Half an hour later we pulled up to the high-rise where my husband and I had been living for almost a year, one of those swanky buildings with a marble lobby, a jolly doorman and an aggressively starched, dehydrated concierge. I popped out of the cab, asked the bellboy to take care of my bags and hastily walked across the lobby towards the elevator. The concierge was a skinny severe looking man in his fifties, with one of those squinty facial expressions that drills holes in everyone around. I always wondered what it would be like to sit down with him and have a candid conversation, the sort he could have with a colleague or a close personal friend. I knew that behind that stoic facade there was a wealth of insight, opinion and possibly even, judgment. As I walked past the front desk, he ceremoniously rose from his chair to offer me a greeting.
“Good morning, Miss Hart, welcome home.”
“Hello Mr. Brooks, thanks ..it’s good to be home!”
I could tell that, uncommonly, he wanted to say something else, but I wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries, so I avoided eye contact and kept a steady course towards the elevator. I pushed the button, but in these very tall buildings, the elevators often took a while having to travel up and down across 50 floors, and I hadn’t the patience to wait. So I turned for the staircase. Finally I was at my door, my hair fell out of my headband and I was short of breath, having overestimated my stair climbing fitness. I paced myself for a second and pulled out a compact mirror. TV noises were seeping from underneath the door. I detected a faint smell of bacon and something sweet, like molasses. Yay, breakfast. My face was uncontrollably convulsing into a smile. I inserted the key and turned it slowly to cushion the loud click of the deadbolt receding into the door, then pushed, the door swung open. He was standing by the stove with a spatula in hand, the sinuous aroma of maple syrup and frying bacon filled my nostrils. My eyes met his immediately, I emitted a squeal, and trotted up to him, jumping into his arms. For the next minute we were locked in a tight embrace, any closer and we would have fused together. My face rested on his shoulder, as I waited for him to recover from the surprise and say something. A moment passed, then another, nothing was said, no movement was made, I continued to cling, waiting on his reaction. Then my heart jumped. A pair of strange eyes met mine from across the kitchen nook. They came at me like a runaway train, bam, its impact produced a sensation of physical pain. When I was ten, much to the dismay of my dad, I pried open one of those disposable cameras at a convenience store near my house, when it shocked me, I thought an invisible fist had literally punched through my arm into my chest and pinched my heart. This felt just like that, but worse. The shock travelled through every cell in my body, taking away muscle control, paralyzing. She sat at my antique hardwood table, his mother’s wedding gift, in only a T-shirt with a fried egg on her plate and a fork in her hand. Pretty, curly, barefoot monster. It did not compute. I stared at her over his shoulder; she stared back, then slowly put her fork down and folded her hands in her lap, as if trying not to spook or aggravate a wild animal. That’s when it really hit; I recognized her T shirt. I bought it for Matt years ago; there was a cartoon of a hot dog running from a fork printed on the front. At the time I thought it was so funny, but it wasn’t funny now. I realized that I was still clinging to him, with my fingers dug deep into his shoulders, but he stood still as a statue. I unlocked my arms and slowly pried myself from his chest. Pulling away, I looked at him with some faint hope that there was a reasonable explanation. But his expression, frozen as it was on his face, told me otherwise, shock and fear were perhaps its most obvious hues. Or maybe I was projecting and there was no expression. Maybe, he was utilizing the same strategy as the aubergine hotel employee, offering no reaction in order to discourage the embarrassing scene, which certainly took place in most situations such as this one. I couldn’t tell anymore, my own horror had permeated everything around me, her, him, the bellboy, who had arrived right in time to witness my meltdown and now stood frozen in the doorway, with eyes wide as an owl’s. Then it all started to move, swarming, banging around, loud like a hurricane. Hyperventilating, I backed up towards the exit.
“Jesus Christ Matt.” I wasn’t sure if I whispered or screamed “What is this?! What is….”
I made a step backwards, then another. My knees buckled, I tried to turn towards the door but the ground seemed to have leaped up at me, smashing into my back. A sharp stab of pain shot through my body, it had a sobering effect. I found myself collapsed on the floor, having tripped over the purse I dropped when walking in. Matt finally unfroze and made a concerned movement towards me, hands outstretched. I scrambled to get up, gesturing against his approach. All I wanted was to be out of that space, to be free of him and her, the stench of bacon, that stupid hotdog shirt. Next thing I knew I was running down the staircase with the sound of her voice ricocheting inside my head like a bullet.
“That was intense…that was intense…that was intense.”
I heard the sound of feet behind me and thought it was him, but as I looked back I saw the flushed face of that poor bellboy, who not knowing what to do, had abandoned my luggage by the door and was now awkwardly chasing after me.
Mr. Brooks stood in the center of the lobby, like a statue, he had been expecting me. He looked larger than usual, taller and even dryer. Dear God, I thought, he had been waiting for me since the moment I went up, he knew all along. I was exposed, tears were welling up inside me along with the most unbearably urgent need to disappear. I ran by him, with no other thought than to escape those walls, where everyone knew everything and I wore the dunce’s hat. He muttered something to me as I flew past him. I had never before heard Mr. Brooks mutter, he was the kind of man who always annunciated his words perfectly like a catholic school rector or a German officer. It didn’t matter what he said, I imagined he was asking if I was well or whether I required a cab. Maybe he was telling me what an idiot I had been all along, what a naïve laughable idiot I was, and how many dozens, no, hundreds of molasses laden breakfast scenes had taken place in that apartment during my absences. But it didn’t matter, because none of it seemed real anymore, in that kitchen reality had collapsed on top of me like a house of giant lead cards.