Issue 88, Summer 1983
After a lot of talking—what his wife, Inez, called assessment—Lloyd moved out of the house and into his own place. He had two rooms and a bath on the top floor of a three-story house. Inside the rooms, the roof slanted down sharply. If he walked around, he had to duck his head. He had to stoop to look from his windows and be careful getting in and out of bed. There were two keys. One key let him into the house itself. Then he climbed some stairs that passed through the house to a landing. He went up another flight of stairs to the door of his room and used the other key on that lock.
Once, when he was coming back to his place in the afternoon, carrying a sack with three bottles of Andre champagne and some lunch meat, he stopped on the landing and looked into his landlady’s living room. He saw the old woman lying on her back on the carpet. She seemed to be asleep. Then it occurred to him she might be dead. But the TV was going, so he chose to think she was asleep. He didn’t know what to make of it. He moved the sack from one arm to the other. It was then that the woman gave a little cough, brought her hand to her side, and went back to being quiet and still again. Lloyd continued on up the stairs and unlocked his door. Later that day, toward evening, as he looked from his kitchen window, he saw the old woman down in the yard, wearing a straw hat and holding her hand against her side. She was using a little watering can on some pansies.
In his kitchen, he had a combination refrigerator and stove. The refrigerator and stove was a tiny affair wedged into a space between the sink and the wall. He had to bend over, almost get down on his knees, to get anything out of the refrigerator. But it was all right because he didn’t keep much in there, anyway—except fruit juice, lunch meat, and champagne. The stove had two burners. Now and then he heated water in a saucepan and made instant coffee. But some days he didn’t drink any coffee. He forgot, or else he just didn’t feel like coffee. One morning he woke up and promptly fell to eating crumb doughnuts and drinking champagne.There’d been a time, some years back, when he would have laughed at having a breakfast like this. Now, there didn’t seem to be anything very unusual about it. In fact, he hadn’t thought anything about it until he was in bed and trying to recall the things he’d done that day, starting with when he’d gotten up that morning. At first, he couldn’t remember anything noteworthy. Then he remembered eating those doughnuts and drinking champagne. There was a time when he would have considered this a mildly crazy thing to do, something to tell friends about. Then, the more he thought about it, the more he could see it didn’t matter much one way or the other. He’d had doughnuts and champagne for breakfast. So what?
In his furnished rooms, he also had a dinette set, a little sofa, an old easy chair, and a TV set that stood on a coffee table. He wasn’t paying the electricity here, it wasn’t even his TV, so sometimes he left the set on all day and all night. But he kept the volume down unless he saw there was something he wanted to watch. He did not have a telephone, which was fine with him. He didn’t want a telephone. There was a bedroom with a double bed, a nightstand, and a chest of drawers. A bathroom gave off from the bedroom.
The one time Inez came to visit, it was eleven o’clock in the morning. He’d been in his new place for two weeks, and he’d been wondering if she were going to drop by. But he was trying to do something about his drinking, too, so he was glad to be alone. He’d made that much clear—being alone was the thing he needed most. The day she came, he was on the sofa, in his pajamas, hitting his fist against the right side of his head. Just before he could hit himself again, he heard voices downstairs on the landing. He could make out his wife’s voice. The sound was like the murmur of voices from a faraway crowd, but he knew it was Inez and somehow knew the visit was an important one. He gave his head another jolt with his fist, then got to his feet.