She sits drinking tea under a crack in the ceiling, a hairís width. Something an appraiser with a sturdy eye trained on rusty pipes, sinking foundations, and sighing walls might see fit to catalog in chicken scratch somewhere near the bottom of an itemized list. Nothing for an ordinary person to worry about. She lives in a basement apartment, and the sky is so far away she can only imagine it from here. Sounds of thunder outside, a cracking like false teeth on an old baguette. Or is it the rattle of the broken radiator across the hall? The newspaper says nothing about rain.
I need a drink, the older sister croons from the back-in-her-throat place where she gargles as she stumbles into the kitchen. She struggles to find the neck hole of a T-shirt with her head, her naked body bone-thin and rebellious under the pale light. She doesnít like to sleep in underwear or any other clothing for that matter, because clothing irritates her large clitoris, which, since her license was suspended, has been over-stimulated by all the walking sheís been doing, not to mention all the bumping into people. She complains of everything but the ability to orgasm in under five minutes. Pierre, her would-be lover, is asleep in the anteroom by the telephone. He is fully dressed. She has recently, too recently, emerged from a five-year relationship with a woman and is thrilled to find that penises possess a new glow.
We donít have anything, the younger sister says. We are out of everything, but thereís tea if you want it.
The older sister is silent; what she wants is not here, and she can only think of how to get it here. She cannot think of alternatives, and she does not notice the crack in the ceiling, although the younger sister spotted it hours ago, when the lights went on this morning.
How long are you staying? she asks. It is the day after the older sisterís arrival in town. She is here on businessó electric car modeling. She sits atop the computerized engines of electric cars and smiles, her blue or gold dress shimmering, blowing in a fan-generated wind, the electric gust making her dark hair look as though it never (couldnít possibly have ever) looked damp and limp like this, like it does now. The younger sister is jealous of the dresses but not of the hours under the desiccating lamplight, the layers of makeup to hide the wrinkles from weight loss, the endless promotion of domestic cars that arenít currently selling as well as they should, what with the competition from China.
I donít know, why do you want to know, are you kicking me out, is it because of Pierre? the older sister responds, all in one breath, breathless.
It is because of Pierre! the younger sister wants to say. It is because your first night in town, you drag a man here who gets too drunk to make it to the bedroom, but really because there is a man in my house, period, and I hate that you donít think.
But the younger sister just stares in amusement because she cannot muster the truth, and she does not want the older sister to leave, not yet. For a year, the house has been contaminated by dust-- the air is hot and cottony, and thereís a buzzing sound coming from somewhere, possibly the ghost or the interruption of static that once played on the screen of a TV that no longer works. It sits there on its stand, a tribute to things past; there is no analog, no cable, no DVD. No TV is a frazzling predicament, an excuse not to get things done. Long days of forgetting.
Youíre all washed up, the older sister continues. This house doesnít even have a bar. What have you been doing with yourself? Not cleaning, I see. Yoga again? Just like after the baby. Every day is post-partum for little sis.
The younger sister is used to the elderís prodding, although here it is more of a lifting of flaps. Inured to it as she is to alcohol breath, pubic displays, the tedious parading of sex. The older one carries only a dull blade for her sister, but she works it in with patience. She was once a Lamborghini model, incidentally.
Get it over with, whatever youíre doing with Pierre, the younger sister says. Before I get back. She gathers up her things, which have surrounded her on the floor, and goes out. When she slams the door behind her, she hears the thunder down the hall.
The older sister glances at the teacup, sweeps her left hand across the table, and knocks it to the far wall. It doesnít smash there, but on the floor, and the leftover tea and bits of ceramic spew back toward the older sisterís bare feet. She laughs bitterly.
Pierre! She calls. Come lick this up and Iíll take you to the bedroom.
Pierre stirs in his chair, and a cold sweat trickles down his forehead. Her voice from the other room jogs a memory of previous night. What?
You heard me.
He gets up, realizes he is fully clothed, and sighs, disappointed.
The kitchen is far brighter than any room he has ever been in, he is certain. The older sister stands there, Katherine to him, her pubic hairlessness striking, impossibly infantile. He feels a jolt in his pants beneath the zipper, deafening his disgust.
What happened? he asks, gesturing to what was the cup. A drop drips on him from the crack in the ceiling. He looks up.
My sisterís a nasty cunt, she says.
She retrieves a broom and dustpan from the corner closet and begins to sweep up the wet mess. The bristles of the broom soak up the tea; there is no mop anywhere.
Minutes pass. She sinks to her knees and begins to weep. Pierre backs out of the room slowly, gathers his coat from the chair, quietly slips out the front door.
Back on the street he whistles to himself, glad to be out of that strange apartment with the smell of mildew emanating from every corneróprimarily, he imagines, from that crack in the ceiling. The spot where the drop hit his head is still cold. There must be a bathtub above, a leaky faucet. He rubs his fingers against the spot, and the image of the womanís bald groin comes rushing back to him like a piano falling. He shudders, suddenly cold all over.
Another dark-haired woman smirks at him from behind her paper grocery bag, which she carries high in her arms like a sleeping child. In her steady eyes he catches a glint of recognition, although he could swear heís never seen her in his life. Maybe she works at the club, he thinks, but she doesnít seem to be that kind of girl. Club girls wear their clothes like another skin and walk with legs slightly bowed, as though inviting the wind to penetrate them from behind. This womanís loose clothes and bare face, paleness overall, suggest sheís been too long indoors. He can see she might have been beautiful at some time or other. Young.
I know you from somewhere, he says. She shakes her head. Well, can I help you with that?
Youíre kidding right? She laughs. Keeps walking.
He turns, watches her go, aware of the saunter sheís picked up just now. She wants him to follow her, and he feels a jolt of energy against his zipper.
He says nothing but goes behind her, watching.
She makes it all the way up the block, back to that door-- of course, the one heís just come out of. She rummages in her purse for the key, balancing her child-sack on one hip, as mothers do. He stands back ten, eleven feet, afraid. Afraid sheíll look back and see him, the fool who spent the night in her chair, because now he does remember seeing her. Not exactly-- a photograph of her in ballet gear, her hair tied in a knot so tight her eyes fold back at the corners. Beautiful.
My sisterís cunt, he remembers hearing.
He watches her go inside the gate, watches it swing closed behind her, watches. She goes up the stairs, takes the two at a time, even with the heavy load obscuring the steps from her sight.