Our Souls at Night
by Kent Haruf
And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.
They lived a block apart on Cedar Street in the oldest part of town with elm trees and hackberry and a single maple grown up along the curb and green lawns running back from the sidewalk to the two??story houses. It had been warm in the day but it had turned off cool now in the evening. She went along the sidewalk under the trees and turned in at Louis's house.
When Louis came to the door she said, Could I come in and talk to you about something?
They sat down in the living room. Can I get you something to drink? Some tea?
No thank you. I might not be here long enough to drink it. She looked around. Your house looks nice.
Diane always kept a nice house. I've tried a little bit.
It still looks nice, she said. I haven't been in here for years.
She looked out the windows at the side yard where the night was settling in and out into the kitchen where there was a light shining over the sink and counters. It all looked clean and orderly. He was watching her. She was a good??looking woman, he had always thought so. She'd had dark hair when she was younger, but it was white now and cut short. She was still shapely, only a little heavy at the waist and hips.
You probably wonder what I'm doing here, she said.
Well, I didn't think you came over to tell me my house looks nice.
No. I want to suggest something to you.
Yes. A kind of proposal.
Not marriage, she said.
I didn't think that either.
But it's a kind of marriage??like question. But I don't know if I can now. I'm getting cold feet. She laughed a little. That's sort of like marriage, isn't it.
It can be.
Yes. Well, I'm just going to say it.
I'm listening, Louis said.
I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.
What? How do you mean?
I mean we're both alone. We've been by ourselves for too long. For years. I'm lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.
He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious.
You don't say anything. Have I taken your breath away? she said.
I guess you have.
I'm not talking about sex.
No, not sex. I'm not looking at it that way. I think I've lost any sexual impulse a long time ago. I'm talking about getting through the night. And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don't you think?
Yes. I think so.
I end up taking pills to go to sleep and reading too late and then I feel groggy the next day. No use at all to myself or anybody else.
I've had that myself.
But I think I could sleep again if there were someone else in bed with me. Someone nice. The closeness of that. Talking in the night, in the dark. She waited. What do you think?
I don't know. When would you want to start?
Whenever you want to. If, she said, you want to. This week.
Let me think about it.
All right. But I want you to call me on the day you're coming if that happens. So I'll know to expect you.
I'll be waiting to hear from you.
What if I snore?
Then you'll snore, or you'll learn to quit.
He laughed. That would be a first.
She stood and went out and walked back home, and he stood at the door watching her, this medium??sized seventy??year??old woman with white hair walking away under the trees in the patches of light thrown out by the corner street lamp. What in the hell, he said. Now don't get ahead of yourself.
The next day Louis went to the barber on Main Street and had his hair cut short and neat, a kind of buzz cut, and asked the barber if he still shaved people and the barber said he did, so he got a shave too. Then he went home and called Addie and said, I'd like to come over tonight if that's still all right.
Yes, it is, she said. I'm glad.
He ate a light supper, just a sandwich and a glass of milk, he didn't want to feel heavy and laden in her bed, and then he took a long hot shower and scrubbed himself thoroughly. He trimmed his fingernails and toenails and at dark he went out the back door and walked up the back alley carrying a paper sack with his pajamas and toothbrush inside. It was dark in the alley and his feet made a rasping noise in the gravel. A light was showing in the house across the alley and he could see the woman in profile there at the sink in the kitchen. He went on into Addie Moore's backyard past the garage and the garden and knocked on the back door. He waited quite a while. A car drove by on the street out front, its headlights shining. He could hear the high school kids over on Main Street honking their horns at one another. Then the porch light came on above his head and the door opened.
What are you doing back here? Addie said.
I thought it would be less likely for people to see me.
I don't care about that. They'll know. Someone will see. Come by the front door out on the front sidewalk. I made up my mind I'm not going to pay attention to what people think. I've done that too long??-all my life. I'm not going to live that way anymore. The alley makes it seem we're doing something wrong or something disgraceful, to be ashamed of.
I've been a schoolteacher in a little town too long, he said. That's what it is. But all right. I'll come by the front door the next time. If there is a next time.
Don't you think there will be? she said. Is this just a one??night stand?
I don't know. Maybe. Minus the sex part of that, of course. I don't know how this will go.
Don't you have any faith? she said.
In you, I do. I can have faith in you. I see that already. But I'm not sure I can be equal to you.
What are you talking about? How do you mean that?
In courage, he said. Willingness to risk.
Yes, but you're here.
That's right. I am.
Then you better come in. We don't have to stand out here all night. Even if it isn't something to be ashamed of.
He followed her across the back porch into the kitchen.
Let's have a drink first, she said.
That sounds like a good idea.
Do you drink wine?
But you prefer beer?
I'll get beer for the next time. If there is a next time, she said.
He didn't know if she was kidding or not. If there is, he said.
Do you prefer white or red wine?
She got a bottle out of the refrigerator and poured them each half a glass and they sat down at the kitchen table. What's in the paper sack? she said.
That means you are ready to try this out for one time at least.
Yes. That's what it means.
They drank the wine. Do you want some more?
No, I don't think so. Could we look around the house?
You want me to show you the rooms and layout.
I'd just like to know more about where I am physically.
So you can sneak out if you need to, in the dark.
Well no, I wasn't thinking that.
She stood and he followed her into the dining room and the living room. Then she led him upstairs to the three bedrooms, the big room at the front of the house overlooking the street was hers. This is where we always slept, she said. Gene had the bedroom at the back and we used the other room as an office.
There was a bathroom down the hall and another one off the dining room downstairs. The bed in the room was king??sized with a light cotton spread over it.
What do you think? she said.
It's a bigger house than I thought. More rooms.
It's been a good house for us. I've been here forty??four years.
Two years after I moved back here with Diane.
A long time ago.
I think I'll just use the bathroom, she said.
While she was out of the room he looked at the pictures on her dresser and the ones hanging on the walls. Family pictures with Carl on their wedding day, on the church steps somewhere. The two of them in the mountains beside a creek. A little black and white dog. He knew Carl a little bit, a decent man, pretty calm, he sold crop insurance and other kinds of insurance to people all over Holt County twenty years ago, had been elected mayor of the town for two terms. Louis never knew him well. He was glad now that he hadn't. There were pictures of their son. Gene didn't look like either of them. A tall thin boy, very serious. And two pictures of their daughter as a young girl.
When she came back he said, I think I'll use the bathroom too. He went in and used the toilet and washed his hands scrupulously and squeezed out a little dollop of her toothpaste and brushed his teeth and then took off his shoes and clothes and got into his pajamas. He folded his clothes over his shoes and left them in the corner behind the door and went back to the bedroom. She had gotten into a nightgown and was in bed now, the bedside lamp alight on her side and the ceiling light switched off and the window open a few inches. There was a cool soft breeze. He stood beside the bed. She folded back the sheet and blanket.
Aren't you getting in?
I'm considering it.
He got into bed, staying on his side, and pulled the blanket up and lay back. He didn't say anything yet.
What are you thinking? she said. You're awfully quiet.
How strange this is. How new it is to be here. How uncertain I feel, and sort of nervous. I don't know what I'm thinking. A mess of things.
It is new, isn't it, she said. It's a good kind of new, I'd say. Would you?
What do you do before you sleep?
Oh, I watch the ten o'clock news and come to bed and read till I'm asleep. But I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight. I'm too keyed up.
I'm going to shut off the light, she said. We can still talk. She turned in the bed and he looked at her bare smooth shoulders and her bright hair under the light.
Then it was dark with just the light from the street showing faintly in the room. They talked about trivial matters, getting acquainted a little, the minor routine events of town, the health of the old lady Ruth who lived in between their houses, the paving of Birch Street. Then they were quiet.
After a while he said, Are you still awake?
You asked what I was thinking. One thing I was thinking: I'm glad I didn't know Carl very well.
I wouldn't feel as good as I do being here, if I did.
But I knew Diane pretty well.
An hour later she was asleep and breathing quietly. He was still awake. He had been watching her. He could see her face in the dim light. They hadn't touched once. At three in the morning he got up and went to the bathroom and came back and shut the window. A wind had come up.
At daybreak he rose and got dressed in the bathroom and looked again at Addie Moore in bed. She was awake now. I'll see you, he said.
He went out and walked home on the sidewalk past the neighboring houses and went inside and made coffee and ate some toast and eggs and went out and worked in his garden for a couple of hours and returned to the kitchen and ate an early lunch and slept heavily for two hours in the afternoon.
Excerpted from Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Copyright © 2015 by Kent Haruf. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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