He opens the door. He’s in his shirt sleeves, his shirt untucked, hanging loose; he’s holding a toothbrush, or a cigarette or a glass with something in it. He has his own little stash up here, black-market stuff I suppose. He’s always got something in his hand, as if he’s been going about his life as usual, not expecting me, not waiting. Maybe he doesn’t expect me, or wait. Maybe he has no notion of the future, or does not bother or dare to imagine it.
“Is it too late?” I say.
He shakes his head for no. It is understood between us by now that it is never too late, but I go through the ritual politeness of asking. It makes me feel more in control, as if there is a choice, a decision that could be made one way or the other. He steps aside and I move past him and he closes the door. Then he crosses the room and closes the window. After that he turns out the light. There is not much talking between us any more, not at this stage. Already I am half out of my clothes. We save the talking for later.
With the Commander I close my eyes, even when I am only kissing him goodnight. I do not want to see him up close. But now, here, each time, I keep my eyes open. I would like a light on somewhere, a candle perhaps, stuck into a bottle, some echo of college, but anything like that would be too great a risk; so I have to make do with the searchlight, the glow of it from the grounds below, filtered through his white curtains which are the same as mine. I want to see what can be seen, of him, take him in, memorize him, save him up so I can live on the image, later: the lines of his body, the texture of his flesh, the glisten of sweat on his pelt, his long sardonic unrevealing face. I ought to have done that with Luke, paid more attention, to the details, the moles and scars, the singular creases; I didn’t and he’s fading. Day by day, night by night he recedes, and I become more faithless.
For this one I’d wear pink feathers, purple stars, if that were what he wanted; or anything else, even the tail of a rabbit. But he does not require such trimmings. We make love each time as if we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will never be any more, for either of us, with anyone, ever. And then when there is, that too is always a surprise, extra, a gift.
Being here with him is safety; it’s a cave, where we huddle together while the storm goes on outside. This is a delusion, of course. This room is one of the most dangerous places I could be. If I were caught there would be no quarter, but I’m beyond caring. And how have I come to trust him like this, which is foolhardy in itself? How can I assume I know him, or the least thing about him and what he really does?
I dismiss these uneasy whispers. I talk too much. I tell him things I shouldn’t. I tell him about Moira, about Ofglen; not about Luke though. I want to tell him about the woman in my room, the one who was there before me, but I don’t. I’m jealous of her. If she’s been here before me too, in this bed, I don’t want to hear about it.
I tell him my real name, and feel that therefore I am known. I act like a dunce. I should know better. I make of him an idol, a cardboard cutout.
He on the other hand talks little: no more hedging or jokes. He barely asks questions. He seems indifferent to most of what I have to say, alive only to the possibilities of my body, though he watches me while I’m speaking. He watches my face.
Impossible to think that anyone for whom I feel such gratitude could betray me.
Neither of us says the word love, not once. It would be tempting fate; it would be romance, bad luck.
Today there are different flowers, drier, more defined, the flowers of high summer: daisies, black-eyed Susans, starting us on the long downward slope to fall. I see them in the gardens, as I walk with Ofglen, to and fro. I hardly listen to her, I no longer credit her. The things she whispers seem to me unreal. What use are they, for me, now?
You could go into his room at night, she says. Look through his desk. There must be papers, notations.