Sport 35: Winter 2007
Gigi Fenster — People do that
What was it, Morris wondered, that made a person reach over, at a crowded bus stop, and stroke the jacket of another? Morris was watching the couple as the bus pulled into the terminus. No—not watching exactly, rather gazing at them through the window in the tired, unfocussed way that one does at the end of the day. They were standing close but not touching. They may have been strangers but as the bus pulled in the woman turned towards the man and said something. Then turned away.
They did not touch before she walked away, her face towards her bag, looking, perhaps, for her ticket. But then, as she was about to merge with the queue, almost beyond reach, the man did it—raised his arm, lifted his hand, and stroked the back of her jacket.
The jacket was padded nylon, puffed beyond the woman's body. Morris watched the woman's face, really watched, and saw no satisfaction. She is numb to his touch thought Morris. Did the man know it? Did he know that his hand would not make its way beyond the stuffed coat?
Morris stroked the arm of his own jacket, tentatively, furtive, aware that he was surrounded and that, while stroking the jacket of another may be quite acceptable, caressing one's own on a crowded bus might draw attention. The fabric was rough and warm, not unpleasant, but not so it was hard to return his hand, once more, to his lap. No, it was not the feel of the fabric—surely.
Morris had heard that a bereaved person might bury his face in the clothes of a loved one, trying, he supposed, to sense that which was lost. He had not done that. Even when the guests were gone, taking their pity and their sorrow with them. Even when the house was silent and ticking he had not once thought to open Sadie's closet and forget in the feel of her fabric. Not once.
And then the clothes were gone. Rachel saw to it. It was done in page 67a day. Morris could have gone in and kept her company that day. He could have offered to help and then, when Rachel left the room perhaps, lifted a dress off a hanger, a jersey off a shelf, put it to his face, and breathed in the stuff of Sadie. But Morris left Rachel and the room and the clothes well alone. 'I'll only get in the way,' he thought and he sat in his study, eyes to the computer, back to the door and listened to the clacking of hangers, the closing of drawers, the sighs of clothes settling themselves in the depths of dustbin bags.
Then the dragging of the bags out of the room, down the passage, to the door, his door, the study door where the bags were silenced. And in that silence stood Rachel, clenched fists holding the bags closed. Or perhaps her hands were hanging at her sides, the bags sufficiently well packed as to stand alone. One on either side of her. Like stakes. Perhaps the bags were propped against each other. Balancing just so.
What do we two do now? wondered Morris. What now? For now we are only two. Morris could have turned from the screen. He could have faced the silence, or risen from his chair. He could have walked to the door and turned the handle and held her, hard and tight and stroked her hair and murmured that she was a motherless child and he a sorry old widower. They could have sat together on those dustbin bags and cried.
On the computer the image of a window flew into a window flew into a window. Morris sat and stared at the relentless windows, stared and waited. For Rachel to stand in the doorway and say that she was done, would see him tomorrow. And Morris, still gazing at the moving windows, raised his hand. 'See you tomorrow then.' And listened as the dustbin bags heaved their heavy way out of the house.
By the time he turned from the screen the room was in darkness and the cat was mewling at its dinner plate.
Perhaps the cat had crept into the room as Rachel folded the clothes. Perhaps it had stroked against her legs, reminding her of the feel of another. Rachel might have put down the shawl she was folding. Deliberately, neatly. She might have sat on the bed, lifted the cat to her lap and held the softness of it.
Perhaps the cat had suffered itself to be lifted to her face and held there for a good long while. Certainly Morris had not heard from it until it was time for dinner.page 68
Some weeks later Morris stood at a traffic light and there, on the other side of the road, looking directly at him, stood a young woman wearing what was once, could it be, a dress of Sadie's. The young woman looked good in it. Morris could have told her so. He could have waited at that crossing and watched her as she approached and then, when she was just close enough, he could have smiled and said, 'You look good in that dress.' Or he could have crossed her path, come close and glanced the fabric, skimmed the skirt as it breathed on the breeze of a young spring woman. But Morris did none of those things. People do not go around complimenting strangers on their dress. And a glance could become a touch, could be felt through the fabric.
The man had not kissed the woman before she turned to the bus, or stroked her hair or touched her hand. He had not hugged her or patted her cheek or even, Morris suspected, muttered a goodbye. But he had reached out, when she was beyond his compass, and stroked the back of her departing jacket.
People do that, Morris thought. People do that.