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Recovery and Rehabilitation

Jessica Langan-Peck

Miles held up his arm, in his pea coat, and flexed it. “Climbing,” he said.

I felt it, squeezed weakly. “Tell me about the red rocks.” He was shooting a documentary outside of Nevada, in the Mojave, where the rocks were actually orange, and huge, and craggy, and where Miles climbed the faces of them with his ropy arms and legs. I could see him from the ground, clinging to the sides of things, smiling in the expensive wraparound sunglasses he wore when he was working or doing outdoorsy things. He talked about the film and the camera he was using and the guys on his crew who I might remember because he met them here, but none of the names sounded familiar. I couldn’t concentrate because my hands were getting cold, turning white and stiff inside my mittens. I had bad circulation and Miles knew it and I almost took off my mitten to show him, to remind him, just to hold out my hand with its white, numb fingers and the mottled red rest of them. I could see that Miles’s lips were moving but also that they were starting to look purplish. They were cracked from the cold, from the dry Mojave wind, the neat vertical lines that made his lips look permanently puckered.

“Mi—” I interrupted him. He moved his chapped lips together, then apart, in a strange grimace. “Don’t do that. You’ll get splits.” And I stood up, stiff and teetering on the edge of the deck. He stood, too, on the surface of the actual roof, below me. I held the elbow of his coat. There was a time when the way his name sounded, Mi, My, Mine, would not have been lost on me.

“Here’s something,” I said. The space behind my nose and eyes was too cold. Next to me, his teeth were moving, and he was trying to clench his jaw to make them stop. “I don’t live here anymore.”

“You don’t.”

“No. I moved into my studio.” I held up the key, shaking it. “But.”

The look that came and went on his face, even in the cold, even in the dark, was familiar. A widening of the eyes, a tightening of the face, a slight shake of the head. This meant he was dismayed but that he was trying to hide it. You just don’t think about other people, he used to say. Or, what you’re saying is irrational. I stood in front of him, dangling the key, bouncing up and down on my toes. The windows in my old apartment had been dark for two days. I walked by it every day on my way from the train to the studio, and I looked up at them.

“I don’t think she’s home,” I said. “I’ve been paying attention.” I wanted to see what she’d done with the place. I wanted to sit with Miles, and I couldn’t bring him to my studio, because I was ashamed to be squatting there, because sometimes my landlord, who was a graphic designer, worked late there on Sunday nights, and I had to wait until he left.

Miles stood very still, looking past my face at the buildings and lights and water behind me. Then, quickly, he grabbed my chin with gloved fingers and pulled my face down towards his. “That is something,” he said, “you might have mentioned before now.”

I waited, blinking. I felt impervious to his disappointment. Up here the wind was picking up and lifting my hair and blowing it. Going into my ears and up my nose, the kind of air that was so cold that breathing it changed the temperature of the insides of my nostrils. He gave my face a little shake and dropped his hand, the impressions of thin-gloved fingers in my jaw. He was sad. About us, about the way that I was doing in general, I wasn’t sure. He turned and I followed him down the stairs.

First we knocked, and when there was no answer, I slid the key in the lock. It still worked. I had thought for a second it might not. In the apartment the air felt tropical and close and it smelled like garbage, like steam heat, like basil-scented soap. It still had high ceilings, it still had an old, many-paned window, it still had hasty, thin walls between the bedrooms that didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling. It had the round kitchen table I’d left, and the long, low couch with material like cream canvas. Everything else, though, was not the same. There were complicated shelving units, big, papery lamps, hardcover books, a television. We walked around it softly, touching things, picking things up, putting things down. I tried to remember what the new girl looked like, I’d shown her the place in midsummer, and she’d said something like I have to use my imagination, but I think I could really do something with the place. She was a few years older. She had a serious face. She was using the second bedroom as an office. Miles followed me, I followed him. We turned on the sink, we opened the cabinets, we went into the bathroom and looked at the color of the hairs that were clinging to the tub.


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