The Resident (part fourteen)
An Anniversary Party
“Is that you, squirming again?”
Wissary patted a shoulder. “Sleep, Des.”
Desander sat up. “How many of those drinks did you have?”
“I suppose you mean to ask, since I bought exactly two, did I drink them both? Yes, I did!”
“Will you take that magazine and go read on the sofa?”
“You sound very condemning, just because I’m a little over-caffeinated. I’m going to take my magazine,” Wissary added, bouncing to the floor. “I’m going to pick it up off my table, where I put it when you switched off my lamp, and I’m going to take my box of chocolates…”
“Your box of chocolates. You don’t think I’d want one? That I’d sneak your candy while you were out of the room, that I’d open your drawer at all, for any reason?”
Not trusting moonlight, Wissary switched his lamp on, and peered at his partner’s face. “Have you opened my drawer?”
A silence. “I’m not entertaining that.”
And Des made a slow, shooing gesture, that brought an ache to Wissary’s heart.
He shifted pillows, a sofa collection too handpicked not to have been Claudine’s. He nestled among granny squares and velvet ruche, gave each a gentle pat, and on the ottoman placed a bare foot.
The duct-tape crackled.
He tried lying, burrowing his feet under the electric blanket—a fixture, always found in its aging plastic zip-bag, at the sofa’s lefthand corner. Jennifer had crowded Teconieshe rather than sit on or move it.
“Oh, Claudine, I’m not myself,” Wissary sighed, withdrawing the feet. “But I sin from love.”
He cracked the notebook.
One of the first discoveries gave the solution to an old conundrum. What about Displacement? If a person travels in time to a point where he must exist concurrently with his earlier self, does one incarnation or the other disappear? Does something more dramatic (a sort of physical decomposition, some had surmised) take place? The answer
Wissary knew the answer. He wasn’t ready for academic Claudine—using, from whatever science she’d pursued [must ask], her professional voice. Poor, bewildered John. Wissary reached to rid himself of the yellow bulb, and the room fell dark. The nightlight outside the bathroom, and the second nightlight in the upstairs hall, returned to his adjusting eyes.
But the living room glowed as well with life-giving ultraviolet. The windows of the dining nook, facing the drive, issued the night hue a Before-Timer would call black. The summons was from the intruder behind.
To be sentient, to be mobile, and in the throes of tropism—
Plants, never (as human brains conceived) the first two, could not describe the pull of the sun, or leave lore for their hapless descendants. To Wissary, the urge was a buzzing of nerve-ends, the reach for an embrace. It was intolerable. The mammal half of Tithonian genetics quashed such impulses by day. Only at night, when the invisible spectrum entered rooms splintered, artificial beams caressing the margins of darkness, did the pull disturb.
Des…dear practical Des, hung blackout curtains, and used an eye mask.
Wissary had counted himself the lucky one, unmoved. “My sympathies are very human. That’s why I get along with everyone.”
“You bloom where you’re planted.”
Maybe I’ll do it, Wissary thought.
Maybe, according to his partner, was the most self-deluding of words. Wissary carefully opened and closed the kitchen door. The night was sultry, and he stopped to breathe an odor of spent honeysuckle, wheaty meadow grass, petrichor. Even a certain sour insect protein, from the deadly place he knew he must go.
The giant billboard advertised a series of arena shows—
See the Battle Royale, featuring the Sister Assassins, Diana Fang and Baby Yeti. See Talley Lynn Cochran; see the Bus Bumpers open for Talley Lynn Cochran. Participate in Zoo Days, visit online to Win Free Tickets, and a Chance to Name Baby Eland.
Wissary, in John’s garden clogs stumping ever nearer, woke. Baby Yeti and Baby Eland operated in separate spheres, it seemed, and the billboard found this unironic.
The LED array was like a pool to drown in. A sizable moth bulleted into his forehead; at the same time, a figure rose.
“Don’t freak,” she said. “It’s me, Wiss. Debra.”
(2022, Stephanie Foster)