Her need must have been great to have invited me, a stranger, to her place, with her kids, without having straightened up first. The apartment showed signs of too many living in too small a space. Scores of shoes tumbled at the door. Books and papers sat where people should sit. A cat perched on a narrow ledge of bookshelf and watched. The kitchen table had not seen a meal in years that could be calculated by strata of mail and bills covering it. Garbage overflowed and had been shoveled against a wall, and pots crusted over in the sink. Two teenage girls, long limbs and hair, stared at the TV.
“I thought I told you to clean up this place while I was gone,” she yelled. “Start with the kitchen and do the dishes.”
They unfolded their limbs and tied back their hair.
“Oh, and this is Harry,” said the mother.
The two stared and pronounced pleased to meet you. I didn’t think to ask them their names.
“Please excuse the mess.”
I was not sure whether the mess she was referring to was the stuff around the apartment, or her kids, or both. I have my mess, too. She has no idea.
We sat where the girls had been sitting and watched what they had watched. It may have been some kind of reality show that showed the ugliest side of human behavior. It didn’t matter. In a minute we weren’t watching anyway.
I’m not sure how it started or even who started it, but in a minute I found that her lips were softer than anyone’s I ever remember kissing, her tongue was more adventurous and her moans more liberated. My own tongue sought the edges of two dangerous rows of teeth, then, assured of its safety for the moment, explored further reaches of the cavern. I don’t think that kissing had changed while I was away from it, but everything else in the world has, so I don’t know, it might have gotten more wonderful. Anyway, it’s a little like riding a bicycle, you never forget how to do it and, when you can ride one bike, you can just as well ride another.
I’m not sure how long we kissed, but someone had already been voted off the island when she panted excuse me and went to speak quietly to the teenagers clattering in the kitchen. She returned and we kissed some more. She had traded rooms with the girls; they had the double bed. She took me by the hand up the stairs.
Upstairs, the family clearly had more clothes than closets and dressers, for the clothes were strewn all over the floor. In the girls’ room, childhood was still left over and stacked on the shelves in the form of dolls, stuffed animals, and games. Picture books that hadn’t been opened since first grade crowded a bookcase. Hannah Montana presided over the bed.
Live in a mess long enough and you won’t see it anymore and you won’t even know when you’re making a new one or adding to the one you already have. Normally, when you invite someone to your home, it is all revealed, not only to your guests’ eyes, but to your own. Curiously, she seemed oblivious to the messes in her life that I could see while I became more mindful of my own, still unknown to her.
There is the mess that I made of my family and there’s the mess that I made of my body. Her hands began to explore the mess I made of my body. I wished that I had known someone was coming over; I would’ve straightened up a bit. I might not have crammed all those chips into so small a space. I would’ve picked up my belly and stacked the folds of fat in a closet, only I couldn’t; there is no closet. Against all instinct, I turned away from her groping and went towards the door.
“Look,” I said. “You don’t have to do this. I like you, but let’s go slow.”
She smiled. “Why are you single?”
“It’s a long story.”
She started to undo my belt. “Let me do one thing for you.”
“No,” I said, and twisted away.
“If you want to do something, there is something you can do.”
“Come with me, to a funeral.”