When Plum cut off contact with me, the silence in my apartment was deafening. Sitting there all night praying that my cellphone would ring was pure torture. Whenever it became unbearable, I forced myself to leave my cell phone behind and take long walks or window shop just to get out of the apartment.
Of course the entire time I, silently prayed that a voicemail message would be waiting for me when I returned. I loathed myself for being so weak. Plum had given me a little attention and I’d become her slave. I resented her for igniting such need and then standing back and allowing it to consume me.
I could feel myself sliding into a bottomless depression. Had I done something wrong? That thought kept buzzing around inside my head. I spent every free moment replaying each exchange between the two of us, searching for the reasoning behind Plum’s sudden change of heart.
It took every remaining ounce of restraint not to pick up my cell phone and call her or go and knock on her front door. I didn’t want Plum to know how much I needed her. It wouldn’t have been prudent to let her know how hollow I felt when she wasn’t around.
Nothing was more pathetic than someone who leeched onto you. Instinct told me that latching onto someone like Plum would only cause her to permanently cut me loose. I needed to allow her to initiate contact with me. It was torturous, but my gut told me that she would respect me more in the end.
Another agonizing week came and went. I felt as though I were losing my mind. The worst thing about allowing someone into your heart is the pain it causes when they aren’t around. You develop an ache like festering wound that nothing but attention from that person can soothe.
Against my better judgment, I finally broke down and left her a voicemail message. No response came. Sleep continued to elude me. My old insecurities crept back and made me think that Plum’s rejection was simply the universe reordering itself. My having a friend went against the laws of nature.
Now, the natural order had reasserted itself. I forced myself to make peace with that realization so that I could get on with my so-called life. Just when I settled back into my rut, she called me. My cell phone rang at midnight and instantly, I knew who it was. No one else would call me that late.
I started to answer my phone and then yanked my hand back. Hadn’t she caused me enough pain already? My routine of sleep-work-sleep was comforting in its own pathetic way. So what if I was walking around like a zombie? My feelings were safe that way. No one could hurt me if I was numb.
My cell phone rang again and I jumped as though someone had jammed a hot poker in my side. After it stopped ringing, I picked it up and felt a pitiful thrill of anticipation when I saw that I had a voicemail message.
I probably should have just turned over and went back to sleep but I couldn’t resist. I held the phone to my ear with both hands and listened to the message. Plum apologized for being neglectful and then begged me to come and see her.
I might have forced myself to lay down and go back to sleep if her voice hadn’t sounded funny. Instead of the usual brash confidence, it had that shaky, halting quality that sends your heart leaping into your throat when it comes in the still of the night.
I was up and getting dressed in record time without a single thought about the fact that I was due at work in a few hours. My friend needed me. Never mind the fact that she had completely ignored me for weeks on end. I suppose in some deluded way, I was flattered. Plum had hundreds of friends but she called upon me for help. She had obviously forgiven me. Or maybe, she had been as miserable without me as I had been without her.
A window of opportunity had opened again and I was going to slide through before it slammed shut. It didn’t even matter that the taxi cab ride to her house took my last big bill. I finally had a chance to help Plum out, to show my appreciation for all she had done for me. At least, that’s what I told myself. It was much easier to make excuses than to acknowledge the sickening sense of relief washing over me.
I spent the entire taxi ride rehearsing what I’d say. Spontaneity is not my strong suit. The taxi pulled up to the enormous wrought iron gates at the end of Plum’s driveway and the intercom outside the driver’s side window crackled. The driver announced my arrival and a few seconds later, the gates swung inward.
The taxi stopped at the security checkpoint before climbing up the long circular driveway. My heart began beating double time. I got out, rang the doorbell and waited, taking in the shadowy acreage around me. The lights were all off in Plum’s house. It took several rings to bring her to the door.
My relief turned into irritation. Did she want to see me or not? If Plum was playing some sort of game with me, I was going to do an about face, head home and fall back into bed. Wordlessly, she opened the door and walked back into the house. It was so dark, I could hardly tell the door was open. Something in the atmosphere made me hesitate on the threshold before plunging inside and locking the door behind me.
I followed the bouncing glow of her cigarette into the living room. Vanilla scented candles sat burning on every available surface on the fireplace and furniture against the walls, suffusing them with a soft glow and forcing the darkness to the middle of the room. Their cloying scent mingled with clouds of cigarette smoke was oppressive. The ashtray was overflowing with cigarette butts.
How long has she been sitting in the dark? My eyes watered and it felt as though ciders lodged in my throat. Plum bent over to pour herself a drink at the coffee table. She filled a second glass with the amber liquid. I was about to protest. Plum knew that I didn’t drink. However, something in the way she pushed it into my hands and closed my fingers around the glass made me accept it.
Her eyes were hidden by shadows but I could feel the weight of them on my hand. She was waiting for me to take a drink. The whole thing felt ceremonial; her silence coupled with the shrine of candles. I lifted the heavy crystal glass to my lips and drank. Whatever was in that glass felt as though it were corroding my insides. I tried to suppress my gag reflexes but the alcohol was too strong.
My coughing had scarcely subsided when Plum pushed the glass back up to my lips. I drank the mean liquid again. This time, it went down a little easier. Her hand urged mine again and again until the glass was empty. The fire in my belly died down into a not unpleasant heat that permeated my limbs.
This time when I moved to set down the glass Plum didn’t intervene. She just sat back in an armchair draped in shadows and took long drags off of her cigarette. Plum had sounded distressed on the phone but now, I didn’t know what to make of her mood.
Any of my rehearsed words would sound flat and insincere floating in the cavern of silence between us. I decided to wait until she let me know what was needed. I didn’t have to wait very long. When the doorbell rang three short times, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Plum’s voice was soft that it took a moment for my ears to register what she said.
“Go open the door.”
I hustled to the front door and hesitated with my hand on the knob. Who would be visiting her at two o’clock in the morning? Something told me that Plum knew who it was so, I opened the door. Two men and a young woman were at the door dressed as a chauffeur, butler and maid. Was it Halloween? No, I reasoned that they were obviously employees from Plum’s temp service.
The woman glared at me and brushed past with the men at her heels. I followed them into the living room. The armchair closest to the door was no illuminated by a single floor lamp. The rest of the room was still lit by candlelight. I sat on the opposite end of the couch, near Plum’s armchair.
The telltale glow of her cigarette appeared to hover in midair as she stood outside the circle of light. The chauffeur and butler pushed the maid down into the illuminated armchair and took their leave of us. I listened to the clack of their heels against the marble floor as they retreated into the bowels of the house. A door closed somewhere off in the darkness and everything fell silent once more.
I still had no idea what exactly was going on. My heart began beating faster. Something told me that this wasn’t going to be your typical performance review meeting. The maid was beautiful. Long glossy blond hair, framed a heart-shaped face dominated by big, bluish-green eyes above a button nose and cupid lips. She had clear skin and a lithe body.
I watched in fascination as the seriousness of her predicament slowly dawned on her. Plum seemed to be waiting for realization to fully sink in. Candlelight flashed off of her glass as she took a sip and set it down on the coffee table. The girl tossed her hair with an impatient flip of her proud head.
The tough act slowly evaporated in the unrelenting silence. The maid bit her lip in a vain attempt to hold back the tears stinging her turquoise eyes. I was afraid to move, not wishing to make a sound and draw attention to myself. Just being in the room with them felt intrusive. I sat puzzling over my friend’s decision to ask me to visit on this night of all nights.
Plum made her move. The sound of stiletto heels clicking across the floor seemed to echo in the stillness. She had been barefoot when she opened the door for me. Their eyes met and the girl turned her face away. Plum smacked the woman so hard that I flinched. Tears sprang to the woman’s eyes once more but she was defiant.
She spit at Plum and earned a punch in the chest. Things were not going the way I expected them to go. What happened to the interrogation, frantic lies and plea-bargaining? Why was the woman being punished? Plum started shouting about betrayal and I assumed she was speaking as an employer.
The kiss caught me completely off guard. Plum leaned over and pressed her lips to the young woman’s lips and a meaningful moment passed between them. The jealousy that leapt up inside of me came as a complete surprise. I had to choke back my feelings when the woman began to respond.
The thought of another woman having such an intimate relationship with Plum upset me greatly. It seemed to take a great deal of effort for her to pull away from Plum. My jaw felt as though it had become unhinged. I was still struggling to comprehend what I had seen when Plum spoke again.
“So, it all comes down to this huh Amanda? He waves a few dollars under your nose, whispers a few empty promises and you throw away everything we have together?”
I waited on the edge of my seat for an impassioned response from Amanda but she did not respond. Plum had to settle for a slight lift of Amanda’s eyebrows.
“I suppose you thought he was going to leave his wife and then the two of you would ride off into the sunset. How naïve of you,” snapped Plum.
The room fell silent once more. Amanda had evidently decided ahead of time that the best response was none at all. Out of frustration, I considered smacking her around a bit myself. Of course that was probably due to the liquor swimming around in my empty stomach. Plum grabbed Amanda’s hair and yanked her head back. She leaned down and examined something in Amanda’s eyes before releasing the hold.
“You’re using again aren’t you? That’s why you betrayed me? I ought to do you a favor and kill you now! It would be much faster than taking drugs. Well, if it’s suffering you want then that’s what you’re gonna get.”