by Christi Leman
Every day Tamara pretended to be asleep until Andrew left for work. It made things easier for both of them. She lay as still as possible, her eyes closed, her breath silent as his clothes rustled and the dishes clinked, as the front door closed and locked. Then she waited a little longer, just in case; sometimes he forgot his wallet or his Metro pass.
When Tamara was sure Andrew had gone, she used the toilet and visited the kitchen to see whether he had left her anything for breakfast. He had saved her some cornflakes, so Tamara dampened some with water in a bowl and sat down, turning on the television. An old game show was on. She laughed as contestants tried to get past the giant boxing gloves punching them in the face. Andrew hated these shows, Tamara thought. At least, he never watched them. She couldn’t blame him. The people were clearly idiots, but she always turned game shows on when he was gone.
Today was Andrew’s birthday. He was twenty-four according to the date on his birth certificate, which Tamara had found in the bedroom Andrew used for storage. Tamara saw the whole day in her imagination, the cake she wanted to make, just big enough for the two of them, the streamers she’d hang over the little table, the long tapers she’d light. A real party.
But Andrew wouldn’t want her to fuss. Such an independent man, Andrew: strong and silent. Just her type. She wanted to give him something more for his birthday than her daily proffered gifts of quiet solitude, of privacy in her presence. If she couldn’t give him a party, she wanted to give him something he could hold, could taste, and think of her.
She washed, dried, and replaced her bowl and spoon, then lingered a while in the shower before stretching out naked on Andrew’s sweetly musky sheets, letting the sun streaming down through the balcony doors warm one side of her body, then the other. She didn’t want to inconvenience him by dampening his towels. He’d be alarmed, of course, if he came home and found her like this, but he’d never come home midday in all the months she’d been with him. His cruel bosses kept him so busy she hardly even saw him, except late in the evening and the occasional Sunday. Even then, he mostly slept, the poor boy. Sometimes she watched him through a crack in the door, heard the breath in his soft open mouth. Sometimes she wanted to stroke his smooth, fair chin, but didn’t want to intrude.
She had watched him for weeks from her sleeping pad in the nook among the bushes in Coolidge Park across the street, had loved the nonchalant way he threw his messenger bag over his shoulder each morning after locking the door, the way he tossed his bangs out of his blue eyes, always alone. Lonesome.
On the day Tamara moved in, a commuter’s bicycle brakes screeched on the sidewalk behind her little enclave, and Andrew glanced up and saw her there. He looked away almost immediately, but Tamara felt the little heave under her breastbone that signals a new connection, a bond. And when she noticed how he walked away without locking the apartment door, she knew he felt something too, and accepted his discreet invitation.
The door to the little studio apartment swung open at her touch, welcoming her in to handle and heft the curios of Andrew’s life: a pasta strainer still strung with noodles, a postcard from his parents in Santa Fe, a green die-cast model Mustang. She opened the door to the small second bedroom packed with boxes, saw the stale sleeping bags, the space in the back just big enough to lie down, and knew she was home.
Tamara found her prize in one of the larger stands at the farmer’s market three blocks down. The clamoring customers waving dollar bills, their bags heavy with fruit, kept the stand owners so busy that nobody noticed Tamara walk away with a green paper carton nearly overflowing with raspberries.
Her mood soared. Tamara remembered picking raspberries as a child among the tangle of bushes behind her house in the north. The neighbor boy she went picking with would hold the growing mound of berries in his big hands, and when he could hold no more, they’d sit against the peeling clapboards and she would push the hair out of his eyes and put berries between his lips, one at a time, and when he had a hand free, he did the same for her until their mouths and shirts were stained with drops of juice like blood.
Andrew would love the berries. He’d savor each tart burst on his tongue as he should, and then he’d understand everything she wanted him to know.
She walked back to the apartment, locked the door behind her, and placed the carton on the table. A few berries fell on the tabletop. Maybe they were too many, too effusive. She didn’t want to overwhelm him, so she swallowed the fallen berries, each one a tender, gritty memory. She ate a few more, only the most imperfect ones, but then the container looked half-empty, a poor gift. She decided to leave him just one perfect berry, so big she could cap her fingertip with it, each tiny globe of the cluster sweet and perfectly shaped.
She ate the rest and stowed the green carton in the wastebasket, then placed the last raspberry in the middle of Andrew’s pillow. The juice bled out a little onto the pillowcase. It looked delectable.
Tamara shuffled inside the storage room, shutting the door but for a tiny crack as usual, and curled up in the back corner on her rumpled sleeping bags. She would sleep here until Andrew’s key rattled in the lock, then watch him as he discovered his gift. Then, maybe, there would be a real party. But she wouldn’t demand one. The last thing she wanted was to bother him.
Christi Leman is a musician and writing student who works and lives on the Brigham Young University campus. She plays the piano and writes stories in Provo, Utah.