The Adjacent Rooms
By: Christopher Sleightholm
(This story was written in 2015 as an accompanying piece to the record Songs From The Adjacent Room).
Leaves change I stay the same. (Reginald McKruski)
Jeanie McFeven-McKruski wakes with a gasp and looks at the alarm clock, which reads 10:04. Her head feels as though it’s been smashed with a baseball bat. She immediately remembers the night before, and her brain cuts to her drinking some free, anonymous cocktail, smoking smoke after smoke after smoke. She remembers driving home alone from the party that she and her husband Reginald were at. She had closed one eye in an attempt to help her stay between the lines. She now lies in her bed, and her room smells as if there’s been something near death in it. It sort of feels to her that she did pass away at some point as her body slept on and was revived somehow now that she’s awake. It’s a fleeting thought, one that is far darker than most of hers’, so she attempts to savor it, but in a second it’s gone and forgotten.
She remembers speaking to Councilor Daily at the party the night before, which is something she never does when Reginald is around. Jeanie and Councilor Daily’s affair began in a more torrid manner than her and Reg’s, and has also been going on longer. Jeanie and Councilor Daily currently meet up one to six times in a month and when they do they often will remove one another’s clothing without saying a word. As Jeanie lays in the here and now she recalls her second of three orgasms she’d had with Daily during their last meeting, and reaches down and touches herself and lets out a little moan. She thinks of Daily’s tongue. She thinks of their tongues sometimes feeling like they’re glued together. She keeps thinking of Councilor Daily’s pink and white tongue as prepares herself to come, the same way one might prepare themself for landing as a passenger on an airplane. She feels lighter for a second, and feels the tiniest jolt of electricity shooting from her feet up through her body, but her insubstantial orgasm carries no significant release and is immediately forgotten.
Last night when Jeanie was speaking to Councilor Daily at the party they were discussing their next rendezvous plans. Next Tuesday after work, he’d said. At The Spot, he’d said. Don’t wear panties, he’d said. I’ll bring some wine, he’d said and Jeanie wanted to go away with him right then, but it was right then that Reg walked up to her. Jeanie and Councilor Daily have always had fiery sex, but that is mostly all they share. They both seem to like it this way, although they’ve never discussed it. Their custom is to meet in one of their different meet up sites: Snake River Mountain Cabins, cabin #8 (which Councilor Daily owns); the aforementioned The Spot (an abandoned hunting cabin in a clearing right off McCrebee Summit Road (they have a cot for their doings); the third and final place is actually Jeanie’s bed that she currently lies in (which they can use freely whenever Reginald is away (which is semi-frequently)). Jeanie and Councilor Daily’s relationship has carried on pretty much consistently for the past eighteen years, through both of Councilor Daily’s marriages, and through Jeanie and Reg’s friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage, and into whatever it is they have now.
When Reginald had walked up to the pair of horny lovers he’d came up to Jeanie and whispered into her ear that he wanted to ask her something. She asked if it was urgent or if it could wait, and he said it could wait. Reg then slunk away and Jeanie and Councilor Daily dispersed themselves in the crowd. She was then, and is still aware that last night was likely a pretty terrible night for her husband, and feels a little for him.
Jeanie and Reginald began the practice of keeping their own beds/bedrooms mere weeks after they were married, not coincidentally right around the same time that Reg’s once monstrous sex drive withered away. Jeanie wonders if her husband is still lying around in his own private bed in his own room.
“Reg,” she shouts. “You up?” She hears a rustle. She grabs a smoke from her nightstand, lights it up. “You alright in there?” says she, lit cigarette in mouth, smoke spewing from it with each syllable. She inches to the edge of the bed, sets her feet on the floor and stands up. Her head feels like it might explode. It’s been a long while since Jeanie had drank as much as she had last night, being that she’s now in her late 30s she’s been letting things become a little more lax on the partying front. Last night, however she tore into those anonymous, free cocktails with a ferocity rivaling that of a starved dog getting fed for the first time in weeks.
“You all right in there?” she asks again after a few more seconds. She walks over to Reg’s room and peeks through his door. He grumbles. Reginald McKruski is a mildly successful author, who has penned six novels to date, over a twenty-five year period. He’s fine, she thinks, but is aware that he is probably in much worse shape than she, although she can’t say for sure, as he’s drank pretty consistently for the past thirty years. “I’m a writer,” he says, “it’s in my blood to drink, and when it’s just blood in me I need to put booze in me.” It’s a clunky phrase that is very much reminiscent of his writing.
The invite-only party at the McCrebee Summit Inn Ballroom last night was to celebrate the release of Reg’s contemporary, Franklin J. McCrebee’s latest novel, entitled He Still Dreams Of Her. Though it had only been released the week prior, its sales were considerably higher than anticipated and were surprising everyone, including McCrebee’s publishers, who already have fifty-thousand more copies being printed. In the one-week period since its release it had already sold half as many copies as Reginald’s last novel, called Dancing Beneath The Ocean Waves, has sold since its release, which is now nearly two years ago. Frankie was ten years Reginald’s junior. Reg attended the party not to show support, but more to make his disdain for Franklin evident by his almost spectral and silent presence.
The night began with little to no animosity as nights of drinking usually do. Then Franklin McCrebee arrived to his own party forty-five minutes late, with his mother Dot and Dot’s dear friend, Georgie L. Hitchens in tow. Dot’s former-husband, Gregory H. P. R. Q. McCrebee passed away and she’d remained alone since, while the author Reginald McKruski committed adultery with her one to six times per month (Reg’s sex-drive had not entirely withered, he just chose to exert his increasingly small amount of it on a woman twenty-five years his senior). He had taken up with Dot after her husband died fourteen years ago. Reg had originally slept with Dot because of the hostility he felt towards her son Franklin, who had then just published his first novel, back in late 1975. The first time Reg and Dot had sex with each other Reg essentially felt that that was the first orgasm he’d ever had, and that all previous ones ought be cancelled, and he wanted to start creating a new scrapbook of orgasms. That first orgasm of Reg’s with Dot was in fact the best orgasm anyone in Snake River Mountain had ever had up until that point. That one orgasm was enough to solidify Reg and Dot’s consistent carrying on henceforth, though Reg’s original intention of screwing with Frankie was lost, as they’ve done a surprisingly good job at keeping their relationship secret. In fact, the only person in Snake River Mountain that knows about it is Georgie L. Hitchens, and she is sworn to secrecy, and would never gossip about her good friend Dot, mostly because she has no one else to talk to. Reg has mentioned the affair in passing in a few of his correspondences, but no one that would likely ever find himself or herself in Snake River Mountain.
So last night when Frankie walked in with Dot and Georgie, Reginald had found he had a very strong desire to tell Frankie about his and Dot’s affair for the first time. He wanted everyone in the room to know, he wanted Jeanie to know, and Councilor Daily (Reg knows of their affair, but they are unaware of this (they are not great at hiding their secret (most people over a certain age and of a certain demographic are plenty aware of it, and even joke about it – “don’t get out of your car on McCrebee Summit Road because you might see a couple balls of fleshy goo rolling around in the ditch,” a number of them say))). Reg did not say anything; he merely looked at the patterns in his glass, watched the ice cubes crack, and smoked his smokes.
He briefly talked with Joseph R. McLeaven who would be the closest semblance of anything near a friend that Reg has in Snake River Mountain. They chatted about nothing in particular and Reg found himself thinking about Godfrey Mustus III, who was a character he’d created for his third novel, entitled Nothing To You, Nothing To Me and one line in particular that Reg had had him say in a section of the denouement. The leaves change, I stay the same, Godfrey Mustus III had said in the novel. Reg feels himself agreeing with its sentiment. As he had this thought the door burst open with the McCrebee threesome, and Joseph R. McLeaven immediately walked over to greet them without a word to Reg. Anyone else would have looked back, Reg muttered to himself. He stood directly opposite the door – the door was always opening – and watched the crowd all turn their eyes to the threesome. Reg drained his glass, and went to the barkeep – who was slightly distracted by the sudden arrival party’s host – and ordered two more double whiskeys, zero rocks.
Cut back to Reginald lying in bed, his wife standing in the doorway. He mumbles something, he still feels drunk, not aware of where his drunkenness ends and where his hangover begins; he feels like he fell out of bed at some point in the night and his body is filled with a numb nondescript pain, mostly in his head. Yes, he says, he’s all right and asks Jeanie how she be. She says she is all right. There is a silence that is all they both think about for a second, and then Reg wonders why she is waking him up. He remembers what he wanted to ask his wife about last night and is thankful that he didn’t end up saying it. He closes his eyes and presses hard on his temples and when he opens them Jeanie is still standing there, only now the stars he’s seeing obscure her.
“What did you want to ask me last night at the party?” she says.
“Oh, I can’t remember now. Couldn’t have been too important. It’s lost forever in the haze,” he says, lying to his wife.
“I seem to recall that your eyes had quite the intensity to them, it seemed like it was something very important that you wanted to ask.”
“I was very drunk, Jeanie. I probably wanted some cash for a cab to get out of there.”
“You did leave after that, yeah?”
“I did. I walked home. Took a couple hours, but couldn’t stand looking at that stupid asshole.”
“That makes sense,” Jeanie says. “I did worry about you. When I left I tried to find you.” Reg does not respond to this with anything but a kind of grunt. Jeanie leaves and says she’ll make some coffee.
What Reg was going to tell Jeanie was that he loved her, and that he wanted to take her away from Snake River Mountain. Go somewhere else, anywhere else really, just get away from all the secrets, and all the lies that he feels everyone lives there. Earlier in the day yesterday, before the party he’d found a letter he’d written to Jeanie early in their dating days, and after the perfect amount of drinks (ten) he’d felt equally vulnerable and nostalgic, which was when he went to ask her the something. There was one line in the letter that had made a particular impression on him, the one that said let’s dream of nothing and I’ll listen to your eyes. Which referenced their moderate LSD usage during that era, as they would stare at one another for long periods of time without saying anything, occasionally giggling. He wishes that he could say something to Jeanie about their brief early happy days, but can’t do it now and Jeanie reenters and gives Reg a cup of coffee, and he says thanks darling to her, and Jeanie returns to her own bed.
Once Jeanie is back in her own private bed, she lays down and sees a short dark brown hair on the pillow, not hers, but possibly one of Councilor Daily’s hairs, or maybe one of Reg’s, she’s really not sure. The scorched grey light of that afternoon creeps through her window open-wide. Jeanie looks out the window to the grey Saturday morning and the clouds sag, laden with rain. Will they cry? she wonders – but they don’t cry. Gerard, the cat scurries her side. Jeanie reaches for him, and pulls him up close to her face and he purrs, and they lay awhile.
Reg reaches beside him to his nightstand for the manuscript of his new novel, which has the working title Endlessly, Tirelessly Floating Through Time, which is a not so discrete summation of his and Dot’s affair, with names changed to protect all identities, but not done so too effectively (ie. Dot’s name is changed to Fawn McBleebee, and his own name becomes Fred DcKrewski). There’s a lot of words written on the pages, but they’re not really for you, for her or me, they’re just there, he thinks. Thumbs through the hundred or so pages, one line catches his eye on page 73: “Normal is pretty strange inside my head, and faces look like glass.” Reg places the manuscript on his chest, closes his eyes and a light sleep comes to him, and as Jeanie McKruski and Gerard snuggle on voraciously in the adjacent room, Reg dreams of nothing.
Reg is eventually awoken by the sound of the light switch going down. Jeanie had gotten up to go to the bathroom and saw that the light had been left on in Reg’s room. Reg stirs awake, but no one is there at all. Jeanie is gone. Reg closes his eyes again and he sees two faces on the backs of his eyelids. The slightly withered and chubby face of Dot, her dark Chihuahua-like eyes staring not really at him, but sort of through him. Then there’s Jeanie’s much more attractive, but still slightly worn face. Jeanie has aged considerably in their sixteen year marriage, but she has not gained weight and her body is taut and her hair dark (she does not dye). Reg goes back to sleep, and sleeps on and on, and he dreams of things unseen; he dreams that both women are his, but the truth is: he doesn’t really have either of them.
The rain thrums on Reginald McKruski’s windowpane. The household pet, Gerard, the cat bursts onto the scene. Reg coughs and Gerard, the cat runs away. Reg cheated on both Jeanie and Dot with another woman last summer called Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee. Needless to say it was done after both Reginald and Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee had had excessive amounts of moderately priced, sugary anonymous cocktails. They had randomly met at Snake Eating Its Own Tail Tavern on Absalom St, kitty corner from Reg’s late father’s once-thriving tailor shop. Reg had walked into town after an incredibly passive argument with Jeanie. They were both so apathetic and uninterested in the fight that Reg had forgotten what the subject matter even was by the time he’d slammed the front door shut and began the two-kilometer trek from their acreage to Snake Eating Its Own Tail Tavern on Absalom Street.
Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee was a woman he’d known at a distance, they had exchange hellos whenever they saw one another but had not been formally introduced. Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee is near the same age as Jeanie give or take, but time has not quite been as generous to her as it has to Jeanie. Reg officially met Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee over the phone when she had caught her then-husband Councilor Daily in the act of performing cunnilingus on one Jeanie McFeven-McKruski a few years ago. Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee had called the home of Reg and Jeanie immediately after to let Reg know about this. He’d told her that he was aware of it and that he was more or less indifferent, but didn’t want to lose Jeanie. Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee cried and said that she was going to leave Councilor Daily (which she’d done right after that). Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee and Reg continued to see one another on various errands around town, but had never had a conversation besides the one on the phone, until the night at Snake Eating Its Own Tail Tavern on Absalom Street last summer.
Cut to Reg opening the door of Snake Eating Its Own Tail Tavern last summer in that particular mid-afternoon’s weird light. The light blared in from the steel door to a couple of barflies. He saw her at the bar, her back to him.
“Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee, how are you?” Reg had said.
“Reginald McKruski, how are you?” Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee had said.
“Mind if I join you?” Reg said.
“No,” Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee said, and they sat silently a few minutes.
Reg: “it’s nice to—“
“—you know I’d thought I’d have forgiven Councilor Daily by now,” Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee interrupts. “But it stings just as much,” she paused here. “Do you know what it’s like to walk in on your husband with another woman and see his pink and white tongue going as fast as a hummingbird’s wings, flicking some lady’s snat—?”
“—yes. Not exactly, but yes.” After another pause Reg said, “so when do you want to fuck?” Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee is taken aback, but not completely surprised, it was on her mind too, and she certainly appreciates Reg’s candor in the matter, and might have said the same thing if Reg hadn’t if another minute or two went by. Before the pair made their escape they remained at the bar for another hour or so, or rather they stayed at the bar the amount of time it takes Reg to drain eight drinks, and the amount of time it takes Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee to drink three. They mostly just talked about themselves to each other, waiting for the other person to stop so that they’d have a turn to talk again.
Cut to Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee and Reg in the bed of her truck near McCrebee’s Summit (very nearby The Spot, which coincidentally was where Councilor Daily and Jeanie currently were) to the two making love on Reg’s tweed blazer in an almost clinical manner, which for whatever reason aroused Reg just enough. After they had finished their doings in the bed of the truck Reg went to take a piss, when he was over in a brush a mosquito stung him on a ball. He heard Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee singing Otis Redding’s Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay along with the headphones from her cassette Walkman, which were beside her on the tailgate of her truck. She sang along and Reg was quite turned off by the fact that he had just had sex with her.
Cut to Reg in the present as he lies in his bed, thinking about a few of the more specific things that they did in the bed of the truck that day last summer. Reg feels a miniscule pang of longing for Bethune R. J. McStevvenflee, but for some vague reason he knows that he can’t very well carry on with another woman, that he must have some kinds of morals, and to him that’s where he draws the line: two women: ok; three women: not ok.
Cut to Reg exiting his bed to Jeanie’s room at around 4:15. He opens up her door, and perches on the edge of her bed.
“Are you hungry?” he asks. She grunts. He continues: “I’ve been wondering on all this lying around. Every glass of water is not helping and every drink is like throwing a pebble into the abyss. Maybe we should go walking?” Jeanie can’t make her shriveled brain pay attention to his words and feels a dizzying numbness that she would never be able to explain.
“Who cares,” says Jeanie.
“Who cares?” says Reg.
Jeanie remembers a time in their middle period, when one early morning they’d lain around on their beds, nursing debilitating respective hangovers – a day quite not unlike this one in fact. Jeanie wanted to get Reg in the mood for some coitus so she cooed to him in her sexy voice. Reg did get up, with something of an indifferent horniness and definitely not the mood for foreplay. He was unclothed when he stood up, so he ripped the beige sheet from his bed and draped it over himself and wandered to her room. He sat on the edge of the bed and was bathed in the naked morning light. Once they were near one another they lost whatever speck of desire they’d had seconds before. They sat there a few minutes.
“I’m bored of all this. I’ll go back to from where I came,” and he got up and hobbled out of Jeanie McFeven-McKruski’s room and returned to his own.
Cut back to Reg now sitting again in the present, perched on the edge of Jeanie’s bed, in last night’s clothes, still bored after many more years. Still not caring about much, just about whatever is bugging him. There’s always something bugging him, and he never knows what it is, something bringing him down. His eye twitches and he stands up, looks at Jeanie who is embracing Gerard, the cat. Gerard, the cat’s eyes are closed; Jeanie’s are too, he wonders if she is asleep. The waning light of another wasted day is setting over McCrebee’s Summit; it shines through Jeanie’s window at the exact angle for it to create a small pillar of dust at the foot of the bed, in the rustle of blankets where he’d just been sitting. Reginald stands over the bed, eye twitching, stomach gurgling, and breathing heavily as if the air was thicker than usual. He wants to talk to Jeanie, he wishes he could speak to her freely as he’d once done, but he does not want to wake her either, because he knows if he did try to talk to her neither of them would have much to say. He wishes he could tell her what he wanted to tell her last night. The truth is that they are both severely and devastatingly alone. Even though their rooms are so close to one another’s, even though they are married, even though they share a pet, and see one another nearly every day. On this day, February 2, 1989, there are no two people more distant from one another in the town of Snake River Mountain.
Reg remembers making love to his Jeanie one time in their early days. Somehow that particular lovemaking session stands out in his mind. Sometimes your mind takes note of something as an important memory to record because of something big or momentous that happens before or after an actual event (later that day he received news that his mother had passed away). So now Reg remembers this one time, and he remembers having a lot of her in his mouth. He remembers the buoyant youthfulness he saw in Jeanie’s face, and the ancestral traces in each movement of it. He remembers the way in which he fondled her breasts, and the way she looked back at him with furrowed brow and pursed lips. He remembers holding her by the wrists. He remembers barely being able to keep himself from finishing, and that was turning Jeanie on even more than she already was, in turn making it even harder to keep from finishing (he did manage to hang on for a significant amount of time, but still ejaculated at an unplanned time).
Reg turns away from her bed and tries to tiptoe out of the room, making more noise than it would have if he’d just walked normally, but he doesn’t want to wake her. He walks to his room, falls facedown on his bed like a tree being chopped down. He lies there. He hears Jeanie stir in the adjacent room. He closes his eyes. Jeanie and Gerard, the cat continue to sleep and they dream of nothing.