Never Look Back

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Chapter 32

I tried to ignore the battlefield-loud sounds of cupboards snapping closed, the ping-panging of pots and pans clink-clanking, and the melodious sonata of Odera’s humming as she wreaked bachelor havoc. No matter how hard I fought to bring Cameron and the Romans to the forefront, I failed and succumbed to plebeian hopelessness where I stared at the screen with amorous disinterest. Writing is a solitary craft ― a craft I began behind a ten-gauge steel door, encased by cement walls that granted crypt-like privacy.

I wandered into the kitchen to behold a delectable sight that set my pulse pounding like the heart-pumping steps of the Irish River Dancers. Crouched upon hands and knees, with her head and shoulders buried in the recesses of a cupboard, the tapered-tails of my shirt, whose hindering length I had never considered overly long, became a scourge of excess. Never had I thought myself a voyeur, but the sight I beheld threatened to alter that perception if viewed in lunar fullness.

From inside the cupboard, I heard, “If you can tear your eyes off my bum, take the garbage out. After which, the can needs a rinse and a new bag. If you’re going to stand about gawking, you’ll earn your keep.”

“If you didn’t want me looking, you would have worn pants. Why put yourself on display and then begrudge me looking?”

Odera pulled her head and shoulders out of the cupboard, folded her legs beneath her and commenced a soul-depth study using limpid blue eyes, honest and benign, to harry my emerald gaze, cloaked and closed. Of late, she quickly found that intangible treasure for which she searched.

“Sorry, Bruce. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It’s not that I minded you looking; I just never imagined that you’d imprint flaw and freckle.”

“I embarrassed myself. Forget it.” I snatched the garbage bag by its twist-tied neck and headed for the door. “Embarrassment isn’t a primary feeling anyway. It’s a reaction to a taboo feeling.”

“That’s a cheap rationalization. Hey, come back here and finish the conversation. Don’t you want another peek?”

“If I return, I’ll be peeking at it laid over my knee,” I grumbled and stepped out of my apartment.

“Promises, promises.”

Jumbled thoughts surfaced as I retreated into the hallway. She traipsed, nay, barged into my home putting her glory on display. When I nibbled at an appetizer, she scolded me, probably believing that God sent her to save me from my unredeemed self. Although Odera held Christian beliefs, she engendered a spiritual doctrine not yet inked on paper. There should be more of that ilk. As always, whenever I judged somebody, my own crime brought me tumbling back to earth. It was a sobering memory. Once I had tossed the bag into the dumpster, I spun on my heels trying to reconcile Odera’s presence.

Odera owned a dissatisfying ability in that she made me question my motives and feelings without saying, or hinting, that I should examine, or alter, that which I found. I was far from thrilled at the insight I had gained. Any decent person would gloat, but not her, not with that damned reasonable nature of hers. She would not strike a spark to fuel rebellious flames but left me stewing in my own thoughts, unable to avoid admitting the truth unless I chose to be unreasonable. Queasy-sick feelings rumbled in my gut when the doorknob would not turn. My keys sat on the hallway table. They may as well have been aboard the space station. Thwarted and surrounded by Challenger-serious disaster, I forced myself to relax with several deep breaths. Damn her sunset ass for messing with my Zen. I knocked crisply.

“Who is it?”

“Very funny, Odera. Open up.”

“Not until you apologize.”

A door opened down the hallway. Ms. Wilson, practising timing all landlords were born with to catch tenants at their most awkward moments, stood in her doorway watching me. Narrowed eyes and crossed arms expressed her intention to remain there as long as she wanted.

“Me apologize? Odera, open the damn door.”

“Or what, you’ll huff and you’ll puff? Not until you apologize.”

“Fine. I’m sorry,” I relented and cast Ms. Wilson a sheepish glance.

“Yeah, like that was sincere. Shouldn’t a writer have an apology a wee bit more convincing than a feeble ‘I’m sorry?’”

I contemplated departing for NASA. Maybe they needed a chimp. At the bare minimum, I considered a trip to the neighbourhood coffee shop until she tired of waiting. My wallet and pocket change was beside my keys ― on the moon. The dojo was another option, but curiosity curbed frustration. Part of me hoped Odera had arrived to have sex and part of me hoped she had not.

“Go ahead, Bruce,” Ms. Wilson urged, “it takes a bigger man to apologize than one who refuses to admit when he’s wrong.”

“Thank you, Ms. Wilson.”

“What am I apologizing for?” I wondered, unable to resist balking against the inevitable, but not without a token struggle to assuage my bruised pride. “What’s my crime again?”

“For snapping at me about not wearing the clothes you thought I should.”

“Okay, okay,” I interrupted, unwilling to feed Ms. Wilson additional morsels. “Forgive me. Please,” I choked out, “you didn’t deserve my coarse remarks. In the future, I’ll keep clothing comments to myself.”

That I had just apologized for telling Odera she should have worn more clothes, mainly pants, championed a foolish grin. How had she managed that?

“That was nicely said,” Ms. Wilson chimed, rushing to my aid now that I was about to leave. “My Harold found the plunging necklines delightful, but I was too modest. Still, every now and again I’d open an extra button or two.”

Odera half-entered the hallway, one bare, tapered leg forward.

“Hi, Ms. Wilson,” she waved, and tug-boated me inside, leaving a speechless landlady in a shirttail-flapping wake. Behind the closed door, Odera said, “I forgive you. If I didn’t know that you were polar dysfunctional, I might have taken offence. Feel better now? Wanna another peek?”

She teasingly lifted a shirttail.

“The way I spoke to you? Why of all the―” I stopped. Inhaling deeply, I invited warmly, “Odera, I’d love if you’d stay for dinner. Please, make yourself at home.”

“Nice try, but Polar Opposite Disorder only works from the heart, not from the head.”

She kissed me sweetly, in such a way as to say I also suffered from an undisclosed, specifically male, gender inadequacy that had earned female forgiveness.

I frowned.

“Do you have any idea how fucked-up your Polar Opposite Disorder theory is? It flies in the face of ‘no’ means ‘no’. Exactly what was the conversation you had with your grandmother?”

The soft slap of bare feet dogged my heels. Odera collapsed into a kitchen chair and folded one leg under her. Lifting and smoothing shirttail wrinkles hinted at a soft inner thigh. She looked up to answer my question ― a question that I forgot I had asked.

“Are my motives that important to you?”

“Answer the damn question,” and forced my eyes upward to meet hers using cold fusion-powered male determination. “Shit.”

I had almost abandoned myself to Odera’s designs, whatever they were.

“Don’t writers have vocabularies that include fewer overused adjectives.”

I released a cloud of tobacco smoke over her head. A level or two of frustration went with it. Odera waved her hand to clear the air. Petty torments are highly underrated as stress reducers. I settled in to wait her out in stony prison silence. Immunity to her silent treatment dawned in her expression.

“Grams suggested that I stop running from myself and confront my fears.”


“Is that why you exercise so hard, to counter for smoking? Gramps smoked a pipe, not those nasty things. I haven’t gone back to my gym since...I think that’s where he found me. Maybe we could exercise together?” forcing her voice out of memory lane horror. “It would help my climbing. You said I needed to improve my cardio. My gym has a challenging circuit course. We’ll get dual a membership. It’ll be fun,” she told me rising to put away the groceries. “Grams said you and Gramps are a lot alike. Well, she sorta said that. Actually, it came out more like you guys shared similar character faults, but why split hairs? By the way, she asked to meet you.”

“You told your grandmother about us?”

“We don’t keep secrets. Ever. Deal with it. You’re going to love her. She married a bootlegger. I’m the only one in the family who knows.”

As Odera told me about her grandfather and grandmother’s exodus from Scotland, she reached into the cupboard’s shelf to remove plates, before changing her mind and going for one without a chip. Her arm-raising movements conspired to raise the hem of my shirt offering carnal-provoking glimpses. I turned my mind to the gym and to Odera’s proposal, seeking to exile amorous interest as she reached for saucers, reached for bowls ― and reached. Some months back I began a high-repetition workout program to prepare my muscles for kenjutsu training. I paid for a YMCA membership at the old building because it was cheap and the basement’s dark, free-weight room, fondly referred to as the dungeon discouraged female patronage. It was perfectly suited to serious training. Most gyms doubled as socializing centres where members spent too much time preening in mirrors and playing on Smartphones instead of sweating. Still, maybe it was time to come out of the dungeon and into the light.

Above the sound of water pouring into the sink, she said, “Shouldn’t you be writing? I promise not to make loud noises.”

“How about promising to leave?”

“That’s sweet,” she absolved and pecked my cheek on the way past, thanking me, no doubt. “I’d love to stay.”

Polar Opposite Disorder. Fucking insanity.

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