Matthew Weait
1
documented effects
It was sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas that Evie stoppedgoing out. Her husband, Tommy, had followed her down the back stairs andwas behind her at the door which opened onto the parking lot. You got thekey, Evie, he said, because she seemed to be fumbling with the handle. There
was a key you had to use to leave this way, for security. There’d been a
couple of break-ins. He was on the residents committee that got the newsystem installed. Yeh, I got the key Tommy, right here. She held it up in herother hand and the brass glinted sharp in the sunlight. Even though it was asecurity door, the committee members had insisted that they kept a glasspane in it, so as to be able to check for no-gooders.
It’s just that
- . Shestopped fumbling. He put a hand on her shoulder. What is it hon? You OK?The hallway was ice cold and her breath was blooming up over her head.
Sure, I’m fine Tommy. But I think I’ll just head on back upstairs, if you don’t
mind. No problem, he said, you just take it easy. That was six months ago.Other than the first week, when
she’d
taken the garbage to the chute at theend of the hall,
she hadn’t
left the apartment.Tommy put it down to the menopause. Evie was fifty-four, nearlyfifty-five
. Over the past year he’d noticed her getting heavier. She flushedeasily. He noticed that she’d started buying super instead of regular. He
would have asked her, but they
didn’t have that kind of marriage. Theyhadn’t been intimate for a long while
and slept in separate beds. One evening
 
 Matthew Weait
2
at O
Shea
s he’d stood T
ip another beer and asked him his opinion, inconfidence. Women are a source of infinite mystery Tommy my man, Tip had
said. If she don’t want to go out, that could be the moon or it could be she’s
 just had enough of the world. Tip was not long re-married to a nurse twenty-two years his junior
. He’d met her at the hospital where he’d had his prostateremoved. You can’t go wrong with a woman who understands a man’s
 
insides, he’d said when T
ommy congratulated him. Insides
, he’d said, staring
into his beer and cutting lines in the beer napkin with his fingernail, are asdifferent as out.
Except Tip, there wasn’t anyone he could discuss this kind of stuff
with. In his book, private stuff was
private, and there wasn’t anything hereckoned as being more private than your own wife’s behaviour, especially
when that behaviour was so peculiar and liable to wilful misunderstanding.
He didn’t want visits from no official with a clipboard
, and he was
n’t going to
make a fool of himself in front of no medical doctor.It was in March that he got the idea of joining the library and doingsome research of his own.
He’d lived in
this neighbourhood all his life, firston Schiller, then
when he and Evie were first married
round the corner onGoethe, and now in the duplex on Taylor; but before this past winter
he’d
notonce considered going in there. Forty years ago the library had been housedin a pink marble building with columns and wide, cracked, stone steps. Mrs
Skadden’s boy, Arthur, was a member. He’d come out armed with hard
-backbooks about the cosmos and dinosaurs and sometimes
if the weather was
 
 Matthew Weait
3
fine
 
they’d sit in the park by the
shell fountain and look through themtogether, Arthur memorising the Latin names while Tommy wondered at thepictures of swirling gas clouds and lizards bigger than trucks. It neveroccurred to him that he could join too, if he wanted. The library wassomewhere other kids went, kids with glasses whose moms were High Schoolteachers and who ate green vegetables because they actually liked them.If the library had still been housed in that old pink building he mightstill have found joining unthinkable, but as part of the civic renewal project itwas now contained in a conical glass and steel structure on the corner ofFordham and Madison that
to Tommy’s eye
resembled, nothing so much as avolcano. In some ways it was even more terrifying, but
he figured
at leastnow you could see in. The woman on the telephone had explained that all heneeded to bring was some photo ID and a utilities bill so, one Thursdayevening
in March and armed with his driver’s licence and a selection of recent
demands, he put on a good jacket and told Evie where he was off to. I think
that’s a swell idea Tommy, she said. She was in
the armchair, a bowl ofcrackers next to her on the small side-table that used to be by the wall underher certificate but which had now found a new, and it seemed permanent,position. Jackson, the cat, was flopped over her knee like a sack of ginger
garbage and she was watching some Latino soap with subtitles. I’m not sure
how long it will take,
so don’t wait for me to eat, OK, he said. There’s some
chilli in the fridge, just needs warming through. Uh-huh, she replied,pointing the remote at the TV set like a sci-fi weapon and raising the volume
 
 Matthew Weait
4
so loud he could hear the dialogue even after he closed the front door quietlybehind him.
 Joining was simple. He’d presented himself to Tonia in Reader
Services, filled in the required paperwork, had his photo taken
twice,because Tonia said the first one was not good, no sir, giggling so prettily andshowing such white teeth that he wondered, momentarily, whether he wouldhave cause to need her services again
and was issued his card. There you
see, she said, that’s a fine picture –
a picture to be proud to possess, mm-hmm. Then, because he had no idea what to do next, and because his facemust have shown this, Tonia said there was a video guide that he could watchwith earphones at one of those there terminals and which explained the
collection, how it was catalogued and so forth, and can’t you show me around
personally, he asked, and she giggled again and said that maybe if she wasthirty years older or he was thirty years younger then maybe sir, just maybe.
He’ll
remind her of that conversation this evening, and the thought ofdoing so makes him smile.
The Laguna Grill wouldn’t have been his first
choice, b
ut it’s enough of a distance from the centre of town. He’s hardly
likely to bump into any of the men from the plant here, not on a Thursday,
but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If it had been up to him, he would have
made a reservation at the Belltower, out past Sherwood
where the companyheld its fiftieth anniversary celebration
in ‘95
. That was a place that laid thetables with cut crystal and white linen and Tonia was, he thought, the kind of
lady who’d respond to such touches. Trouble was, he’d been to
that
 
 Matthew Weait
5
celebration with Evie and even though that was five years ago now, well, it
somehow didn’t seem right to mix things up like that. Everything in its placewas one of his mother’s favourite sayings, and he’d tried always to live up to
that.At least he managed to book a table by the window, and the decor isclassy enough
. He’s taken the seat that faces
out
, not because he doesn’t thinkshe’d like to see
the sunset
but because it’s quite bright still
on this mid-Mayevening
and he doesn’t want her to have shade her eyes while she’s ta
lking to
him. If he squints, well, what difference does that make? She’s agreed to
meet him for d
inner and she knows that he’s an
overweight, balding man.She
’s not coming because of
his looks. He takes a slug from his glass, belches,and remembers where he is. He
’s going to have to remember not to do
thatfor a few hours.Seven-
fifteen. They’d agreed on seven, but it was a woman’sprerogative to be late. Don’t hold back, she’d said, make sure you get there
first and have yourself a nice cold beer. I is one shit time-keeper, you hear
what I’m sayin’
? Mm-
hmm. And she’d sucked her teeth like he’d seengangsta girls do in the police shows on TV, and he’d got a hard on, just
thinking about her smooth brown knees touching his under the table andbeing able to spend the whole evening looking at those thick, dark, lips andgazing into those treacle eyes.
It still amazed him that she’d said yes. It had
taken all his courage
. He’d
even written down what he was going to say on apiece of paper so as he could memorise it and make sure it came out how he
of 10