In This Room
The outfit Peggy had reserved for the next day was hanging from a handle on a cabinet drawer. She sat on the sofa and surveyed her desk – her typewriter was covered, there were memos from Phyllis she had yet to read, and the latest Fleischmann's boards from Stan needed to be reviewed before going up the chain of command.
Peggy's intention had been to turn off the lights and go to sleep. It wouldn't be her first overnight at the office since breaking up with Abe, but it was the first night she was starting to feel the difference between a bed and a sofa. Her neck was stiff, her lower back ached. She knew the office was a better alternative to sleeping in an apartment with boarded windows and blood she hadn't been able to get out of the carpet, but she didn't know how many more nights she could manage going back and forth for a shower and clean clothes.
Getting back to work sounded like a better alternative to staring at the work or contemplating an uncomfortable sleep. Peggy knew all she needed to switch gears was a splash of cold water to her face. She stepped over where she'd kicked her shoes off in the middle of the floor and headed into the darkened hallway for the restroom.
She stood at the sink, cupping her hands under the faucet. She leaned down and dipped her face in the water that pooled in her palms. The water sputtered before the force of the spray increased. Peggy yelped and stepped back, turning it off. She looked at herself in the mirror – her pale green blouse was splotched with darker patches.
On the way back to her office Peggy began unbuttoning her blouse. She shrugged the sleeves down her arms and tossed it on the sofa. It took her eyes a moment to register the scene she walked in on, and when she realized her shirt was now rumpled on Stan's lap, she let out an indignant scream. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He grabbed a handful of the garment. "The crowd at Leary's was a drag." Stan stood up. "What I want to know is why do you wait to take your clothes off until after I leave?"
Peggy grabbed the blouse from him, but she took longer than necessary to get it back on. It wasn't the first time she had been in a state of undress in front of Stan, but it felt different, and she was different. The bra she was wearing was slighter than what he'd seen before. It was black with touches of lace. It wasn't the undergarment – built for practical purposes only - she had removed in front of him to prove a point; Peggy was wearing lingerie.
Stan sat back down, watching her clasp the buttons and neglect the top two. His lips twitched. "How long have you been sleeping here?" he asked.
She expected something more lascivious to come out of his mouth. The concern in Stan's voice jolted Peggy. She shrugged and leaned against the edge of her desk. "Did you come here to work? We could take these boards into the conference room," Peggy said, changing the subject as she reached behind her for the artwork.
"Okay, yeah. But let's stay in here."
Peggy covered a yawn with a fisted hand. Stan stubbed his cigarette out and sorted the boards into a neat stack on the coffee table. "That's enough for now," he said.
"Let's go back to that, um," Peggy stumbled, flipping the pages in her notebook. "What was that thing you said about-"
"Let's call it a night."
Peggy reclined, letting her arms drop to her sides. She closed her eyes.
"You need to sleep," Stan observed. "Are you here because Abe's in the apartment?"
She shook her head. Without sitting up, she angled her head toward Stan and slowly opened her heavy eyes. "I'm here because I can't sleep in that place. I'm afraid to replace the windows because I don't know if anymore rocks are going to be thrown."
Stan clapped his hands once, loudly, to stir Peggy. "I'll take you home. I'll stay on your couch."
She sat up and eyed him sideways.
"I'm serious." Stan patted his right hand over his heart.
"I believe you," Peggy said unconvincingly, "but I don't want to go there. It's not about whether or not someone is there with me."
Stan stood up. He bent to retrieve Peggy's shoes from the floor and tossed them onto the sofa. He found her small overnight bag nestled between a cabinet and table and picked it up. "Then you can sleep on my couch."
Peggy shook her head. "Thank you, but, no. I'm fine here."
"Where are you going to shower? You stink." Stan plucked the hanger from the handle on the cabinet, holding Peggy's clean dress from one finger.
She looked at him for a long while. There was something about seeing him hold her things – something about her small, pale pink dress hanging at his side. Peggy sighed. "Okay."
The hallway was narrow and the temperature boiling. Peggy wiped beads of sweat from her forehead while Stan unlocked the door to his apartment. He didn't seem to be as hot as she was; she wondered if her body was reacting more to the situation, to her nerves and surprising excitement over seeing the place Stan Rizzo called home.
"Ladies first," Stan said, reaching in to flip a switch on the wall and then holding the door open for Peggy to enter.
The surprising thing about seeing his apartment was the knowledge that Stan was neat. The living room was minimal – couch, coffee table, reading lamp, bookshelf. His television set was so small and blended into the wall that she had to search to know that he had one. The framed paintings on the walls had obviously been arranged very specifically; nothing was haphazardly thrown around. Peggy turned toward the small kitchen and stepped toward the circular table. A half-eaten pie was the only thing taking up space on the table and Peggy wondered who the dish it was baked in belonged to.
"You want some?" Stan asked.
Peggy shook her head.
"My Aunt Stella makes the best pie. That one is peach."
"No, thank you," Peggy said. She draped her dress over the back of one of two kitchen chairs.
Stan backed up toward the hallway. "I'll get a pillow."
While he was gone, Peggy studied the front of the refrigerator. He had a picture of himself with his cousin Robbie and she smiled at their goofy grins. There was a piece of paper with an address to somewhere in Jersey and a postcard from Greece signed by someone named Genevieve who wrote in big, loopy letters about how beautiful the beach was. Peggy heard the floorboards squeak and quickly placed the postcard back under its magnet, but when she stepped toward the hallway, Stan wasn't there.
Peggy proceeded down the short space. She glanced in at the bathroom and saw that it too was clean and sparse. She stood in the doorway to Stan's bedroom. It was clearly where he spent most of his time. It was crammed with his bed, dresser, and a table that contained sketchbooks, containers of paint and pencils, and empty beer bottles.
He turned around from the closet. "Sorry. I can't find a blanket," Stan told her. He moved to the bed and tugged on the corner of the cream colored blanket that covered it. "You can use this."
Before he could pull the blanket away, Peggy perched herself on the opposite side of the bed, her leg dangling over the edge. Her shoe slipped from her foot and hit the carpet with a soft thud. "It's pretty hot," she said. "I don't think I'll need a blanket."
Stan nodded. His stare was heavy.
Peggy removed her other shoe and dropped it onto the floor. She scooted back on the mattress until her back was pressed to the headboard. She crossed one ankle over the other. "This is not how I imagined your place would be," she said.
He sat down, facing her. "How often do you imagine what my apartment is like?"
Her lips puckered in a futile attempt to resist smiling. "I thought you would be a slob. Like me," Peggy confided. "You don't really have any clutter."
Stan flipped himself around, bouncing the bed with his ungraceful movements. He settled on his back next to Peggy. He folded his hands behind his head.
She shifted on the bed, stretching out onto her side, facing him. "It's quiet in here."
"My neighbors on the right are an older couple. The left is a guy who only stays here on the weekends," Stan explained.
Peggy looked at Stan's arm, elbow pointed out toward her. Her fingers curled around his wrist and she tugged until he let her pull his hand out from under his head. She touched the mostly healed wound from Ginsburg's knife toss. "It's funny," she mused.
"What? My injury?"
She shook her head. "I thought this was awful. It scared me when it happened. The blood." She drew her hand back and let her head rest on the pillow beside Stan's. "But now… I could have killed Abe."
"But you didn't," Stan said.
Peggy was quiet. She felt a pressure between her eyes and tried to will it away, but then there was the sting of salty tears and one slipped from the corner of her eye. It traveled across her nose and to the opposite cheek, to the corner of her mouth. She looked to where her hand was flat against the bed and inched it toward Stan, settling her palm in the center of his chest. She felt the hammering of his heart. She held her breath when his hand covered hers.
"Goodnight, Peggy," he whispered, closing his eyes.
Waking up was usually sudden – jolted awake by a noise. Sometimes sleep was so fitful for Peggy that waking was really only a matter of deciding not to stay in bed any longer.
She opened her eyes halfway. Closed her eyes. Opened them slowly and adjusted to the gray light of a dreary early morning.
Peggy was on her back with one arm curved up around the top of her head. She felt the warm weight of Stan's leg hooked around hers. He had moved down a little lower on the bed and his head was near her shoulder. She lifted up, propping herself on the palms of her hands. Peggy smiled at Stan, rumpled in his sleep. The hem of his shirt had rolled up on one side. His hair was child-like in its messiness and she scooted down to his level, rolled on her side, and brushed her fingers through the short, thick strands.
Stan's eyes twitched open. He yawned. The surprise of seeing her at his side, in his bed, registered on his sleepy face. He moved his leg away and his lips formed the word, "Sorry," but there was no sound.
Peggy sidled up to him, shaping the length of her body against his. She draped her arm across his midsection, where his shirt had lifted – skin to skin. She walked her fingers up to his collar and began undoing the buttons on his shirt.
"Wha-" Stan cleared his throat. "What are you doing?"
She licked her lips. Peggy maneuvered until one half of her body covered his, her knee pressed between his legs. She unhooked the last button and pushed one side of his shirt, stroking her hand along his ribcage, down to the buckle of his belt.
Stan's fingers curled around her wrist.
"Do you want me to stop?" Peggy asked, her eyes locked on his.
He let go of her, moving his hand to the back of her head. Stan pulled her toward him in a slow, languid kiss. Peggy paused and studied the shape of his mouth under his beard before leaning back down. The pressure of her mouth was harder, more urgent.
Stan wrapped his arms around her back. He yanked her shirt out from under her skirt as Peggy maneuvered on top of him and sat up. She was taking forever to unbutton her blouse and he grabbed hold of each side of the fabric and ripped the last few apart. She let the shirt fall from her arms and Stan sat up to kiss her neck, her shoulder. He yanked the strap of her bra down and Peggy threw her head back as he kissed across her chest; she felt the scratch of his beard through the thin silk of her bra.
He stopped abruptly and Peggy lifted to meet his stare. There were questions in his eyes, and she could have told him I don't have a boyfriend anymore or Forget everything I said or I don't care what I saw. She circled her arms around his broad shoulders, thrusting closer to him, her legs wrapped around him. "Maybe we're not so different," Peggy whispered before framing his face with her hands and hungrily pressing her mouth to his.