(This is the short story I mentioned in the post WRITER. It was written in 1994.)

Was she okay? Did something happen? Didn’t things sometimes go wrong? Jay sat tensely on his sofa. He faced the only view in the fourth floor apartment, setting orange sun filtering through the city waste, turning buildings into dark monoliths. He rubbed his hands over his crisp khakis; his palms felt sweaty. Surely she wouldn’t have stopped along the way; no, she said she’d be coming right home. Surely Darcy knew he’d be there. As always, Jay thought, as always.

He wondered, with a panic in his gut, if he should go looking for her. But where would you start in a town the size of Chicago? She could’ve taken the bus or the El; she wouldn’t have been foolish enough to walk. Jay pictured Darcy leaving the apartment earlier in the afternoon – such a tiny girl: tiny bones, delicate mouth, pale skin – dressed in her city armor of Doc Martens and black (always black) clothes. She had smiled slightly at him and said, “Don’t worry; you’re always worrying, “ as she slipped out the door. “Of course I do,” Jay now spoke to himself, “since it seems to be my curse in life to live with a woman who has no sense!” Well, didn’t someone have to watch out for her? But, after today, he knew that things would change. He allowed himself the tiniest guilty thrill of adrenalin, then returned to his distress.

Rejecting the imprudent vision of himself riding a white horse through rush hour traffic to find her, Jay rose. He slowly walked to the kitchen table where he had set the bag from Walgreen’s. He pulled from his pants pocket the list of items she had written for him at breakfast this morning: a bottle of Advil, a carton of Marlboros, and New Freedom Super Maxis. He studied it now and smoothed out the crumpled paper, patted it, and then placed it on the table. Perhaps he’d put this stuff in the bathroom, Jay considered. Perhaps she doesn’t want to have to ask me where they are when she gets back.

He should have gone with her, he should have insisted, he turned over and about in his mind. He had offered, and she had said no, no need. But how could Ed not go? How could that bastard leave her alone like this? Why does she always go for the goddamn bastards like Ed? The preening, self-centered son-of-a-bitch. Jay’s featured contorted in disgust as he thought of the mornings when Ed had deigned to stay overnight with Darcy; strutting, macho, peeing with the bathroom door wide open, bragging about their noisy last night as if Jay were invisible. Darcy would be embarrassed and mouth a silent, “Sorry, Jay,” behind Ed’s back before they returned to her bedroom to do it again.

After putting away her things in the tidy bathroom, Jay moved to Darcy’s room, reverently opening the door. He had always thought it so incongruent the she, all street smarts and shock value, would have this bedroom. There was a collection of stuffed animals in one corner, a handmade afghan draped across a rocking chair, perfume bottles arranged in a semi-circle on a tall antique dresser. Jay had always admired her bed in particular: a beautiful black walnut, ornately carved with grape vines, tendrils gracefully swirling within the wood. Darcy once told him it was the marital bed of her great-grandmother, and that it was the one possession that meant anything to her. He ran a ran over her soft flowered bedspread, deciding then to make the bed, make it look nice, fluff up all the pillows. He pulled and fixed and straightened, for what else was there to damn do?

He daydreamed through their relationship again. They had met through a mutual friend at the ad agency where they both worked – Darcy in graphics, Jay in product research. They both had come to the city, needing the anonymity and energy and acceptance. Darcy was from Peoria (she would always declare, “Need I say more?” and roll her eyes) and Jay’s small town in Ohio had no particular place for Jews. She had suddenly needed a roommate; he needed to save money. He never figured it would be a problem, and it wasn’t, until he realized that every time she left at night he got irritable and depressed. He was unable to read one of the thick classics he treasured; instead he watched something he hated on TV until he fell into a fitful sleep, worry and longing for her seeping into his dreams.

At the beginning, on dateless Fridays, she and Jay would go out to the clubs. She would introduce him to her friends, smiling, “This is Jay, my roommate. Platonic. He’s looking for a girlfriend – any takers?” and reach up to play with his hair, and he would feel like shit. He stopped going with her because he knew he could not bear her asking again if it was okay if he got back to the apartment on his own, while she drunkenly swung on the arm of some scowling degenerate. Jay would study his face in the mirror those late nights, as if were not his own, and ask to no one, “Why not me?”

Jay drew shut the lace curtains in Darcy’s room then left, closing the door tightly. It was getting so late now, and he tried not to yell out loud. His tall, thin frame felt clumsy now; a floppy useless scarecrow, bumping into things, bits of stuffing falling out.

Six weeks ago, Darcy was late. Jay thought she took it well; she did not scream or wail, she did not panic, she did not play martyr, which he respected. What he saw, to his astonishment, was that her eyes were brighter, her step lighter…she seemed happy about it! That night began a series of late evening phone calls that Jay could hear coming from Darcy’s bedroom; muffled, intense, with the occasional piece of a heated word. Then the calls stopped. She became smaller and smaller and turned into herself; she seemed to grieve on some level Jay could not quite understand. She said very little to Jay about any of it after this, mentioning instead that the cable bill was due or that the hall light was burnt out.

Three days after that last phone call, he had been absently watching Darcy open the mail at the table, her thin child-like hands slitting open a white envelope. She stared briefly at its slim contents then sat abruptly on the carpet, dazed. Jay had walked over to pick up the piece of paper that had lazily drifted to the floor. It was a check, signed by Ed. Where it said “FOR_________,” the place reserved for a credit card number or a statement of purpose, Ed had his secretary – his secretary! – wrote “Payment in full – termination services.” Jay had really blown it then; he went on a rant about Ed, and did not notice Darcy’s blackening mood. She turned her head and drilled her dark brown eyes into him. “Shut up, Jay! What would you know about anything!” she snapped, and bolted to the bathroom, where he heard her vomit.

Later she quietly moved from the toilet to her bedroom. She didn’t know what she was saying, Jay imagined. Look at the kind of pain Ed’s put her in. When Jay entered the bathroom to relieve himself, he saw the pink plus sign of her home test lying in the wastebasket. Oh Jesus, he thought, she had been saving the damn thing.

Now, on his way to the living room, Jay heard the click and rattle of the lock at last. Resisting the urge to run, he met Darcy at the door, exhilaration leaping inside him. He scanned her face, looking for upset, and found himself surprised that she looked exactly the same as when she’d left.

“Hey, Jay,” she softly tossed off, turning from his gaze, as she threw her fat black purse on the sofa and sat down. He wanted to yell at her, “Where were you? I missed you!” and he wanted to hug her to him, smooth her hair, tell her it would all be fine. But he could not.

“You okay?”


“How was the clinic?

“All right. Clean. They were nice.” Darcy picked at a fingernail and Jay cleared his throat. There was a pause where nothing was heard except the blast of a bus horn and some muted angry exchange between two of Chicago’s worker bees.

“Did it hurt?

“Yeah. Yeah. But they were pretty fast. We all sat around afterwards and had juice and cookies, like a tea party.” She let out a small rueful chuckle and Jay felt compelled to echo her. He stared at her as she looked up towards the windows. The golden old light of the day on her face transfixed him. I would do anything for you, he thought. Jay imagined how he would help her through this, and they would become closer, and she would come to love him.

“Jay, I’m really kinda tired. I’m gonna lay down for awhile, okay?”

“Oh, sure, sure! Go ahead. How about I make you some tea and maybe we could talk or watch TV or something, okay?”

“Sure.” Darcy offered him a wan smile and drifted off towards her bedroom.

Jay busied himself in the kitchen, and steeped her Earl Grey, making sure it was in that chipped, stained mug she seemed to like the most. He was full of energy; expectant, powerful. This was his opportunity. Darcy would see what a kind person he was and that they would be good for each other and he could make her happy, settle her down.

He stepped carefully with the full cup to her room and opened the door. As she heard the cracking noise, Jay saw Darcy quickly turn her head into the pillow and lay motionless.

“Darcy? Darcy?” Jay whispered. “You asleep?” knowing, with a sinking, horrible feeling, that she was not. He tiptoed in, and gently placed the cup on her dresser, and left the darkening room to her. He stood for a moment in the hall and brushed his fingertips lightly down her door, then leaned his forehead on the cool, dark wood.

Silently, he moved to the sofa, not bothering with the lamp. The phone rang, shrill and insistent, and Jay made no move to answer it as it echoed harshly through the place. The last bits of reddened sun burned into his blurred eyes, leaving only the city and the blue bruised evening sky.