Kristin Smith was a librarian, Owen was her neighbor, and Wayne was dead.
Kristin Smith was a librarian.
She liked to have lunch in the downtown mall's food court, and sometimes she would imagine herself dressing and smelling like the glamorous girls that worked in the lingerie store. Who was she kidding; she didn't even shop at the lingerie store. Who would she wear stuff like that for anyway? Her cat Zane? She laughed out loud while thinking of a web comic; "cats don't care" she thought and snickered into her burrito.
She overheard one of the girls from the lingerie shop, eating shitty mall sushi with the manager of the shoe store by the rail overlooking the atrium below; "What's that granola over there laughing at?" the girl asked. The shoe store manager just laughed. Kristin didn't even think he'd heard what the lingerie store girl said to him; he was too lost in gaping at the lingerie store girl’s exposed and spray tanned cleavage, thinking about pressing his face into it while fucking her in his stock room back at the store and trying to think of a good story to tell his friends about how he already had. He’d tell them that he pushed her skirt up pulled the string of her thong to the side and forced himself into her as she screamed. He tell them he pulled her hair and messed it up while she grunted through her clenched teeth and that they’d knocked stock to the floor and as he came he’d banged her so hard she broke a heel and he’d had to give her a new pair of shoes so she didn’t look stupid when she went back to her store after her break.
Kristin turned slightly to the left. She told herself it was so she didn't get the sun in her eyes as the clouds above the domed glass roof moved, but it was really so they wouldn't see her blushing while she tried not to cry. She liked her corduroy skirt; it was warm. She liked her curly red hair in a bun; it was easy. She felt comfortable in her plain grey sweater; it was familiar. She thought she looked fine in her glasses; sure, they were the same ones from high school still, but her prescription hadn't changed so why get new ones? Contacts were just a pain, especially if your cat shed a lot.
"Who are you kidding Kristin? You're ugly," she thought to herself as she clumsily took her tray and dumped her half eaten lunch into the garbage. Drpped her drink and got as much on her shoes as on the floor. The two at the railing were laughing at her again as she realized she had forgotten her brown crocheted handbag and went back to grab it from the table.
"Ugly and stupid," she thought. They kept laughing, not even trying to hide it now.
People could be so mean.
Zane rolled over onto his back and stretched all four paws in opposite directions. The sun had moved again and now he was lying in shadow on the living room floor. When had this happened? Who moved it all the time? He got up and stretched, first his front legs then the back, and did a tight little circle before finding ‘the zone’ in the rectangle of sunlight.
Just as he was nodding off for the 17th time that day he heard a key in the lock and so ran for the door. Still yawning and blinking he rubbed against Kristin's leg, relishing the feel of the corduroy on his face and neck. She knelt down and scratched his ears; he could still smell his fur on her sweater from when he had lain on it on the bed this morning while she got ready to go out into the hallway; he still hadn't figured out what was so great out there that she'd go out there and be gone for hours at a time.
There was a familiar sniffling noise and he looked up at her, seeing his own reflection in her glasses. She was crying. Why did she do that all the time? She was spending more and more time holding him and crying while petting him, asking him why he was her only friend. He tried every time to explain that he wasn't. She was never alone. Why, just an hour ago a bunch of ghost bees had shown up and interrupted Zane's nap with their buzzing and wheezing about.
Kristin sat down in the hallway and leaned against the wall. She put her face in her hands and sobbed and sobbed. Zane meowed, rubbed his head on her twice, and then meowed again.
She looked up at him through her tears and said, "Oh, what do you know...you're a cat".
Zane frowned and meowed, cocking his head to the left. What did he know? He knew plenty. Take these bees for instance...
After a good fifteen minutes of slowly slowing sobs Kristin wiped her eyes on the back of her hand and stood up.
"Let's have supper, shall we? I didn't finish lunch."
Now this was an agenda he could get behind; much better than crying.
While Kristin prepared tuna from a can, a ghost bee bumbled past lazily and Zane took a swipe at it. She laughed, a true laugh, and Zane was pleased. She was a good human, and he was a good cat.
Wayne, the old beekeeper, watched on in awe. It had taken him so long to find his way back home that a whole new building was where his cottage should be. It was while watching this girl mix mayonnaise, chives, and tuna from a can that Wayne realized he was dead. When had they started putting tuna in cans like that?
He tried to cry at all he had lost, but couldn't. She was just too beautiful to be sad around. He didn't know the song she was humming to her cat, but he started to hum along and the bees seemed to dance a lazy little dance in the air around the kitchen between them.
Her movements were refined, like a woman who knew what she was doing and just did it. She looked sad though and Wayne wasn’t surprised; she must have lost her husband somehow because there were no man’s things around her tiny home and a woman like this only lived alone if she’d been widowed. As she sat and ate her sandwich at the little table by the window she looked out wistfully at the cars going past below through the rain hitting the glass and running down its surface in slow little rivulets. There were so many cars and they moved so fast. He dislodged a bee from where it had gotten stuck in his beard as she took the pins out of her bun and let her long red hair fall across her shoulders. She removed her glasses, they looked very modern to Wayne and he didn’t like them, and she put them on the table while she rubbed her tired-looking eyes.
”What’s your name?” he asked her, his cracked voice sounded hollow like he was talking into a beat up tin and it startled him. That cat at her feet jumped onto the table and meowed at him. He tried to scratch its grey head but his hand passed through it and the cat jumped back and shook it’s head quickly, it’s ears making snapping sounds. He didn’t think she’d heard him.
He followed her through the apartment as she put her plate in the sink and went to her bedroom. A plaid blanket covered in cat hair draped across the end of her small bed, and she took her sweater off and unbuttoned her plain white blouse. If only the other women in his village had been this prim and proper he would have married and wouldn’t have died alone, but times had changed and the younger ones of marrying age had all seemed too eastern and city to him; too modern and free with their actions. She took the blouse off slowly and draped it on the end of the bed with her grey sweater. Wayne thought he should blush as she unzipped the side of her skirt and shifted her hips to push it down over them and into a crumpled ring around her feet, but he couldn’t.
”I’m sorry, I shouldn’t…” he started to say, his own voice startling him again, when he rembered she couldn’t hear him and probably couldn’t see him either. He felt a bit of youthful mirth, an excitement that reminded him of the time when he was just a boy and him and some other lads had spied through the cracks in old man Vickers’ wall at his daughter getting dressed. Gertrude Vickers had too much hip and her breasts sagged, but a naked girl was a naked girl when you’re nine.
Her cat batted at one of Wayne’s bees and chased it into the hallway. A momentary possessive protectiveness flashed in him, but passed; there were always more bees. The beautiful woman’s high-waisted underwear were a beige color, and her brassiere matched. Her skin was creamy and white, smooth looking and flawless. No veins, no cellulite, no bruises or scars. Wayne watched her look in the mirror and her face got sad again as she pinched at some skin on her waist, then cupped her hands under her breasts and pushed them up and together. ”This is obscene, she’s so scandalous,” Wayne thought, embarresed at her lewd behavior but excited by it as well.
The woman pouted her lower lip out and shrugged, leaving the room with Wayne following her. She went into the bathroom and he was momentarily distracted from her full and luscious body by the things he saw her doing. He watched amazed as she made water come from the wall with a flick of her wrists on some taps. She must be rich to have plumbing like this. Either that or he’d just been dead a long time. Wayne’s chest rose and fell as he felt another stab of guilt at what he was doing as he watched her slide her underwear off her smooth and round bottom, exposing a nice full ass and soft hips. She unfastened her brassier and his eyes went wide when he saw her breasts. He wanted to touch them, to hold her and kiss her. He’d only been with one woman, when he was a young man, and she had been a dumpy farmer’s daughter from over the hill. She’d had too much around the middle so that it hung over her hips, and the bottom of her behind sagged down on the tops of the backs of her thighs. Still, Wayne would have married her if it meant he wouldn’t have to be alone; he found out though that she was the type to give it away to anyone who came calling and he didn’t want to marry the town trollop.
Not this woman in front of him now though; there was just enough on each of her curvy parts to make a nice handful, and she reminded Wayne of one of the burlesque dancers he had seen when the carnival came through town and he’d been drunk on moonshine with Neville from the tack shop. Neville had paid to be with one of the girls and Wayne was going to as well, but the line of other men from town had discouraged him. He hadn’t wanted to pay for it, and if he was going to pay for it he’d wanted something that wasn’t being waved at every other man in town. Kristin shook her curly red hair out some more so that it cascaded around her face and breasts in a frizzy halo that Wayne wanted to touch. He could smell her skin, and as she pulled the curtain back and stepped under the water he tried to brush some of it of her shoulder; his hand passed through her and she shivered.
She did a little turn in place, the water running down her body. She put her head under the falling water and her hair slowly flattened down against her as the water reached through its thickness to soak it to her scalp. Wayne knew he should leave, this isn’t how a proper man acts, but he was rooted to the spot by her beauty and watched her hands rub up and down her body. His bees floated around faster, excited by the smell of honeysuckle from her soap. She flinched, squealed, and giggled as the water grew momentarily colder. When its temperature returned to normal she continued lathering her body and Wayne wished her hands were his.
Owen had seen Kristin coming from the bus stop in the rain from his bedroom window. He knew her routines, knew which bus she took, and knew where she worked. He knew her cat’s name was Zane and he knew she liked to drink inexpensive white wine with a screw cap and listen to Tom Waits records on Friday nights. She had used a newspaper found on the bus seat to keep the rain off her head as she walked quickly through the falling rain with her shoulders hunched up, jumping puddles with her plain brown shoes. He had stepped away from the window and quickly went to the door that led out into the old hallway of the building. He had listened with his ear against its old wood surface for the familiar squeak of the third step and heard her unlock her door and go inside her apartment next to his.
He had gone into his bedroom and taken off his pants, folding them neatly and putting them on a shelf in his closet. Owen was overweight, he knew that, and as he took his shirt off he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He wasn’t obese, but he knew that women didn’t like men that were thick around the waist and under the jaw. His neatly combed sandy hair and his wire framed glasses sat on his face and he remembered watching it grow rounder over the years since school as he spent more time sitting and doing nothing, dreaming of all the girls he was going to have sex with when he got rich and lost weight. He smiled at himself. Owen had a nice smile; ‘a real charmer’ the girls in his office called him. He was polite, proper, and tried to say all the right things at all the right times without seeming desperate. Malinda at reception had seemed to like him the most out of the bunch, and Owen felt bad for a second for not bringing her coffee every morning anymore. He’d heard her and some of the other guys from the IT department talking in the break room from just outside the door one afternoon about how hung up he was on her and how she was pissed he didn’t bring her free coffee anymore. “Now I have to pay for it myself; I wonder why he doesn’t stare at my tits anymore?” she’d been saying as they all laughed. He had been so hurt then, and stormed into the room angry with his face flushed red and sweat on his brow. He’d tried to tell them there was someone else, that he had a girlfriend and so she could just buy her own fucking coffee from now on. They could tell he was lying and no one had let him live it down and so he ate his lunch at his desk now.
That had been around when Kristin had moved in next door. He didn’t care about Malinda anymore after that. He didn’t care about anyone after that for that matter. He would just sit in his apartment and listen to the sounds from hers through the thin plaster and lath walls and try to imagine what she was doing. Her patterns were simple and predictable after awhile and he tried to match his to hers. He ate when she ate, he slept when she slept, and when she would leave he would watch her from his bedroom window, wondering where she was going and who she saw when she got there. Owen followed her once and found out she liked books. He’d followed her into the library and saw her behind the front desk sorting books with her nice white hands. Since then Owen had started to read as well.
Owen showered when she showered. He was already in his bathroom, waiting, when he heard Kristin turn the water on next door. After taking off his clean but threadbare boxer shorts he did the same. He smiled when he heard her squeal through the wall and closed his eyes, imagining her there with him, squealing as he tickled her before he put his arms around her and kissed her soft lips. He soaped up his round shape, picturing his hands on her flesh moving the lather around. He washed the woes of wasted time from her body as Kristin held herself against him and found his penis with her hands.
He shifted his weight and leaned against the wall separating their bathrooms and saw her rubbing him with both hands, moving one down to cradle his scrotum while the other moved up and down his length. The beams below creaked with his weight and decades of leaks and full tubs as she slid her soapy hands around him, making him hard and smiling her shy smile at him. She got on her knees and took his hardon into her mouth, her lips wrapped around him and her head moving slowly up and down. She kept her eyes closed when she did this; but he knew it was because she loved doing it and not because she didn’t want to look at him. She loved him the way he was. He felt his cock beginning to jump with the movement of her beautiful mouth and he motioned for her to stand up.
Kristin knew just what to do and put her hands against the wall with her feet apart as far as the tub would allow. Her hair was wet and hung down her back. Owen bent his knees a bit and found her waiting cunt with his fingers, opening it to allow him to push his hard dick inside her. In short fast strokes he started making her cum, her soft moans getting louder as she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him. Her ass was jiggling with his strokes and her thighs quivered; he could see her nice full breasts bouncing up and down and she pressed the side of her face against the old tiles and her smile turned into an open-mouthed mask of passion as her lover fucked her from behind. He smiled back and came suddenly inside of her. Just as she was saying “I love it when you do that to me, Owen,” the guilt and shame came as it always did. She was too clean for this; too perfect, too sweet, too kind. Owen thumped the wall hard with his hand in anger at himself and rinsed the soap from his body and his cum form the shower’s wall, embarrassed yet again at his behavior.
Owen turned the water off and heard Kristin doing the same on the other side of the wall, the pipes making a groaning sound and the old faucet squeaking. He toweled off and tried not to think of her doing the same only a few feet away. He tried not to think of her perfectly curved ass or her nice round breasts. He wanted to apologize to her as he put his underwear back on and went to his room to get dressed. Owen put the same clothes back on and combed his hair back into its neat side-parted blandness. He adjusted his glasses and tucked his shirt into the waist of his neat but worn slacks. Fastening the plain brown leather belt that had come with them his heart jumped as he heard a knock at his door.
He shuffled to the door and opened it to see Kristin standing in the old red carpeted hallway with a towel around her hair and a robe around her lovely curving body. A light in the hall’s ceiling flickered and buzzed a bit and Owen felt a chill and shivered. She smelled like some kind of sweet flowers and had a worried look on her face.
“Are you okay?” she asked. He had smiled and nodded shyly at her in the hallway when they’d passed in the past, but he had never heard her say anything to him other than a small “hello”. Her voice was soft and kind and without her glasses on she looked even prettier. The shame, still there, intensified and he looked down at her feet tucked into her little white ankle socks with a bit of lace around their tops.
“Are you okay?” Kristin repeated, her concern doubling, “I thought I heard you fall.”
“I’m…I’m fine…” Owen said to her breathlessly, “I just slipped…and my elbow hit the wall. I’m fine.”
“Okay then,” she said to him, a small smile on her sweet face, “As long as you’re okay.”
Owen thought of all the things he could say. He wanted to thank her, to pretend he didn’t know her name and ask her what it was, to invite her in, to hug her, to pick her up and spin her around, to kiss her and never let her go. Kristin was already turning and heading back for her door though, and he had lost his chance again.
“I…” he started; she turned back and looked, “Thanks.”
She smiled warmly at him, “No problem.”
She was gone, and Owen was alone again. He went to his stereo and put in a CD he’d bought after he heard Kristin listening to it one Friday night. He’d tried to catch the lyrics and had searched for them on the internet so he could find out the artist. He cued up the song she always listened to while drinking her wine alone, Blue Valentine, and sat on the couch and listened to it quietly so she wouldn’t hear it through the thin wall and imagined she was sitting there singing along while it played.
Coming back into her apartment, Kristin put her bunny slippers on and poured a glass of wine. She sat on her secondhand couch and Zane climbed into her lap as she picked up the remote control for the stereo her sister Carly had given her for her birthday last year and hit play; Blue Valentine, her favorite album. Christmas Card from a Hooker in Wisconsin came out of the speakers and she hummed softly along. Despite herself she found herself wondering if Jason, the asshole shoe store manager that had laughed at her in the food court while looking at the lingerie store girls breasts, liked this kind of music. Zane fell asleep and Kristin tried not to cry.
Wayne drifted through the door and into Kristin’s apartment from the hallway and watched her pour her wine and listen to her music.
“Who is that man?” he asked, his own voice startling him again.
She couldn’t hear him. The next song came on, upbeat and modern to Wayne’s old dead ears, and she started nodding her head with her eyes half closed. Her cat woke up and Kristin set her wine down and took his front paws in her hands, pretending to dance with Zane as he purred. She looked happy in a wistful sort of way but Wayne wasn’t. He was a calm man, at least he remembered being so, but the anger in him felt natural and he submitted to it.
“Who is that man!?” Wayne asked again, his strange tinny voice echoing in the room. The wine glass crashed to the old warped hardwood floor and broke, bits of glass and wine going under the couch.
“Zane!” she scolded playfully, getting up and going to a closet in the hall, “You’re a bad cat! You’re lucky I don’t lop your tail!”
“Fine,” Wayne thought to himself, “I’ll find out on my own.”
If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself. He’d always felt that way anyway. He drifted through the wall and into the next tiny apartment, his bees drifting lazily around him. Zane watched him go and missed the bees as soon as they were gone. He forgot them though when he saw the broom and leaped onto the floor to make sure it didn’t do anything strange. He hated that broom almost as much as he hated the vacuum.
Owen muted the stereo when he heard the glass shatter, worried, until he heard the mumble of Kristin’s voice through the wall talking to her cat. He was about to get up and go see if she was okay, but he’d just look stupid if he did that now. Creepy. Weird. Fat. He listened as she talked and heard the tinkle of glass being swept up and put in the trash. Wayne watched him with a deep scowl from under his bushy brows as Owen went into his kitchen and poured himself a glass of wine and turned the volume back up on the stereo.