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Looking out the living room window, I watch as Abbott exits the building by the side door located just under our apartment on the fourth floor. He looks up to me at the living room window and blows a kiss to me. I lean out the window, wave down to him, and return the kiss. This is the only reason he exits through that side entrance. He then turns and walks to work while I close the window and begin to tidy the house.

I walk into our private bath and grab a broom out of the closet. I sweep the floor along the way to entry. Once major crumbs from last nights dinner are tidied into a pile, I run the bent tips of the bristles across all the crown moulding along the bottom edges of the walls to ensure no tricky dust particles stayed of what landed there since yesterday. The work is meticulous and particular, but it’s in order to please Abbott and ensure that our living space is immaculate. I round the rooms from the sitting area to the kitchen connected with the dinning room and into the bedroom and end up in the private bath. I place the broom back in the bathroom closet and walk into the bedroom to make our bed. I fold the corners of the bed to align perfectly just as Abbott likes. I glance at the clock Abbott hung on the kitchen wall for me on my birthday last month. It tells me that it’s already past eleven. I hastily get to the stove and grab an apron from the handle before beginning the preparations for Abbott’s lunch.

While softly humming Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 2 to myself, I scrape a nice cut of butter onto a piece of fresh white bread. I add a slice of his favorite lunchmeat and a lettuce leaf. I wrap up everything in the saran wrap I got at the market yesterday and put it in the metal lunch box before placing it in the big new cooling box.

I remove my apron and drape it neatly on the stove handle. From the counter, I grab scrap paper and a pencil and walk into the kitchen pantry. In the pantry, I make a list of things of which we are beginning to run low. I fold the note into my frock pocket as I walk to our bedroom closet. At the base of the closet there are several round boxes which contain my meager collection of hats. I pick out a casual one and pin it into my hair. I go into the bathroom connected to our bedroom to check myself in the mirror. On my way to the coat rack to grab my overcoat, I grab the metal lunchbox from the cooler. I reach the coat and wrap it lightly around me then slip on a pair of patent-leather continental heels. As I head out the apartment, I lock the door behind me and head down the four flights of stairs through the front entrance.

My heels click down on the freshly paved street as I walk with an easy pace to his office building. The breeze that rolls through the tall city buildings holds the biting crispness of early spring. I fold my arms to brace myself against the sudden chill. Abbott’s lunch pail bounces against my arm with every buoyant step while the breeze toys with the hem of my spring frock.

The walk to Abbot’s office building is a couple blocks away and my feet are sore from yesterday’s trek as well. The heels of my shoes rub against the backs of my ankles and I can feel the old blisters breaking open. Still, I smile at those I pass in the street. I exchange my friendly hello’s and arrive at Abbott’s office building. I get in through the rotating glass door at the front entrance and enter into a charming, well-lit grand foyer. I take a deep breath, making sure not to show how tired I was from the walk.

“Good morning, Abigail.” Greets Denise from behind the welcome desk.
“Morning, Denise,” I say, showing the lunch pail.

“Go on, dear. You know where he’s at.”
“Thank you.”

I think about taking the stairs, but my body automatically take a right around the desk and enter the lift. The elevator operator greets me with a nod and immediately rings us to the 6th floor. The shaky elevator makes my heart beat a bit faster. Once it makes it to the sixth floor I quickly escape from the deathtrap and vow never to take the lift again no matter how much my feet hurt. My tired legs take me where I was heading by memory. The hallway was one I have seen hundreds of times before since Abbott got the job in June. He tells me that he is on his way up to Head Draftsman. His architectural designs will be the highlight of this city-in-progress. First it starts with his help with the plans for the Empire State Building, and then more towers will be build as monument to his success. His name will be written across New York – not in the papers, but in the height of the unbreakable spirit that these skyscrapers reach.

“Late! Late again! You think you’re such a wise guy! But you’ve missed every deadline this month. You’re pinching every penny I got and you got nothing to show for it!”

I hear the yelling down the hall from Abbott’s office. As I approach, it gets a bit quieter.

“I’m a pretty reasonable guy. I understand whats it’s like to have a bedridden wife for the months you have. But baby or no, I can’t keep making excuses for you. The higher ups are gonna come down on me pretty soon for your mistakes. What I advise? You best pick up a drafting board on the way home or you’re gonna be spending a lot more time at your wife’s side, if you catch my meaning. That’s final.”

I’m right at Abbott’s door when a man dressed in a fancy suit exits and gives me a short nod with one eyebrow raised and says “ma’am”. I smile at him before going into the office.

“Abigail?” Abbott’s face is red and a bead of sweat runs down the side of his temple as he looks up at me in surprise. He continues, “You’re early today.”

I brace myself. “Sugar, what was all that about?”

“Oh, nothing. I’ve been trying to finish this important building design and it’s just not coming out right.”

“Yes, I understand, but you’ve been staying late into the evenings. You’ve missed dinner for the past week now. And you always go straight to bed. You’re wearing yourself out. How could you be so far behind? I thought-”

“Abigail,” Abbott cuts me off and walks over to me, placing his rough hands on either side of my arms. “It’s nothing to worry about. Actually, I’ve finished my project. It’s in its final stages. I was going to start taking lunch breaks out of office again. And I should be home for dinner. You won’t have to bring me lunch and dinner anymore. I know how tired your feet must get carrying all that food here just for me.”

“It’s really no burden.” Trying to keep the relief off my face.

“Of course it is. Not to worry. I’ll be home for dinner tonight. Thank you for bringing me lunch,” He grabs the lunchpail from my hands, “You run along back home now and fix up something yummy for dinner. Alright?”

“Whatever you say, dear.” I begin to walk out the door in order to head to the supermarket to buy those items for dinner, but something stops me. I turn back around to Abbott. “He said something about a baby.”

Abbott pulls to a quick stop on his way to his desk. “Y-yes. He was talking about you dear. He was saying that even though I have a baby – or a wife as it means – that I should still be caught up. Quite right too. I must get back to work. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Yes, of course. Good bye my darling.” I say, looking at the ground, thinking back to what he had actually said. A bedridden wife. Months. Baby. I wonder if Abbott lied to his boss. I leave the building and stop at the supermarket located around the corner from our house.

I enter through the front door and notice that the supermarket was less busy today than it was yesterday. It was only Tuesday after all. I stroll through the shelves lined with the best food in town, cross-checking the list in my purse. I nod at the few acquaintances I know from around town and the usuals that come to the market daily as I do.

“Is that Jessica Wilson?” I ask excitedly, seeing her down the aisle. She hesitates, but ends up walking towards me with her maid; a bundle is in the maid’s arms.

“It’s Whitman now.”

“Whitman? Isn’t that a coincidence.” I say, instantly suspicious. My eyes flash to the pale baby contrasting the maid’s dark arms as I think back to the argument in Abbott’s office. “Who’s this lucky fellow? Is he related to my Abbott? It’s so strange that we have the same last name now.”

“He doesn’t know you.” She says rushed.

“What’s his name? Maybe I did meet him.” I press, hoping it didn’t sound as forceful as I thought it did.

“B-Brian,” she stutters.

I look at her closely, trying to catch her eye, but she keeps avoiding me.

“Yeah, I don’t know a Brian Whitman.” I mutter, deciding it must be a coincidence. “Well, now I know why I haven’t seen you in a while. I guess I can forgive you for not coming over for a visit. Though I’m a bit upset that we didn’t receive an invitation for the wedding.”

“It was a bit last minute.” She absently touches her stomach.

“Well congratulations to you both. I wish Abbott wanted children.”

“Yeah, he didn’t want them at all.”

I pause for a moment before realizing that she’s referring to her Brian and not my Abbott. She laughs a little tiredly and we talk of little things as we head to the front to pay. I feel as though her maid is giving me strange looks. With the groceries in hand, I wave a goodbye to Jessica and head back home to prepare Abbott’s dinner.

As promised I see him home for dinner. He enjoys the food quietly and then went to the bedroom. I join him there, removing my frock to reveal new under garments that the younger women are said to be wearing these days. The tag promised “no man could remove their hands”. I felt like a blushing bride purchasing those items at my age. Goodness, Abbott and I are going on 20 years now. It’s hard to believe. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s what he likes.

He doesn’t glance over. When I get to his side of the bed, I find him asleep. Sighing, I walk to the closet and don a nightgown then turn off all the lights before getting into bed. That night I dream of being alone in a room with no exit and music pouring in from somewhere, but I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. I look all around the room, but there’s no cracks or doors or windows for the music to come in from. I wake to find that I have overslept and Abbott is already at work.

While Abbott purchases his own lunches, I find my days becoming more repetitive as time continues on. I stay indoors mostly except for my infrequent trips to the market. There wasn’t anything particular about today. Birds were beginning to return to New York. There are clouds in the sky. The sun shines through the small living room window. It is the same sort of day. I remark the bleakness to myself when I hear it.

It’s music. And it isn’t any old swing tune. This was a traditional-sounding concerto score coming from a deep string instrument, probably the bass. The best part was that I hadn’t heard anything like this before. I go to my window and rush to open the rusting shutters. It is coming from above. I look out and up and try to see a figure leaning out the window. There is no one on my building so I look across the alley to the neighboring building. There, one floor up, I see him.

My mouth hangs open as I look at the man standing in the fifth floor room. Having heard the music for myself, I would never have guessed that it could be someone like him. His fingers pluck away while his eyes are closed. He must be rehearsing from memory. There was no way he wrote it on his own. He probably saw some white man playing and remembered the way he moved his hands. Yet, he’s playing so beautifully. He must have practiced so much. No one is born with that much talent. Maybe he did write it. How could I never have heard this music before? He must be new in town. I should meet him. I could go give him some food. I’ll bake him a pie, I decide. Only, no wait. Someone like me sending food to someone like him? What would people think?

In that moment, the strange musical man opens his eyes and looks down right at me as if he knew I was watching. I quickly shut the window and start about the things that need to be done around the house. I wipe the counter for five minutes straight even though it was immaculate to begin with. I think about music and men and Abbott brushing me off night after lonely night.

Suddenly the front door opens and I hear more than one man enter the house. I swivel to face the intruders a scream climbing to my lips. Then I saw Abbott with them.

“Surprise,” he says unremarkably.

I look over the large package the three men must have carried up all those stairs.

“What is it?” I inquire.

“It’s a brand new stove for you. It’s got a compartment at the bottom that you just fill with water and while you’re standing at the stove it cools your feet. It’s my little apology for you having to walk all the way to my office.”

“Oh! Abbott! You shouldn’t have!” I exclaim excitedly, loving the unexpected present.

“I got that promotion at work!”

“That’s wonderful, Abbott! You can put it right in here, boys,” I say to the movers, taking them to the kitchen. They set everything up and Abbott pays them.

Then next day, I get acquainted to my new toy. I convince myself to bring Abbott some lunch made with his gift. When I arrive at his building, Denise looks at me rather oddly.

“Abigail?”

“Morning Denise. I know it’s been a while, but Abbott got me this new cooking machine. I thought I’d surprise him with a bit of lunch.”

“Abigail,” Denise says, pity dripping in her voice, “he must not have told you. Abbott no longer works here.”

“What? Since when?”

“He moved out all of his stuff at the beginning of this week however he self-terminated. He turned in his two week notice on the 3rd.”

“But that’s four days! He’s been out of a job for four days. He never. I didn’t. He knew he was leaving. Where does he go to every day?”

My breathing gets rough as I think back to how distant he has become. How he leaves for work every morning. How he comes back later and later it seems. The “big project isn’t complete yet” he says. My eyes tear up. I can’t control my emotions as I sob into my hands.

I sniffle a couple of times, fighting for control. Then I thank Denise and walk home. I don’t know know what to do when he gets home. I pace in our living room unable to do anything. Perhaps if I lay down, I convince myself. When I get into bed and huddle under the soft covers I lose control and begin shaking while tears track down my face. Everything about my face burns. I think I’ll never sleep again. Then I hear music coming from the windows again. I glance out the window, unable to see the window he was at last time. It must be him though. It’s beautiful.

When my eyes open again, the sky has darkened and the room has as well. I can’t see across the room because the shadows that dwell there are too thick. I worry about when Abbott will get home. I don’t know whether I can see him or not without breaking into tears again. I don’t want to make him dinner. I don’t want to sleep with him. Goodness knows who is sleeping next to him right now. Or who he is not sleeping with. So I decide that I won’t sleep with him. If I pretend to be sick then he won’t want to catch it. He would sleep in the living room.

He arrives home not too much longer. I hear him in the hallway before he gets to unlock our front door. So I rush into the bedroom and get into bed and begin coughing. He pauses at the foyer and then comes into the bedroom to see me in my night robes and a wet towel on my forehead.

“Abigail? Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” I say in barely a whisper, making my voice sound course. I could do Broadway, “I think I caught it from someone at the market yesterday. I don’t want you to catch it.”

“Alright. I’ll respect your wishes. I’ll sleep on the couch tonight. Do you need any cough syrup?”

My mouth goes dry at the thought. I almost have to physically stop myself from gagging. “No, no, that’s alright. I had some. Used the last bit I think.”

“Okay. Get some rest. I’ve already eaten anyway, so don’t feel too bad. Good night.” He closes the door quickly. My heart starts pounding at the very thought. Who on Earth could he have been eating with? Either way, I try to fall asleep, but end up creating vastly overcomplicated and overdramatic scenarios in my mind. It was late into the night when I finally fall asleep, but being so well-rested again, I wake up before it is light.

When I leave the bedroom, I find that Abbott is not on the couch. I check the bathroom, but he’s not there either. Perhaps he went out for a smoke. I wait and when he doesn’t return, I assume he’s gone to his little friend’s house. I refine my plan in that instant.

When he gets home that night, I make sure he knows that I’m feeling much better. It must have been some bad food from the market. That he probably shouldn’t eat the meat in the fridge. That he can sleep beside me, even though I think I’d rather die. He takes me up on my offer. He probably doesn’t want to draw attention to that fact that he slept elsewhere last night.

I wake up before he does that morning and make him breakfast. The smell wakes him up. I am already dressed and he is in his night robes. He looks tired.

“Good morning. How are you feeling? You look awful.” I try to keep bitterness out of my tone as I serve him a plate.

“I’m fine.”

“Well you’d best hurry. You’ll be late for work.”

“Yes, of course dear.”

When he leaves, I don my flattest pair of shoes and leave after him. He makes a right turn instead of a left. He doesn’t look up and blow me kisses. He never did anymore. He continues on with a quick pace. I find it hard to keep up without drawing too much attention from my heels. I think about going barefoot, but know that I may draw a bit more attention than heels. I wear a large sunhat that he rarely got to see me wear because I would almost always just wear it to the market. The long rim would be perfect for hiding my face. I have no purse and a wear the most popular frock of this season. I’ve already seen two women wearing the same one on the way here.

He doesn’t walk far. When he gets to the apartment building, I slow down. I see him enter from a distance and I wait for a few seconds before I enter. Then I go to the stairwell and look up. I see his hand spiraling on the rails going two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight floors up. I was walking slowly, glancing when I thought it safe. In his determination, he never looked down. I got to the eighth floor just as the door was closing. I’ve been there before, once. The name plate on the door told me everything I needed to know. “Mr. and Mrs. A. Brian Whitman” it said. I wonder how long this affair has been going on and just whose baby that really is.

I leave the building, not really feeling like heading home. I wonder, morose, around the streets, going places I never thought about going filled with people I would have generally avoided. The cracks in the sidewalk are more predominant. Any trees aren’t kept up with. Trash is thrown about scattered and tossed aside like I felt. Then I hear it again.

It was the concerto music again. I look up from the sidewalk for the first time, trying to find where the music was coming from. I wonder down the road and look to the left at the next street intersection. Nothing. I look to the right. There he is by the construction of a new Underground. It was the same black man who lived across from me. Why was he in a run down neighborhood like this? Does he feel more at home here?

I walk down the road to where he was standing at the intersection with a bean can out in front of him. He doesn’t look at me at first. When I just stay there silently, waiting, he then looks out from his hands. He starts at my legs, a curious expression on his face then up to my face. Recognition hits even though it was weeks ago when our eyes met that one time. I stay there for who knows how long. The music was beautiful though his looks are not at all predisposing to the way his music sounded. I wanted in that moment nothing more than to play with him.

“Come home with me.” I say.

His music stops and my mouth hangs slack at the stupidity of my statement. I blunder about an apology and an explanation at the same time so that it sounds like squabbled garbage. A blush rises to my high cheek bones and he laughs at my stuttering. My anger flares up a bit. Him laughing at a young woman like that.

“I only meant I wanted to play a piece with you, but you obviously have no interest.” I chide myself for my childish behavior. What was it about this man that got me so flustered?

“You play?” He remarks.

I feel slightly surprised that he can speak and then feel stupid. Of course he can speak.

“Violin. I was third chair in the New York Symphony Orchestra. The only woman allowed, you know.”

“What’s your name?” He asks.

“Abigail,” I say, “just Abigail.”

“I’m Sam,” We shake. He thinks about it for a moment, “You live near me.”

“I do. Come on. I won’t bite.” I walk away. I look behind me to see him still standing there, but continue to walk anyway. Then I hear him rush to catch up.

I take him to my apartment and offer him a drink. He politely declines, looking around in wonderment. I go into the bedroom, into the closet and pull out my violin case. Dust had settled onto it and I very gently brushed it off. I unclasp the case and open it to reveal my beautiful instrument. It has been far too long since I’ve given it a good play. I test the strings and am pleased to see them still in good condition. I bring out the instrument to where Sam was standing and we tune together.

Together we play. We don’t play anything we know, but it was everything we knew. We find a rhythm together, a quick pace, the music swirling together. It was intense and sensual and beautiful. The tempo had us breathing hard, my fingers burned with the sensation of the strings thrumming against them. Suddenly we found ourselves repeating the same rhythm and notes. It became our song, our secret. Then I slowed and stopped. He looked up at me, confused by my sudden pause. Breathing hard, I stared at him. I looked into his eyes, my heart beating hard in them moment.

Suddenly, I find myself kissing him. It wasn’t some first touch into the developments of a crush. There is passion here, a connection made by two things coming together that belonged. It is a double bass and a violin. His deep voice grunting approval and my soft hands exploring the meaning of skin. The hole fills in this moment more fully than his music did. My eyes don’t open. He isn’t black anymore just as I am no longer white. We simply are. It is a love I had never felt before, a connection to another I could never have appreciated with Abbott. His hands are musician’s hands. His experiences were musical. And that afternoon, music was made, but our instruments remained resting against the plaster walls of my apartment while our hands clasped together and our bodies molded into one. His hands were steady, guiding me through new and explicit explorations. Their steadiness, a breath of life in the middle of a ragging storm.

The morning after I get up earlier than usual. He had left after our exploitations before Abbott returned from his day trip. When I leave the room I hear Sam in his apartment playing our piece for me and I can’t help but smile a devilishly satisfied smile. At the windowsill, I look up at him, a fresh blush on my cheeks. He smiles down at me. Then, I hear Abbott come out of the bedroom.

“That damn cello,” he says. “is pissing me off.”

One Response to ““The Crane and the Blackbird””

  1. Courtney Dwyer says:

    Amber,
    You have a good story here. I like that you have made some things more clear in this revision. There are some tense issues in this story on the sentence level, which is slightly jarring.
    Overall, you have written a good story.