell.” It could have been her pleasure in Henry’s success that had put her in this optimistic mood, or the fact that a graduate student had called that morning about renting the bedroom she’d advertised in the student housing office. It wasn’t like her to fuss about annoying things like money, but the prospect of bringing in a few extra dollars was not exactly painful, especially considering her latest boarder had gone off without paying the last two months’ rent. It wasn’t any piece of cake getting by on the money Charlie had left her, even if there hadn’t been so much inflation.
She did not concede, even to herself, that the real reason for her mood tonight was a man named Curtis Warwick. He was the newest member of their club, a preoccupied looking person with vestiges of white hair and a small lined pad he kept in his shirt pocket for taking notes. So far he’d been trading off partners with three or four single women without showing a preference for any of them. Nobody had anything bad to say about him, or anything good either. He said he’d read about the club in The Gazette, which was the kind of small-town publication that printed recipes, news of local service and social clubs, obituaries, and articles like “Which Road in Martinez Needs a Speed Bump?” So far, he had not proved to be much of a dancer. He often forgot which direction to turn or extended his hand at the wrong time for a star formation. Though he was not a bit handsome, his face, even on the easy moves, was furrowed with an inscrutable concentration. When the others ate, he went off by himself in a corner to record the details of the latest set, tapping his foot rhythmically as he wrote, as if to conjure the music through the sole of his shoe.
“Why the hell would I care?” Bunny had said the previous Thursday when her best friend Clarice Boyd pointed out that Curtis was not wearing a wedding band. “He’s a dud. Anyway, it looks like he’s being held together with twine.” Clarice said that she’d only meant he was better looking than Wilhelmina Dunn, which was certainly true.
Wilhelmina was Bunny’s current dancing partner, a heavy-footed old Baptist from Idaho who cut her own hair with pinking scissors and carried a purse bulging with yarn and knitting needles. Her husband had keeled over on the dance floor the previous spring from an aortic embolism or a ruptured kidney or a bad spot in his brain—Bunny never could never remember which. On her first night back, Wilhelmina had asked Bunny if they could partner up. Her eyes had been shiny with tears. “I’ll dress the part if you want me to,” she’d said, and Bunny, who was tired of dancing with the stray widows and divorcees who still showed up, had said yes.
Bunny sprayed her hair once more for good measure, put on her favorite skirt, a ruffled white blouse, and a new pair of silver T-straps. Then she dabbed perfume on her pressure points and closed the door to her bedroom to see how she looked in the full-length mirror. Stunning, she decided, though maybe not ravishing. She pouted into the mirror to apply another coat of Fuchsia Fusillade lipstick and was reaching for a Kleenex when she detected the hot metal smell that told her she had burned the teakettle dry again. She cursed softly. It was the third one she had ruined in a year. She went to the kitchen, flung it in the sink and opened a window, resentful that the incident had delayed her and stunk up the kitchen. She was a little confused about why she had forgotten to attach the whistle in the first place.
When she arrived at the Polish Hall, Clarice Boyd and her husband Pat were setting out chairs and filling the punchbowl with chipped ice and jug after jug of Hawaiian punch. In the early years there would have been a huge crowding of food on the refreshment table—baked beans and macaroni salads, deviled eggs, German chocolate and icebox cakes, quivering jello rings with fruit embedded in them, and in the summer blackberries and tomatoes. Bunny’s husband Charlie had always insisted that she make his favorite, chicken Tetrazzini, and she had, even when it made them late. Now there were only a few things, none of them likely to whet the appetite. She put her chipped china bowl on the table and dumped into it an economy sized bag of potato chips she’d picked up on the way over.
“Well, Bunnykins,” Pat said. “You’re looking... “ He put the jug of punch on the table in order to buy himself some thinking time. “What should I say? Ooolala?”
Clarice elbowed him playfully and turned a sympathetic eye on her friend. “How’s things with you, Bun?
“Couldn’t be better,” Bunny said. In the doorway, chatting with the Strykers, was Wilhelmina. The sight of her caused Bunny to stifle a smile. Willy looked so stiff-necked and uncomfortable, shooting her cuffs in a plaid western shirt and a pair of creased blue jeans. Lately she’d taken to wearing a real silver-tipped bolo tie, a detail that Bunny found amusing and a little touching.
Clarice moved her head to the side. “Your Mr. Warwick’s in the men’s room,” she whispered.
“He’s not mine,” Bunny said, and went over and took a seat in a folding chair between two carved doors marked, in faded gothic letters, “Gals” and “Pals.”
When Curtis came out, Bunny got up and clamped a hand on his arm, asking in a more birdlike tone than she usually used if he would be interested in replacing Wilhelmina in the number one square. He squinted at her from behind his glasses.
“What’s that?’ he said finally. He looked like someone jerked awake in the middle of a dream.
“You know,” Bunny said, checking to be sure that she was not overheard. “I’m offering to be your partner.”
“Every week? You and me instead of you and that other woman?”
Bunny nodded and Warwick continued looking at her. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s not what I came here for. I’m a married man.” He made a small bow in her direction and walked away hitching his trousers.
Bunny didn’t take it to heart. She knew she still had it, even if the meaning of “it” was no longer clear to her. Most days, if her knees were not bothering her, she thought “it” might be her legs. Despite her age, her legs were still as slim as they’d been at twenty, their shapeliness maintained by long walks and these weekly dances at the Polish Hall, where she did allemande lefts and do-se-dos in full skirts that swirled around her thighs like clouds of lunar dust. Once, many years before, her lover Ramon had told her that her legs were so beautiful she should donate them to science.
She took a deep breath, ran a hand over the side of her new turquoise skirt and went over to where Wilhelmina was still standing with the Strykers. She had made the skirt herself with thick sateen fabric over tulle and row after row of silver rickrack.
“Ready partner?” she said, swishing her hips back and forth.
Curtis Warwick telephoned her the following Saturday to suggest they take a walk together by the old olive orchard. Bunny had not expected the call, but when it rang she knew it would be him. She heard it ringing and knew and waited until the fourth ring to pick up.
She had been working all morning, depriving the guestroom of its cobwebs and spare bric-a-brac, sweeping under the furniture and replacing light bulbs. The graduate student had arranged to come by that afternoon at 4:30 and Bunny wanted to show the room in its best light. Right then she was wiping down the “private entrance,” a sliding glass door that gave onto the backyard and its pool, its series of spindly palms.
“So how about it?” Curtis proposed in his slightly nasal voice.
Through the glass, Bunny watched a brackish veil of mosquitos hang over the deep end of swimming pool. The winter rains had been heavy, depositing seven or eight inches of slimy leaves around the drain.
“How about what?”
“Going for a walk. I want to join you.” His voice was uninflected, reasonable, and therefore, to Bunny, subtly insulting.
She hesitated, and then said in a baritone, “I’m a married man.”
“That’s not how I talk.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Did you know we were neighbors?” he said after a pause. “I live on Talbart.”
“No, I didn’t know that.” Bunny had never seen him in her life before he started showing up at the club. Not that that was surprising. People thought everybody knew everybody in a town like this, but there were thousands of people she could have tripped over and not known a single thing about.
“Well, I do. I see you walking by every day in your bright white sneakers.”
“Hm,” she said, thinking of him eyeing her from behind some anonymous picture window. “Well, don’t fluff yourself up, Mr. Warwick. I’m not out there streetwalking.”
“Can I meet you on Alhambra and Escobar?”
“Suit yourself,” Bunny said, untying her apron with her free hand. “I’ll be walking down Alhambra Avenue in about twenty minutes if you happen to be there.”
He was there, waiting for her beside the street sign in a cloth sunhat and a blue checked shirt buttoned to his throat. He watched her walk toward him with his head tilted to one side, his expression hidden by the dark diagonal shadow of his hat.
“You said twenty minutes,” he said when she reached him. “It’s been thirty-four.”
“I never go out without my makeup,” Bunny said. “And this is my walk, thank you for remembering.”
“All right.” Curtis touched her elbow with the tips of his fingers and then let his hand drop to his side. He seemed anxious, his face made vulnerable by a tiny cut near his mouth, a snippet of red thread where he had cut himself shaving. “It’s my wife’s naptime. One-thirty to three.”
“Well don’t waste your time then. If you want to walk let’s walk.”
Neither of them spoke as they turned the corner at Escobar and started up the dirt road that would lead them up to the top of the ridge. He was out of shape, Bunny thought, listening to his breath whirring away like a washing machine in the basement. Men who square danced regularly were never in such poor condition. They began to climb the hill slowly with Bunny in the lead. About halfway up, she turned and saw that sweat was beginning to run down in rivulets along his temples.
“Look at that,” he said, stopping by some grayish shrubs with tiny yellow flowers. “A Western Fence Lizard.” He had his hands on his hips and was breathing hard, his eyes on the bottom of the bush.
“Where?” Bunny said. As she came closer she emitted a slight tinkling sound, which was caused by a row of seed-like silver bells attached to her belt.
He pointed to a svelte, surprisingly alert reptile in the bush’s shade. It had black and brown marks on its back and long delicate toes. To Bunny, it seemed to be doing push-ups.
“It’s just like you, Curtis,” she said. “A he-man.”
Curtis continued to watch the lizard’s tiny biceps. “You’d be surprised,” he said. He lifted his hat away and began to dab at his face with a large white handkerchief. There was a waft of something coming off him, a smell of laundry detergent perhaps, or activated deodorant.
“Why’s that?” Bunny sought his eyes under the floppy brim of his hat
“Because I think I really might surprise you. I’m not the old propeller head you think I am.”
They stood for a while and watched the lizard perform its useless calisthenics. At last it became aware that it was being watched and froze, its eyes twitching a bit, its tail stretched long. Then, in a quick evasive spasm, it darted back into the undergrowth.
Curtis set his hat on again and began to walk up the hill. Bunny followed, letting him set the pace. After a hundred yards, she said from behind him, “And what will surprise me about your wife?”
He continued on without answering, making little windy sounds from the back of his throat. At the crest of the hill he turned and faced her.
“My wife’s got dementia,” he said. “Had it for three years. This morning she thought I was her father. Thought I was going to box her ears.”
“Oh,” Bunny said, not knowing what else to say. “She’s lost her marbles.”
“Yes,” he said, turning away.
She followed him the little distance to the olive grove and stood beside him in its shade, listening to the indistinct roar of traffic in the distance. Before them, the town spread out, a grid of trees and rooftops, the varying greens of a thousand backyard trees.
“I’ve been watching you walk by my window,” Curtis said quietly. “I see you every day.”
“I know,” Bunny said. “You told me.”
“It’s like watching a star from a prison cell.”
Bunny studied him for a long moment. “I was hoping you’d say something like that,” she said.
The next morning, she went to the 10:30 service at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church. When the service concluded, she stayed back waiting for the church to empty out so that she could enjoy a private tête à tête with her creator. The results of the consultation were not good. She left with the feeling that God was annoyed with her. That was God’s personality, though—so judgmental and cocksure of himself. He’d always been like that. Sometimes he reminded her of dead husband Charlie, who used to refer to himself as a man of principle. What he didn’t understand was that for all those years she had been a good wife. Only with Ramon had she broken the seventh commandment, and not even that many times. Maybe seventeen or eighteen at the most.
She drove home in a defiant mood and pulled into the driveway to find that another car was blocking the garage. It was a chocolate brown convertible with a torn ragtop and out-of-state plates, its engine idling and black smoke emerging in spurts from the tailpipe. After a moment there was a cough as the engine went off. Then a large door opened, and the car’s occupant came rushing up to Bunny’s window.
“Is it okay if I park here? Just to unload my stuff?”
“I guess so,” Bunny said. “But in the future you can park on the street. That’s where my tenants usually park.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the tenant said. She was a tall bespectacled young woman of twenty-three with a large nose and pale hair that fell in waves to her waist. Judging by her dress and her car, Bunny figured she was either a hippy or a charity case. Maybe both. She’d paid for three months right up front, so it didn’t matter much either way.
“And about the visitors,” Bunny said. “I know I said they were allowed. But don’t bring too many. This isn’t a clubhouse.”
“Don’t worry,” the tenant said, “I don’t know anybody here. Who would I bring?”
She had not brought much luggage either—just three cardboard boxes and a suitcase. While she was dragging the last of them along the hallway, the girl noticed Bunny watching her from the living room and asked if the bathroom on the left was just for her or if they would be sharing it.
“It’s yours,” Bunny said. “I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I used to.”
On Monday it rained, a steady, unseasonable rain that did not let up until the middle of the afternoon. When Bunny had not seen or heard any noise from the tenant’s room by ten, she ventured into the hallway to listen for her. Perhaps the girl was a late sleeper. A lot of these graduate students were. The last one had stayed up until two or three every night, reading his dissertation to himself and making corrections in a high girlish voice. At ll:15, when there had been no noises from the kitchen or the bathroom, she opened the door to the tenant’s room and found it empty, the bed unmade and one of the boxes still partially unpacked. In a little dish beside the bed were the tenant’s rings and a pearl pendant necklace. There was a watch too, an expensive man’s wristwatch with a gold band and a simple white face. Bunny went in to look at it, turning it face down in her hand to read the back. It was like one she’d given Ramon on his forty-fifth birthday, an 18-karat gold beauty he’d pawned to pay off a debt to a bookie. Bunny remembered that she had wanted to have it engraved “Time for Love,” but Ramon, excited at the prospect of timing races with its second hand, couldn’t wait the extra week. She rubbed the back of the watch on her blouse and put it back in the dish. Then she shut the door quietly behind her.
Curtis did not call again until nearly 6:00 that evening. It had been a very dull day. Bunny left home only briefly, to deposit the tenant’s check and pick up a few things at the drug store. She was delayed because she had misplaced the check somewhere and had to spend fifteen minutes looking for it. It turned up in the kitchen, under a loaf of white bread. I’m getting forgetful, Bunny thought, but then reminded herself that she had always been forgetful. In the afternoon she spoke with Claire about Pat’s upcoming operation and a movie they both wanted to see. They had laughed about the operation, which was to fix some part of Pat that he would not like to have heard discussed by his wife and her best friend. When dinnertime approached, Bunny tossed herself a salad and settled down in front of the television to watch the evening news. She heard the graduate student come in by the sliding glass door.
“Hello there, Mr. Warwick,” Bunny said, unconsciously shielding the receiver with her hand.
“I have to talk fast here,” Curtis said. “Bear with me.”
She could hear him taking a deep breath. “Bunny, I think we should walk somewhere else tomorrow. Somebody from the square-dancing group might see us. I’m going to pick you up on Green and Escobar at one.”
“I can’t wait,” she said after he had hung up.
And so it began. Every day they would drive across the bridge to Benicia during his wife’s nap hour. They timed it so that he could be back in time to make the wife a snack. They chose Solano County Park, which was almost deserted in the middle of the day. Occasionally they would see a couple walking a dog or a couple of teenagers up to no good. The beach was long, rocky and littered with twisted scraps of iron. Sometimes they would stop to watch a gull chase a scrap of blowing paper along the shore. It was beautiful and very lonely.
After a couple of weeks, Curtis started leaning into Bunny as they walked. He began to tell her things that he said he had never told anyone. For instance, he confessed that even when his wife was well he had not loved her. He said they’d settled for each other because they were the only two people in their office who were still unattached at thirty-four. He wished he had not become an engineer. His wife was cold, damaged by her childhood, severe. Why hadn’t Bunny come along while he was still young? Bunny was an intoxicant. He regretted not meeting her when he was twenty. He regretted everything.
“Stop it,” Bunny said. “You sound like an idiot.” But her heart was soaring.
At the Polish Hall, Curtis was as vague and standoffish as ever. He continued to dance with his partners in a mechanical manner, to go off by himself during the breaks and study his little notebook. If he happened to swing Bunny, to touch her arm during a do-se-do, he kept his eyes down and did not acknowledge her. In fact, he feigned indifference so well that Bunny began, in some small way, to doubt him.
“What do you think he’s doing here?” Wilhelmina mused one Thursday as she sat munching some crusty lasagna with Clarice and Bunny after the dancing was over. “He’s the only single guy here, and he acts like he’s doing some field study on us.”
“Who cares? A man’s a man,” Clarice said, chewing on a piece of garlic bread.
“And every group needs its oddball. Right Wilhelmina?” She glanced pointedly at Willy’s mannish clothes.
Wilhelmina returned the look. “I do my part,” she said.
Bunny pulled a compact from her pocketbook and gave her face a once over. She was pretending not to be listening very closely. “Maybe he needs to get out of the house or something. Maybe he’s lonesome.”
Wilhelmina snorted. “I doubt it,” she said. “He gave you the brush off, didn’t he?”
Bunny exchanged glances with Clarice and then laughed and leaned over to put her arm around Wilhelmina’s shoulder.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Wilhelmina,” she said. “You know I’m man crazy.”
She thought of something else to say, then lost the thought before it formed. That was disappointing, because she had the feeling it would have been clever.
She brought up her doubts to Curtis one day as they walked. It was a cool day in early spring and little tips of green were beginning to show on some of the scrubbier bushes.
“You’re not ashamed of me, are you?” she said.
He was wearing a shirt she had bought for him, a pink golf shirt with a fancy bit of embroidery on the right breast. He did not answer but stopped to pinch a sprig of flowers from a low-growing bush and offer it to her with a pleased expression. He was humming something.
“Is that Love Machine?” Bunny asked.
Curtis smiled through his aviator glasses. “Yes.”
She took his arm and let her head fall against his shoulder. His shoes made a very satisfying, crunching sound against the gravel. Across the straits lay Martinez, the hills rounded and mute, no one building distinct from the other.
“Are you lusting after me again?” Bunny asked.
“I can’t tell,” he said. “I think so.”
She hugged him and he held her there, not moving, his breath hot against her neck, the wind lifting the strands of cottony hair on his arms. He did not seem inclined to go on with their walk.
“I wish my wife would die,” he whispered.
Bunny scoured her mind for a response. There was nothing to say. It was as if he had blown up a bridge, and they were waiting for the smoke to clear.
After that, Curtis came for her in his Cadillac and she climbed in. They walked, mostly without speaking—in the rain or when it was so windy she had to tie a bandana in her hair to keep it from looking like a storm drain. On Thursdays at the Polish Hall they ignored each other, but here they could see nothing else. The water was just background, the sky a void. Once he stood on a rocky outcropping and talked about how his wife’s temper was getting worse, how she had flicked a big spoonful of hot mashed potatoes at the housekeeper and said she was the devil. He was nearly in tears that day, silent and exhausted. He looked ten years older than he was.
To distract him, Bunny learned to flamenco dance. She had bought a lace and satin dress for just that purpose. She didn’t really know the moves, but she had the general idea, and she would fling her arms out on the beach and lift her chin. Curtis was spellbound.
“We’ll go to Paris when she dies,” he said one afternoon, watching her. “I think that’s where a woman like you belongs.”
“You old tomcat,” Bunny said, lowering her eyelids. She was quiet inside though, knowing that Curtis, like most men, was promising more than he could deliver. He looked as rickety as a weather vane, standing there with his drawn face and bony limbs, his windbreaker puffing out around him.
More and more, Bunny began to wonder about Curtis’s wife. She thought about what Curtis had said about her disease, about her brain shrinking, about the dark spaces where the gray matter had been. She was very sick, he’d said, almost past recognition.
Bunny began driving past their house hoping to catch a glimpse of her. It’s a public street, she told herself. Why shouldn’t I be driving by? Sometimes, looking at the shaded windows of their house, she wondered if Curtis had ever offered to take his wife to Paris, and if he had, if she had wanted to go on a tour bus. She seemed like the type who would want to see the Arc de Triumph from a tour bus.
The Warwick’s was a long white ranch house with black shutters and a red front door, the house numbers displayed on the wall above two circular flowerbeds teeming with marigolds. One day Bunny drove past and there she was. Alone, surveying the marigolds with her hands on her hips. She was smaller than Bunny had imagined, white-haired and plump, in tan trousers and a cable knit cardigan. Bunny slowed and watched her bend from the waist to wrench a weed from the flowerbed. On a whim, Bunny honked at her—two short, friendly honks to let her know her rear end was exposed, a trick she’d learned from Ramon. Bunny chortled and drove on as the woman jumped up and put both hands behind her back. Gets ‘em every time, Ramon used to say.
Bunny confessed this to Curtis one day as they sat on a low concrete wall near the park’s parking lot.
“You know,” Bunny said, laughing, “your wife looked pretty good. You should have seen her jump. Hale as a sunflower.”
Curtis sat hunched with his elbows on his knees and turned his face to her. His expression was of such pure misery that Bunny forgot what she had been planning to say next.
“I’m sorry,” she said after a while. “Really, I am.”
Curtis looked out over the straits, where the water was moving west in wide impatient ripples. He took his glasses off and tugged the tail of his shirt out to wipe them. His eyes, which she had thought were brown, glowed a light hazel yellow in the wan light.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said.
Bunny sighed and drew closer to him. He dropped his head and they sat, not speaking, until it was time to go.
For three days afterward, Curtis was not on the corner when Bunny went to meet him. On the first day Bunny waited fifteen minutes and went up to the ridge, taking the route she had taken daily before she’d met him. On the second she did not bother to wait, but went straight on to the olive grove, swinging her arms as she climbed. She walked fast, at twice the rate she’d ever walked with Curtis. Halfway up she saw a lizard in the shade of a bay tree and kicked a little dirt over it.
“How would I know?” she said when Wilhelmina asked where he was at square dancing on Thursday night. “I’m not in charge of every stray who wanders in here.”
But she did worry. The days passed so slowly she found herself reading the same magazine articles over and over, scrubbing the same stain by the kitchen sink. By Friday her hair was a mess, and she had neither the energy no the inclination to perform her daily toilette. On Monday she showed up at the hairdressers in a state of general confusion.
“What are you doing here?” Henry said with a surprised grin. “Can’t keep away from me?”
“What time is it?” Bunny said. She looked at the clock on the far wall, then at her own wristwatch. “Are you running late today, Henry?”
Henry stared at her, a comb dangling from his hand. His client, with globs of dark stuff clinging to her skull, stopped talking long enough to stare too.
“Never mind, dear,” Bunny said, taking a seat in the waiting area. “ I’m only here to leaf through some magazines. Do you have any French Vogues?”
Curtis called her just as she was getting ready for bed. “I’ve missed you,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Bunny began to pester him with questions in a voice so much like a squeal she was ashamed of herself.
“Don’t do that,” he said. Of course he had wanted to call before. If she only knew. He was exhausted, beyond himself. His wife had walked out into the street naked on the night of their last walk together, swinging a fireplace broom. He didn’t know why a fireplace broom. He should have known, yes, but he couldn’t watch her sleep all night. They were keeping her for observation because she’d been out in the weather for thirty hours. Yes, thirty, not thirteen. She’d been found by someone on Arana Street, on the ground behind a barbecue pit, asleep on a bed of poison oak. She had eaten cat food.
Bunny listened, unsure of whether to believe him. He had never lied to her before, at least not that she knew of. Still, she felt the odd sense of warning that she had felt with Ramon toward the end of their affair. The excuses he had come up with to avoid their meetings at the Modern Motel—a sister with a slipped disk, a sure winner at the dog races, a great job opportunity in Albuquerque. At the end he had simply stopped calling.
“Are you at the hospital now?” Bunny asked.
“Yes.” Curtis sounded excited and slightly feverish. “I want you to meet me tomorrow morning at nine. I can’t keep my mind off you. It’s the only reason I’m holding on.”
Bunny hesitated. “All right,” she said.
She waited nearly forty-five minutes at the corner, looking up and down the street for the sunlight glancing off his windshield. Once she thought she saw him, but it was only an old limousine turning in at the Foster Freeze. She thought of all the things that could have happened. They were all bad things, the add insult to injury tricks God seemed to specialize in. Once again, she wondered why God seemed to harbor such hostility toward old people.
As she stood on the corner watching a car filled with teenagers thump past, something changed inside her. It was like—like what? She didn’t know. Like a kite leaving its string, breaking loose into exhilaration and chaos. It felt final, and yet she seemed to have all the time in the world. One by one she undid the buttons of her new jacket (a gold-colored A-line that stopped just above the hip). It was a jacket she had bought with Curtis in mind, but now it might have been a discarded napkin or a cigarette butt. There was no use for it. There never had been. As she was grinding her foot into one of the sleeves, a couple from the square-dancing club passed by and honked. Bunny couldn’t keep herself from waving back.
At 10:57 he called again. “Oh, Bunny, I overslept. Can you forgive me?”
Bunny was sure he could see her expression through the line. “You said nine-thirty, she said. “It’s ten fifty-seven.”
“Look, Curtis. Come over here now. I can’t keep waiting for you. If you’re not in my bed in half an hour, so be it. I’m through with you. I’m not waiting any more.”
He was there in six minutes, breathing hard. Bunny was standing by the closet in her slip, pushing clothes aside on their hangers, looking for a negligee she had stored away somewhere. She could not recall where she had put it.
“You left the front door open,” Curtis said.
Bunny did not look up. “Yes, well the tenant has her own entrance.” She was squatting now, opening a drawer and pulling boxes out. They were black boxes with three x’s in dark red print, from a store with a reputation for old-fashioned raunchiness.
“I can’t find what I want,” she said, brushing a wispy bang out of her eye.
“I’m right here.” Curtis was leaning rakishly on the doorsill, his face transformed by a toothy grin. It was apparent that he had not shaved.
“Hush. I’m looking for something.” Bunny thought for a moment and got up. “I might have put it in the closet of the tenant’s room. I’ll be right back.”
Bunny knew the tenant would not be home—she seldom was, especially at this hour. Still, she knocked. She had her standards, after all. Like anyone. When there was no answer, she gave out a loud yoo-hoo and let herself in.
The tenant lay asleep, a book next to her head, nestled into the hairy chest of a man with dark eyebrows and a full head of bristling salt-and-pepper hair. The man was snoring, exhaling in short, phlegmy bursts. Bunny tiptoed past them and opened the door to the closet.
“What are you doing?” the tenant asked. Bunny turned. The girl had pulled herself halfway up, exposing a body ripened and soft and very pale. It was the type of body that looked better without clothes.
“It’s my house, isn’t it?” Bunny said. “Is it immoral for me to be in my own house?”
“What?” the girl said. “What are you doing in here?”
Bunny had forgotten. She looked around the room, with its stacks of books and clothes slung over the backs of chairs. Through the sliding glass door she saw the pool, entirely empty now, a trace of brown rime in the deep end.
“Go back to sleep,” she said. “It’s all right.”
On the way out she lifted the man’s gold watch from its dish on the nightstand. Ramon’s watch. She’d give it back to him. He was there now, impatient and troublesome, waiting for her in the bedroom.