TIC Reading June 2, 2007
"Embedded With Mangoes in the Garden of Duelling Delights"

"What Happens Here Stays Here:" story excerpt
Julia Klatt Singer

The last thing I remember was 1984, dancing to the Talking Heads, Burning Down the House, in the front room of a friend of a friend’s apartment in Chicago. The room was crowded and hot, the smell of pot in the air, and then I was feeling really really tired. I was at the party with a friend of mine, Robin, but she was nowhere in sight when I suddenly felt the urge to lie down, so I asked where the bathroom was, figuring a bed wouldn’t be but a door or two away.” She is spinning back and forth slowly as she talks. The two drinks he bought her are gone and Dick is making them more.

“I found a dark room that smelled like snow. The window was open a couple inches and it was cold outside. Snowflakes the size of quarters floated past the window as I climbed under the down comforter. I remember thinking how nice it was to be surrounded by all that fluffy white. The pillow, I swear to god, was like a giant marshmallow and as I watched the snow float by, I thought this is heaven. Heaven is a cozy bed with a party down the hall, and no one to bother you.

“Somebody woke me up in 1992 to move the bed from the room. They didn’t like the idea of waking me up, but the movers refused to take the bed down three flights of stairs with me in it. They did let me climb in the back of the van and lay down again, once the bed was loaded in the truck. After that, I couldn’t really tell you what was a dream and what was real, the sleep, like a hibernation.”
As Dick slides the drinks in front of them, he raises his eyebrow. These, Dick says, are on me. Dick only buys drinks when he thinks a regular needs the help, socially, to look more like a regular happy guy.

She takes a long drink, then continues, “I remember hearing a woman scream hysterically. ‘Yah right. You don’t know who she is. You just found her in your bed, buck naked. Oh, after a party. Somebody left her and you couldn’t just throw her out. You are one hell of a gentleman.’ I heard in his voice a weariness, like he’d had this conversation before, and he knew exactly where it was going.

“I remember late night sounds of ice cubes trays cracking, replaced by the motorized sound of crushing ice. Sounds of a piano, of jazz floating on the air. Heavy shoes on a wooden floor, the smell of a cigarette burning, the sweet smell of pot. The clicking of keys. He’d sing sometimes, lyrics I didn’t recognize, tunes I didn’t know.
“I remember thinking about Quisp and Captain Crunch. About Snap Crackle and Pop. How I wished to wake to the smell of bacon frying, coffee percolating. I remember feeling sad when I realized I’d miss breakfast. I remember feeling utterly alone when I realized I hadn’t heard his shoes on the wooden floor in a very long time.”
He watches her suck down two more drinks and her words keep coming, clear and crazy at the same time.
“Really,” he say. “That’s a long time to be asleep. You must be a really sound sleeper.”

“Oh I am,” she says. “I majored in sleep, in college. I found myself asleep during most of my classes, and my professors complimented me on my ability to sleep so gracefully at my desk, that I decided to make it my major. You’d be amazed at how many professors wanted to watch me sleep. I stopped attending classes. Private tutorials only my junior and senior year.” She furrows her brows, for the first time a wave of sadness crosses her lovely face.

“I guess I didn’t finish college, if I fell asleep at that party in Chicago. That was January and I had a semester left to go. I wonder if they missed me? My professors. If they wondered what happened to me?”
She swings his direction, looks him straight on and says, “So tell me,” she says, “what have I missed?”

He shakes his head. Tries to think of something important, something worth knowing, something that has happened since 1984.

‘Breakfast,” he say. “You missed breakfast. Do you like French toast? Hash browns? Scrambled eggs?”

‘Yes,” she says. “Almost as much as I like gin.” She has this crooked smile, a dimple in one cheek, teeth white and clean—she bites her lower lip when she realizes he is gazing at her. Those lips he want to kiss, but doesn’t dare.
He takes her back to his house on Nicollet Island. It is a short walk and the night is cool, the moon resting on its side. “This is nice” she says. “To be up at night. What was I thinking, sleeping all this time?”

His house is old, built in 1896, narrow and made of wood. He takes her coat and hat and scarf and tells her she can look around while he makes breakfast, but please he says, stay out of my bed. This makes her laugh, makes him laugh too, since he has never said those words to a woman before. He finds the bacon and eggs, brews a pot of coffee. While the bacon is cooking he finds a station that plays jazz on the radio, plays it just loud enough to hear in the kitchen.

This is a dilemma. Normally, he’d feed this girl, notice the time, ask her if she was tired, did she want to lie down. Normally he’d kiss this girl, take her to bed, explore her body, see how much she was game for. But this girl makes him nervous. What if a kiss is fatal? What if something terrible happens to her, to him? And if he let her lay down, what if she falls into a deep sleep again, never wakes? He likes her. He wouldn’t mind if she was always in his bed, but he could see how things could get difficult. Like changing the sheets. And what do you do with a woman asleep, honorably? He is wishing she knew the name of the man with the heavy shoes, the man who let her stay in his bed until what? What had finally driven him to abandon her?

Okay, it is late and they’d drunk a lot of gin, but now he is starting to wonder what had happened to him, to the man whose bed she had been sleeping in. Had a curse been put on him too? Men turn into frogs, right? And he lives near the river and all and…

“That smells so good.” She is standing in the doorway of his kitchen, her head resting on the door. “You look nervous all of a sudden,” she straightens up.

“Oh I was just wondering.” His voice cracks. “Do you like frogs?”

“To eat? For breakfast?” She walks across the room, rests her hips against the counter next to him. She is wearing jeans that hug her hips, a white v-neck t-shirt and a soft baby blue sweater. When she looks at him he sees it is the same color as her eyes.

“God no. Do you like them. I mean, if you found one, would you take care of it? Good care of it? Make sure it didn’t jump in the river or anything.”

“Wouldn’t it prefer to live in the river? Than with me? Wouldn’t it be happier there?”

She inches closer. Her elbow brushes against his. He feels a jolt of energy surge through his body.

“God no. The river is filthy. It would lose a leg or grow a third one.” She is hazardously close to him now. The left sides of their bodies are touching at every possible point.

“Where would I keep it? Where would he be happiest. In a fountain? Or could I keep him in my bathtub? Would he bathe with me?” He can see the lace of her bra, and it is all he can think about now, and he is wondering how hungry she is.

“He’d love that. Nothing would make him happier.” He can feel the heat of her body.

The heat of her glowing skin and he knows she is looking at him as he gazes at the tips of her shoes. Maybe he should find a way to lay her down on the rug in his living room, where it is chilly, where he can keep her awake, kiss her everywhere but on the lips.

Wasn’t it a kiss to the lips that changed everything?

~an excerpt from the story, "Beauty Rest" (available in the TIC chapbook)
JULIA KLATT SINGER writes short stories and poems. She received a masters degree in creative writing from Hamline University and participated in the Loft Mentor Series in non-fiction and poetry. She works as a visiting writer to the school through COMPAS. She is one of four writers who collaboratively wrote 12 Branches, published in April 2003 by Coffee House Press, which was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award. Her stories and poems have appeared in over three dozen journals.

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