“Ben wanted to be buried,” I say. “He told me he wanted to be buried in sweatpants and a t-shirt so he’d be comfortable.”
At the time, when he told me, I thought this was sweet. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be senile by the time he passed away, that it would be within months of that very conversation.
Her face scrunches itself around her eyes and mouth, and I can tell she’s mad. the lines around her mouth become pronounced, and for the first time I can see evidence that she is an older woman. does my mom have these lines? It’s been so long since I’ve seen her, I don’t know.
Maybe susan doesn’t realize what she’s doing. Maybe she thinks she’s strong enough to cut off her nose to spite her face here, to give me this funeral arranging as a punishment, but she’s not. and she’s already bothered.
“Everyone in our family has been cremated, elsie. I never heard Ben say he wanted otherwise. Just tell me what is going to be done with the ashes.” she looks down at the table and sighs, blowing air out of her mouth and onto her lap. “I should be going.” she gets up from the table and leaves, not looking back at me, not acknowledging my existence.
I grab the binder and head toward the lobby, where ana is waiting patiently. she drives us home and I walk right up the front steps to my door. When I realize I’ve left my keys inside, I turn around and start crying. ana soothes me as she pulls my spare key off her key ring and hands it to me. she hands it to me as if it will make everything okay, as if the only reason I’m crying is I can’t get into the apartment.
I woke up the morning after meeting Ben to a text message from him.
“Rise and shine, elsie porter. Can I take you to lunch?” I jumped out of bed, shrieked like an idiot, and hopped in place compulsively for at least ten seconds. there was so much energy in my body I had no other way of getting it out.
“Sure. Where to?” I texted back. I stared at the phone until it lit up again.
“I’ll come pick you up. twelve thirty. What’s your address?”
I sent him my address and then ran into the shower as if it was urgent. But it wasn’t urgent. I was ready to go by 11:45 and I felt entirely pathetic about that. I put my hair up in a high ponytail and shimmied into my favorite jeans and most flattering t-shirt. sitting around my house for forty-five minutes dressed and ready to go made me feel silly, so I decided to get out of my house and go for a walk. and in all of my glee and excitement, I locked myself out.
My heart started beating so fast I couldn’t think straight. I’d left everything inside, my phone, my wallet. ana had my spare key, but that wasn’t going to do me much good without a phone to call her. I walked up and down the street looking for change so that I could ultimately call her on a pay phone, but it turns out, people don’t really leave quarters on the ground. you’d think they would because quarters are small and sort of meaningless most of the time, but when you really need one, you realize just how ubiquitous they aren’t. then I decided to find a pay phone anyway since maybe I could rig it to call for free or there’d be a quarter stuck in the little change box. after scouring the neighborhood, I couldn’t find a single one. Which left me no viable option I could think of other than breaking into my own apartment.
So that’s what I tried to do.
I was on the second story of a duplex, but you could kind of get to the patio from the front stairs; so I walked up the stairs, climbed onto the railing, and tried to grab on to the rail of my patio. If I could get my hand on it and swing a leg around, I was pretty confident I could get onto the patio without much chance of falling to my death. From there, it was just a matter of crawling through the little doggie door in the screen that had been put there by the tenants before me. I had hated that damn doggie door until that very moment, when I was convinced it was my salvation.
As I continued my attempts to grab on to the patio rail, I realized that this might actually be an incredibly stupid plan, in which I was sure to be injured. If it was taking me this long to grab the rail in the first place, why on earth did I think I could easily swing my leg onto it once I reached it?
I made one final and valiant attempt to grab on before I got the cockamamie idea that it was best to go leg first. I was leg first when Ben found me.
“Ah!” I almost lost my footing, but I managed to get my leg back onto the steps, only slightly falling over in the process. I caught myself. “Hi, Ben!” I ran down the steps and hugged him. He was laughing.
“Whatcha doin’ there?”
I was embarrassed, but somehow not in any threatening way. “I was trying to break into my own apartment. I locked myself out without a phone or a wallet or anything.”
“You don’t have a spare key?”
I shook my head. “no. I did, at one point, but then it seemed smarter somehow for me to give it to my friend, ana, so she had it in case of emergency.”
He laughed again. It didn’t feel like he was laughing at me. although, I think technically he was.
“Got it. Well, what do you want to do? you can call ana from my phone now if you want. or we can go get lunch and then you can call her when we get back?”
I started to answer, but he cut me off.
“Or, I’m also happy to break into your house for you. If you haven’t given up on that idea yet.”
“Do you think you can swing your leg over this rail onto that one?” I said. I was joking, but he wasn’t.
“Absolutely, I can.”
“No, stop. I was kidding. We should go get lunch.”
Ben started taking off his jacket. “no, I insist you let me do this. It will look brave of me. I’ll be considered a hero.”
He walked closer to the rail and judged the distance. “that’s actually quite far. you were going to try to do that?”
I nodded. “But I have little regard for my own safety,” I said. “and a very bad sense of distance.”
Ben nodded. “okay. I’m going to jump this thing, but you have to make me a promise.”
“Okay. you got it.”
“If I fall and hurt myself, you won’t let them call my emergency contact.”
I laughed. “Why is that?”
“Because that’s my mother and I blew her off for lunch today so I could see you.”
“You blew off your mom for me?”
“See? It doesn’t make you look very good either, letting me do it. so do we have an agreement?”
I nodded firmly. “you got it.” I put out my hand to shake. He looked me in the eye and dramatically shook it, as a smile crept back onto his face.
“Here we go!” he said, and he just jumped it, like it was nothing, pulled his legs up and out, grabbed on to the patio rail, and swung his leg over.
“Okay! now what?” he asked.
I was mortified to admit the next part of my plan. I hadn’t considered how he would fare against the doggie door.
“Oh. Well, Hmm. I was just gonna . . . I was going to crawl in through the doggie door there,” I said.
He looked behind him and down. seeing it through his eyes, I realized it was even smaller than I’d thought.
“This doggie door?”
I nodded. “yeah. I’m sorry! I should have mentioned that part first maybe.”
“I cannot fit through that door, I don’t think.”
“Well, you could try to help me get over there,” I said.
“Right. or I could jump back over and we could call your friend ana.”
“Oh! that too.” I had already forgotten that option.
“Okay, well. I might as well try once now that I’m here. Hold on.”
He bent down and peeked in. His head fit in fine and he kept trying to push through. His shirt got caught in the door and was pulled up around his chest. I could see his stomach and the waistband of his underwear. I realized how physically attracted I was to him, how masculine he was. His abs looked solid and sturdy. His back was tanned and defined. His arms, flexed as he lifted himself through, looked strong and . . . capable. I had never before been attracted to the idea of being protected by someone, but Ben’s body looked like it could protect me and I was surprised at the reaction it elicited in me. I wondered how I got here exactly. I barely knew this man and I was objectifying him as he broke into my apartment. He finally got both shoulders through and I could hear muffled tones of “I think, actually, I can do it!” and “ow!” His butt disappeared and his legs slid inside. I walked around to my front door as he opened it, beaming, arms wide. I felt traditional and conventional, a damsel in distress saved by the strapping man. I thought that women who were attracted to that were stupid, but I also did, just for a moment, feel like Ben was my hero.