- Stay up with Me
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[End Page 50]
Henry is in the part of the dream where his father carries him piggyback through the shoulder-high waves. His father’s T-shirt is soaked through, and the salt water is making the cut on Henry’s elbow sting, when a woman’s voice calls out, “Henry . . . Henry.”
Before his eyes open he knows who it is. He can tell by the smell of her shampoo that it’s Alice. He’d been napping in the café around the corner from his apartment—the one open until midnight. “He just left,” Alice says, sitting down at Henry’s table, which is by the corner window.
She does this fairly frequently, finds Henry, now a boy-faced thirty-one, somewhere in the neighborhood when she wants his advice. Once, when she needed to choose between two job offers, she searched the grocery store, three coffee shops and two bars before discovering him seated with his eyes closed on the couch at the Laundromat. Henry has been [End Page 51] escaping into dreams a lot lately, in movie theaters or on buses or subways, but mainly in cafés or coffee shops, where he spends the bulk of his afternoons and evenings reading or working on one of his scripts.
“He thanked me,” she says with a pained smile. “Services rendered, I guess.”
He stares at her blankly, then glances at his watch.
“I’m sorry to bug you. But I really need you, Henry.”
She gives him the little-girl pout, the one that often convinces him to give her rides or buy her dinner.
“All right, then. When did he come over?”
“Just after nine.”
Henry does the math. It is eleven now. “Now, that’s ‘efficiency.’”
“It’s not like that. He works in the emergency room, and he has this ridiculous schedule. Anyway, I think I was insensitive to him.”
“His dog died this morning. I guess that’s a pretty big deal.”
“Yeah, I’d say so.”
“I told him I was sorry, really sorry, many times over. I just . . . I don’t know. I mean, how many times can you say, ‘My God, that’s awful. That’s so sad’? I had a pretty traumatic run-in at work, and I just kept it to myself.”
“Dogs are family members,” Henry says. He gazes down at his screenplay, which is about a spy mission in Tunisia during World War II. He considers letting Alice read some of it and then remembers how badly that went last time.
“He said it had a heart attack. Since when did dogs start having heart attacks? I thought of a dog dressed like one of those overworked executives, eating too many bacon cheeseburgers and keeling over.”
Henry looks at the other tables to see if anyone else is hearing this.
“I’m going back to work here,” he says.
“Not just yet, Henry.”
“I’ve got a deadline.”
“But you were sleeping.”
She bites her lower lip and sighs.
“Do you want to maybe go grab a drink?” she says.
He considers the offer. Henry is in the parched badlands of a dry spell. A couple of drinks with Alice followed by a trip to his apartment would be like a sugar rush, apt to raise his spirits for an hour or so before dropping him into a prolonged crash.
“Maybe not.” [End Page 52]
“All right,” she says. “Can I just sit here with you and read for a while? Remember when we used to do that?”
“Do you have something to read?”
Henry hands her a book from his messenger bag, then goes back to working on his screenplay.
Alice begins reading the book and twirling a strand of her straight brown hair. After a while she tilts her head thoughtfully and asks him, “How’s your dad, Henry?”
“I think about him all the time.”
Henry raises his eyebrows dubiously.
“Let’s go visit him this weekend. Like we did that time. Remember? When we went to the...