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from the June 2010 issue

from “Baby Jane”

The office building across the street lit up like a Christmas tree every morning. The fluorescent lights chased each other pling-pling-pling, lighting up from one room to the next, pulling the people along after them. I watched the same performance every morning while smoking a cigarette in my robe at Joonatan’s unpleasantly sun-filled window. I only woke up that early if Joonatan was going to work. I didn’t have to wake up, but I did anyway, got out of bed, put high-strength toner on my face, drank my morning coffee and poured some for Joonatan, listened to the rustle of the morning-fresh newspaper, and brewed some more coffee and felt the office building’s fluorescent lights creep up from one floor to the next. Joonatan always started his day by turning on the fluorescent light in the kitchen, but I always turned it off again and turned on some other light, something that provided at least a little warmth.

The wrinkles on my hands had deepened, but not the ones on my face. Maybe I should start to put the same cream on my hands that I used on my face. The heart line never used to be visible.  Now it stood out like a stick, pink, in the middle of my palm, like a wound that has just shed its scab.

After my morning cigarette I carefully spread day cream over my high-strength toner and sat in the kitchen, waiting for it to be absorbed.

The toaster on the shelf in the kitchen was never used. Neither was the Alessi lemon squeezer. I went to put eye drops under my lower eyelids to make the redness fade. There was still a rustle of newspaper in the kitchen. Doors were opening and closing in the hallway. Everyone was going to work. Soon Joonatan would, too. I started to blow-dry my hair. It was unbearable to be awake in the morning, listening to people slamming their doors as they left for work. I turned up the hair dryer. I started to cry. I should dye my eyebrows and eyelashes. I should wash the dishes and take out the garbage and the recycling and go to the hairdresser and who knows what else.

I could go back to bed as soon as Joonatan leaves and set the alarm so that I’d have time to get dressed and go to the store before he gets home.

I can’t be awake in the morning and maintain my sanity. It was good with Piki and me, because Piki felt exactly the same way. We were both tormented by morning light and morning sounds, and we huddled under the covers to hide from them. Or if I had to hurry home from her place, we would spend all morning on the phone, talking our misery away.

I’d been through two years of the wrong kind of morning now.

After the day cream, I put on under-makeup moisturizer, and let it soak in. I smoked a cigarette. I brightened my eyes with more drops and grabbed the foundation, spreading it carefully with a sponge, smoothing it down onto my neck. I added cream rouge in the hollows that formed when I sucked in my cheeks, and put loose powder over my face with a velvet powder puff. I smoked another cigarette. I primed my eyelids, spread dark eye shadow on the outer corners of my eyes and lighter shadow on the inner corners and lined my eyes with liquid eyeliner and smoothed it with the foam tip of an eye pencil. I added kohl to my inner eyelids and finished with waterproof mascara. After priming my lips, I lined them with a soft lip-liner pencil, spread extra-long-lasting  lip color on with a brush, powdered my lips, added lipstick, and pressed off the excess with a facial tissue. Then a touch of pearlescence on the cheek- and brow-bones. I had to get all I could out if it while I wasn’t yet too old for it. Before going to pick out my clothes, I went into the kitchen to make more coffee.

While I was fussing around with the coffee maker, the saltshaker fell on the floor and salt fell on the carpet and I started to cry. I kicked the saltshaker under the table, went into the bathroom, and dabbed away the tears that had welled up in the corners of my eyes with a cotton swab so they wouldn’t spoil my makeup. Otherwise Joonatan might start to wonder.

I went back into the bedroom and opened a package of stockings and unwound the new stockings and sat down on the sofa and started to roll them on from the toe up. But first I filed the nails of one hand so that I wouldn’t tear them. Then I rolled them on, 40 denier Wolfords which, in spite of their weight, perfectly matched my legs and made my calves look naked. If I got a run in my stockings during the day, I could throw them away and open another package. Having my own underwear that I could do whatever I wanted with was a pretty nice deal. Although Joonatan would just take them off again. It didn’t make that much difference.

I hesitated for a moment between Chantelle and La Perla, chose the latter, and at that moment caught a whiff of Burberry. Joonatan was leaving. I went into the foyer to kiss him sweetly on the cheek, half dressed, almost as if I was in a morning hurry myself. And when the door clicked shut behind him, I stopped my morning chores performance, pulled the drapes over the view of offices across the street, sat at the kitchen table, and slowly smoked another cigarette.

I rested a bit, and I thought that I might clean up the kitchen, after I took a nap. Chopsticks and the dull decorative fruit from Artek that were a housewarming gift were now splattered with something. Or I could wash up right now so I wouldn’t have to do it when I woke up. I started the work, and accidentally washed the pomegranates that the interior decorator had brought. I threw them into the compost pail. I smoked a cigarette. There were fingerprints and food stains on the refrigerator door. I decided to clean those off, too. First I smoked another cigarette. I could see people on their way to work, and a hairless dog dressed in a Burberry coat with a Burberry scarf at the neck. Three baby carriages in a row. A little girl running behind them in a sweet little coat yelled “Mamma, wait for me!” I stubbed my cigarette out in the ashtray—Joonatan  had forbidden me to throw the butts out the window, like I used to do. I guess nobody else did it, and Joonatan didn’t want a crop of cigarette butts under his window. He also bought a new ventilator because the neighbor had complained about all the smoke coming into their apartment from our place. I’d forgotten to turn it on again, so I flipped the switch and set it humming.

After smoking I went to finish putting on my makeup in peace. My skin looked tight, like it was covered in egg white. I sprayed a little hydrator with spring water on my face to set the  foundation and added a little natural glitter to my cheekbones and a darker version of the same tone elsewhere. A little more shadow at the eyebrow and when the egg-white tightness had left my face, I went to sleep. Sleeping with makeup on isn’t a good idea, of course, and it’s not good for your skin, but it meant I could make it to the store fast when I woke up. So I could sleep longer. And anyway I put my makeup on in the morning so that Joonatan would at least have an impression of some activity.

I took half a Zopinox, set the alarm to ring at two, and curled up under the comforter.

I did the same thing every morning at Joonatan’s house. Every day was like the next from the time I first met him. And every evening. Every night I watched Joonatan’s back. I liked it when he put his arm around me first, but once he had fallen asleep he would always turn away toward the other side of the bed, turn his back to me. And I never woke up so that I opened my eyes at the same time that he did and found myself looking right into his eyes. That never happened, because he never slept facing me.

Joonatan had a bathtub and it made him more appealing than other men. My baths lasted for hours. Sometimes I added more warm water so I could stay in the bath longer. When I was in the bathtub I was free to stare at the wall without saying or doing anything. Of course when Joonatan wasn’t home I could stare at the wall anywhere I happened to be in the apartment, but if he was there it might make him wonder.

It happened fairly often in the beginning. But after a few times of having him wake me up by asking what it was I was dreaming about—sometimes having to repeat the question several times, then say it again and add my name—I became more circumspect. I might not have if Joonatan had asked me what it was I was thinking about, but since he asked what I was dreaming about . . . I wasn’t dreaming about anything. But if my staring at the wall looked like dreaming to Joonatan it would be better that he not see it, or he would eventually get the impression that I had someone else. Or its equivalent.

Luckily I thought of the baths. He couldn’t surprise me in there, like he did when I sat looking at the television and he asked something about the program. And if I sat on the sofa or the bed staring at the wallpaper all the time, he would have wondered about that, too. But taking a bath means you have to be in the bath, and it’s a sort of beauty care activity, and Joonatan never interfered with those.

Taking baths was good for my woman longings.

The warm bath felt like a woman’s embrace without lust. And the water caressed my skin like a woman.

The bath water on my skin felt like Piki’s kisses when they were large and open. It felt like I was floating in them. It felt like my hand was resting between Piki’s legs, slippery, sinking inside.

My toes turned white and dead-looking from lying in the water too long. As if the blood and muscle had fled and left behind little furrows that could no longer be filled.

Joonatan never wanted to take a bath with me and that was good because I wouldn’t have known a nice way to refuse. The bathtub may have been his, but the baths were mine.

Joonatan bought shower soap that smelled like grapefruit and other healthy morning items that promised an active start to the day. Their yellows were bright, their blues cobalt, and they were effective and time-saving because you could use the same stuff to wash your hair and your body and it moisturized your skin, too, so lotion after the shower was unnecessary. Clever.

Joonatan didn’t waste time picking out bath products, and he didn’t buy a new one until the moment the old one was used up. He put the new one in, and threw the old one in the trash. He didn’t have a row of nearly empty bottles or any back-up choices around the edge of the tub.

Joonatan’s shower lathers weren’t for lying in a nighttime bath or for bathing together. They weren’t meant to replace moisture or to smell like safety. They weren’t meant to be used by candlelight, or when you felt like crying.

Whenever I took a bath, I hid Joonatan’s shower products under or behind the towels, because they were a symbol of the morning and I didn’t want any pressure when I took my bath. I wanted to choose sweet memories, memories of laughter and desire.

I missed planning a life in bed together.

I missed wet sheets at night.

I missed coming into her arms.

I missed the shape of her fingertips inside me, and inside my mouth.

I missed the way she would hold my hand when I came, squeeze it tight, her fingers intertwined with mine, and how my ring left a mark on her skin, but she wouldn’t let me go.

I missed lust.

I missed the way her tongue moved across my lower lip. I missed the rough upper surface of her tongue.

I missed the way a woman sounds when she comes. And the way it happens.

I missed so much. A gnawing longing in my body. The same place my heart had been when Piki came and took hold of it, falling into her hands so red but now turned lichen gray with longing. And the longing wouldn’t leave me in peace, although I’d done everything I could in my new life to think about Piki as little as possible. But even though I cried in secret with longing until my stomach muscles turned to stone and my face was shapeless, it didn’t go away. It didn’t go away even when I cried until my ears were stopped-up, like being in an airplane that you can’t jump out of, even when my nose was so stuffed-up that I couldn’t swallow. Nothing made it go away, not even the constant pounding headache covered it up.

Sometimes I would wake up at night. Did the phone ring? No. It rang in my dreams. When I realized that, I draped my arm around the back of the person next to me. The back was narrow; my arm reached around the breast easily. The breast was flat and cold. I opened my eyes. It was Joonatan.

If I closed my eyes again, I could hear the patter of cats’ paws around me, their mouths opening, but they would disappear the moment I opened my eyes. And my eyes—in a collision with the wrong neck, the wrong shoulder blade, a shoulder with the wrong tattoo.

Then I would have to get up. Go smoke a cigarette and pour a vodka cranberry so that I could get back to sleep in those sheets that smelled of the wrong person’s sweat. So that I could go to sleep knowing that the person next to me in the morning would be the wrong person.

Sometimes, too, I woke up sure that a cat was walking across my stomach. And sometimes I thought it was purring into my ear. And when I woke up, it wasn’t even Joonatan’s snoring that had changed to a purring in my ear, just the silent hum of the night and the sound of paws receding. I put in earplugs and acted like I didn’t hear anything.

But I could still hear the sound of the cat’s paws.

From Baby Jane. Published 2005 by WSOY. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Lola Rogers. All rights reserved.

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