Like a Midnight Sky
"Oh Mandy ..." Sam sang these words as appeasement. He had not been paying attention. And she had asked . . . something. Truth was, his mind had drifted off. Truth was, he only half-trusted her and didn't at all trust this adoration, didn't want it really, though it was flattering, though he did care for Amanda. Didn't he love those graceful little hands, that wholly kissable pouty mouth? He cared for Amanda. He could maybe love Amanda.
"Your hair," Amanda said, in a voice that combined wistfulness and wonder. "It's like sunshine. And your eyes are deep blue sky. You're a summer day. You are my sunny summer Sam."
She was giving him these flighty little kisses on his cheek, his eyes, his throat. Her hands on his chest, touching his face, in his hair were driving him crazy.
"Sam, Sam, Sam . . . "
Yes, yes, yes. He tended to want to laugh. He wanted to say, for gods' sake, Mandy, catch your breath.
"Sam, you are perfect."
Naturally, Sam didn't say; he only thought the wise-guy answers. More and more of them.
"I love you, Sam. I love the way you walk, the way you laugh . . .
Your sexy voice. Everything. Everything you do is perfect."
I cheat at cards, I'm never on time, and I probably snore, Sam didn't say. Why was he doing this? Her voice was low and sexy, her manner definitely come-on. It wasn't that he didn't choose her. He did. He had. He had pursued Amanda. Though pursued was maybe too strong a word.
He used to stare at Amanda across the cluttered newspaper room where they both worked. He'd watch her do mundane things: type on her computer, walk across the floor; and these things would take on poetic proportions; she typed--she walked--like no one else. She had a smile that screamed KISS ME and a body so sexy, he had never been able to look at her and keep his mind out of the bedroom.
When they were together, her attention was on him, totally. What man couldn't get into that. Still. Try watching a movie with someone staring at you. Titanic, for instance.
They'd rented Titanic because she had never seen it. HAD NEVER SEEN IT! Still hadn't. She spent a few hours watching him see it. Try watching Titanic with someone staring at you. He tried to get her to look once at Leo -- pointed out that he was, after all, cool and sexy. It didn't faze her. She continued to Sam-worship.
Not that he was complaining.
Even as he lusted after naked Rose, Amanda's eyes were intent on him. He dreaded the scene where the Irish mother put her children to bed for their final sleep to a story about the land of Tir n'a Nog. If that scene made him cry -- again -- damn if Amanda wouldn't just drink that up. Fortunately, they didn't get that far.
Not that he was complaining.
"You're the only one I'll ever love," Amanda told him.
Then save some, he didn't say. Save some for when we're old and don't have . . . THIS! As he thought, THIS, his hands gestured towards her perfect body to indicate which this he meant. It was enough invitation. Amanda filled his arms; and with his mouth on hers, and she -- silent for the moment, he truly, truly cared for Amanda.
He cared for Amanda often. In the newsroom, at her house, at his house, in the car, and at his favorite place down by the river. Kissing her, kissing her, he truly cared for Amanda.
As their kiss ended today, he pulled Amanda closer and she began to whisper the endless sweet nothings that were soft enough spoken to not be so disturbing. But instead of the expected wanting, aching that he admittedly loved as much, maybe more than the getting, he felt something else. Something other. Something not within this circle of two. As if they were being watched.
He pulled back from Amanda and she held tighter, oblivious; not even noticing that he was no longer with her, emotionally-speaking. Her intentions were obvious, but Sam was searching the woods beyond her and trying to see to the river's edge and to the dirt road beyond them. He could feel someone watching them; he could feel it like a touch on his skin.
"Sam," Amanda moaned.
He could not ignore his name, spoken in such a way. Whoever had watched them was no longer there; his imagination maybe. He ran his hands along Amanda's impossibly perfect figure and stilled her adoring words with a kiss.
Sam loved to watch Amanda; he'd done weeks of Amanda-watching before he approached her. She worked in billing. He did ads, paste-ups, sometimes proofs. Though she, for all her Sam-worship now, had obviously never noticed him until he introduced himself and explained he worked there -- maybe fifty feet away.
Nothing escaped the newsy crew of the Courant, and for awhile, they coined the new word of SAMANDAMANDA.
Their boss advised them that office romances never last; though she had been married to the Courant's publisher, her ultimate co-worker, for the past thirty-five years.
Eventually, everyone lost interest; though Allan Baker, from advertising -- himself hot for Jan, from the mail-room -- wryly suggested they push their work areas together and get everyone in between out of the line of fire.
Other than such off-hand comments and at least one off-color joke, Sam and Amanda were ignored.
By everyone except David O'Connor. Sam recalled David's startled look the first time he and Amanda strolled past David's desk to the coffee pot. David's desk was between Amanda's, near the windows on the street side of the building, and Sam's work area, hidden in the clutter at the back. David could see both of them; and Sam had seen David see them.
He and David were acquaintances from as far back as Jr. High. Almost friends. Sam could bring to mind an image of David from that era: thin, dark, alone; shy enough to either twist your heart or make you smile, depending. Both maybe. It was still pretty much how Sam viewed him, though it was no longer true. David was out there. He had a way with people, with things, with words. Sam could easily recognize David's writing, his articles, without the help of a byline. He had a different outlook as if he saw things more clearly than others, as if each thing were of supreme importance.
Sam admired him. Though Sam was not a writer, he considered the making of worlds with words one of life's most exciting occupations. He regarded David as one of the best. If Sam were the hanging-out-with-friends type, he would have wanted David to be one of those friends.
He did not, however, want David ogling his lady fair. For days, he'd kept an eye on David as he came and left with his camera and notebook and the ever-present clipboard. Who was this guy anyway.
David was someone who saw people, that's who he was. Really saw them. In Sam's conversations with him, Sam knew David saw him. Comprehended. It made him both uneasy and relieved; uneasy that someone knew him; relieved that there was one being for whom he didn't have to pretend anything.
But don't mess with Amanda, Sam didn't say.
Sam owed David for this job. David was responsible for Sam's being here, near work he found interesting, instead of dying daily at Gibson's other main employment option, the mill. So, in a way, he owed David for his being able to see sunlight during working hours. He owed him for that sun streaming now through Amanda's window. In a way, even for his having met the red-haired beauty in the light of that sun.
He did not, however, owe David his tentative semblance at privacy. And it seemed, more and more, each time he chanced to meet Amanda at the water fountain or coffee pot, David was watching.
It was not a stretch that David had Amanda-issues. Sam couldn't fault him for it. Look at that red hair -- and that mouth. Sam could see her from his position at the light table. What a sweet way to rest tired eyes. But something kept edging through his calm. When he looked up, he saw David, or thought he saw David watching him. And there. There! That flicker of a glance toward Amanda.
But hell, David was so spacey -- he might have just been flashing story lines and adverbs into the air before committing them to disk; nothing more than a far-off stare and nothing to do with Amanda.
But then came the glance again -- toward Sam's little red-haired dream. Suddenly, Sam wanted something -- a billboard or a sign in orange neon saying, "MINE". He gathered a handful of what might look like official office work and headed for Amanda's desk. He left them with her, returned the smile she gave him, and gave her a long, lingering -- and obvious -- look before returning to his desk.
And his senses. How humiliating. How seventh grade. Not just the show, which he hoped badly David missed, but the whole ownership thing. "Mine", he thought derisively. Marking his territory. Like a dog pissing on a tree.
He couldn't look in David's direction, but he thought he soft hum of busy keys had not faltered. With luck, he might manage to avoid both David and Amanda for the rest of the day.
By afternoon coffee break, Sam had nearly forgotten the embarrassing episode. Amanda met him for coffee and they went to the little closed area of cement and stunted trees outside; a place passing for natures' touch in downtown Gibson.
"It's overcast," Sam said. "It was sunny this morning." He looked up past vertical cave walls of brick and glass to a square of sky the color of bleached pavement.
"I don't need the sun. I've got you." Amanda said. "You're my lovely sunshine."
Sam sat both coffee cups down on the cement tabletop and waited for Amanda to seat herself on one of the three benches that encircled the table. Sometimes Sam wished Amanda would stop the lovey talk at work. It wasn't that he didn't like it -- who wouldn't like being someone's lovely sunshine. Still.
"What I love most about you," Amanda said, "Is how serious you are. That's so endearing."
"Not that I'm trying to change the subject, but what did you think of the movie yesterday?" Sam asked.
"And your blue sky eyes," Amanda said. "My blue sky and sunshine. You make me feel like everything is the way it's supposed to be; the whole world is ok; safe. I feel safer than I ever have, just being with you."
Sam sighed and gave in. Ten minutes. Ten minutes for SamandAmanda worship.
"What about my eyes, Sam?"
"I told you your eyes are like a deep blue sky. Don't my eyes remind you of anything?"
She stared so intensely into his eyes that Sam grinned and looked away.
So. Ok. Her eyes. He looked at her. Her eyes were lovely. Green. His grandmother had some kind of green crystal that shade. Couldn't say that though, could he? Your eyes are the color of antique glass -?
Jan from the mailroom stopped near their table and Sam noticed her eyes were gun-metal blue. Your eyes are the color of the traps cruel Ed Grissell used to catch foxes when I was a kid. Sam smiled at this. He saw Mr. Massey. Grey-green. Your eyes are like pond scum. He laughed once at that.
Amanda said, "Sam?"
"I'm sorry, Mandy, I just thought of . . . something."
He said, "Our time . . . we have so little time." He took her hand, not prepared for the shiver from the touch.
Sam laughed again, blinked his eyes, looked up and past Amanda. There sat David. Another round cement table by the wrought iron fence that bordered the street; and David sitting alone there, in a place seemingly made for him; where he could watch them all . . .
When Sam looked in his direction, David looked away. Ok. So -- them specifically -- he could watch them. Damn. So he did love Amanda.
Not love, Sam corrected himself. Not love, maybe, but he was taken with her. It made Sam sad. David was a good guy, the closest thing to a friend Sam claimed. He could recall David in school. Too smart. Too quiet. But someone who'd be there if you needed him.
A time or two, he'd been there for Sam. Not in any big way, but he'd stayed with him once after a football game when Sam had gotten drunk for the first time. Dropped by the next day to see if he'd survived the hang-over.
And there was that thing in English class. Sam trying to impress Mrs. 38-D-cup. God, that stupid poem. Then the damn teacher read it our loud. Sam slipped lower and lower at his desk, his face burning ninety shades of red.
And the worst thing, much worse than the beginnings of laughter around him or even the teasing he'd get later, was that two lines of that poem had actually meant something. Two lines that gave him back a morning when he was ten, gave him back his grandpa, his best childhood home, his dog, his brothers, woodsmoke, and old apples buried in leaves; undoubtably the best writing Sam Kirby had ever done. Tainted with a memory of unspeakable humiliation as Mrs. Deacup finished reading the otherwise terrible piece of writing and identified its author.
Of course, the class erupted into laughter. Of course, he didn't blame them. At least the boys knew why he's written it. Sam just wanted to get past that day without having to take a punch at anybody.
Then David stopped him as soon as school was out. Actually waited for him outside.
"You should keep that, you know?"
"I hope to hell you're not bringing up that damn poem. If you are, I'll deck you where we stand."
David was silent for a moment, studying Sam, then he gave him back the two lines. He quoted them in a voice that gave them weight and made them something live; instilling them with such dignity that the rest of the silly poem slipped away and Sam was left with something solid and so part of who he was he could only stand there listening to his heart pound.
He remembered he had thanked David. He'd gone home then and wrote the two lines at the top of a blank page in a red notebook which he still had somewhere and which held no other writing. Two lines -- a dozen words, maybe. Sam's masterpiece.
"Brown." Sam mused outloud.
"What, honey?" Amanda squeezed his hand and smiled at him.
Startled, Sam said, "Nothing."
Amanda reached to touch his face and Sam pulled back. Kind of winced. He sat silent, thinking. David was watching them. He was sure of it. Maybe couldn't help himself. All gone for Amanda and her with someone else. It was sad; one way of looking at it; it made Sam sad, and he thought maybe he should back off a little. For a while. After all, loves come and go but friendship is forever.
Still. this could be forever. Amanda, light of my life . . . And damn if her eyes weren't that green -- green as that glass Grandma always gave him all full of buttermilk.
That afternoon, Sam kept thinking about Amanda. She could be the one. THE one. Adoration would wear off, but maybe she really loved him. Him. Not just surface; not just sunshine hair and sky blue eyes. She was so high-school; so cute. She had told Sam she'd never been in love before, had despaired (her word) of ever feeling about anyone as she'd known others felt about their intendeds (again, her word); or as she felt about him. He knew how she felt. He'd never been in love either, though it sure wasn't for lack of trying. Tricks, even -- like lighting and the right music, as if he were romancing love, itself, instead of the woman he was with; as if love might click in if he had everything set up just right. And this time . . . A girl like Amanda . . .
He looked to the front, watched her speaking into the phone as she typed on her computer with one hand and sifted through papers with the other. Her long red hair hung in ripples across her shoulder. He could easily love her. Easily. He didn't yet. He knew that too. Was, at most, in lust with her at the moment. Still.
Sam drew back for an overview of the page in front of him, pulled off an ad from Gibson Community "We're your Saving Grace" Bank and placed it back in its space, upright this time, and sighed. Easily. He could easily fall in love with pretty Mandy. Given time.
There is a sound that comes over an office at closing time. The noise is still there, the machines still going in the last minutes; and though the speed is the same, it all seems to go a little faster, a little faster, as a top spins faster before it
In this last flurry, the boss dropped by to pick up finished pages, mail was dropped on Sam's cluttered light table, and Amanda swept by for a hug that was too brief. For some reason, at that moment, Sam wanted to hold her for a long time. David be damned.
"Please don't be late, tonight, honey," She told him. "I know how you are; time doesn't mean anything to you, but I worry. I just imagine all kinds of terrible things. Maybe you've gotten hurt or . . . shudder," she said, "Met someone else. That's just the way it is when you love somebody."
After she left, Sam turned off the light table. Alan called back to remind Jan she'd promised him a ride to pick up his car. Mr. and Mrs. Massey headed out for better coffee than the boot-liquor brewed in their own coffeepot.
David, at his desk, stared at a blank screen.
Sam watched him, felt a smile he didn't show. "Problems," he asked.
David sighed. "Never ready to turn this off. Come back from the alternate universe."
David cleared his throat, turned off the machine. "Get a coffee?" he asked.
They left as Mr. and Mrs. Massey came back inside.
"I never could figure if they were married to each other or to the paper," David said. "Loners, both of them."
Sam nodded in agreement. He was a loner himself. So was David, for that matter. So was everybody, you get right down to it. He felt an incredible sadness.
Over coffee, David said, "Sam, I got to tell you something."
Oh shit, Sam didn't say.
"Last night, I had an interview with Rosalie White. You know her?"
"The oldest woman in Gibson?"
She claims 107. Records gone with the fire 95 years ago, so no one knows for sure."
"Still," Sam said.
"Yeah," David nodded. He seemed to be watching Sam, his eyes going from Sam's hand, holding the cup, to his face, his eyes, his hair, and back to his hand. Then away.
"Interesting interview?" Sam asked.
"I went to her house by way of the river road. I like to walk."
Sam waited. Then remembered. "Oh."
"Some things," David said, "They're just . . . It's like a sunset or birds in flight." He looked quick at Sam. "I didn't mean to . . . I wasn't spying."
Sam half-smiled. It was just a kiss, he and Amanda on the river road. This was kind of touching really; David so ill-at-ease.
"You can't help who you fall in love with," David said at last, each word in slow measure.
This was it, then. He would tell Sam how he felt about Amanda. Not a real good idea, seeing they all had to work in the same room together. It would make them both uncomfortable. And what would be gained? Did David think he would
just say, "Oh well, if you want her, then . . ."
Thoughts of Amanda were bugging the hell out of Sam right now. Something she'd said in leaving -- or the way she'd said it. Talk about ownership.
And for all her looking at him, staring at him, she never saw him. Sometimes he felt like waving his hand in front of her eyes and saying, "IN HERE".
Of course, if he was with her, he wouldn't be thinking any of this. He would be easing zippers and slipping buttons, one by one, which is what he would be doing at her house in a couple hours.
Not that he was complaining.
But sometimes, even when they were making love, Amanda didn't seem to be there. Or maybe it was he who wasn't there. Nothing seemed to matter to Amanda. Nothing Amanda touched seemed real. She held the world lightly. She touched the world lightly. As if it were all of no consequence.
Sam waited for David to go on with his sorry news. He watched him with the coffee cup, the way he held it in both hands like something cherished; how real it was in his hands; heavy and smooth. The coffee, as he tasted, had substance, had texture, was real. All things were real to David. He would be someone who would tilt his face to the sky to feel the rain. Sam could see him with his hands open, his fingers spread to touch rain-soaked leaves or rough bark of trees or smooth, cold stones at a river's edge. Even a phrase, a word, held weight for David; was made real.
There was a clock ticking near the table where they sat. A jumble of conversation from other diners and even the kitchen noise reached them. The traffic hum of a town busy with its transition from day to evening slipped round them with a mood so peaceful, Sam would have been willing to sit half the night in conversation with David -- as long as they veered from the subject of Amanda.
David sat, tapping his cup against the table lightly, like someone with something to say and no way to say it. Sam looked at him. Waited.
"If love is something real," David said, at last, "Not just a convenience someone invented. If it is real, you couldn't choose. Beauty. Intelligence. You couldn't choose those things and determine that's who you're going to love."
Sam studied a coffee stain the shape of Idaho on the blue checkered tablecloth, puzzled, knowing he was clearly missing something.
"You couldn't choose." David went on. " Not by cultural, social, economic background. Not education. Not race." He took a drink of his coffee. "Not even gender . . . really." All this he said calmly, softly as he stared at the table, into his coffee cup, out the window. Then he looked at Sam. "I mean, if love's real."
Sam stared at him, aware of moments passing. . . of the silence.
It was strange about silence. How it too, was something said. Not something missing -- something present. Real. Moments could crowd themselves into a silence; moments full of meaning; a day, a year, a lifetime of moments. Kindnesses, words, meanings lost in a crowd of noise could be found again in a silence.
A lot could have been said for keeping silent. Still.
"Not brown," Sam said. "Darker. Like midnight."
David looked at him
Your eyes, Sam didn't say, they're like a midnight sky.
c1999 Dooley (dKd)