The dog was a life-sized Janesgirl, big-shouldered and fierce, cast from an enormous quantity of unpainted steel. Quentin had never noticed the beast guarding the yard, or for that matter, the massive blue house. Five mailboxes were nailed to an outside wall. A slip of fresh white paper carried Farah’s name. Husbands should know their wive’s writing. Quentin considered the tidy, feminine script. Doorbells were absent. A battered screen door covered a windowless front door, unlocked and out of alignment, and stepping through both, he entered a gloomy hallway.
The farthest door wore a big 2. He didn’t approach. Uninvited, he didn’t believe in the number. Quiet retreat seemed best. But then an upstairs door opened with a crash, and he moved forwards as a reflex, knuckles to the oak as a scrawny fifteen year-old male jumped three steps and raced outdoors.
Quentin watched that drama and then turned back, discovered the apartment door open.
Farah stood beside a perilously tall stack of empty cardboard boxes.
“Quentin,” she said. His name sounded like the answer on a test—a flat, memorized reply to an expected first question.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he began.
And she smiled, suddenly and convincingly. “No, not at all. Come inside. I have to leave soon, but come.”
The apartment was tiny. Farah admitted as much but mentioned that it came furnished, which was a blessing. The sofa unfolded into a bed. Fake plastic pine covered every wall, making the space feel more constrictive. Framed photos stood on a maple bureau. The minimal kitchen filled one corner, its refrigerator blocking several inches of the room’s only window.
Quentin lived in a palace by comparison.
“Go on, sit,” she said. “We have a few minutes.”
Farah wore a matronly dress, one piece with broad straps over her shoulders. But the hem was higher than most, and she hadn’t bothered with a bra. He watched her as they sat together. Calm hands gathered in her lap. The smile looked genuine, warm but wary. Her thick black hair was tied in a tight bun. Eyes looked red. Had she been crying? He didn’t ask, didn’t say anything. Then she asked, “Why are you here, Quentin?”
He didn’t reply.
“Not that I’m sorry to see you.”
“Some mail came for you.”
“At my house. I don’t know why.”
The package and responsibilities were handed over, and she shook the mystery once before flinging it aside.
“A mistake,” was her verdict.
“Yet you came all the way here,” she said. “Or is there something more?”
His motivations seemed uncertain. One polite lie was better. “I wanted to see how you are.”
She nodded, offering no news about her well being.
“I talked to Vinnie," he said.
Already? “Are you all right?”
She said, “Yes,” a little too quickly. Then she seemed to consider her life for a moment before adding, “Yes, I’m quite fine.”
Her hands unwrapped themselves, rubbing bare knees.
“We should go out sometime,” he announced.
Surprise came into her pretty features, then a smile that wasn’t thrilled but didn’t feel false either. “We should,” the young woman agreed.
“I like movies. But I’m sorry to say, I don’t have the money.”
“I can pay,” he offered, suggesting a day and time.
A tiny watch rode Farah’s left wrist. She looked at its face while rising. “I need to be going.”
“Six, next Friday,” she said.
“Oh wait, no. I have an appointment. Let’s make it half past six.”
Meaning to tease, he said, “It’s a date, wife.”
The red eyes grew larger, staring through him. But then Farah smiled and said, “Husband,” while laughing gently, moving both of them towards the door.