There is nothing unusual about how we go at it. I’m up first. My morning cigarette. Up and turn the heater on. I hate the cold throughout the night. I hate sleeping in long sleeved shirts and trousers, but we cannot afford to run the machine for too long. I can stand winters here, though. They’re short. Quite. Then I’m back in bed, body cold from the air outside on the balcony. We don’t have an alarm. I just wake up. Sometimes she’s up in the middle of the night. Sometimes I am. A few times. Neither one of us can sleep properly. She’ll go read in the other room. I’ll just lay there on my back running conversations with deceased friends or family. Talking in fragments. Writing in fragments.
–Joyce Carol Oates will give Balzac a run for his money.
–She is the most prodigious writer out there.
Or looking for succubi sliding down the ceiling fan. And then I’ll think: a grilled cheese sandwich. That’d be grand. A goddamned grilled cheese sandwich at three in the morning. With ketchup on the side. A huge dollop. I leave my watch on. When I sleep. Or even when I climb into the bath. She hates that. I hate it too but if I don’t, I’ll forget it. Everything is a routine. Even our drinking. Some mornings I sneak a mouthful of gin on my way out. When there is gin. I love leaving her in bed, knowing there is nothing she needs to do. But still. Neither of us sleeps. Nights come and they grind us down more than the days. And so there is nothing to ameliorate anything. Patches. Cheese. Rent. Wine. Melancholy.
–Leave the door open.
From the other room there is movement. Floor creaking. I’ll sit and watch the sun come up. Most days. The light, more like. I never see the sun actually come up. We face north. And so it’s like a dimmer being turned slowly. There is nothing unusual, really. There is the struggle. No answers. Rowing against the current. Just people dying in an upper unit of a large, apartment complex. Not making any noise. Nullifying. No one will know we ever existed. And that’s good.
–Wake me up at six.
–I want to talk with you.
The dimmer: on and off and on and off and on.
–Wake me up at six.
–I want to talk with you.
She shuffles her feet on the wood floor. It sounds like someone is sweeping. Away from me. She goes back to the room and pulls shut the drapes. I hear her settle in bed. She pushes her body into the soft mattress and changes sides until she falls asleep. I love that about her. She doesn’t stop until she drifts.
My shift starts at seven and goes until five in the morning. Ten hours, four days a week. Only they’re not consecutive. Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday off, Thursday night, Friday off, Saturday off, Sunday night. And it changes every week, the days I mean. I am never able to sleep properly. Neither is she. We pass the days walking through fog and mist and the hot, July humid air, and we temper it with tequila and gin. It’s how it goes. I love that. I love that we know exactly what is taking us down. There is no gallantry in that, just truth. I go to the kitchen and sit at the table with a little glass of clear Slivovitz. It’s not the home made stuff you get in the old country, but it does the job. It softens it all. There are three books to get through and a stack of newspapers. Everything is still now. The five clocks ticking sound like someone is swinging slats of wood at the walls, in an urgent rage. I hear her shift in bed again. I hear her prop herself up on her elbow.
–Are you reading?
–It’s all right. It’s just the papers.
–I was thinking…let’s go away.
–Go to sleep, you have a good hour.
–I can’t. Let’s just go away.
–Mexico. No. Cuba. Let’s go to Cuba.
–Funny. I’m just reading that El Barbudo resigned.
–El Barbudo. The Bearded One.
–His brother took over. Nothing’s really changed.
–Let’s go anyway. Nothing’s really changed in fifty years.
–We can’t go from here. They won’t let us.
–So we go from somewhere else.
–Go to sleep.
–We’ll take a boat.
–I can’t. I can’t stop anything.
It comes in from the sea, somehow. From the feet, and then slowly up the legs and the rest. We are both standing in the powdery sand with Rum and Chachaça cocktails and the music rushes up and envelops us.
–Ladies and gentlemen, Francesc d’Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu!
She takes a long hit and smiles.
–And singing with him, Miguelito Valdés!
They go into a strange version of Perfidia. Ilsa and Rick are dancing to it in Paris. Then back to Cuba by way of Casablanca. Something lifts up from the hips and takes me back away from the waterfront. I watch the two of them still standing, listening to the musicians.
Then Cugat says:
I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.
And we all applaud.