Lying Above Me

Agoraphobia. Mine is the distaste of seeing the reflection of myself through friends. So I have few friends. Very few friends. Eric and I used to rationalize this affliction as a need to control our environment. But there again, it was just a matter of not liking the glare of what we were. Were, because, well, he's dead now. It's just me and my distorted self-image missing the way the two fun house mirrors righted our reflections when we faced one another.

We sat in his living room gazing over York, looking through a window that exposed a man and a woman having a candlelight dinner. It was only pizza, but there was candlelight and food filled mouths betraying good humor. Eric disliked candlelight.

The way it shape shifted bothered his eyes. We always sat in the dark with a wisp of white smoke lingering between us while at other tables couples glowed.

Eric dimmed the lights, but the stark blue and gray of the muted TV disallowed the mood. We looked at one another in the static dark until he asked, "Want to order a pizza?"

I shrugged, "Sure." Up again came the lights so that he could locate the number. I pushed passed him into the kitchen and made myself a drink. Up in the cupboard on the top shelf I spotted a champagne flute that was mine. It has been Christmas Eve and I'd tramped through the marble lobby in garters, rouged lips and a sloshing glass of celebration in my hand. Six months later it was deep into its solitary life high on a dusty, stagnant pedestal. I stood there with my hand still on the polished door contemplating its place and wondering too how Eric being just 5' 7" had to make a concerted effort to find this mismatched glass a home.

I think that it was after spotting the glass that I decided start leaving things in his apartment; a bottle of shampoo to begin. I was very aware of the obvious tactic: forgetfulness. I was to leave one morning after he, he had a breakfast meeting and we had arranged before going to sleep that the next day I would just lock the door behind me. It was planned that he would not wake me, but his indecisiveness over wardrobe proved too strong a force and I was asked to open my eyes and review. In his defense I must say that to make up for this he did start a pot of coffee. But I made the bed. Then I rumpled it again, testing the comfort level to being thoughtless -- did it fit well? No.

Frustrated by good breeding, I straightened and pulled the comforter into what I imagined perfect hospital corners to be, all the while glancing over my shoulder at the gold V05 bottle on the edge of the tub. Through a sheer plastic corner of the curtain it mocked me and my own transparency. All he said the next time we spoke was, "At this rate, it will take you a very long time to move in."

Eric had a high profile job. He enjoyed the spot light as much as he too suffered his heavy cross. It is a terrible thing to be in constant contradiction. There's always a nagging need to question the reality of feelings and responses to things. It was a mounting stealth-like pain to sit around flipping through Manhattan public access cable channels because it was exactly what you wanted to do when at the same time you were expected to be out and about simply because why wouldn't you be. So, he would stay at home in a comfortable chair with a stiff drink or maybe in a rumpled bed with some ice cream and a stiff drink, or maybe he'd be at the dining room table working on the model of the Space Shuttle -- started while recuperating from a bad case of influenza -- with a stiff drink. All the while his attention was diverted and his sanctuary diminished by the gnawing feeling he was missing something -- even though that something was not something he'd want to be a part of anyway.

Oftentimes I'd stand with him -- huddled together at a trendy bar projecting this air of confidence with a line of complimentary drinks sent over by members of his adoring public set before us -- but huddled nevertheless and busy checking our wrists for the expiration of enough time spent. And when we scurried out to the held open door of our pumpkin coach, we'd left those drinks half drunk and a tab that in our angst we'd forgotten to close out.

Then the next day I'd nervously wait for the phone to start ringing; reports of who saw/heard what/where. Showered with half truths and distortions of honest actions Eric would face the remainder of the day a drowned rat declaring like a solitary king to never cross the moat again.

Of course it was all about control. One particularly mischievous night I participated in his nightmare. Easily recognizable he'd been spotted in a nightclub not too far from where I myself was perched enjoying cocktails of my own. I learned of this from the vacant chatter of the bar hopping. I wedged myself up to the bar and asked to use the phone. Not sure what I'd say once I got him, and a little worried about the fact he was probably not alone -- my point wasn't a case of infidelity -- I had him paged. Waiting, I reveled in the cadence of his name called out over the familiar din and the subsequent jolt at his hearing it announced. I warned him that he was never out of sight. I ruined his evening and after the initial 30-second rush of having had a crystal ball, my fun was over too. I sipped the rest of my drink while considering the punishment to come.

Eric was hiding. The apartment where I'd left my shampoo had acquired a mystery leak which erupted in a warp in the hard wood the length of the living room. He was running away from having to decided whether or not to move. Hiding from the speed bump which he considered a line in the sand challenging him to make a decision.

"I'm up in the Pierre," said his invitation. A message left on my answering machine. When I arrived I was told that he had been moved to Presidential Suite C. I rode the private elevator and surprised a chamber maid idly dusting the fixtures illuminating some art in the corridor. Needing to wheel it slightly out of my way I slipped past her cart. She followed me down the quiet hall. "You need some help, miss?"

"No," I replied, looking down to consult the memo page on which I'd scribbled the room number. "I think this is it." I finished looking up again at the brass plate across the double doors.

"Miss, I don't think there's anyone in those rooms." she warned.

"Oh, but I'm sure this one's it." At this, one side of the entrance moved and Eric stood just inside, barefooted, bare- chested, dressed in slouchy black fleece pants with a cord drawn tightly at the waist. A fog of his spice curled its illusive fingers around and lured me in. Without casting out another word I closed the door and Eric followed the taut telephone cord back into the bedroom. One of them.

I put down my coat and showed myself around not insisting I hear his conversation. The dining room was stately and there were beyond that two more bedrooms with an adjoining bath and what was probably a balcony behind drapery that he had kept tightly drawn.

Every table light was on. And the flowers on the credenza in the foyer -- an arrangement full of sprigs of twisted twigs and Eucalyptus cuttings -- were not the freshest I'd seen.

There were the usual things -- a muted television flashing, signs he'd been drinking. But there was also the explosion of clothing strewn over unlikely furniture and across the floor.

After some time I followed the steady murmur of his voice to a tangle of bed linen, two near empty sacks of Mrs. Field's cookies and an almost dry bottle of tequila. Clearly, I'd been asked to share a mood.

"No more cookies?" I asked pointing as he hung up the phone.

"You like?" He said instead, motioning around, following the flow of his arms to one of the suite's three couches. "The cable wasn't working in the other room. I complained, and they moved me in here. But, you found me."

"I found you."

"Ever see this? This is the third time today I'm watching it."

I took a look at what was on the screen and tried to find something familiar in the grainy black and white. I took too long and Eric shouted "You know -- of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk in to mine...."

"You could shut it off."

"Nah. Come sit down with me."

The bedroom drapes too tightly met and the electric clock beside the bed unplugged. I don't know what time we began to sleep nor the time when we awoke. We used both bathrooms for our ablutions just because we could. And when I idly asked, rubbing at my head with one of those great big, fluffy hotel towels what he thought it was like outside. He suggested I call the concierge if I so badly wanted to know. When I told him I'd think about it, then I spotted a note on hotel's stately letterhead peeking under the doors.

Hotel management would like to thank all our fine guests for their cooperation during last night's fire emergency. We are happy to state that the evacuation process was one of calm and order and that the hotel has not sustained any structural damage.

We hope that you enjoy the conclusion of your stay with us.

"Hey, look at this!"

"What?" Eric answered flatly not at all inspired by the new day.

"Apparently there was some sort of fire here last night."

"What are you talking about?"

"Here, see for yourself."

He took the page from me. "I didn't hear anything -- did you hear anything?"

"Not even your snoring." I told him standing with my arms protectively crossed while my head wobbled in the heavy towel turban. "That's somewhat disturbing, don't you agree?"

"Yeah, I should get the night for free, then," He answered, reaching for the phone.

I stood there weighing the futility -- balancing the thoughts in my hands -- juggling the effectiveness of my voicing despair, outrage, hysterical laughter even -- and settled on this instead: "Might as well, order us some breakfast while you're on."

RoseMarie London