I met her in class, a
pretty girl, didn’t talk much. I’m
quiet, too. After a work day, I don’t have any energy left. Getting to class is
all I can manage. Some nights she looks as tired as I feel, her hair pulled
back in a haphazard clump, her makeup smeared, her features blurry with
find ourselves at the coffee machine one evening at the break. She’s swearing
softly under her breath when I walk up. The cup meant to hold the gushing
liquid has turned on its side, the hot coffee spilling onto the floor.
was my last fifty cents, too,” she says. “I’ll fall asleep if I don’t get some
does drone on, doesn’t he?” I say. “Here. I’ve got lots of change. I thought
there’d be more computer work, not so much lecturing.”
too. Thanks. I’ll pay you back next week.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
As we walk back to the
classroom, she tells me she works as a telemarketer—the ones everyone hangs up
on. No wonder she looks exhausted.
“I thought this class
would get me out of that, but it doesn’t seem likely.” She grins ruefully.
After that we talk at the
break, and I often walk her out to her dented old car. I always wait down the
street to be sure she gets off okay. I don’t have any reason to hurry home.
Good thing I wait, too, ‘cause one night the engine tries and tries but never
After that, I pick Linda
up for class, but she never asks me in, never even lets me ring the bell. She
always waits out front, even when it’s cold, even when I tell her she doesn’t
need to. She can wait inside, and I can ring the bell.
“It’s okay,” she always
says. “I don’t mind.”
I haven’t had a girlfriend
since Nancy. Maybe a couple of years back. Nancy said I wanted to see her too
much, but I didn’t understand that. If you like somebody, you want to be with
them, right? That’s what I thought. I tried to get her to understand, but she
got mad, said she’d call the cops, get a restraining order if I didn’t leave
her alone. Can you believe that?
As we drive to class,
Linda tells me complicated stories of things that she says have happened to
her, stories about people she knows and about the people she talks with on the
phone. The stories don’t end: like Scheherazade’s, they reach a climax as we
get where we’re going. Later, when I ask her how the story ends, she always
says, “I don’t remember. What story was that?” When I ask her if these stories
are true, she laughs and says, “What do you think?”
When I take her home from
class, she leaves me on the street before I even park, just jumps out of the
car and disappears. One night I ask if she’s got the notes from a class I
missed. I hope she’ll ask me in, but she
says, “Yeah, sure. Wait here. I’ll get ‘em for you.”
I tell her I can come up,
but she says she’ll bring them down. She hops out of the car and is back in a
minute with the notes. That was quick, I say, and she smiles.
I wonder why she never
asks me in. Sometimes we stop for coffee after class, then in the middle of
telling me about some asshole who yelled at her on the phone, she looks at her
watch and says, “Come on. It’s late. Gotta go.” She just smiles when I ask if
someone’s waiting for her.
I’m sure she’s hiding
something. Maybe she’s married. Maybe she’s living with someone. I
think about her a lot. I think about
kissing her, but she’s always gone so quick, I never get a chance.
I think maybe she’s got a
secret life. I watch her in class, her expressions, her movements. I ask her
questions. When I ask her if
someone is waiting up for her, she pretends she doesn’t hear me or she just
smiles. Like quicksilver, she’s gone as soon as I reach out for her. Only the
stories she tells remain, and they aren’t true. Are they?
I watch her in class. She
doesn’t wear a ring. She seems nervous, plays with her hair, chews on a strand.
Her nails are bitten to the quick. She gnaws on them while the teacher drones
I check out her notebook
one day when she leaves it on the desk, but it tells me nothing. I drive past
her house nights when we don’t have class. Sometimes I drive by during the day.
I check out the lobby of
her apartment house. It’s dirty, the small white tiles on the floor grimy and
broken. The door is never locked, and the mailboxes have no names on them. I
look at her mail. Bills, catalogs, invitations to open credit cards.
One day I find myself
inside, standing in the dark hallway. I breathe in the ghosts of long ago
meals, the tang of urine, and the musky odor of damp wool. My heart beats in my
ears, my mouth is dry. Suppose she’s home. Suppose she sees me.
A door opens, and I
flinch. An elderly woman carrying a shopping bag walks down the hall. She eyes
me curiously. I may be in the wrong building, I tell her. She waits for me to
leave. I ask her if she knows Linda Kalpakian, if she lives in the building?
Yes, upstairs, she says. Why you want to know? She’s applied for some
insurance, I lie. I’m an investigator. Just checking a few things.
I don’t know her, she
says. I pretend I’m leaving, and follow
her down the front stairs. When she’s gone, I go back inside, feeling like a
burglar. I find Linda’s apartment and listen at the door. I hear a sound from inside.
Is she there? Is someone else there? My blood pounds in my ears. I walk quickly
down the stairs so she doesn’t see me. Why is she hiding her life from me? What’s
I miss appointments at
work, appointments with people considering buying life insurance. They call the
office, wondering where I am. My boss calls me in, yells at me about missed
appointments, the way I’ve failed to meet my quota. I promise to do better.
I ask Linda to go to
dinner and a movie one night. She thanks me and says she can’t. Says she has to
“Study? Give me a break. I
thought we were friends.”
“Okay,” she agrees. “Where
you want to meet?”
I don’t want to meet her.
I want to pick her up, see her life. Why won’t she let me in? We talk about the
movie and about a book she’s reading. She tells me a story about someone she
works with. When she tells me a story, it’s always about somebody else. She
never tells me anything true about her life. That night I try to kiss her
before she can jump out of the car, but all I reach is her ear. And then she’s
I dream about her. One
night I dream she lives in an apartment with black painted walls and red
ceilings. Another time I dream her apartment is filled with weird little
people, gnomes or dwarves. They twitter and chatter when she gets home from
I stay home from work to
watch outside her apartment. I watch her
leave in the morning, then let myself in the building and watch her apartment
door, listening to hear if anyone is there. No one ever comes out except her.
Sometimes there are sounds from inside. Who’s in there? What’s she hiding?
I follow her to work and
wait outside. She usually leaves for lunch alone. Sometimes she has lunch with
another woman, blond, older than Linda. She leaves alone at night. Sometimes I
see her say good night to someone inside as she leaves. Who is that? Is that
the blond? Does she have other friends?
The class is over, so I
only see her when we go to a movie or dinner. She won’t let me pick her up, and
she won’t come to my apartment afterward. She doesn’t explain. She just says,
“No, I can’t.”
I see my chance one night
in the car. I lean over to kiss her while she talking. She doesn’t try to get
away, just sits quietly, letting me kiss her, not kissing me back. She pushes
my hand away from her breast. Then she asks, “Are you going to be a problem?”
“What d’ya mean, a
problem?” I ask.
“You gonna push me to have
sex with you?”
“No. I haven’t done that.
Anyway, why not?”
“I don’t want to. I just
want to be friends. If you’re gonna push me, I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“How come?” I ask.
“I don’t want to. I
don’t need to explain. Take me home now. I
don’t want to see you anymore.”
I call her, tell her I’m
sorry. I say I won’t try to kiss her. We’ll just be friends. Please, I beg.
Just friends—that’s all.
“Okay,” she says. “No sex.
You try anything again, and that’s it.”
At work I daydream about
Linda’s life. Her secret life. I wonder how to get her to have sex with me.
Even Nancy wasn’t so funny about sex, although she didn’t want it very often,
even before she told me to leave her alone. Anyway, she was kind of fat and not
very pretty. Linda’s pretty, but she’s weird. Why do I attract these weird
I miss appointments, then
I don’t go in to work to do my reports. When I do go in, my boss asks me if I
have a problem. No, I say. I’m fine. He says you got to come to work, got to go
to those appointments, your numbers are bad. He says if I don’t do better he’s
gonna have to let me go.
“I’ll do better.” I
I mean to. The next day I
leave work at lunch time to see some guy who called the office. The boss says
he’s a hot prospect for insurance, like that’s supposed to make me care.
I can’t concentrate, though. My mind keeps
wandering, daydreaming about who Linda is, why she keeps her life secret from
me. I imagine her in bed, naked. I’m too
worked up to go see the boss’s referral.
Instead, I wait in my car
in front of Linda’s work. My job seems unimportant, my life flat and dull. I
want to know about Linda’s life. I want
to have sex with her, to see her naked, to have her open her arms to me. I
touch myself, imagining Linda touching me. I close my eyes, jerking furiously
until I feel the wetness. I look to see if anyone saw, but there’s no one
The day after I leave work
at noon, my boss calls me in, asks me where I went. I say I had an errand,
couldn’t get to see the referral.
“D’ja think about
calling?” he asks.
“Yeah, but my cell wasn’t
“Well, since you can’t
seem to make time for work, I guess we’ll fix it so you don’t have to. Clean
out your desk. You’re fired.”
Everybody’s looking at me
when I leave the boss’s office, trying not to stare. They know I’ve been
fired. I don’t care. I don’t care about
anything except Linda.
Now I don’t have anything
to do except watch her. I wait outside her apartment, then outside her work.
Sometimes I go in the building and watch the door to her apartment. No one goes
in or out. I don’t see any of her neighbors. Once I jerk off in the hallway
outside her apartment, spurting onto her doorway. It makes me feel powerful.
Linda asks me about work.
I lie, say everything’s fine. One night after a movie, she says, “I tried to
call you at work. They say you’re not there anymore.”
“Oh, yeah. I got a new
“How come you didn’t say
“Same kind of stupid
job—selling life insurance. What’d you do last night?”
She smiles and doesn’t
I’m afraid to ask her
direct questions, afraid she’ll vanish if I push her. I’m always surprised when
I reach her at work, as though she might have disappeared.
One day she leaves for
work late and sees me outside her house in my car.
“What’re you doing here?”
she asks. “Are you spying on me?”
“Not spying. I just want
to know your secret.”
“My secret? I don’t have a
“Who’s inside your
apartment? Why won’t you tell me anything about your life? Why won’t you ever
tell me anything except made-up stories? What are you not telling me? I lost my
job because I can’t think of anything except you, your life. What’s your
“What business is it of
yours to know about my life? I have no secrets. Now get out of here. I don’t
want to see you again.”
“I don’t believe you. I’m
in love with you. That’s why I want to know about your life.”
“There is no secret. Just
leave me alone. You’re weird.”
I didn’t mean to hit her
so hard. I don’t know why I hit her at all. I can’t explain to the police or
the psychologist or anybody else. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I just wanted to
get close to her, to know all about her. She said I was weird. She said she
didn’t want to see me anymore, but she was the only thing I had.