Middle - Part VI

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THINGS ARE uncomfortable in the house the next morning, and Kalp cannot help but wonder if they will rescind their offer of the guest room and send him back to the Sleeping Place. He would not blame them if he did. He knows that on Earth interrupting people in coitus is considered the height of ill manners. The television situational comedies have taught him that, if little else really useful.

He sleeps fitfully on the sofa, snatching brief strings of moments of unconsciousness, not daring to go back upstairs. He watches the sun rise quietly. When it has dawned fully, he fetches his breakfast quickly and silently from the kitchen and goes back out to the garden. He sits on the rough, humble garden bench and crunches his way morosely through an apple and watches the birds. His only comfort today seems to be the birds, and he reflects on his joyed and oblivious state of this time yesterday.

Well, no. This time yesterday he was trying not to be sick in the humans' amusement contraption.

Still. Naïve.

That seems to be his defining state of being lately. He wishes desperately that it were otherwise, that he could somehow transform back into the sure, knowledgeable, steady person that he used to be. Before. Employed, meaningful, loved. He remembers being that person — staid and reliable — but he cannot puzzle out how to become him again. It is humiliating and frustrating.

Inside the house, through the thin pane of cheap glass that separates Kalp from Gwen and Basil, he can hear them talking. There is no shouting, no angry — or aroused — patter of beating hearts. Kalp can feel the electricity surging gently in a regulated rhythm into the coffee maker, can hear the kinetic energy of the water boiling on the kettle on the stove. When both machines complete their duties, Kalp can hear the pouring of hot beverages and the clink of spoons against ceramic drinking vessels. He pulls an apple seed out from between his teeth and pokes it down into the dark soil of a pot holding a sad little sprig of a tree.

He is surprised when the glass wall is slid to the side and Basil and Gwen join him in the garden. Basil is carrying a chair from the dining room, which he sets down opposite Kalp, and Gwen unfolds a worn stool that was leaning against the fence. They settle into their respective seats, fingers wrapped around steaming mugs.

"Look," Basil says slowly. "We wanted to apologize."

Kalp sits up straight. "You?" he says. "But it was I who — "

Gwen cuts him off. "We should have...I don't know, told you not to come in, or something. Put a sock on the doorknob. It was perfectly reasonable for you to think that we were fighting, you don't know anything about—"

"But I do!" Kalp insists, trying to cut the explanation short, both out of desperation to avoid the embarrassment of the retelling, and to keep himself from appearing ignorant; even more naïve. "I have read a pornography."

Neither Gwen nor Basil seem to know what to say to that.

Gwen settles on "Oh," and turns bright red in embarrassment.

Basil clears his throat, takes a sip of tea and says, "What, just one?" Gwen smacks his arm, a comfortable and predictable response.

Kalp feels his nervousness swing down, but that just makes him anxious again because he knows that he should not revel in this, this easy familiarity, because it is about to end. This is no longer his, but he cannot help basking in the glow of what is left of his friendship with his co-workers, to soak up whatever he can before they exclude him.

Kalp taps his fingers together and screws up his courage. It is better to pain himself now, quickly rather than allow it to drag out and cause even more suffering. "I will pack my trunk today," he says. "And send for a taxicab."

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