“Well, that is that,” Todd thought as he pulled into the empty driveway.
Corners of newspaper advertisements stuck out of the mailbox. He didn’t bother to remove them. As he climbed from the car, he saw a scarf lying in the driveway. Her perfume. Maybe it was there before.
Todd fished again in his pocket for the house key, fiddled with the door–those old locks had to be just right. The house smelled mildly of mold and grass, that farmhouse scent of emptiness, as if the earth would swallow the whole of civilization quickly without a wood fire in the stove.
It was cold here now. Todd went to the basement and opened the door to the stove. Cold ashes filled the bottom, and he carefully scooped them out into the bin. The only good kindling was gone, and the wood itself wasn’t the best this time around–still too green, or maybe just too wet from sitting outside too long in the fallen leaves. He moved the driest log from the pile into the stove: a log with a lot of bark, rolls of newspaper beneath and beside. He struck the match. The paper burned, and the fire quickly went out. He rolled up a few more pages and lit them again.
As the bark began to burn, Todd thought of Sylvie’s hungry face as she lay in Jean-Paul’s hotel bed that afternoon. She reminded Todd more of a baby bird in the nest then than of the fun-loving libertine he had expected when he knocked on the door of #504. Sylvie’s lust these days seemed laced with expectation, her love–or was it disappointment?–confusing any desire he had to fuck her brains out the way he dreamed to when she was away from him.
The bark burned a little before the fire went out again. Todd tore up a cardboard box and lit more rolls of paper between the log, the fire flaming as he fanned it, the stove nearly hot enough to close. This was not a day he could leave the fire untended, and he spaced a few of the logs near the stove to dry out a little more.
Sylvie was gone.
He looked up the stairs and realized that the living room lights were still out, the kitchen cold and silent.
The log at last began to smoke. Todd was now covered in the scent of it himself, in the clothes and exhaustion of the day. He remembered the sound of Sylvie’s heels clicking on the floor, the door shutting, and her footsteps quick down the fifth floor corridor, the elevator door opening, ringing, closing.
The bartender had excused himself then, offering the panties first to Jean-Paul, then handing them to Todd before rushing back to the relative safety downstairs.
Todd had stayed there at the window then, Jean-Paul looking out then with him, both silent. They watched the street below, the right turn indicator of a convertible flashing, flashing, then gone.
It was Jean-Paul who had extended his hand when the silence became unbearable.
“She’ll come back,” Jean-Paul suggested, not fully privy to what had just happened. Jean-Paul meant well, though the hopefulness of his words only suggested to Todd that the opposite was more likely.
The French guy seemed likable enough, Todd had thought, the–yes–jealousy evaporating as Jean-Paul welcomed him into the room. It was friendly. It was hot. Sylvie had hoped to lure Todd there–he was sure this encounter was a test to him of some sort.
And he had pushed her away, pushed away his own fantasy, or at least that manifestation of it.
Todd closed the stove and walked up the steps from the cellar. He turned on the living room lights, and sat for a moment before running back down to check–yes, the fire was burning. He threw on two more logs, and went up the stairs, then to the shower.
He peered into the bedroom: the covers were neat. Yes, she had been here. The closet door was shut, everything strangely tidy.
Most of Sylvie’s toiletries were gone. Her towel was still mildly damp. Todd turned the water to hot and undressed as steam filled the room. He stepped into the tub, let the water run down his face, smoke and sweat mixed, blurred as his vision, his fatigue now overwhelming. Todd washed quickly and dried, then. Oh, the last night, the last days, sleep, sleep. He walked into the bedroom. He folded down the covers of Sylvie’s bed and climbed in. Within moments, Todd was asleep.