The next week Ray moves into the apartment in what I call the stalker building. I know he watches them at the park. I can’t blame him. He wants the little arms and legs and the tiny laugh; the hair puffing up on the wind, the small hand inside his big one.
I want it too. The want of it can drive you crazy. The absence of it feels like a weight missing from your body and you look down at yourself to see what’s gone. You have arms, legs, your torso is intact. Were you carrying something that you’ve put down and lost? Were you wearing a coat that you’ve left at coat check? Did you lose your purse?
“Are you sure this is a good idea,” I ask, holding my arms out for a box.
It’s an easy move from Mom’s basement to here. Ray doesn’t have much. The back of his car is loaded with things that may have been in there for months. Maybe years as he travelled around post prison from no place to nowhere.
“No, but it’s the only idea I have,” Ray says and hands me something marked “stuff from the bathroom.”
“Who knows,” I say as I carry the box up three flights of stairs to his new place, “maybe you’ll like your cellmate better this time.”
“That’s very optimistic,” Ray says sarcastically from a few stairs behind me.
“Did you really come to me for optimism?” I question and make note of the peeling paint on the steel stairwell.
“Of course not,” Ray says and follows me into his new apartment. “I know better than that.”
“Sorry,” I say and set the box down amid the few other things we’ve taken up the stairs. “This is a big step for you and I’m not helping at all.”
“Of course you are,” he says and punches my arm. “You’re keeping me for having to make double the trips up and down the stairs.”
“Ray,” I say suddenly fearful for him. “Do you really think things are going to work out?”
“I never expect things to work out,” he says, defeated already. “That way I’m a lot less disappointed. I just thought I’d try for once, to do the right thing. Thanks for the support.”
He puts down a box labeled “Crap from the Closet.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Ray comes closer and puts his hands on my shoulders.
“Sis,” he says and sighs. “I know I’m being crazy and I know you’re trying to be helpful, although you’re not very good at it. I appreciate the honesty.”
Ray goes back down the stairs before I have a chance to say anymore. I walk around his place, getting a feel for Ray’s new landscape. The furnished apartment is suitable—one bedroom and a fold out couch, a kitchen designed for take-out, living area, the usual necessities. At the window overlooking the street, I see the world that Ray is sneaking through the back door of. I watch people pass on the streets below and feel the helpless desire that draws Ray here. This is Nicole’s neighborhood. It’s where she walks to the park and where she and Michael go out for ice cream. I imagine Ray standing here long hours, in wait, in hope, in need of just a glimpse of what he fears might never be.