Chapter 7: Underfoot
“She’s not what I expected.”
Cecile’s eyes flashed listlessly amid the candlelit room as he lay in the tub thinking. Water lapped softly against him as he soaked. It was not his idea of a house invitation. He didn’t even know how he had been coerced into doing such a silly thing as warming in her bathtub. The cold would not kill him, but it gave him a chance to think and he was grateful for that.
From his place on the second floor, he listened to the sound of cupboards opening and closing and the clang of pots shifting downstairs in the kitchen.
“The better man would have let her freeze to death,” he told the crumbling plaster ceiling.
Nobody else would have bothered with such nonsense. He really was no good when it came to being what others wanted. Kind, cruel, indifferent… What was he being this time?
The smells of cooking food wafted up the stairs and his picture of the domestic home was finally complete. He decided it was time to face what he had started.
Cecile stood up in the water and stepped out of the bathtub. Letting the water drip as it pleased, he started to pick up the pieces of clothes left on the floor and pull them on. She had left an old yellow towel for him to dry himself with, but not needing to care about his condition was a strong point of his. Besides, she had managed to heat the tiny house to an uncomfortable temperature with her ancient oven, so he wasn’t exactly worried about catching a chill.
When he got down to the kitchen, he found her tending a pan of spaghetti and tomato sauce on the stovetop. The flimsy, white plastic table and chair dining set had been pulled towards the middle of the room and laid with mismatched forks and plates.
“I should tell you. I don’t eat,” Cecile told her.
“Oh, didn’t hear,” she said.
The sauce sizzled.
“I don’t eat.”
“Hmm…yes I wouldn’t want to eat after shooting my brains out either.”
Realizing that she was ignoring him, Cecile sighed and went to sit in one of the plastic chairs. It must have been the same as a million other houses, a cracking concrete shell, but by filling it with things white, light, and airy she had made it deceptively inviting. He watched her pick up a spice shaker and wondered where she had learned how to cook.
“I hope this isn’t an elaborate bribe,” he admonished.
“Too bad, but no,” she said putting the spice away.
“Are you joking with me?”
“Can’t you tell?”
“No,” he said simply.
She gave him a look. Cecile focused on his empty plate.
“Why didn’t you take a bath?” he asked in distraction.
“I don’t need it. The stove keeps my hands warm and these clothes are better.”
“Yet, you would die so easily.”
“Of course I would,” she said. She lifted the pan from the stovetop and reached over to turn off the element.
The heavy pan she held tipped precariously, but she straightened it and brought it over to the table. She divided the contents equally between their plates, then sat herself down and set the pan on the floor to free her hands for eating. As he watched her lift forkfuls of spaghetti into her mouth, he decided that she was the most inelegant girl he had ever met. She lifted her head a little higher and caught him staring. She swallowed her mouthful and put down her fork.
“You could look a little happier,” she said.
“I was being thoughtful.”
“I think you know.”
The girl set down her fork.
“You want to leave,” she concluded.
They watched one another, each considering whether they really wanted to tell their side of the secret. She pushed back her chair.
“I’ll see you out,” she said.
Finally he thought. He followed her down the hall and past the living room to the front door. She took his coat off a peg in the wall and opened the door to a paint-pealed porch. Shriveled brown flowers sat frozen in their pots against the railing.
Water dripped off the overhanging roof.
“I kept my promise so I’ll see you later,” she told him.
He turned to her.
He lifted the coat from her grasp.
“I doubt that.”