From the kitchen peninsula, standing over the second sink in the granite countertop, she could see the crescent moon through the row of skylights in the family room, cocked high in the mid-evening sky. It had cost a bit extra to do that, but on summer evenings when the moon and the sun bore to the north, she could see them as they made their way to the horizon, their light filling the comfortable room. The fireplace too was extra, but situated as it was against the wall meant her guests could gather in front of it and be warmed, while enjoying the show in the sky in front of them.
The karagge had been good, but she had no idea why she decided to bring it home in its clear plastic container. Her date had pressed it on her, no doubt thinking she really enjoyed it. True, it was better than she thought it would be, as she usually didn’t care for fried chicken. But the crust was dry and delicately seasoned, unlike any she had before, and the meat was tender and savory. So an unexpected delight, but she had eaten only one piece because it was really all she wanted. Now she had seven, and her lips momentarily pursed with regret knowing she’d toss it into the compost bin at the end of the week.
Five minutes passed before she realized she had barely moved, looking through the floor-to ceiling sliders that opened onto a deck fronted by evergreen cypresses. The unusually clear San Francisco night meant lights from the homes in nearby Seacliff winked in and out amidst the fronds. Were she lying on her back, she could almost imagine them as stars overhead, much like a night some 30 years ago, on another part of the coast very different than this.
She shook her head and sighed. She turned to the refrigerator with its door that matched the cabinetry and put the container inside. She told Jeeves she was going upstairs, and the digital assistant turned down the lights in the kitchen and family room and illuminated footlights in the stairs leading to the master bedroom.
She hung her jacket and parked her heels on a shelf in the closet, and continued into the bathroom. In the mirror she looked at her image without seeing herself as she removed her earrings and washed her face. It was then she stopped and looked at herself, and remembered how he sometimes asked her to close her eyes so he could look at her, knowing how much she disliked being looked at. In such a time he would always hold her hand close to his chest, not letting go until her eyes were open again. She remembered how still he would be at first, thinking it just on the weird side of creepy, and later realizing he only asked when they were alone, and to anticipate the light intermittent kisses that broke up the tableau.
Ten minutes had gone by. She was suddenly more tired and decided against showering. She changed into her most comfortable pajamas, a simple button-down top with boy shorts. She walked to the sliders which on this level faced the same direction as the floor below. Here she could see the tower tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond, the silhouette of Mount Tamalpais. There too, she had once bedded down for the night, unwashed after a day of hiking but wearing less than she was now, his arm supporting her back as they looked out at the galaxy of stars, keeping one another warm.
He pushed his shoes off his feet by pressing the heels against the jamb as he stepped inside the door. He had long since gotten used to the below-ground-floor apartment, with its many peccadilloes and indignations, but the four-inch drop coming in the front door was the most aggravating. Yet it wasn’t enough to move; in the one-way escalator of rents in this city, he’d be a fool to even try to go anywhere else. He and the landlord both knew it would make no financial sense to upset this particular apple cart. The apartment was illegal, it could really only hold one person, he paid enough in rent to feed the owner’s mah-jongg habit, and he was old enough that everybody else in the building thought he was a caretaker.
Hanging his jacket on its usual peg, he pulled aside the curtain covering his tiny counter kitchen. The place had a galley kitchen at one time, but it was miserably cramped. At the suggestion of a long-gone friend he rearranged everything to fit against one wall, making room for a long shallow table on the opposite wall and freeing up a space next to the light well. The space was just big enough to build in a small bench using scrap wood, stuff it with pillows, and create a spot where he could scrunch down and look up at the small square of sky three stories above. For short periods of some days, the sun beamed all the way down into his window. A salvaged wardrobe mirror leaning against the wall in the lightwell would briefly fill his room with blinding amplified light when conditions were right, but he was rarely home to see it.
He put on some water for tea. He turned the switch on the small retro-styled radio nestled in a tall thin bookcase next to the sink. The book case had a companion on the other side of the room but neither contained books. They did duty as clothes drawer, medicine cabinet, food storage, and knickknack shelf. The dulcet tones of a late-evening DJ poured smoothly from the tiny stereo, the volume just high enough to fill the small room. He shed his pants and shirt in the bathroom, did some business and came back to wash his hands and stare at the small square of mirror in front of him. His gaze went right through it, the wall behind it and the space beyond it, out to a place and time where a mirror wasn’t needed to see himself, when all he was and all he wanted to be was reflected in the face of the person looking at him.
His tiny teapot whistled. He had not marked time’s passing. He prepared a cup, poured a handful of almonds into a small bowl and settled into the bench next to the lightwell. High above he could hear someone talking, and by the cadence guessed they were on a telephone. It was a woman’s voice, urgent and forceful:
“…you have to go. I will be there, I will pick you up and go there with you. Yes, ten o’clock, I’ll be fine with work. I’ll call an Uber and be in front at ten. At ten. Ten.”
As if he thought he could see her, he looked up. What caught his eye was the glimmering side of a galvanized duct poking above the roofline, and looking a bit higher he caught the tip of the moon, peeking into the well and casting a faint shadow of his cup. Its luminous glow danced on the surface of the tea. As he looked into it, he thought about how the moon had been reflected in her eyes so many years ago, as she lay in his arms in the long grass of the hillside overlooking the Pacific. She was looking at him but could not see his face; the moon cast his in shadow but bathed hers, and it made his heart beat to see her open eyes scanning for what she knew was there. He brought his lips down to hers; the singular aroma of her skin filled his nose and settled into his brain.
“This is all I need.” she said as she pulled his free arm around herself and settled back into his body and he drew a blanket over the both of them. “It’s all I need, tonight.”