[Editor’s note: This week the MSR is proud to introduce a new feature for our readers, a continuing serial adapted from the story “One Going, One Staying” previously published in Essence magazine that will unfold here from week to week — so stay tuned for ongoing Black & Single Blues episodes.]
He leaned at the window, cigarette smoke drifting up the length of his arm, watching the street stories below. Uneasily. Cars came and went. Yellow taxicabs swam back and both like schools of fish. Here and there a horse-drawn carriage, driver lightly scarved against the early September wind.
Keith watched the traffic, wondering what the hell to decide. This wasn’t going to go easy. Not by one hell of a long shot.
Down the hall, give or take 30 feet away, Lesli soundly slept in his bed, not so much snoring as she seemed actually to purr, she was that serene. When he’d got up, rolling out of her arms, she gave a small grunt, turned over, the sheet falling off a hip, and slipped back to sleep, purring a bit more, a little louder. And turned the other way.
He’d spread the sheet over her, got into his slippers and tossed on his robe. Coming out of the bathroom, he looked again at her. Did this have to be the last time? Their last night? The end?
They had grown quite accustomed to the mornings when they woke up together, stirred by one another’s touch. On an arm, at a thigh. With warm, often devilish smiles. After going on two and half years, now, he and she still had incredible chemistry. Same, almost, as the first night.
He’d closed the bedroom door, taken the phone off the hook, and given a moment’s thought to prayer. He didn’t want her to wake before he had a chance to think long and hard about what he would say.
Lesli. The name rang excitedly for him with unutterable joy, yet straightjacketing him with fear. Fear of her expectations. He stubbed the cigarette butt out in the ashtray and hoped she would stay asleep for at least a few minutes longer so he could sort the matter out, so he could be ready to explain how he saw it.
He understood her thinking. Appreciated it. After all, it had been the same as his, once, as the saying goes, upon a time.
Prince and Princess Charming persisted, the cruel legend he held on to since he was a kid. A myth, a ruse that today remained, virtually coursing through his veins at war with common sense. In his teens, the romantic fantasy had stirred leaps within of an unnamable yearning. Especially when he listened to certain songs on the radio. A ceaseless yearning destined to be answered in another’s arms.
It was a lie, painful to recognize and release. He’d lived with such pathetically wishful thinking quite some time and could understand those who held to it, who hadn’t transcended the silliness. It was clear as day and night.
Until Lesli. Before her, it’d been one of those life lessons about loving and losing, a durable topic, though more fun than politics, that you hash over with the fellas over drinks at whatever bar or whoever’s crib where you happened to be shooting the proverbial sugar, honey and iced tea. Felt like a long time ago considering just a few years had elapsed. What’s the saying? That was then, this is now?
If he shrugged his shoulders and walked away, it would not be like after a few rounds with the boys at Bradley’s Bar, their favorite watering hole on the West Side, and being sure that, to the last cheapskate, everybody chipped in for a decent tip, or who got stuck helping get somebody’s apartment cleaned up.
Today was different. Today, he didn’t only appreciate her thoughts. He worried about her feelings, did not want to hurt her. It meant, if he didn’t summon just the right words to say, that he ran a real risk of losing Lesli.
He put a hand to his chest and felt his heartbeat knocking crazily out of rhythm. And wished it’d subside. He imagined that, in a few minutes, he would convince her clearly and quietly to continue as things were between them. He lit another cigarette, sucked in the smoke, blew it out and realized that the chances of that happening were somewhere between slim as a switch and none at all.
Keith wondered, at that point, what the hell good it was doing to stand at the window and watch the street below.
Next week: Lesli wakes. Keith decides.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.