Olinda moved to Cambridge with no real plan other than to sit on milk-crate furniture for most of June and wait for Jack to get back.
She arrived on a bus late one night, downtown. It was warm that night and the back of her t-shirt was soaked in sweat. She took one of the final trains of the night over the river to Cambridge.
The apartment was completely bare and simple; a railroad-style one bedroom. The walls were cream white, and covered in a series of tiny holes from where paintings and photographs from the previous tenants had been hung. Wooden slats covered the floor, groaning under the weight of each step. It was stuffy, despite the open windows. There was a flat-wooden work table in the corner of the room with a broken computer chair, which sat far too low to the ground. On the table was a woolen blanket, a pillow.
The first thing Olinda did was undo her suitcase and remove a calendar. She ripped June out of it – “Afghan Dogs” – and taped it on the wall.
She reached in and took a telephone from her backpack and plugged it into the wall.
She sat on the floor, rosy cheeked, wiping the dribbles of sweat from her hairline. She detached a sleeping pad from a clip on the side of her backpack and put her lips to the nozzle until it was inflated and firm. She looked at the Afghan on the wall, smiling at its sublime, dumb, open mouth. She wanted one of her own, to take into parks and on walks someday.
On warm nights that month she would sit out on the fire escape and watch the glowing images from her neighbors TV across the street.
And during the day she would walk. Olinda would walk for miles, across the campuses, in and out of bookstores and libraries, and along the Charles.
He called late one night. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure about the time difference,” he said. His voice sounded much different when long distance, over the telephone.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“How’s the place treating you?”
“It’s great,” she said twirling her hair, balanced on one foot, her elbow holding her up against the wall.
“I think about you every day.”
“I think about you too. Did you go to Angkor Wat?”
“That’s Cambodia. I’m in Bangkok now.”
“Yeah, but did you go when you were there?”
“I told you I was going to be really busy, Olinda. I didn’t get a chance. We’re meeting with some developers today. This place is crazy. The traffic is really bad.”
“I can’t hear you, sorry. I’m on a company phone.”
He hung up.
Olinda put the phone down and stepped out through the window onto the fire escape. She took a Ziploc out of her pants pocket and slipped a cigar out of it. She flipped her zippo open and sat with her back against the wall, leaning the pre-cut cigar into the flame. Her eyes watching the large screen TV from the open window across the street. She took several puffs and blew the smoke into the air.
“Mind if I join you?” said a voice from somewhere underneath her. She opened her legs, and saw a scrawny fire-headed young man peering up at her, palming a pack of cigarettes. She waved him up and her scurried up the fire escape. He was awkward looking, not particularly attractive. He had two crooked teeth and smiled like an idiot, she thought. His jeans were rolled up at the ankles like he’d been wading through a creek all day, and he wore a dirty white t-shirt with the word “college” written in sharpie. He put his hand out, and sat cross-legged next to her. “Ricky,” he said. He had a jittery demeanor, like he was constantly suppressing impulses to speak or move.
“What kind of a name is Olinda?” he said after sucking down on the cigarette, way too fast.
“It’s a city in Brazil.”
“No. My mom is Portuguese, but grew up in Seattle. She and my Dad were planning to go on a vacation in Olinda when she found out she was pregnant with me. They never ended up going, though.”
“That’s what you’re studying, isn’t it? My Dad works at Haaahvard. I’ve got a talent for guessing majors.”
“I’m not in school. I’m here because my boyfriend just moved here. How old are you, anyway?”
Ricky looked in through the window, at the hollow apartment. “You guys like minimalists or something?” Olinda finally cracked, she laughed in his direction. “He’s not gonna pummel me for sitting here with you, is he?”
“No, nobody’s going to pummel you.”
“Well that’s good.”
“He’s in Cambodia, Jack. Actually, Thailand. He’s doing business there. He just got this place, but won’t be back for a few weeks.”
Ricky put out his cigarette, then stood up. “My friends are playing a show this weekend. You should come.” He pushed a flyer in front of her. “It’s right close to here, off of Mass Ave. They’re good. Kind of funky rock music, with a sax player. See you there if you wanna come.” He began heading back down. “I’m twenty-two by the way.” And slipped back in through the window.
Olinda looked across the street. George W. Bush was speaking at a podium on television, she could see his mouth moving, but the TV was on mute. She put out the cigar and went back inside.
That night she sat over the stove-top, heating up a pot-full of Kidney beans, and pouring cheese and onion slivers over top. She wanted to call Jack, but didn’t know what time it was over there. She could have calculated it, but she didn’t.
She walked by the venue twice that Saturday, debating on whether to go in. It was loud and the walls seemed to be expanding out onto the street, overflowing with twenty-somethings sweating through their bandannas and sleeveless shirts. The building walls were covered in graffiti, and there were bright yellow awnings hanging down over the sidewalk from the roof. Everyone was talking loudly outside, smoking, their hearing sufficiently damaged for the night.
“You are Olinda from Washington. You’re friendly and have a lot of interesting things to say,” she thought to herself.
She walked up to the door and bought a ticket.
Ricky sat alone in a side booth. He cupped a beer in his hands, lost in thought, and watched the band bobbing up and down to the funky beat on-stage. Olinda got a drink, and walked over and sat down across from him. He perked up when she sat. They yelled across the table at one another, but neither could hear one another, except for the ten seconds in between songs, when they would try and fire off as much information back and forth as they can.
After a few more drinks, and a series of similar sounding songs, Olinda stepped out of the booth and onto the dance floor. She shimmied left and right to the beat and threw a smile in his direction. He sipped down the remainder of his drink and accompanied her, throwing out finger-guns in both directions. Olinda twisted as Ricky mimicked her movements, a few feet away. Lights spattered the audience, smoke shot out from the corners of the stage.
For the first time since moving to Cambridge, she felt good.
Much later in the night, after the concert, they walked along Massachusetts Avenue, heading in the direction of the river. They didn’t say much, their ears still ringing from the show. Olinda kept yawning to pop her ears. She worried that the ringing wouldn’t ever leave. Becoming something she’d have to live with. She thought of obese bearded characters in silent movies, leaning in, twisting an ear-horn in their ear to listen to whoever was speaking. This thought made her giggle.
“What’s so funny?” asked Ricky.
She told him and he laughed.
“What’s the one sense you could live without?”
“Isn’t that disrespectful of people who do live without a sense?”
“I couldn’t live without my hearing,” he said. “I couldn’t live with myself knowing that there is music in the world, and that I wouldn’t ever be able to hear it again. What would the point in that be?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not sure what sense I could live without.”
“What is it that you want to do with your life?”
She remained silent. It was the question Olinda dreaded most. But not that she didn’t have an answer.
“I have to pee,” said Ricky when they got to the river. “Don’t look.”
He ran up in front of a wide tree, lining the river. It was quiet, and empty. She sat on a bench and waiting, looking out at the buildings across the river. From behind the tree, she heard his voice. “What do you want to do with your life, Olinda?” he called out. She could see the arc of pee shooting out from behind the tree over the edge, and turned away blushing.
“I want to write poetry,” she said, after a moment.
“What?” he called out from behind the tree.
Ricky walked back around finally, with a bound in his step.
“Poetry,” she said.
“Not much money in that.”
“I don’t think – it’s not really about the money.”
“You’re parents are well off,” he said with a smirk, and sat down next to her on the bench.
“That’s kind of rude.”
“It’s true though, huh?”
“Not my parents, but Jack is. Said he can support me while I try and get started. He’s been in his business a long time now. Once he finalizes things with Sandra, things will better and we can fully move on.”
“How did you two meet?” he asked. “Don’t take offense, but you seem like an odd match.”
She paused, her mouth opened and closed. “We met online,” she said, finally.
Ricky leaned in, and put his hand on her knee. Her eyes went wide, like window-shutters opening. She brushed his hand off, neither saying anything afterward. A heavy subtext hung now over their small-talk. It was thick like humidity.
“You like ice-cream?” he said, standing. “I work at a store we can walk to. I’ve got the keys to the back. I can grab us some.”
“You’re really going to play that off like it didn’t just happen?”
“I was hoping to, yeah.”
“Well that’s not fair.”
“Yeah, sorry. It’s not. I don’t know what that was about.”
Olinda walked back home that night, alone, leaving Ricky by the river.
She tried to call Jack when she returned, but he didn’t answer. She sat on a milk-crate and ate some left-over beans out of the pot in the fridge. They were cold and she felt sour, and lonely.
She sat at the desk and begin sketching out a new poem, but felt distracted. After awhile, she got tired and lay down on her sleeping mat, but couldn’t get comfortable. It was surprisingly cold at this time of night, for this time of year. She got up and tried calling Jack again, but nobody answered.
She looked up at the wall, at her calendar. A wild tongued Afghan ran with its fur distorted, in weird ripples, heading directly toward the camera of whoever had taken the picture. It looked blissed out and wonderful. She wondered what it thought it was chasing, what was on the other side of the photo. She wanted to picture that all that was behind the photo was a rabbit running out into a field, but she knew that there was a camera crew, and a guy pacing in the background, on a cell-phone, yelling for more money, and two severe women in scarves standing behind a series of lights, and another guy holding a reflector to redirect the sunlight, and the dog ran oblivious over and over again at the whistle of a hired trainer. She wished all of this wasn’t true. She’d never felt more alone. She heard the television from across the street, reverberating between the buildings. She wrapped the blanket up around her and sometime around then she must have fallen asleep.
Her ears still rang when she woke.
Two months later Olinda saw Ricky when Jack walked her in to the ice-cream store.
Jack wore leather gloves, and ushered her in under his arm. They made eyes through the glass partition, and Ricky offered them samples of chocolate pecan. Neither acknowledged the pretense.
Jack got a call, handed her some money, and stepped outside. Olinda saw him on the side-walk. Ricky leaned in, while she paid for the ice-cream.
“I’m really sorry about that time by the river,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said.
“No, I mean it was uncalled for and –”
“– I said don’t worry about it.” She took a quick glance over her shoulder, toward Jack pacing across the sidewalk yelling into his phone. “It was nothing.”
That night Olinda couldn’t sleep. She slipped out of bed, onto the fire-escape, and went down to the window below.
She tapped lightly on the window, and felt like a creep, but saw a figure moving toward her. His hair was messy and his eyes were squinting. He opened the window, and poked his head through.
“What’s up?” he said. He looked surprised to see her crouching there.
She leaned in and put her hand behind his head. She lowered herself, putting her lips on his, and rolled back on her heels.
“What was that about?” he said when they separated.
“Touch,” she said.
“I never answered you that night. Touch is the sense I couldn’t live without.”
She looked at Ricky. She felt embarrassed and unsure. She stood up, and moved back up the ladder, in through her window and was gone. Ricky stood there, confounded, then ducked back inside closing his window.
Back in the apartment, Olinda pulled the milk-crate out of the closet and placed it back against the wall. The rest of the apartment was now fully furnished. In the closet, she also noticed the ripped out calendar page for June. She walked it over and tacked it up on the wall. She sat and waited under the calendar – knowing she wouldn’t sleep tonight – for when Jack would get up and leave for work.
That morning, Jack walked in efficiently. He nodded toward the calendar.
“Wrong month babe,” he said snugging a tie up against his neck. Olinda turned around from the stove-top, a skillet of eggs sizzling out in front of her.
“I know, I just like the picture,” she said, placing the skillet back on the stove.
Postcard: Found at the Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles, CA in October 2011.