When Vivian got home that night, Toby was there alone. He sat at the table reading a book, his back straight, his head bent as if in prayer.
She went to a thing at a club, he said.
You didnt want to go?
I guess Im not a club person.
Whatever that is, she said.
He looked up and smiled, which embarrassed her because she knew that they were both making fun of Shelly and in doing so forming a secret bond. Why wasnt Toby at his own house? Maybe Shelly had left him at hers the way she left hundred-dollar bills lying around, evidence of her carelessness. Shellys sofa bed was open and unmade, red sheets spilling suggestively off the thin mattress. Vivian got a yogurt out of the refrigerator and a filigreed spoon from the old Ball jar that held the set of antique silver utensils that had belonged to Shellys grandmother, and went to her room. She ate her yogurt but felt too awkward to go back out and throw the empty cup into the garbage so she left it on the floor by her mattress where it toppled over under the weight of the spoon. She tried to read a book but she couldnt concentrate knowing that Toby was in the other room, reading his book. She had to go to the bathroom. Somehow, when Shelly was home with Toby, using the doorless bathroom wasnt such a problem. But she couldnt imagine using it now. The more she thought about it, however, the more she needed to. She decided not to make eye contact with Toby as she crossed the main room. If she pretended that he wasnt there, maybe he would pretend that she wasnt there either. In the bathroom she peed quickly with her eyes closed as if he were the one who didnt want to be seen. The toilet made a grating mechanical sound when flushed, and the water pipes of the sink let out their customary screeching complaints, bedeviling Vivians attempts at invisibility. After shed dried her hands, she turned toward the doorway, and there he was.
Sorry, he said. I didnt hear you.
You didnt hear me?
I guess I was into my book.
What are you reading?
Pnin, he said.
Is it good?
He glanced past her into the bathroom. You finished in here?
Oh, she said, realizing that she was blocking the way.
She walked quickly back to her room, but not fast enough to avoid hearing his relieved groan and the hard stream as his piss hit the toilet bowl.
She took the empty yogurt cup and spoon to the kitchen area. He walked out of the bathroom, adjusting his jeans.
Do you think you make a difference? she said.
With your flyers. I mean, is anybody interested?
Youre not, I guess.
Do you really think people change their minds?
People change their minds all the time. I think I want a hamburger, but I order a pizza.
Thats a ridiculous comparison.
Not really. Thats how we progress as a culture. We change our minds and, little by little, we become something else.
We become a more pizza-oriented culture, she said.
He smiled. He didnt seem offended.
Its just, if someone walked up to me on the street and started talking about communism or socialism, I wouldnt stop to have a conversation.
He shrugged. Im not going to change your mind, then, he said.
The way he said this made her feel dismissed. She wanted to correct him. She wanted to be able to change her mind, wanted him to change her mind. Although he seemed to have convictions, he had the same careless quality as Shelly, a confidence that allowed them both to ride along above the dismal concerns of everyone else. Why did she care so much? Her care felt like a disfigurement, something that made it necessary for people like Shelly and Toby to distance themselves from her. Her care felt like something that would drag down the progress of human development. It made her an awkward, embarrassing person who asked what book you were reading when all you wanted to do was go to the bathroom. She felt her face flush and she returned to her room. She changed into her nightclothes and got into bed and turned off the lamp, but she was too agitated to sleep.
Excerpted from Alone With You by Marisa Silver. Copyright © 2010 by Marisa Silver. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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