He held the door.
“Leave already!” Todd said.
Clarissa was shifting from one foot to the other as she fondled a ceramic panda. She put the panda down and turned to the door. Adjusting the bag slung over her shoulder, she took a single step towards the exit before veering off again to examine the dying plant near the television.
“I’ve been holding this door for an hour!”
She looked up. Her stare was hot enough to pop corn. As it was, he felt one of his t-shirt sleeves smoking.
“You don’t have to hold it, you know. I can let myself out.”
“But I want you to leave now. Why are you still here…lingering?”
“What is it with you!” She spit her words indignantly while gently massaging the plant that had not been watered for two weeks. The plant did not appreciate being used like this, though one can hardly turn down a massage. Todd rolled his eyes.
It was perfect Los Angeles weather; early afternoon and a light breeze playing with the palm trees. A man with basketball shorts and no shirt was walking a Pug past their Santa Monica apartment. Todd’s ugly brown t-shirt had the word “Magnet” written on it in stenciled off-white type. Clarissa was wearing a green cardigan and had cuffs in her straight-legged jeans. In the apartment upstairs, a cleaning lady was using a cheap vacuum to remove cookie crumbs from a filthy carpet. Downstairs, Clarissa brushed some dust from a CD rack surveying the discs from top to bottom. Just before reaching the lowest one, she pulled a disc out, glancing at the cover.
“Isn’t this mine?” she called sideways.
“What is it?
“It’s the Polyphonic Spree, Together We’re Heavy,” She said, flipping the disc and reading the track list.
“No, that’s mine. You were there when I bought it, remember? At the library book sale. You got a tattered copy of Don Quixote and a TV Guide from 1993.”
“Oh, I thought you had bought it for me.”
“No, I don’t think so. But you can take the CD if it’d make you leave faster,” he said, readjusting his position at the door.
She put the CD back into the rack and turned to him. He noticed – again – that her breasts were round, like grapefruit. They had been living together for just over four months through a coincidence, an accident, really. Todd’s friend had been struck by an out-of-control Mazda Miata, damaging his legs and making him unable to continue his job at Hamburger Hamlet and therefore unable to pay his share of the rent. At the same time, almost to the hour, Clarissa was tying a mattress to the roof of her car. She was being removed from her sublet room by a housemate who had an urgent need for “a man in the house,” the man was her new boyfriend. Todd and Clarissa met that night at a poker game organized by a mutual friend and were pressured by circumstances and peers to move in together.
“Do you really want me to go?” Clarissa essayed.
“Yes!” Answered Todd. “Would you please hurry up?”
She sat down on the love seat and Todd groaned and threw his hands in the air letting them fall.
“Look, I know we’ve already talked about it. We decided I would go today and all that, but…”
“No but…” Todd interrupted, “…No but! We have already talked about it, we’ve been over it, and over it, and over it. There’s nothing left to say. It was good while it lasted, but we can’t live together. Period. Your stuff is already at Myra’s place, so why don’t you get yourself there too!”
“I don’t want you to hate me…” Clarissa’s words clung to the back of her throat.
“I don’t hate you, I just don’t want you living here. And you don’t want to live here either, remember?” He was moving from frustrated to angry. She looked at his arms and shoulders and at his ridiculous lob-sided haircut.
“What?!” He shouted. She swallowed.
“I don’t understand it,” she started, “why do you get to be angry and I don’t? I moved in here…It wasn’t my idea…And we did fine. Then it started getting weird and it wasn’t my fault, okay? I didn’t do anything wrong, or stupid. I was just being myself. I want you to know that – I just want to say – I didn’t cause anything, I didn’t dress up. My conscience is clear in that way. Neither of us did anything, but you are here angry! Holding the…fucking door…like your some kind of doorman. Why don’t you say something…No, don’t say anything…We lived together for four months, you made dinner once or twice. I, we, never did anything. Impose on you? How am I bothering anything? So what if it’s your apartment, I have limits! I’m here. I’m a person. I.”
She paused, breathing hard. One of her hands, with its burgundy nails, was palm-down on the little couch, the other was rubbing her eye. She stood up. A draft caused the beads at the threshold of the hallway to crackle. He looked out for a moment, no one was anywhere.
“I appreciate your speech and all…” He looked at his watch.
“…but it’s 3:45 and don’t you have somewhere…What is it now?” She was on her hands and knees besides the couch feeling the carpet with both hands, he saw her purple underwear peeking from the low-waist of her jeans. He scratched his head. She looked up.
“What are you standing there for, you idiot, I lost my contact lens. Help me find it!”
“This is just stupid,” he said, shaking his head and moving to the couch. The door shut with a bang and a click. On their knees they scoured the floor under the love seat and around the coffee table. A minute later, finding themselves unsuccessful, she sat up and began to rub her eye again. Then she blinked twice.
“Actually I think it was in my eye the whole time, just turned around,” Clarissa said, “that’s a relief.”
“Okay, so are you ready now?” He asked. They sat for awhile.
“It’s getting weird again,” she said.
Clarissa put her hand behind her on the floor and stood. When she was up, he reached out his hands and she used her weight to tow him up as well. A gleeful child shouted somewhere outside.
“I have to use the bathroom,” Clarissa said. Todd stood in the same place for a minute after she walked out of sight through the beads. Then he sat down on the big couch, lifted his right arm halfway, and smelled his armpit.
He was flipping through a coffee table book with large photos of animals in the African Savannah when Clarissa came back to the living room. She was holding a dusty hairbrush.
“I found the brush I lost last month. It was underneath the basin.” Her hair was neater. He looked up from a photo of two lionesses vamping for the camera.
“You have a dust bunny right here,” Todd said pointing to a place on his head. Clarissa reached up and carefully pulled the dust bunny off, putting it gently on top of the coffee table. Todd looked at it, then at her.
“Oh, fine,” she said, snatching the dust bunny and rushing it off to the trashcan in the kitchen. When she came back, Todd still had the gigantic book on his lap.
“So,” she said. He closed the book.
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing,” Todd whispered. Then he stood up and walked around the coffee table.
Half an hour later, the door clicked shut, causing the beads to crackle again. Todd smoothed his shirt and plopped down onto the couch. He leaned forward to grab the television remote and felt something under the coffee table. Getting down and reaching under the table, Todd pulled out the TV Guide from 1993.