“You need a shim,” says the man, and shows her a thin, splintery wedge of wood. “Take it,” he says, pushing back her quarter. She can only get the tip in under her door. That night she goes to bed with the light on and stares at the doorknob. At around 1:00 A.M., the knob turns.
The door does not move.
The knob turns twice more. Then it stops.
The next morning, just showered, Rainey opens the bathroom door. Her mother’s bathrobe is red silk with a wine-dark stain on the belly, and has a deep V neckline, and things look a certain way on Rainey. She could wear a laundry bag and make it look good; her mother said it, the year before she left.
But Gordy, who leans against the banister outside the bathroom, white hair fanned out around his shoulders, does not appear to have laundry bags on the agenda.
“Do you mind?” she says, hanging back. He could be waiting for the bathroom, but she doubts it.
“I got your message last night,” says Gordy. “And I respect it. I respect it. But let’s not act so aggrieved that we have to bar the door. All I ever do is say good night.” No one else is moving in the house. They keep their voices low.
Rainey crosses her arms. “Say good night when,” she says.
“You know when.”
He says it as if he were citing the grilled-cheese sandwiches. Sandwiches she eats. Sandwiches she is complicit in.
“You come in my room when I’m sleeping?” From the way he looks at her, she knows they both know that she knows. She waits for him to laugh at her. “Don’t you dare laugh,” she says.
He doesn’t laugh. “You have no right,” she says. She pulls back her hand and slaps him on the face, to see if it will relieve her of the horrible knowing feeling. It does, a little, though her hand must be burning at least as much as his cheek. His skin turns bright red. She wonders if he is really albino or just incredibly pale. He makes no move to slap her back.
“You sent me signals,” says Gordy. “You’ve sent me signals your entire life.”
Signals? She sends signals to everyone, all the time, even if the signals are submerged, like telexes in cables on the ocean floor. It’s what she does. It doesn’t seem to be something a person can learn.
Gordy raises his elbows to block her hand. “You never said no.” He backs up toward his bedroom door.
DYLAN LANDIS is the author of a novel, Rainey Royal, and a collection of linked stories, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. She received a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, and had a story selected for The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Times, Tin House, Bomb and House Beautiful. Find her at www.dylanlandis.com.
Adapted from Rainey Royal, by Dylan Landis, Copyright © 2014 by Dylan Landis. With the permission of the publisher, Soho Press.