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Fear of Flying

February 13, 2011 2 comments

In one of the oldest buildings on an old college campus. A building hardly used these days. Musty and poorly lit. Inhabited by placid and contented ghosts. The hand-lettered sign taped to the door reads AA MEETING. Blake looks at his watch. 6:09. The meeting has already started. He shuffles his feet and thrusts his hands in his pockets. Uncertain. Maybe he could start next week since he is here of his own accord. No court order this time. He has been experiencing formication. Formication, a word that sounds like another, dirty word. The funny word the doctors use for his hallucinations. Blake sees snakes or imagines bugs crawling all over his skin. Sometimes under his skin. The bugs are the formication part.

Blake is about to amble down the hallway in the opposite direction from whence he came and exit down the staircase. Instead he opens the AA door. About a dozen people swivel on their metal folding chairs to look at the intruder. He scans the faces but, surprisingly, doesn’t recognize anyone. The folding chairs face a long collapsible table. Seated at the table is a bald man. Standing beside the bald man is a pretty woman whose confessions Blake has interrupted. He takes a seat in the back row, at the end. He is already regretting his decision. He should have continued down the hallway. If he had he might have noticed the other door, the one with the professionally lettered AA sign. In that other room people are gathered to wrestle with their addiction to demon rum.

“Welcome,” the bald man says to Blake. “Please continue Alicia,” bald man says to the pretty woman standing nervously, knock kneed, fidgeting with her hands. Alicia’s dark hair is pinched up at the back of her head, a loose strand dangling beside her left ear. No make-up. A soft, charming puffiness to her face; around her eyes and along the corners of her mouth like she has a pinch between her cheek and gum. She looks like she just crawled out of bed. Kyle thinks her disheveled nature makes her all the more attractive.

“After my car engine died and the radio went silent, I saw a large craft hovering overhead. It was huge, like a floating strip mall with multi-colored windows. Two tall grey creatures were approaching me. They had heads shaped like upside down pears and large black eyes and tiny noses and ears and mouths like slits that didn’t move,” Alicia says.

Holy shit. And I thought my hallucinations were bad.

“I began to panic but as the creatures moved closer they began to communicate with me. With their minds. You know, like telepathy. They calmed me down. Suddenly I was aboard the hovering craft with no memory of how I got there. There were more large greys and some smaller ones who seemed to be workers and there were reptilians wearing uniforms with emblems of winged, feathered serpents. The reptilians seemed to be the bosses. They made clicking sounds. I think the large greys might be hybrids of the small greys and reptilians.”

Okay. She sees lizards, I see snakes. Same difference.

Alicia is still visibly nervous but is getting into her story, Blake thinks. Her voice grows stronger and more confident as she continues to speak.

She is a very, very attractive lush.

“One of the tall greys escorted me onto an elevator without a door. It was like a very large dumbwaiter. The elevator took us up and I could see inside a room with a table. The alien told me to take off my clothes and go into the room and lie down on the table.”

A fire alarm activates. In the AA room lights flash and a repetitive siren screams in shrill rising notes. Blake thinks he’d like to have the siren as his cell phone ring tone. A recorded message instructs them to evacuate the building.

Shit. This was starting to get really interesting.

            Blake stands outside in the parking lot with the other evacuees. He thinks he sees Jimmy, a fellow drunk standing a few yards away but he didn’t see him in the meeting. He sidles up closer to Alicia.

“You must have been really frightened,” he says.

“Terrified. I thought I was going to pee my pants. I hate public speaking.”

The bald man collects the group. “I’ve been told there was an electrical fire in the basement. The wiring in this old building is shot, I think. Everything is okay but it will be some time before we are allowed to re-enter. I’m afraid we’ll have to adjourn and reconvene next week. I’ll try to find a better location.”

People disperse. Blake is disappointed.

“You want to go get a cup of coffee or something?” he asks Alicia.

“What I need is a stiff drink,” she says.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“Why not?”

Blake can think of several why nots but none that measure up to her blue eyes and long legs.

###

Alicia orders a Cosmopolitan. Against his better judgment Blake orders a shot and a beer.

“I don’t drink very often,” she says.

“You’re like me. I don’t drink often either but when I do…whoo-ee.”

He asks Alicia to finish her story.

“I didn’t remember much from after I undressed and entered the room with the examination table. I found myself back in my car. Three hours had passed but it felt like I had only been gone for a few minutes. My car started right up and the hovering craft was gone.”

“Wow! Pretty bad episode. You blacked out.” Blake knows the territory. Missing days. Waking up at home with no memory of how he got there. “One time I . . .”

“There’s more. I went to a hypnologist who helped me recover my lost memories. I learned that on the examining table they spread a strange blue liquid over me and I became aroused. I remember being ashamed of my arousal. They must have been pretty rough with me. I had bruises on my thighs and arms and buttocks but the hypnotist couldn’t recover that part. Just as well I guess.”

Blake’s hallucinations are never arousing but Alicia’s story is and he wonders if she is embellishing for his benefit. He certainly hopes so.

“Then the aliens began to probe me.”

She has nightmares of being gang raped by illegal aliens while drunk. Damned Mexicans. We really need to secure our borders.

            “They probed both of my orifices.”

“Both of your…”

“You know, my anus too. With their appendages.”

“Their appendages?” Man, I need to switch to Cosmopolitans. “I just see snakes,” he tells her. “And I feel bugs crawling all over my skin. The bugs are formication. Do you ever formicate?”

“Not since the abduction. Maybe I should. Maybe it would calm me. I’ve never had anyone suggest it…so directly. Do you want to come to my place?”

###

In the morning over coffee and bagels with cream cheese.

“I think I might be pregnant.”

Blake’s butter knife clatters, leaving a smudge of pasty white cream cheese on the table.

“Whoa. Don’t look at me. We had sex the first and only time last night. There’s no way…”

“From the aliens, I mean. I haven’t had my period since I was abducted.”

“Let’s get this straight. Was this a hallucination or a nightmare or were you really gang raped by illegal aliens? If you were gang raped what good is an AA meeting? I mean I understand you want to stop because, yeah, a woman is vulnerable when she’s soused but… You should go to the authorities. You should see a doctor. Get an abortion if you need one.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re watching. They’ll stop me. When I was on the ship I saw the breeding tanks though I wasn’t allowed to look into them. The smell was awful. I did some research. They’ll come and extract my fetus and put it in a tank. I think I need to let them do as they had planned or they might harm me.”

This sweet little piece is seriously fucked up.

            “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’m here to protect you now. You’re going to help me stop drinking and I’m going to protect you,” Blake says.

And I’m going to get you to see a psychiatrist.

He reaches over and holds Alicia’s hand. She leans forward and lays her tear- moistened cheek against his arm.

Blake wants to strip away Alicia’s delusions while leaving intact her wide-eyed willingness to believe almost anything.

“You’ll really stay with me?”

Blake nods. This place is so much cooler than my dump.

“I was supposed to go on vacation with a friend,” she says. “To Florida. But I couldn’t go. I couldn’t get on the plane. I never want to be in the air again. I’m terrified to fly now.”

###

Over the next few days Blake and Alicia settle into a state of complacent domesticity. Alicia is less edgy. She knows that Blake can’t protect her from the aliens but she likes his presence in her space. He calms her. She has decided not to go back to the Alien Abductee meetings. Blake has had nary a drop to drink since he moved in. He is happy and free from withdrawal symptoms. And Alicia lets him probe her as much as he likes. He has decided that maybe he doesn’t need Alcoholics Anonymous.

###

President Obama is addressing the nation. Alicia and Blake watch it on television. The President talks about the economy and the war on terror.

“Aliens control the human elite,” Alicia says. “Obama and all of them take orders to destroy Earth and make it uninhabitable for humans. When this place is wrecked and miserable the aliens will come and take over.”

“It seems wrecked and miserable already,” Blake says. He is beginning to come around to Alicia’s point of view.

###

Alicia wears the little silk teddy that Blake likes so much. She turns off the overhead bedroom light and flips on the bedside lamp. It’s a compromise. Alicia likes the room romantically dark. Blake likes to watch. As he pushes up the teddy and prepares to penetrate her he thinks maybe her tummy is a little distended.

###

Alicia is awakened by the lights. Orbs appear in the room. Hovering. Like shiny holes in the air with bluish outer rings. Things begin to shake and rattle. A glass breaks in another room. She is oddly calm.

“They’re here,” she says to Blake with a clear, steady voice and reaches over to nudge him but there is nothing to nudge. She is talking to an empty bed. The orbs are gone.

Alicia drapes a terry cloth robe over her nakedness as she steps over the teddy on the floor. She feels Blake’s semen dribble down her thigh. She walks to the kitchen and takes the bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the cupboard. Sits down and pours a drink and places the bottle and another glass in the middle of the table. Blake will be back in about three hours, she thinks. And he’ll need a drink.

 

End

 

 

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Categories: From Swerve to Bend

Reunion with Pookie


When they would pass in the hallway or the cafeteria she would smile, acknowledging him without actually looking his way. Furtive. With a secret he could only guess at. After she had passed she would slow her gait ever so slightly knowing that he turned and stood rock-still to follow her movement. He would watch her walk the way certain women walk, not exactly wiggling but undulating, like a body of water. An unfathomable ocean.

They found themselves together on a Committee charged with formulating a minor policy. Empowerment it was called. Participative management. Throw the dog a bone. The farce mattered not to Audrey and Duncan, what mattered was the opportunity to look at each other for more than a few seconds at a time. They couldn’t keep their eyes from one another.

It was Audrey who asked him to lunch. Not to the cafeteria but to Baci, the Italian cafe down the street, where they could grab a table in the corner and begin their negotiations. They would still become a topic of gossip but without the blue, flickering, unflattering glare of the fluorescent lights. Duncan wasn’t meek and retiring in the face of a pretty woman but the sight of Audrey left him dumbstruck, in a state of sensory overload, stopped up with unspoken words. He courted her during the Committee meetings with eloquent logic served up obliquely like a racquetball champion playing a corner, bouncing the messages off the Committee Team Leader. Audrey would return his volley with complementary statements and her devastating smile of secrets.

Lunches were fruitful even though Baci had quadrupled his daily budget. It was twice as expensive as the company cafeteria and Duncan refused to allow Audrey to pay her share. They went to the movies where they sat stiffly in the glow and watched each other out of the corner of their eyes. They were careful in the beginning as if fearing they might break something fragile. Then dinner with the Pedroncellis, Audrey’s parents and her younger sister Anna who was perhaps prettier than Audrey but much less interesting. The family lived in the old, Italian neighborhood. Her mother served salad and an enormous bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and Chianti. Duncan’s appetite brought him right up to the edge of impropriety and he had to take deep breaths and time outs to study the faces of the small dark family and allow them to catch up. Audrey and Duncan sat next to one another and she boldly squeezed his thigh with her small hand hidden under the table after he had said something witty. It was her first intimate gesture and it sent a flutter through his groin like a caged bird. After dinner the family settled into the room with the television but Audrey wanted to take a walk with Duncan in the cold December air where she kissed him under a lamppost that illuminated the specks of snow floating in the air like stage props. He sucked in the warmth of her wet mouth while the frigid tip of her nose pressed against his cheek.

A few nights after the family dinner, he found himself at Audrey’s apartment near the campus where she attended acting classes. Audrey shared the space with another young student who had conveniently excused herself for the evening. After a meal of take-out Chinese they grappled on the sofa and though Duncan managed to undress Audrey from the waist down he was not allowed to penetrate her since he had neglected to purchase a condom and she was not protected, a situation that Duncan had considered, well, inconceivable. Instead he spread her thin legs wide and with her cheeks on the edge of the sofa, drank as deeply as he could from his knees and feeling her convulsions looked up to find her eyes glazed and seeping. She whimpered as he continued and thread her fingers through his hair in a manner so frantic that it made him wonder. But he didn’t ask.

It was these two moments, the wet kiss in the cold under the lamppost and young Audrey’s orgasmic tears while he took his pleasure between her legs, that seized his mind as he read her email over and over and over.

A week or so ago Duncan had received an email that read, “Audrey Miller wants to be friends with you on Facebook.” Audrey Miller. Miller. I don’t think I know an Audrey Miller, he thought, so he moved on to the dozens of other emails in his inbox without taking action. This morning he receives this through his business website email:

 

Hi Dunner,

This is Pookie. Remember me? We worked  at Consolidated. I tried to friend you. How you’re doing?

Pookie (Audrey Pedroncelli-Miller)

 

He responds, also using their pet names from back then.

 

Hi Pookie,

Remember you? Are you kidding?

Dunner

 

Duncan learns that Pookie has been divorced for over a decade, has an adult son working as an Engineer for G.E. (she attaches a picture of a handsome young man with a complexion the color of coffee with cream), is between jobs, has recently had her house foreclosed and is living in a small one bedroom apartment in a small mid-western city. All of this information comes in a rush like the breaking open of a levee after a storm. Not in the form of a plea for help, that wouldn’t be Pookie’s style, he knows, but rather like the filings of important information from a reporter at a disaster scene. Her Facebook picture shows an attractive, smiling woman in her forties and no sign of her current distress. He tries to assemble the jagged and incongruent pieces in his mind. She appears to be aging well and he wonders if it is himself, safely dry docked though he is, who exhibits the rubbing away of life’s friction.

He tells Pookie that he and Marsha are amicably divorced but that implies a residual friendship rather than the mutual amnesia that set in immediately after their parting. He’ll leave it at that, thinking the less he says about Marsha the better. The same urgent Marsha who was astraddle Duncan and riding hard to the finish line on that fateful Sunday afternoon when Pookie burst through the door.

Duncan is a product of his culture and times. In a gentler age a young man would meet a beautiful young woman like Audrey, court her, marry her, procreate with her and live happily ever after. That’s not how things worked in the last quarter of the 20th century. When Duncan met Pookie he was still frantically sowing oats and each field looked more fertile than the last though he had no appetite for the harvest. Within weeks of the betrayal Pookie had taken up with another man, a black man, the Manager of the Fulfillment Department, and though it pained Duncan to imagine himself racist, he had to admit that he was disgusted enough not to fight to win her back. Within a year Pookie was married, Duncan was transferred out of state, Marsha followed him and their destinies settled on them like the inevitability of a changing season.

###

He sits where he can watch the patrons enter the bar from the concourse. The monitors say Flight 507 is on time. Duncan studies his watch and orders another beer. He has time and he needs to steel his nerves. He has put on his best suit and tie for Audrey instead of his usual sport coat and Dockers.

He has finished his second beer and figures he shouldn’t have another, though he wants one, when she arrives. He had seen but dismissed the bleached blonde, dragging the black bag on wheels. Short and dumpy was the blonde, not exactly obese but heavier than her frame should carry, and wearing a cheap polyester two-piece outfit (flower print blouse and clashing striped skirt). Audrey had easily picked Duncan out of the lineup at the bar and sits down heavily beside him. He looks into her soft brown eyes and kisses her perfect lips as she offers them. It is Audrey all right, the same light in her eyes, the same delicate wrists and ankles. Audrey is in there, but as in costume like Audrey the amateur actress in community-theater when Duncan watched others watch her as he welled up with pride like a parent at a recital. She was good said people who should know and pretty enough to play the lead with her strong voice, lithe figure and expressive face but her ambition didn’t measure up to her talent and Duncan was conceited enough to think that maybe he was the one who had unintentionally leeched all of  the desire out of her. Looking at the Audrey of today, Duncan sees her mother cradling the giant bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.

“I need a drink,” Audrey says.

Duncan orders beers and watches Audrey as she drinks deeply, studies her gut bulging over the waistline of her skirt, the dark roots of her hair at the part and her chipped fingernail polish. Why couldn’t she remember that I hate fingernail polish, he wonders? To his dismay the conversation lags after the initial pleasantries and he repeats in his mind, it’s only for a few days. She drinks two beers to his one, which he tells her she is entitled to since he had a head-start, even though he’s pretty sure she drank on the plane.

As they walk to his car, Duncan chivalrously dragging her bag behind him, she asks, “Do you mind if I smoke during the drive?”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” he says, so they stand outside the car in the glaring sun while she sucks hard on a menthol light.

He settles her into the guest room.

Audrey takes a shower.

They share a bottle of wine in the kitchen, Audrey drinking the lioness’s share. Duncan is relieved that the alcohol is making the conversation easier and he is feeling reconnected to the bright, funny girl he once knew. They go to dinner at El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant nearby, where they have chips and salsa and chicken fajitas and margaritas they don’t need. When they get home Duncan pulls vinyl records out of a milk crate and plays their favorite old songs telling Audrey that he saved the records not out of sentimentality but because they sound so much warmer than digital.

They drink some more, talk about the old days, cry and go to bed together. Duncan puts his face between Audrey’s chunky thighs, closes his eyes, tries not to think about the black cock that called this home, tries to remember their first night together and when he looks up he sees her eyes seeping once again but they aren’t the same kind of tears as before.

###

As a man who primarily eats in restaurants, Duncan is aware of the paucity of his refrigerator and pantry. A few eggs, butter and milk past their prime, cottage cheese, Tabasco hot sauce, Italian dressing, a jar of sauerkraut, left over split pea soup that should already have found its way down the disposal, cereal, various cans of beans and vegetables and soup. The most paltry of meals in any combination.

So they go to the grocery store and push a cart down each and every aisle. Duncan tells Audrey to load up with whatever she wants which turns out to include soft drinks, Cheez-its, toll-house cookies, orange Hostess cream filled cupcakes and other figure warping indulgences.

After they get home and put the groceries away, Audrey offers to clean up the condo in exchange for his largesse even though the place was tidy enough and his cleaning lady will be in next week. Duncan follows her from room to room choosing to help rather than sit and watch her work. While she changes the bed, Duncan dusts the table that holds a television, a clock radio and a small cedar box that he reacts to as if  it has materialized before his eyes at this very moment. He opens the box to reveal his wedding ring, which he didn’t know how to dispose of, an expired passport, cufflinks, two pair of ear-rings and a bracelet that Marsha had abandoned and a Rolex watch Marsha had given him on their first anniversary. Duncan had appreciated the gesture but never much cared for the watch. It seemed ostentatious and heavy and dominant on his wrist. Duncan goes to the kitchen and takes a small sandwich bag from a drawer. He places the wedding ring, earrings and bracelet in the zip lock bag. He feels the heft of the Rolex in his palm.

“That’s a nice watch. Why don’t you wear it?” Audrey asks.

“It’s complicated.”

“You don’t know how to set it?”

“A different kind of complicated.”

Duncan places the Rolex back in the box, sparing it for the moment.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” he says.

“Where are you going?”

“To run an errand. I won’t be long.”

Duncan takes the baggie to a jeweler on Euclid Avenue that specializes in estate items. He returns with a little over $400, more than he expected. He tells Audrey what he has done and hands her the money. As a loan, he says. She sits crying on the edge of the bed holding the money in her fingers with the chipped polish.

Duncan’s stomach turns at the pathetic sight of her.

###

After a day of working late, Duncan returns home to find Audrey on the sofa, dressed only in panties and bra, watching a reality television show. Tired and frustrated, he snaps at her.

“How can you watch that crap?”

“I like it.”

“How can you like it? It’s stupid.”

“Why? Because you don’t like it? I’m supposed to like everything you like? Why aren’t you supposed to like everything I like? How come it only goes one way?”

Duncan has no response. As soon as he goes to the kitchen to scrounge some dinner, Audrey changes the channel.

###

The next day they talk while they drink in his condo after a meal that Audrey prepared featuring an over cooked pork tenderloin, under cooked potatoes and mushy brussel sprouts. They drink beer and shots of Jameson whiskey as they try to come to terms with who they are and where they have been and who they were way back when.

“I hated you, you know,” she says.

“I know and you had a right. Have you come to punish me?”

“I’m too busy punishing myself.”

“For what?”

“My failure, I guess. Failing is punishment for my failure.”

“Failure at what?”

“Just not being good enough. Not good enough as an actress. Not good enough for my parents. Not good enough for you. Not good enough for Martin. You should have gone for Anna. She was the prettier one.”

“I thought about it. You know how I was then.”

“I know you did. And so did Anna. And thanks for the honesty. Why didn’t you do it?”

“Because I loved you. During that brief period we had together. You and your cold nose under the lamppost.”

Audrey smiles but says, “You loved me so much that you decided to fuck Marsha in front of me.”

“That wasn’t intentional. I shouldn’t have given you a key.”

Audrey stares at him, her face pinched.

“Just being honest.”

“What you intended isn’t relevant.”

“Fucking Marsha and loving you had nothing to do with one another. They were completely unrelated issues. Then.”

“I understand. But you couldn’t apply the same moral code to me, could you?”

“You mean him? Are you talking about him?”

“Martin. The black man. The handsome, successful black man. I knew it would drive you crazy. But that wasn’t the point. I needed something real. Someone real.”

“. . .”

“I didn’t intend to marry him. I really didn’t. It just happened. I thought you might change and we could try again but in the meantime I fell in love with him. He was a good man. A good husband. But I ended up driving him away.”

“Pookie, why did you agree to come here?”

“You paid for the show.”

At some point the alcohol washes the conversation away, Audrey wants to have sex but Duncan says he can’t on account of he’s too drunk. One more lie isn’t going to hurt, he reasons. Audrey decides she wants to take a shower before bed. Duncan has a fancy stand-alone shower instead of a tub with a shower and it has a special showerhead as big as a dinner plate that sprays water all around you like a rainstorm. Audrey loves the shower and uses it often.

He hears her fall and rushes to find her in the corner of the shower with her legs splayed forward and her head resting on her shoulder as if she decided that this was the perfect time and place to take a nap. She has vomited and the chunks clog the little holes in the drain so that the water is quickly rising to the level where the tile meets the glass door. Duncan finds himself on his hands and knees, fully dressed, pummeled by the rain storm, trying to mash the puke chunks down the drain as Audrey commences to snore and the smell brings up his own bile and he adds to the regurgitated pork, potatoes and brussel sprouts.

###

Two days before Audrey is to leave Duncan learns that he must fly to Milwaukee for a day to solve a problem with a client. He apologizes to Audrey for cutting into their time together but frankly he is grateful for the break. She will drive him to the airport in his car and collect him the next morning on his return for their last day together.

###

Duncan waits outside the baggage claim until he becomes impatient enough to dial her cell phone but he gets a message telling him her phone is out of service. He tries the condo phone but does not get a response. Exasperated, he hails a cab.

The condo is empty. There is no sign of Audrey or his car. Two hours later, just before he would start calling hospitals and law enforcement officials, he hears the garage door open. He greets a tipsy Audrey emerging from his Acura. The car has a big crease along the driver’s side.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she says.

“What did the Officer say?”

“Are you crazy? Call the cops and risk a D.U.I.?”

“So, you hit and ran?”

“No one was hurt.”

###

Audrey’s departure leaves Duncan in a state between remorse and relief. Surveying the condo he finds the guestroom tidy but with a pack of menthol lights prominently displayed on the dresser. It is one cigarette short, the one he saw her smoke in the airport parking lot. He throws the cigarettes in the trash. In her closet are the garish mismatched polyester outfits. He had remembered the bag feeling a little light as he dragged it through the airport and Audrey was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts for her departure. In the kitchen remain the full inventory of soft drinks and junk food they purchased at the grocery store. He’ll donate the left-behinds to the Free Store unsure if he’ll be doing the already disadvantaged a favor.

He decides he should give the Rolex one last try but it is missing from the cedar box.

Son of a bitch.

###

As Duncan dresses for an early Monday morning meeting, he lifts his favorite sport coat from the hanger and finds it out of balance, listing heavily to port. In the right pocket of the jacket he finds his Rolex, $415.00 in cash and a laminated playbill promoting an upcoming performance. The flyer has a picture of a mature, attractive, slim, dark haired, professionally dressed Audrey and “something to help you remember me” scribbled on the back.

He sits on the edge of the bed long enough to risk being late for his appointment and stares at the picture. He can’t help but smile.

###

After days of pleading, Pookie agrees to see him again but only after a few months so she can get things in order.

“I understand,” he says.

###

He disembarks from the plane into an airport he has never before visited. His flight has arrived forty minutes late. As he strolls to the bar where they are to meet, with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, Duncan swallows hard and wonders who will be waiting.

 

The End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend