Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saxophone - From Chapter 11

Something woke Zoe. She became aware of herself in a semi-conscious doze. Somewhere in her mind, something registered as wrong, and she searched for it.

She felt awkward in the bed. From the courtyard she could hear the murmur of voices, but they were not the same as those she had fallen asleep to. Her eyes were open, and she wasn't going to get back to sleep. She felt the weight of her body as she pulled herself upright.

A voice came from the bed, the wrong voice. 'What's up, hun?'

'I can't sleep. I'm on the wrong side.'

'You don't have a side.'

'You're not the right shape.'

That was what was wrong, Linden was taller than Alex, thinner and ganglier. His elbows stuck out. He took up the wrong space in the bed.

She followed the sound into the courtyard. When she fell asleep there had still been a couple of stragglers from lunch, discussing the state of existence under the stars with Nick. Their melodic rise and fall had lulled her. This was more a rhythmic wash, a pulsing hum, a backdrop.

The courtyard was empty, but the sound was coming from the grill that formed a window in the back wall. It looked out over a small path that passed behind the house. Beyond that was a steep retaining wall to the street. She pressed her face to the grill, and the sound resolved into people talking, laughing, calling to each other, the sounds of their feet and snatches of music from ghetto blasters and from the opened doors of the bars. Threaded through was a solo sax, the busker standing directly across the street, unattended to by the crowd, playing out his emotion.

She pulled the clasp that fastened the grill, pushed it open and leant her face against the chill stone of the window frame. She could hear Linden's slow dozy movement. He came up behind her, rubbed his face in the hair on her neck, crept his arm around her waist, and rested it just below her breast, slightly lower than he used to. He leaned his sleepy weight against her, and through her onto the window frame. His presence was familiar, unremarkable but dissonant. When Alex leaned against her his cheek nestled in her neck, both arms around her chest, hands cupped to the sides of her breasts. He was shorter, and filled the space behind her with more conviction.

'You can't sleep because I'm not the same shape as Alex?'

'I'm betraying him.'

'You're dead. I'm tired. Come back to sleep.'

She swivelled around in his arms, facing him. 'You look so young it's not fair. Was I young like that once?'

'No, never. You looked it, but it was a cunning disguise for your old soul.'

She put her hand on his cheek. 'So young.'

'There was a teacher I had at school. Almost as old as our mums, but way too sexy. I did so badly in her class. She looked like you do.' He leaned forward to kiss her. She turned her face away so that he grazed her with his lips. He pulled back, paused a moment uncertainly but pressed on. 'We've done this before.'

'Before so much.'

He smiled at her. She felt her neck unaccustomedly craned back to look him in the eye as he spoke to her. 'It's just a touch. What's wrong with a kiss, just a kiss? How can it hurt anyone?'

She was still, her back against the window. To move toward Linden or away was to initiate a betrayal. She didn't want to choose.

'Did this come up with Alex? After all, you've got a child, there must have been physical contact. Did you worry about me then?'

'You were dead.'

'And now you're dead.'

'But I know, don't I. And Alex will know.'

He pulled further back from her, one hand in her hair, the other on her waist, their hips and legs still touching. He looked at her a long time, and once she would have given in to his implied failure of coolness, but now she felt only the certainty that she was the grown-up. She took his hand and untangled it from her hair. He let the other drop from her side. 'So why did you look me up then, just to chat about how great it all was?'

'Go back to bed Linden'

'Not without you.'

She disengaged from him, but felt a physical ache as she walked across the courtyard, out of the house. 

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