Nowhere City

Nowhere City by Alison Lurie Page A

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Authors: Alison Lurie
disliked their house, Katherine was also worried about their being thrown out of it. She had discovered that some of their neighbors across the street had got notices from the Highway Department to vacate by March first. Everyone on that block had received eviction notices, it turned out; the city was clearing the land for a new freeway. Katherine became hysterical then, and made Paul call up their landlady.
    Oh, there was nothing to get excited about, the landlady told him. She had inside information from her brother in the real estate business that construction wasn’t going to start over there for a long time—two or three years, at least.
    “You see, there’s nothing to get excited about,” Paul had explained after he hung up. “She’s lying,” Katherine said, holding on to a chair in the middle distance. “Wait and see. I suppose she’s known about it all along, but she didn’t say anything so she could get you to rent her house. Probably nobody else would have taken it. Probably everyone knew they were going to build a freeway here, right across the street, except us. You should have asked somebody before you signed the lease.”
    And since then, Paul thought, Katherine had looked in the mailbox daily as if she wanted to find an eviction notice there, whatever inconvenience it might cause her; it would prove the landlady a liar and her husband a fool. She hadn’t said anything more about it, but he knew her well. Too well: maybe that was the trouble.
    And Ceci? Not well enough: nearly all she said or did was like a collection of road signs in a strange language. He could remember coming upon such incomprehensible signs when they were driving through Europe. Screams of warning, perhaps—or directions to the heavenly city?
Massi caduti!
    Gravillons Roulants 30
    (“Let’s go back,” Katherine had kept asking, even then.)
    Even more puzzling than Ceci’s statements were her silences. She was the only girl he had known who did not say anything in bed. She asked no questions, made no requests, expressed no pain or pleasure; even when the room seemed to shake around them she did not cry out, only held him harder. At the end she gave a long, breathy laugh, the laugh of a creature that does not know any words. What did it mean? Was she happy, or was she amused? Was she laughing at him?
    Fully clothed, Paul walked into the next room. It was roughly whitewashed and littered with junk—crates and plaster and broken furniture and cans of paint and heaps of newspapers. And a lot of drawings and canvases: crated, stacked against the walls, even piled on the floor. There was no easel, but propped up on an old trunk was a work in progress, a large painting in which black shapes of flames and rocks and tangled string were starting to rush across an empty white canvas. He stood and looked at this for some time. A lot of time and expensive oil paint had been used here. Ceci was an artist; that was what she really was. Not for the first time, he wished he knew more about contemporary art.
    He went back through the bedroom into the kitchen. The record was still playing.
    “Hi.” Ceci turned. She was wearing a man’s old work-shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, open all the way down the front. Otherwise she was wearing nothing.
    “Hungry? It’s ready.” She pulled the pan off the stove, slid eggs onto a plate, added sliced tomatoes, green pepper, and onion, wiped her hands on her shirt-tail, pushed her hair back, and sat down. “You can sit there.”
    Paul walked round the kitchen table, past the kitchen chair full of Ceci, and sat. Déjeuner sur l’herbe, he thought. He might at least have left off his jacket and tie.
    “This is great,” he said, referring to everything.
    “Thanks.” Ceci smiled. “You’re sort of great yourself,” she added
    “So are you.”
    They ate.
    “What’s so great about me?” Paul asked.
    “I d’know. I guess what I like is, you’ve got a lot of go but you’re not hung up on

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