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“MONK,” FILE 22

Sometimes, but only from the November through the April following his return, and while the city may take an odd day off to be reduced to a peculiar smog, the door on the other end of the apartment, the door that needs to be planed and will only with some effort be yanked shut, from the inside, it will be open only to be shut again, with a snick rather than a crash, and yet Nellie’s prodigal husband will drop his dreaming hand or roll the total bulk of his sleep into the furrows and creases, the bathwater impressions, united with the mattress, as though his wife were the fairy in a fairy tale, Nellie a mermaid fished from the night sea, for she had called him by his name, and so he had taken her for his own, as though one night might make a wife of her, but their pleasures together more lesson than passion, for it is her fate to find him a fool and leave him a man, melting away in the time between sunrise and his awakening from his satisfactions, and awakening, further, to a new life of old and fruitless wanderings, of worrying the shore, of casting to reel or net a quenching out of the deep and unglimmering green, to be done with this fire blowing through his head, and with the sound of traffic so distant yet so close it might be easier to believe it is the sound of what you never suspected before about your neighbor, the way his routines pay an unknowing homage to himself, your attention is what ignites the ugliness in the argument that erupts, but it’s really only that you’ve never heard him raise his voice to quite that tone before, thought him capable of erupting in a casual violence, and with that commotion, and in that commotion Nellie’s husband will start. He will lift himself with a grunt, take Nellie’s pillow and sandwich his head, pivoting back to the side of the bed that is his even when he is sleeping there alone. His beard will be lopsided and wooly on his yawn.

These same sometimes, Nellie’s husband will snore out another quarter-hour or so. He will eventually get up. He will grumble and try to realign his beard with repetitious combings carried out by the flat of his palm. He will urinate through a fading erection and, passing gas, the stream will interrupt itself with an upsurge, like a jeep vrooming over a speed-bump. He will change from yesterday’s clothes into today’s and emerge from the bedroom. He will make a right turn at the headless Chingachgook, its wooden shoulder banded red, yellow and green against the grain, its arm no longer shielding or doming the widenesses of the Plains, but beckoning, saluting whole-leaf discounts, wrongly-numbered good old days. He will look but not stop and look at the door at the other end of the apartment. It will be closed, and it will be a lamp that is burning, orange as a braided rug. Behind the door, a broom will be brushing, soapsuds bristling, soprano blu-wee-ee-boodah-be-yoo-loo’s nasally cooing, rustling, fussing. Nellie’s husband will take the phone off the hook. Inclining forward, he will be careful not to sit, only to lean into his peer out of Nellie’s window. He will look far below at the darkly striped November or December or January or February or March or April umbrellas and awnings unpredictably bunched in the earliness of the mist. The block’s facades will be detached. He will take a left turn at the mask that still wants to be hung but instead sits propped near Chingachgook’s sandals, less a mask at first “boo!” than an acacia box, nothing pygmy about it, being a bit bigger and a bit sandier than life in fact, with rectangular eyes somehow sorrowful under a little green man’s horns, and yet it is not a model, vacuous, it is a head that has a brain, one worn on the outside, a slab that encumbers as much as a crown, or as much as saintedness, it has a pantheon of vulnerabilities on its mind, speechless little selves stoic whether they have passed or are yet to be birthed, you’s infinite by the half-dozen. (Is that the quotient?) And Nellie’s husband will drape himself in a spotless if slightly musty sheet (Where will he find it? Will the hamper be upset?) and lay himself out, his face snuggled into the dust of its cushions, on the stiff divan not normally to be seen where it is, shifted, even tipped to accommodate the irregularities of his piano, legs and lid and harp-shaped rump. And her husband, he will fall back into sleep, whether the sleep he craved or simply the sleep he was spared Nellie will not care to discriminate.