Stan opens the large green locker and stows away the clothes he’s been wearing: the shorts, the T-shirts, the jeans, the summer stuff. He won’t be wearing these clothes for a while: by the time he gets back here the hot weather will most likely be over and he’ll be into the fleece pullovers. He won’t have to do so much lawn maintenance then, which is a plus. Though the lawn will be a wreck. Some guys have no feeling for lawns, they take them for granted, they let them mat up and dry out and then the yellow ants get into them and it takes a lot of work to bring them back. If he were here all the time he could keep the lawn in peak condition. As it is, he’s constantly in repair mode.
His clothes are all washed and neatly folded: wife, Charmaine, did the laundry last thing, before she set off on her scooter for the women’s wing at Positron. In recent months he’s been leaving the house after she does, so he’s been the one doing the final check: no bathtub ring, no orphaned sock, no ends of soap or wispy gatherings of shed hair on the floor. When they return on the first day of every second month, Stan and Charmaine find the house pristine, spotless, hinting of lemon-scented cleaning products and without a trace of recent occupancy—and they like to leave it that way.
Though it hasn’t been spotless every time. Three months ago Stan found a folded note: the corner was sticking out from under the refrigerator. It must originally have been attached with the silver fridge magnet in the shape of a duck, the same one Charmaine uses to post shopping reminders. Despite the strict Consilience taboo against contact of any kind with Alternates, he read the note immediately. It was typed and printed, but it was still shockingly intimate:
Darling Max, I can hardly wait till next time. I’m starved for you! I need you so much. XXOO and you know what more—Jasmine.
There was a lipstick kiss: hot pink. No, darker: some kind of purple. Not violet, not mauve, not maroon. He riffled through his head, trying to recall the names of the colors on the paint chips and fabric swatches Charmaine spends so much time brooding over. He’d lifted it to his nose, breathed in: still a faint scent, like cherry bubble gum.
Charmaine has never worn a lipstick that color. And she’s never written him a note like that. He dropped it into the trash as if it were burning, though on reflection he fished it out and repositioned it under the refrigerator: Jasmine must never know that her note to Max had been intercepted. Also, it’s possible Max has been trained to look under the fridge for such notes—it might be a kinky little game they play with each other—and Max would be upset not to find it. “Did you get my note?” Jasmine would say to him as they lay stuck together. “What note?” would not be a good thing for Max to say. “Omigod, one of them found it!” Jasmine would exclaim. Then she would laugh. It might even turn her on, the consciousness of a third pair of eyes having seen the imprint of her avid mouth.
Not that she needs turning on. Stan can’t stop thinking about that: about Jasmine, about her mouth. It’s bad enough here at the house, even with Charmaine breathing beside him, lightly or heavily depending on what they’re doing, or rather on what he’s doing—Charmaine has never been much of a joiner, more of a sidelines woman, cheering him on from a distance. But at Positron, in his narrow bed in the men’s wing, that kiss floats in the darkness before his open eyes like four plush pillows, parted invitingly as if about to sigh or speak. He knows the color of that mouth by now, he’s tracked it down. Fuchsia. It has a moist, luscious feel to it. Oh hurry, that mouth would say. I need you, I need you now! I’m starved for you! But it would be speaking to Stan, not to the guy whose clothes repose in the locker beside his own. Not to Max.
Max and Jasmine, those are their names—the names of the Alternates, the two others who occupy the house, walk through its routines, cater to its demands, partake of its modest luxuries, act out its fantasies of normal life when he and Charmaine aren’t there. He isn’t supposed to know those names, or anything at all about their owners: that’s Consilience protocol. But he does know the names. And by now he knows—or deduces, or, more accurately, imagines—a lot of other things as well.
Max’s locker is the red one. Charmaine’s locker is pink, Jasmine’s is purple. In an hour or so—once Stan has left the house, once he’s logged out—Max will walk in through the front door, open the red locker, take out his stored clothes, carry them upstairs, arrange them in the bedroom, on the shelves, in the closet: enough for a month’s stay.
Then Jasmine will arrive. She won’t bother with her locker, not at first. They’ll throw themselves into each other’s arms. No: Jasmine will throw herself into Max’s arms, press herself against him, open her fuchsia mouth, tear off Max’s clothes and her own, pull him down onto—what? The living room carpet? Or will they stumble upstairs, reeling with lust, and fall entwined onto the bed, so thoughtfully and neatly made up with newly ironed sheets by Charmaine before she left? Sheets with a border of birthday-party bluebirds tying pink ribbon bows. Nursery sheets, kiddie sheets: Charmaine’s idea of cuteness. Though, like everything else in the place, they came with the house.
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