Roger knocked on the door. Yvette answered wearing a bathrobe.
“Hi love,” she said, turning her head to the side for a European-style double cheek kiss.
Roger hated the Euro-kiss. Yvette had picked it up from a new French friend. He took solace in the fact that the Euro-kiss phase would pass, like every other phase before it: the cat-eye makeup phase, the barefoot running phase, the tarot card phase, the feminist literature phase, the vegetarian activist phase.
This too shall pass.
Yvette’s white toy poodle was standing behind her legs, showing its teeth at Roger.
Roger had really tried with that dog. Nothing had worked. Mimi the toy poodle would not accept him.
Roger stepped in and offered his hand to Mimi, who snapped at him and ran off, nails slipping on the hardwood floors.
He really had tried with that dog.
“Make yourself a drink, hon. I need to do my hair and makeup.”
Roger knew every nook and every cranny of her apartment. He knew the way the floorboards creaked, how the sun played on the oak floors, the little swirls in the popcorn ceiling. He could close his eyes and recreate the apartment down to its finest details.
The first night he’d come back here—the first time he had sex with Yvette—he sat up and looked around her bedroom. A woman’s bedroom was a magical place, he thought at the time. It housed the mystery of the woman.
Yvette laid on her side, curled up facing him and breathing softly. Even though he’d made love to her she was unknown to him. He had penetrated her, but not her mysteries.
And he wanted not to know her. He had a fatal sense that this postcoital repose was the zenith of their relationship. In knowing her, she would only fall away from him. Their love had had its perfect moment before it even started.
Roger ran his hand undecidedly down the row of liquor bottles at the bar. His hand paused briefly on the Bombay Sapphire, but continued on, settling finally on the Grey Goose. He took a sniff of the alcohol and poured two fingers into a glass, then added ice, a splash of cranberry, and a lime wedge.
Spelled out on the bar refrigerator in magnetic letters was the phrase “Stay Positive.”
“Bullshit,” said Roger.
Mimi’s claws tip-tapped on the floor toward Roger. The dog appeared around the corner, shaking and ridiculous.
Roger really had tried with that dog. He’d given it bones, bought it a memory-foam bed, walked it, taken it to the dog park. He’d even read articles about how to gain a dog’s trust by projecting calm assertive energy. None of it worked. But Roger really had tried.
Roger opened the window all the way and pushed back the screen. He stuck his head out, felt a rush of dizziness. The building seemed to sway.
Lines of traffic moved in unison, apparently controlled by an unseen electric hive mind. The people rushed off to do their shopping, going to shows, socializing, dining.
On a small scale, people seemed to be acting on their own, as individuals. But from above, on a larger scale, they were clearly part of some meta-body, like so many water molecules through a stream.
It was necessary to think that you were self-directed. This was the lie that society depended on. Most of us were slaves, more or less, but we had belief in our own autonomy. And that was what kept us from rioting in the streets.
Roger pulled out an e-cigarette and took a few puffs. The vapor drifted out of the open window, dispersed in the sunlight. Roger watched it dissipate in the air, turning from its own distinct form into a part of the atmosphere.
Roger gathered spit in his mouth, rolled the spittle into a ball against his tongue, and fired a loogie out of the window.
That is what Roger thought of their “Individuality.”
The drink needed more ice. Getting the cubes he noticed a moleskin journal sitting on the fridge. He had never known Yvette to keep a journal.
Roger opened the journal and began to read:
“Would the 25-year-old me be proud of the 31-year-old me? Well, it’s complicated. But I haven’t achieved all I want to. I feel like I need to make some major changes. I’ve let fear hold me back. It’s made me complacent. ”
This journal was a rotten piece of Yvette’s “individuality,” to go along with her “phases.”
She was always seeking to become a truer version of herself, thinking the whole time that it was “her” acting, when it was everyone but her, acting on her. She passively received their electric hum like a singing wineglass.
Roger puffed at the e-cig and exhaled. An indistinct rumble rose from the city. The white noise of humanity. Roger found it soothing. The city was not a noisy place. Individual noises, yes, but elevating into a great hum of white noise. The white noise became necessary after a time. A person couldn’t get to sleep without it.
Roger heard footsteps. He put the journal down.
“Black or blue dress?” Yvette asked, holding a dress of each color in her hands. She was wearing a bra and panties. Roger got a bit of a hard on. She held each dress in front of her. Roger walked over and put his fingers into her panty line, pulling her close.
“Stop,” she said. “I have to get ready. There’s no time for that.”
Mimi edged between the couple and bared her teeth at Roger. He knocked the dog out of the way.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Yvette shrieked. “You kicked my dog!”
“I didn’t kick her. Just moved her out of the way with my foot.”
Yvette pulled back from Roger.
“Don’t you ever kick my dog,” she said.
“Black,” said Roger. “Wear the black one.”
Yvette went into the bedroom accompanied by Mimi and closed the door.
“Fucking rat shit,” said Roger, wanting to be heard.
“My little meem-zee-wheem-zee…are you okay?” said Yvette, wanting to be heard.
He really had tried with that dog. Yvette did not appreciate how much he had tried.
He topped off his drink with another finger of Grey Goose, picked up the journal, and opened it randomly to an entry entitled “Dream Log.”
“I dreamed that I was kidnapped by a masked man. But it wasn’t really a kidnapping. I felt like he was saving me from something terrible. An evil presence lurked in the background of the dream. He had to take me in this manner because I wouldn’t go willingly. I think the dream was about an unwillingness to face your fate.”
You could believe in “fate” or you could believe in “individuality.” You couldn’t have it both ways.
“Almost ready,” said Yvette, coming out of the bedroom. Roger put the journal back on the fridge.
Yvette was wearing the blue dress. It was her way of defying Roger.
But Roger had wanted her to wear the blue dress, which is why he requested the black. He amused himself by conducting her in this way. He raised his arm, she played a note. He made an orchestra of her reactions.
“Is it cold out? Do I need a coat?”
“Bring one. You know you always get cold.”
Her heels klip-klopped down the hall to the coat closet.
Roger took a seat. It would still be several minutes before she had picked out the right jacket. She would probably have a last minute change of heart about shoes, too.
Mimi approached Roger. She appeared to consider his lap. To his great surprise, Mimi jumped up and took a seat beside him.
“Will you look at that,” he said.
“What?” said Yvette from the closet.
“Come take a look.”
Yvette stuck her head around the corner.
“Oh my god! Mimi! Who’s a good girl? Sitting with Roger! What a nice girl!”
Roger gave Mimi’s head an exploratory pat. Her tongue lolled in contented dog fashion.
“I was thinking after dinner we could go to this club,” said Yvette. “They play all 90s alternative music…Depeche Mode, Nirvana, U2.”
“You can’t dance to that stuff,” said Roger.
“Of course you can. It’s like the best music to dance to. Laura…you know Laura, right? I went there last weekend with her and we had like the best time ever.”
“I thought you hated alternative rock. Every time I put it on you said it sucked.”
“But I never danced to it. It’s totally different when you dance to it. If you don’t like the dancing they have a section with old 90s arcade games. I just love vintage 90s.
“I can’t keep up with your phases,” said Roger.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Yvette, walking into the main room wearing one boot and holding another.
Roger imagined himself as a conductor, making her play the notes he wanted. He closed his eyes and waived his hands in front of him like a maestro.
As he did, Mimi lunged at his face. She bit down on his mouth and cheek and gave a shake of her head, tearing at the soft flesh.
“My God Mimi!” Yvette screamed. “Mimi bad girl!”
Mimi let go and tried to leap away, but Roger caught the dog by its hind legs. She kept snarling and biting at him, her small jaws gnashing the air, as he held her at arm’s length.
Yvette continued to yell “oh my god oh my god!”
Roger, blood dripping from his face, walked with the dog several paces, looked at Yvette, and with two hands shot-putted the animal through the open window.