Dennis Hopper Lives in Venice
Lauren Barbato

She did not know this man in her bed, but he was kind, offering to fix her tea yet she had none, nor milk nor sugar nor any idea of what day it was or where they met. They drank coffee instead—black, for it was a perpetual occurrence, never having milk or sugar—and talked about the weather, though there was nothing to talk about, really, since the blinds were closed. They could only guess: Sunny, with a few clouds, low 70s. Sounds just about right for this time of year, she said. Spring.

No, he said, it’s fall. September.

That’s summer, I think, she said, pleased to know that he did not know any more than she did. If it was September, then it had been three weeks since Ethan left. She hasn’t had a visitor since.

She did not know this man in her bed, but she did not worry for she did not know most things. How to change a tire, for instance, or why some men go to prison for the crimes others commit, or when she last paid her rent. But she knew the day now, yes—today was Sunday. She knew this from the silence of her neighbors, all gone to church with the sons and daughters they are obligated to see, wearing stiff-brimmed hats veiled with guilt. Sundays were her only day of calm, when her ears were clear and her apartment was at ease. But now this man in her bed who she did not know was going on and on about some vague promise of French lessons, or was it driving lessons? She did not know most things, like why God created monsters to live amongst women, or why black pens tend to last the longest, but she did know that she had driven last night, to and from where ever this man was lost and found. Her keys were where they always were, splayed on the nightstand, except one was missing, she was sure of it. He caught her gaze and said she was “excellent,” her parallel parking job was “magnificent,” even in her “state of mind.” He wanted her to give him driving lessons because he was French, that was it.

Her hearing has become a wiry ball of static lately, like how it sounds when you are driving between dueling radio stations. The doctors, all twelve of them on her health plan, couldn’t find a reason for it. Too much earwax, not enough earwax, a clog in the sinuses, or simply a modern-day product of loud music and ear buds, remedied with a prescription of smooth jazz on a low setting. But nothing was perforated, everything was perfectly intact, they all had said—all but her therapist, number twelve on that list. It’s selective hearing, he had said, picking and choosing which sounds and thoughts to listen to, closing out the rest to fit your needs. And maybe he was onto something, onto why she thought it had only been three weeks since Ethan left when it was, in fact, three months, but then, she fired her therapist.

She did not know this man in her bed, but she knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t supposed to be here. Yet here he was, up and at it now, going through her things like he’s seen them before. They always know exactly what they are looking for, an artifact from the life they have just uncovered. He thought he found it in the form of a yellowed birthday card signed “Lovingly,” the name smeared where it should be. She wondered if he could sense the vacancy, and if he would want to replace it. She did not know why they tend to do that, just like she did not know why, last night, she had found Dennis Hopper posting no bills on that street corner in Venice. He never left—that was good to know. It meant all those obits in the papers were wrong: Dennis Hopper lives in Venice, and if he could remain, then so could she and he and they.

She did not know this man once in her bed and now in her room, nor did she know why the cords to the lamps were slack on this Sunday morning not of calm but unease. She had kept the lights on since Ethan left, in case he ever needed a beacon. She did not know this man, but now she was worried—worried that Ethan came when the lights were out, like how they were last night, stopped at a green light with Dennis Hopper as car horns clogged the black sky. She had a habit of stopping at greens and driving through reds—her driving was not at all “excellent” or “magnificent”—and preferred highways to backstreets. But she was on the backstreets last night, for she thought Ethan might be at the boardwalk where they met and continued to meet, stubbing out a cigarette with another ready to go. She must not have made it to the boardwalk with the half-pack of cigarettes she had told herself not to smoke, finding the crushed box beneath an electrical outlet.

She opened the blinds—sunny and no clouds, they were close—and put on an Edith Piaf record, because he was French and Edith was their Little Sparrow and it was one of those trite parallels Ethan would have made if this man she did not know was here three weeks—months, she must remember, months—earlier. Had she seen the movie? No, she said as Edith sang and she swayed, did it come out already?

It’s been awhile, he said. A long, long while. The man was in her drawers now; soon he will be in the floorboards. These men, they never stop digging.

She stopped swaying and retreated to the bathroom to empty her cold coffee. There were bite marks on her bare shoulders, and she knew this man placed them there, but she did not know why. She only knew enough to know that they would go bad, like how all fruits go bad, ripening from this glaring pink to a dark brown tinged with a moldy gray, the skin folding into an irreparable mush that seeps into the core. A day or two, that’s all it takes. She was not looking forward to it.

She did not flip the vinyl when Edith faded, and she did not know why this man in her room stayed when she asked him to leave. He made another pot of black coffee; she plugged in all the lights. He stepped over a pile of forgotten trash, hooked her by the hips, and she noticed, now, with the lights plugged in and the blinds open, that his eyes were blue. She did not know why she thought they were brown, but then again, she did not know most things. That it had been three years since Ethan left, for instance, and the light bulbs have never been changed.

Lauren Barbato lives and writes in Boston. As a journalist and critic, her work has appeared in Ms. magazine, the Women’s Media Center, FILTER, Bitch and many others. She holds a B.F.A. degree from the University of Southern California, and is an alumna of the Yale Writers Conference.