Still Me

Page 4


When I stared at him he shrugged. ‘The rich do not live like you and me, Miss Louisa. And the New York rich … well, they do not live like anyone.’
I took the carton of milk.
‘Anything you want you have it delivered. You’ll get used to it.’
I wanted to ask him about Ilaria and Mrs Gopnik, who apparently wasn’t Mrs Gopnik, and the family I was about to meet. But he was looking away from me up the hallway.
‘Well, good morning to you, Mrs De Witt!’
‘What are all these newspapers doing on the floor? The place looks like a wretched newsstand.’ A tiny old woman tutted fretfully at the piles of New York Times and Wall Street Journal that he was still unpacking. Despite the hour, she was dressed as if for a wedding, in a raspberry pink duster coat, a red pillbox hat and huge tortoiseshell sunglasses that obscured her tiny, wrinkled face. At the end of a lead a wheezy pug, with bulbous eyes, gazed at me belligerently (at least I thought it was gazing at me: it was hard to be sure as its eyes veered off in different directions). I stooped to help Ashok clear the newspapers from her path but as I bent down the dog leapt at me with a growl so that I sprang back, almost falling over the New York Times.
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake!’ came the quavering, imperious voice. ‘And now you’re upsetting the dog!’
My leg had felt the whisper of the pug’s teeth. My skin sang with the near contact.
‘Please make sure this – this debris is cleared by the time we return. I have told Mr Ovitz again and again that the building is going downhill. And, Ashok, I’ve left a bag of refuse outside my door. Please move it immediately or the whole corridor will smell of stale lilies. Goodness knows who sends lilies as a gift. Funereal things. Dean Martin!’
Ashok tipped his cap. ‘Certainly, Mrs De Witt.’ He waited until she’d gone. Then he turned and peered at my leg.
‘That dog tried to bite me!’
‘Yeah. That’s Dean Martin. Best stay out of his way. He’s the most bad-tempered resident in this building, and that’s saying something.’ He bent back towards his papers, heaving the next lot onto the desk, then pausing to shoo me away. ‘Don’t you worry about these, Miss Louisa. They’re heavy and you’ve got enough on your plate with them upstairs. Have a nice day now.’
He was gone before I could ask him what he meant.
The day passed in a blur. I spent the rest of the morning organizing my little room, cleaning the bathroom, putting up pictures of Sam, my parents, Treena and Thom to make it feel more like home. Nathan took me to a diner near Columbus Circle where I ate from a plate the size of a car tyre and drank so much strong coffee that my hands vibrated as we walked back. Nathan pointed out places that might be useful to me – this bar stayed open late, that food truck did really good falafel, this was a safe ATM for getting cash … My brain spun with new images, new information. Some time mid-afternoon I felt suddenly woozy and leaden-footed, so Nathan walked me back to the apartment, his arm through mine. I was grateful for the quiet, dark interior of the building, for the service lift that saved me from the stairs.
‘Take a nap,’ he advised, as I kicked off my shoes. ‘I wouldn’t sleep more than an hour, though, or your body clock will be even more messed up.’
‘What time did you say the Gopniks will be back?’ My voice had started to slur.
‘Usually around six. It’s three now so you’ve got time. Go on, get some shut-eye. You’ll feel human again.’
He closed the door and I sank gratefully back on the bed. I was about to sleep, but realized suddenly that if I waited I wouldn’t be able to speak to Sam, and reached for my laptop, briefly lifted from my torpor. Are you there? I typed into the messenger app.
A few minutes later, with a little bubbling sound, the picture expanded and there he was, back in the railway carriage, his huge body hunched towards the screen. Sam. Paramedic. Man-mountain. All-too-new-boyfriend. We grinned at each other like loons.
‘Hey, gorgeous! How is it?’
‘Good!’ I said. ‘I could show you my room but I might bump the walls as I turn the screen.’ I twisted the laptop so that he could see the full glory of my little bedroom.
‘Looks good to me. It’s got you in it.’
I stared at the grey window behind him. I could picture it exactly, the rain thrumming on the roof of the railway carriage, the glass that steamed comfortingly, the wood, the damp and the hens outside sheltering under a dripping wheelbarrow. Sam was gazing at me, and I wiped my eyes, wishing suddenly that I had remembered to put on some make-up.
‘Did you go into work?’
‘Yeah. They reckon I’ll be good to start back on full duties in a week. Got to be fit enough to lift a body without busting my stitches.’ He instinctively placed his hand on his abdomen, where the gunshot had hit him just a matter of weeks previously – the routine callout that had nearly killed him, and cemented our relationship – and I felt something unbalancing and visceral.
‘I wish you were here,’ I said, before I could stop myself.
‘Me too. But you’re on day one of your adventure and it’s going to be great. And in a year you will be sitting here –’
‘Not there,’ I interrupted. ‘In your finished house.’
‘In my finished house,’ he said. ‘And we’ll be looking at your pictures on your phone and I’ll be secretly thinking, Oh, God, there she goes, whanging on about her time in New York again.’
‘So will you write to me? A letter full of love and longing, sprayed with lonely tears?’
‘Ah, Lou. You know I’m not really a writer. But I’ll call. And I’ll be there with you in just four weeks.’
‘Right,’ I said, as my throat constricted. ‘Okay. I’d better grab a nap.’
‘Me too,’ he said. ‘I’ll think of you.’
‘In a disgusting porny way? Or in a romantic Nora Ephron-y kind of way?’
‘Which of those is not going to get me into trouble?’ He smiled. ‘You look good, Lou,’ he said, after a minute. ‘You look … giddy.’
‘I feel giddy. I feel like a really, really tired person who also slightly wants to explode. It’s a little confusing.’ I put my hand on the screen, and after a second he put his up to meet it. I could imagine it on my skin.
‘Love you.’ I still felt a little self-conscious saying it.
‘You too. I’d kiss the screen but I suspect you’d only get a view of my nasal hair.’
I shut my computer, smiling, and within seconds I was asleep.
Somebody was shrieking in the corridor. I woke groggily, sweatily, half suspecting I was in a dream, and pushed myself upright. There really was a woman screaming on the other side of my door. A thousand thoughts sped through my addled brain, headlines about murders, New York and how to report a crime. What was the number you were meant to call? Not 999 like England. I racked my brain and came up with nothing.
‘Why should I? Why should I sit there and smile when those witches are insulting me? You don’t even hear half of what they say! You are a man! It is like you wear blinkers on your ears!’
‘Darling, please calm down. Please. This is not the time or the place.’
‘There is never a time or place! Because there is always someone here! I have to buy my own apartment just so I have somewhere to argue with you!’
‘I don’t understand why you have to get so upset about it all. You have to give it –’
Something smashed on the hardwood floor. I was fully awake now, my heart racing.
There was a weighty silence.
‘Now you’re going to tell me this was a family heirloom.’
A pause.
‘Well, yes, yes, it was.’
A muffled sob. ‘I don’t care! I don’t care! I’m choking in your family history! You hear me? Choking!’
‘Agnes, darling. Not in the corridor. Come on. We can discuss this later.’
I sat very still on the edge of my bed.
There was more muffled sobbing, then silence. I waited, then stood and tiptoed to the door, pressing my ear against it. Nothing. I looked at the clock – four forty-six p.m.