Autumn was late and the nights were hot and sleepless. On an indecent September night, Henry had gone to the bathroom for a glass of water. When he returned, Lilly was naked with the cotton sheet kicked to the foot of the bed. She was waiting for him, just as she had done all Summer, her nakedness sparklingly suggestive. The window was open. They were both young and unashamed.
He kneeled over her, leaning in to kiss. He stopped. Screams came from next door. A baby. He closed the window.
He again leaned towards Lilly. She turned away and pulled the sheet up over her. The closed window had not done much to stop the noise. He lay next to her and stared at the ceiling, chest undulating with the heavy breath of wasted arousal. There was too much energy to sleep — the tension of late summer, the warm flush of their bodies and the screaming of next door’s baby.
He heard Lilly whisper, “Mojito.”
“Mojito?” he said.
“Just suddenly fancy one.”
Henry reached over and placed his arm next to hers, both of them now holding her middle.
“Remember Cuba?” he said. “Let’s go make some. Beats lying here, listening to this.”
In the kitchen, Henry set up a makeshift cocktail bar: two tumblers, limes, mint, club soda, Havana Club white rum, sugar, Angostura Bitters with its yellowed oversized label ripped at the top, and the muddler they had, in their enthusiasm, bought after their trip to Cuba. He surveyed the table — everything he needed and nothing more.
“Ice,” Lilly reminded him.
He checked the freezer. There was no ice.
“We’re all out,” he said. “Do without?”
“I need ice. Really, that’s what I want more than anything.”
“I don’t know what to say. We’re clean out and it’s two in the morning. We’ve got cold beer. Dos cervezas?”
“Next door’ll have some.”
“Next door? Yeah. I’ll just go round, knock on their door. Sorry guys. Know you’re having trouble with your baby, but could I get some ice?”
“Steal it. Break in. Be decisive. The back door’s probably open.”
“You steal it.”
He laughed. She narrowed her eyes and pinched her mouth. He stopped laughing. He knew better than to mess around when she was like that. Her quiet persuasiveness had gotten them out of difficult situations in the past — dealing with the police in New York, Cuzco, Rome, anywhere he had managed to lose his wallet. People did not argue with that face.
“You’re serious?” he said. ‘The baby?”
“The baby’s stopped crying.”
He tilted his head towards next door and stared at her. She stared back. She was right, it was silent.
The back door was open. Henry considered lying, telling Lilly it was locked. He knew she would see the open window and make him break in that way. He eased the door open. The kitchen was small and narrow, a black counter stopped at a large stainless-steel fridge freezer. He left the door ajar behind him. On top of the fridge freezer sat three toy white elephants. One small baby elephant and two larger elephants. He bent down and opened the freezer door. The top two shelves were filled with frozen white plastic pouches. They had been dated with a black marker, ‘Expressed 9 Sept.’ A range of dates ran back to the start of August. The ice had to be somewhere on the top shelf. He moved the pouches aside, holding the edge of the plastic between the tips of his fingers. Behind the pouches he found an open bag of ice. He had not planned this far ahead and was now faced with the prospect of taking the entire bag or carrying loose ice cubes. As he weighed up his options, the baby screamed. He stood rigid and listened. The parents were arguing.
“It’s your go. I settled him earlier,” the father said.
“You go. I’ll have to get up early to feed him,” the mother said.
“He probably wants to be fed.”
“He hasn’t needed feeding in the night for months, he should be sleeping through.”
Henry heard the father’s resigned footsteps, a door being opened, and the baby quieting. He folded up the bottom of his T-shirt to form a pouch, loaded it with ice and made a quick exit, careful not to disturb the once again still night.
Back in his own kitchen, he emptied the stolen ice into two tumblers. Lilly sat, arms crossed, not moving. A lit cigarette sat in the ashtray. Unsmoked, it had burned down its length, leaving a long perfect cylinder of ash.
“You should see what they’ve got in the freezer there,” he said breathlessly.
He fixed the mojitos and she sat waiting, looking out to their well-sculpted garden. He had gotten her just what she needed. With the drinks made he sat down and took big gulps of the mojito, calming himself. She took an ice cube from the tumbler and crunched on it. One after the other, she ate the ice cubes without touching her drink.
“You’re just eating the ice. You okay?” he said.
She rubbed her stomach and said, “There’s nothing to worry about. I feel fine.”
Gwyn Ruddell Lewis is a full-time father, writing when he can. His work can be found in publications including Bartleby Snopes and The Portland Review (online).