The next day was quiet, as if the snow had insulated the house from time itself. I spent most of the day reading, and found Lexi sitting in her pillow-pile in the TV room late in the day. There was a small sculpture of tubes, metal and wires next to her; it had been a pile of separate pieces earlier, but now it was all attached. It looked like some arcane car part, and there were two more exactly like it on the floor in front of her. Lexi had her knees pulled up to her chin and her eyes closed. When I asked what she was doing, she raised a hand, urging me to silence.
“Wind fluttering the flue,” she said.
“The wind is making noise in the chimney. Don’t you hear it?” She pursed her lips and made a soft “brr” sound. I listened, and then heard the noise from the fireplace. She said, “It’s better to have a papasan chair if you’re going to lay about interpreting sounds and reviewing your various shortcomings, but I can’t seem to find mine. I’m making do. Sit with me.”
I sat. “What are you listening to?”
“Oh, whatever. The wind. Cat-noises. The refrigerator, if you listen carefully. It’s delightful how noisy this house is when it’s quiet.” As if to punctuate her observation, we both heard Eddie blow his nose upstairs. Lexi laughed. “Not exactly pastoral. I like the wind beating on the walls, though.”
“Sounds like it’s trying to get in,” I said.
“Of course it is. It’s warm in here.”
“I doubt the wind cares how warm it is.”
“I doubt you ever spend much time thinking about what the wind wants,” she replied. “What does it want? Warmth? Donuts? World domination? Well that last one is a gimme, everyone wants world domination.”
She gave me a look of surprise. “You don’t?” Her expression changed to amused disbelief. “Oh, yes you do. You don’t fool me one bit. Not an iota. You’re just as bent on total supremacy as the rest of us. I mean, aren’t you?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Or maybe you’re like me, concentrating on just getting control of one aspect of reality at a time,” Lexi said. I looked at her; she had closed her eyes again. “Anyway, once you’ve subjugated the masses and taught them to live for themselves and never, ever buy anything just because Marketing says they should, it’s all downhill. So much more fun to be the ever-struggling number two forever, don’t you think?”
She swung from seriousness to nonsense too quickly for me. “I don’t know, Lexi. You make me think too much.”
“That’s the idea, my love, my dove. You keep up better than most.”
“It still makes my head hurt.”
“In the words of the late, great Juha Kankkunen: if it’s not hurting, you’re not getting stronger!”
“Who the fuck’s Juha Kankkunen?”
“He’s a rally driver,” she said absently. “And I don’t think he ever said that, but that’s just because he didn’t think of it, and he would have said it in Swedish anyhow.”
“He’s not dead, either, is he?”
Lexi smiled. “No, of course not.”
“Well, I know someone who might agree with you anyway.”
“Ha! See? And I didn’t even have to take her class. Although to be honest I think I’d prefer the home game. Hey, don’t you think it’s cruel that they always give the loser on Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune a copy of the home game? As if you’d ever want to play again after being humiliated on national television?”
“Now you remind me of another person I know,” I said.
“Everyone reminds you of someone,” Lexi said. “But I’m none of them, and I’m here, while they, as far as I know, are not. So let me have the floor on my own merits, please.”
“I didn’t mean to annoy you. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m not annoyed. Did I sound annoyed? Oh, dear. One of my greatest weaknesses is a tendency to make my voice the wrong color. You’ll have to forgive me. Well, you don’t have to, but I’d be happy if you did. Inflections aren’t my strong point. People always call me angry when I’m not really.”
It made me feel good when she voiced thoughts I knew and understood intimately. “Me, too,” I said.
“I s’pose it’s a pretty small shortcoming to have overall. I have no complaints about it. My only other problem with myself is that I want to have sex all the time.”
I looked at the floor, feeling myself blush, and didn’t say anything.
“I’m not going to run out and boink anything that moves, you know. Actually I woke up this morning with a huge chip in my panties for Ren. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. But imagine being crazy horny for only one person in the whole world, and having him be unavailable. Really unavailable.” She uttered a surprisingly loud laugh, a cackle that had teeth in it. “Stupid book they gave me–How To Survive the Loss of a Love--doesn’t say anything about hot flashes for the dead. What do you expect though? It was written in the fifties or something. But still, you’d think the idea would have crossed their minds.”
I wished she would change the subject, and looked at my hands. I didn’t want to talk about sex with Lexi. It felt strange. It wasn’t because I didn’t know her well enough; more that it felt too much like flirting with her, which felt uncomfortably natural. I didn’t want to feel like that; I just wanted to be her friend.
She seemed to pick up on my disinterest. “Anyhow, it made life in my little pink cloud a bit more interesting this morn. Oop, look, there go the tears.” Twin trails of wetness marked her cheeks. “It feels so shallow to be crying because I can’t have sex with him. I don’t like myself very much right now, Nikki.”
“That’s not all you’re crying about,” I said. My voice was a throaty whisper. “You know it isn’t.”
“Maybe. But it’s all I’m thinking about. Long, tender, quiet, sometimes giggling, rolling-off-the-bed sex. That’s the only thing on my mind. I try to think of other things but even flaming cow asses don’t change the subject for long. And flaming cow asses are a pretty good subject changer normally, let me tell you.”
“You really loved him,” I said. Lexi teared up worse. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You ‘pologize too much,” she said, wiping at her face. “You don’t have to be so submissive to me.”
“What can I do? To make you feel better.”
She looked at me, big tears in her eyes. “You know, I bet you’d just do ‘most anything I asked right now, wouldn’t you? Just to make me feel better. That’s sweet.”
That put me on my guard. She knew I could die and come back. What was she going to ask for?
“Unfortunately what I’d really like is to play scatter in the ballroom. Did you get to play, in junior high? Every Friday in gym the boys got to go play scatter, and we had to go do gymnastics. I always wanted to play scatter. I had to go to their side of the gym on one Friday, and saw what they were doing, and I obsessed about it for the rest of junior high. It’s not fair that only the boys got to play brutal mindless attrition games. I mean, I was one of the best at Smear the Queer, I would have rocked at scatter. But anyway, I’d like to play scatter in the ballroom but it wouldn’t be much fun with just us two. We’d need twenty more people to make it interesting.”
“And windows would get broken,” I added.
Lexi nodded. She had stopped crying. “I only have one playground ball anyhow. We need five. At least.”
“Maybe someday we’ll play. It sounds fun.”
“Did you get to play?”
“No, we didn’t do that at my middle school.”
“Gah, what kind of education is that? Sue them. Molly went to parochial school so she didn’t get to play either. I keep telling her to sue the Pope. Lack of rim scatter is probably why most parochial school kids are all messed up.”
My lips curled up into a smile. “Are they?”
“Oh, yeah they are. Have you ever met one? They’re all nuts. When they get to high school they’re the ones who get into the crazy shit they’ve been denied all their lives, or they become the valedictorians and class officers who were really nuts in their own socially acceptable way, let’s admit it. Molly was kind of the latter–she ran the newspaper senior year–but I won’t hesitate to point out that she’s also the one who suggested we set Brittany on fire and I think she was serious. Of course we didn’t do it in the end, I just bashed Brittie’s head into a locker because I’m not a parochial school kid so I’m not repressed one bit, thank you very much, I wear my little heart right on my sleeve, or on my locker door as it were. But that’s another story. The coolest thing Molly does these days is that she writes newspaper columns about ghosts. She wants to run all over the country chasing ghost stories and mysterious happenings, just like Fox Mulder, except with a social life. Well, and Duchovny’s cuter. And he’s got a quieter voice. Molly could scream the ears off a chihuahua.” She looked at me, wiping her cheeks. “Don’t look at me like that, I don’t know what that means exactly. It just came out. Although it does remind me, I didn’t tell her that my house is haunted, and she’d be really pissed off if she found out and I hadn’t told her. So I’d better give her a call.” Lexi bounced up out of the pile of pillows. “Right now,” she added, and headed out of the room.