“For God’s sake, Jasmine, please open the door.” Philbert tapped gently, three little knocks. He waited a moment, then added one knock more, like a postscript. A P.S. is often the best part of a letter, he thought. It’s the last word, after all.
“Please. I just want to talk to you,” pleaded Philbert.
“Just four words. May I say just four words?” Philbert put his ear against the door. He could hear Jasmine breathing. She was breathing that hard.
“No,” she said.
“Three then. Just three words.”
“Yes, I know, dear heart. I heard the judge very clearly. Like a bell. He was sonorous, wasn’t he?” He knew she loved the word sonorous. He knew all the words she loved. He was, after all, a writer. Isn’t that why she stays with me, he thought, even at her peril?
“100 yards. That must be the distance between us. Minimally,” said Jasmine. “A football field.”
Philbert got on his knees and lowered his head to the floor to look through the space between the bottom of the door and the threshold. It was dark. My God, he thought, she has the lights out. Does she sit there in the dark? He stood back up.
The hall in which he was standing was dimly lit. Darkish, he thought. Oh, she’ll love that one. It was long and narrow, with doors spaced evenly along its length on either side, except where the stairwell interrupted the arrangement. He was on the top floor so there was nowhere to go except down or up to the roof. He had tried the door to the roof. It was locked.
“A football field,” said Philbert. “And what does that mean to either of us, dear heart? We’ve never been to a football stadium. We’ve never even watched the Super Bowl on TV. We call it the Stupid Bowl, don’t we, Jasmine? We’re so simpatico.” Simpatico, he thought. She loves that word. One of her favorites.
“You said three words. Say them and go away.”
Philbert could hear a low growling beneath her voice, as if a cornered wolf was crouched tight as a spring within her. “I love you, Jasmine,” he declared.
“That’s four words. Cut one.”
“I love you.” The words were hardly out before he knew he had blundered. Damnation, he thought.
“I knew you would cut me out. I knew you would cut Jasmine,” she said.
Philbert decided on a different track. “I’m worried about you.”
“You should be.”
“Can’t you open the door just for a minute? With the chain on? Just to let me see you’re all right?” Philbert heard something, but couldn’t make out what it was. He pressed his ear against the door so hard it hurt. She has always been so difficult to read, he thought. Often he could not tell whether she was laughing or crying. And that’s what makes her my muse, he thought. He heard the door at the far end of the hall open. A little boy, hardly more than a toddler, stood in the doorway. He was in blue pajama tops. The little boy looked at him. Philbert made an effort to smile. The boy took a few steps forward. Stopped. Then took a few more. Philbert put his hand in his pocket. He fingered his packet of gum.
“Pepito!” A large dark woman appeared in the doorway behind the boy. She yanked him back inside. She looked long and hard at Philbert, then slammed the door, locking it loudly.
“Jasmine,” said Philbert, leaning tiredly against the door, “please. I have gum for you. Your favorite. Cinnamon Twist. Long lasting.”
“Why can’t you just go away?” Jasmine said. Her voice was muffled, as if her mouth was pressed against the door.
“Because I can’t. I love—no, need you, Jasmine. You are my muse. I can’t write anything wondrous without you. You are my opium dream.”
“Philbert, listen to me.”
“Yes, dear heart?”
“Unbutton your shirt.”
“But why?” Philbert did not wait for a reply. He unbuttoned his shirt.
“Put your hand on your left side below your ribs.”
“What do you feel?”
“The bandage,” he sighed.
“And what is beneath the bandage?”
“It’s almost healed.”
“An inch more, Philbert. I am one inch away from being a murderer.”
Philbert fell to his knees before the door. “Please, Jasmine. It was in a moment of weakness that I dragged you to court. I renounce the order of protection. I rescind it. I don’t want to be protected from you.”
“What do you want me to do?” asked Jasmine. She sounded exhausted. “Must I report myself to the police, turn myself in for something you are forcing me to do? Is that what you want?” Now is that laughter or crying? he thought.
Philbert stood up. He walked to the stairwell and looked down the dark drop of the stairs. He really wanted to go up to the roof, stand in the sunshine, and take bright deep breaths of the spring air. Yes, that will clear my head, he thought. But then he remembered he had already tried that and the door to the roof was locked. There was nowhere to go but down, down and away, away from Jasmine, just as she had urged him so many times. He returned to the door and in a moment of sublime clarity, he knew what he must do. “Just let me in, dear heart. Please.”
A minute passed without a sound. The door slowly opened, as if blown by a light spring breeze.
Philbert looked in. The room was dark, but not without light. “It’s darkish, Jasmine,” he said. But Jasmine said nothing, nor was she anywhere in sight. I could turn and go down the stairs and be on my way, thought Philbert.
He entered the room. The door thundered shut behind him.
Paul Negri is the editor of a dozen anthologies published by Dover Publications. His fiction appears in The Vestal Review, Bartleby Snopes, Pif Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and other publications. He has twice won the Gold Medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.