pure cosmos club
Today, Janie is picking up the furniture she left when she moved out. Her text last week was our first contact since the incident at the park back in April. It’s true I may have been out of sorts, but I don’t remember behaving as she claims. I was only there to give her a birthday present, the manhole cover I’d stolen off the street and painted to look like Io, the innermost of the four moons round the planet Jupiter. Years before, on our second date, we’d visited the planetarium. Janie had gazed up teary-eyed at the artificial sky and said Io was the most exquisite object in all the universe. To this day, I can’t understand why she called the cops.
She’s supposed to be here in twenty minutes, which means I should expect her in ten. She’s always said punctuality is one of the five keys to unlocking our true potential. I can’t recall the other four, but they must be working for her. She’s recently taken a lucrative position at a dermatology clinic in SoHo.
I’ve been in bed playing my favorite game with Blanche. I lie with my eyes closed and arms folded across my chest, holding my breath, trying to convince her I’ve passed away. It takes all my self-control to stifle a giggle when she licks my ear.
She entered my life when I took a shortcut through a dark alley on my bike and hit her. The vet said her two hind legs were permanently damaged and recommended euthanasia. Instead, I built a contraption from the wheels of a tricycle. Blanche took to it immediately, of course, and now she scoots through the apartment at top speed.
I don’t mean to say our relationship has been without hardship. The day I brought her home, she relieved herself on my favorite jacket. I’ve recently discovered, moreover, that I’m allergic to her dander and so I am always sleepy from taking antihistamines.
When I can’t contain myself any longer and gasp for breath, Blanche goes berserk, bouncing up and down on her front legs, while her bad ones lie behind like overcooked spaghetti. I sweep her into my arms and give her a few pats on the head and a rub behind her ears.
It’s not until the buzzer sounds that I realize the apartment’s condition has deteriorated in Janie’s absence. A black mold has crept across the ceiling, and laundry, dirty dishes, and art supplies are strewn everywhere. More disconcerting, when did this odor first appear? There’s a knock on the door. I glance in the mirror. My hair is standing straight up. I lick my palm and try to pat it down, but it’s no use.
“Go easy on her, Paul,” I think. “It must be hard enough for her already, having so many bad marks in God’s account ledger.”
Two men are at the door, one black and one white. They have thick necks and smooth, handsome faces. Blanche drags herself over and growls. The white guy bends down to pet her, and she bares her teeth.
“Now, Blanche,” I say. “Mind your manners.”
“Her name is Blanche?” the black guy says.
“The only name fitting for such a distinguished lady.”
“Like from A Streetcar Named Desire?” the white guy says.
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
“We’re here to pick up Janie’s things,” the white guy says.
“Where is she?”
“I’d like to speak with her.”
“She’d prefer you didn’t,” the black guy says.
I bow my head and let them in. They lift the couch, exposing broken paintbrushes, a half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich, the shattered remains of an ant farm, a broken Rolex watch given to me by my grandfather upon completing a scuba diving certification at the local YMCA (the highest level of educational achievement I’ve attained), and a collection of baby teeth in a ziplock bag I’ve held onto since boyhood. The men move with ease and grace. Their voices—much richer and deeper than mine—echo off the walls as they discuss how to navigate the stairs. I gaze out the window. Across the parking lot, Janie opens the back of a U-Haul. In yoga pants and a sweatshirt, she moves effortlessly, like a swan across a lake. I unwrap a package of strawberry Pop-Tarts—one for each of us, Blanche and me. The men return and point to a painting of a horse jumping a fence, one of the first I made for Janie.
“She said we should take the horse painting too,” the white guy says.
“I don’t have much use,” I say, “for old paintings, furniture, lamps, rugs, these kinds of things.”
The black guy hoists the bookcase onto his shoulder, while the white guy takes the painting. I close the door and return to the window. The men place my things in the truck. Janie gives the white guy a high-five. Then the black guy takes Janie in his arms for a rather intimate kiss. When Janie catches me watching from the window, she looks away quickly and jumps into the truck.
A stack of books against the wall falls into another, which falls into another yet. Everything is everywhere. I sit in the middle of it and let Blanche lick my face.
Matthew is the author of the novels Pure Cosmos Club, The Absolved, and High in the Streets. He is also a primary member of the recording project Bang Bang Jet Away.