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Reunion with Pookie


They would pass in the hallway or in the cafeteria. She would smile, acknowledging him without actually looking his way. Furtive. Holding secrets of which he could only guess. After she had passed she would slow her gait ever so slightly knowing that he had 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. A tiny but unfathomable ocean.

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

It was Audrey who first asked him to lunch. Not to the company cafeteria but to Baci, the Italian cafe down the street, where they could grab a table in the corner and begin their negotiations. Still a topic of gossip but away from the blue, flickering, unflattering glare of fluorescent office lights. Duncan wasn’t generally 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 and unspeakable words.

He had 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, supportive statements and her devastating furtive smile.

Lunches were fruitful even though Baci had quadrupled Duncan’s daily lunch budget. 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, 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 Italian section of the old, Near-North neighborhood. Her mother served salad and an enormous bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and Chianti. Duncan’s appetite brought him to the edge of impropriety. He had to take deep breaths. Study the faces of the small dark family. 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 sent a flutter through his groin. A caged bird was fighting confinement in his pants. After dinner the family settled into the living room with the television but Audrey wanted to take a walk in the cold December air where she kissed Duncan under a lamppost. Illuminated 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 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. She was without protection, a situation that Duncan had not considered conceivable. As an alternative, 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, feeling her convulsions. Looking up to find her eyes glazed and seeping. She whimpered and thread her fingers through his hair in a manner so frantic that it made him wonder.

###

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 words over and over and over. Many, many years later.

###

The email on the social media site weeks ago, had read, “Audrey Miller wants to be friends with you.” Audrey Miller. Miller. He didn’t know an Audrey Miller. He had moved on to the dozens of other emails in his inbox.

###

This new communication comes through his business website in the comments section.

Hi Dunner,

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

Pookie (Audrey Pedroncelli-Miller)

 He responds, using their pet names, though he knows not what to say.

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 (she attaches a picture of a handsome young man with a complexion the color of coffee with cream). Pookie is between jobs, has recently had her house foreclosed and is living in a studio apartment in a small mid-western city. This information bursts forth, all at once, like water through a breached dam. Not a plea for help, that wouldn’t be Pookie’s style he knows, but rather like filings from a reporter at a disaster scene. Her picture shows an attractive, smiling woman in her middle forties without a sign of her current distress. He tries to assemble the jagged and incongruent pieces into a cohesive whole. She appears to be aging well and he wonders how she will react to his photo. Safely dry docked though he is, he knows he exhibits the rubbed-away effects of life’s constant friction.

He tells Pookie that he and Marsha are amicably divorced and leaves it at that, thinking the less he says about Marsha the better. The same Marsha who was astraddle Duncan and riding him hard to the finish line on that fateful Sunday afternoon when Pookie burst through the door.

A young man with more sense would have chosen a different fate. Would have married the beautiful young Audrey, procreated with her. Lived happily ever after. When Duncan met Pookie he was still frantically sowing wild oats, each field looking more fertile than the last though he had no appetite for the actual harvest. Within weeks of the betrayal Pookie had taken up with another man, a black man, the Manager of the Fulfillment Department at Consolidated. Though all of the fault lay within his sphere 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 respective destinies unfolded like the inevitable change of seasons.

###

Duncan sits where he can watch the airport concourse. The monitor say Flight 507 is on time. Duncan studies his watch and orders another beer. He needs to steel his nerves. In his best suit and tie instead of his usual sport coat and Dockers.

He has finished his second beer. Figures he shouldn’t have another, though he wants one. He had seen but dismissed the bleached blonde, dragging the black bag on wheels. Short and dumpy, not exactly obese but heavier than her frame should carry, wearing a cheap polyester two-piece outfit (flower print blouse and clashing striped skirt) a size too small. Audrey had easily picked Duncan out of the lineup at the airport bar. She sits down heavily beside him. He looks into her soft brown eyes and kisses the perfect lips as offered. It is Audrey all right, the same light in her eyes, the same delicate wrists. Audrey is in there, but in costume, like the amateur actress Duncan watched with pride in the community theater productions. She was good, said people who should know, and pretty enough to play the lead. She had a strong voice, lithe figure and expressive face but her ambition never measured up to her talent. Duncan hadn’t exactly bolstered her self confidence with his humiliating shenanigans.

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 drink lustily, studies her gut bulging over the waistline of her skirt, the dark roots of her hair at the part. Her chipped fingernail polish. She had to remember how much he hates nail polish. Conversation lags after the initial pleasantries and he repeats in his mind, it’s only for a few days.

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. 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 while Duncan tries to distract himself with paperwork brought home from the office.

They share a bottle of wine in the kitchen, Audrey out-drinking him by a wide margin. Duncan is relieved that the alcohol is making the conversation easier. He feels reconnected to the bright, funny girl he once knew. They go to dinner at 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. Plays their favorite old songs while Audrey silently weeps. He can’t help but think that this act of nostalgia has a touch of cruelty.

They drink more, talk about the old days, cry together and go to bed together. Duncan puts his face between Audrey’s thighs, closes his eyes. Tries not to think about the past, where she has been and what she has done and with whom. He doesn’t look up, knowing that if there are tears they are of a different nature this time.

###

As a man who primarily eats in restaurants, Duncan is aware of the paucity of his refrigerator and pantry. A few eggs, butter, milk past its prime, cottage cheese, Tabasco, Italian dressing, a jar of sauerkraut, left over split pea soup that should already have found its way down the disposal, cereal, cans of beans and Campbell’s soup. A disappointing meal in any possible combination.

They go to the grocery store. 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 is tidy enough and his cleaning lady will be in tomorrow. Duncan follows her from room to room trying to help rather than merely observe. While she changes the bed, Duncan dusts the bedroom table that holds a television, a clock radio and a small cedar box that he reacts to as if it materialized for the first time at this very moment. He opens the box holding his wedding ring, which he hadn’t known how to, or had the courage to, dispose of, an expired passport, cufflinks, two pair of ear-rings and a bracelet abandoned by Marsha and a Rolex watch she had given him on their first anniversary. Duncan never much cared for the ostentatious watch. It was heavy and dominant. Duncan goes to the kitchen and takes a 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 work it?”

“A different kind of complicated.”

Duncan places the Rolex back in the box.

“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 West Side Pawn where he knows the guy well enough to get a fair price. He returns with a little over $400. Letting go of more of Marsha felt good. He hands Audrey the money knowing she needs it desperately. She had confessed to borrowing the airfare from a friend. and arriving virtually penniless. As a loan, he says, until she’s back on her feet. She sits crying on the edge of the bed holding the money in her fingers with the chipped nail polish.

Duncan’s stomach roils at the pathetic sight.

###

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 dinner, Audrey changes the channel.

She says she isn’t hungry but eats anyway.

###

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

“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 further is punishment for my past failure.”

“Failure at what?”

“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. 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.”

“You would have fucked her key or no key. Without the key I just wouldn’t have known. You think that’s better?”Audrey stares at him, her face pinched.

“Yes.” Duncan laughs at his own honesty. “Had you not known everything might have turned out quite differently. More as I had intended.”

“What you intended isn’t relevant.”

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

“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. That’s why I did it. That didn’t turn out as intended either.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought you might change. React in a different way. That we could try again but while I was waiting for you 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 come here?”

“For the show.”

Too much alcohol washes the conversation away, Audrey wants to have sex but Duncan says he can’t on account of he’s too drunk. A harmless lie, he reasons. Audrey takes a shower before bed. Duncan has a fancy shower without a tub. Shower-head as big as a dinner plate. It sprays water in your chosen configuration. Audrey likes the pulsating setting.

He hears her fall. Finds her on the shower floor with her legs splayed, head bowed as if in prayer. Like she decided this was the perfect time and place to take a nap. She has vomited and the chunks clog the little holes in the drain. The water is quickly rising. Duncan finds himself on his hands and knees, fully dressed, pummeled by the pulsating rain storm, trying to mash the puke chunks down the drain as Audrey awakens, crying. The smell brings up Duncan’s own bitter bile. He adds his own pork, potatoes and brussel sprouts to the stew.

###

Two days before Audrey is to leave. Duncan must fly to Milwaukee to solve a problem, in person, with a client. He apologizes to Audrey for cutting into their time together but, frankly, he is relieved. She will drive him to the airport and leave the car for him the next day when boards her own flight.

###

Duncan doesn’t find the car in the agreed upon place. Pookie’s cell phone is out of service. Exasperated, he hails a cab.

His car is not at the condo. Just as he decides to alert the authorities, he hears the garage door open. He greets a tipsy Audrey. The Audi has a big crease along the driver’s side.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she says.

“You weren’t cited?”

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

“So, you hit and ran?”

“No one was hurt.”

“Why are you still here?”

“Changed my flight.”

“Why?”

“There is nothing to go back to”, she says.

Duncan is furious. He lets Audrey have it with both barrels. Her irresponsible behavior. Her slovenliness. His overall disgust. During the tirade Audrey is silent. They pass a bottle of Scotch back and forth in an oddly civilized ritual during his monologue.

When the bottle and Duncan are almost empty Pookie steps toward him. Slaps him as hard as she can. Stunned and red-cheeked, Duncan can only stare at her in disbelief. She hits him again, this time with a closed fist. Duncan wraps his arms around her in self defense as she squirms and bucks. They fall to the floor.

Their mouths meet. Disparate passions meld. What has happened, now and in the past, has happened and nothing can be done about it. What remains is love long suppressed, given up for dead. Now unleashed by acts of violence, verbal and physical.

During their sexual release, a sex of wild self abandonment, Duncan understands that he still loves Pookie despite what she, and he, has become.

It doesn’t matter. When he rises from his sleep, she is gone.

###

Audrey’s departure leaves Duncan in a state between remorse and relief. She has abandoned her cheap clothes, travel bag, cigarettes, dead cell phone and a theatre magazine in the guest room. And a little more than $400 in cash.

Duncan tries to contact Pookie but his emails kick back. Her phone number is disconnected. he never had a postal address. She has disappeared without a trace.

A week passes. He donates her belongings, except for the theatre magazine, to the local Goodwill store. He puts the magazine on the coffee table.

###

Duncan regretted losing interest in the theatre after he and Pookie parted. The magazine on the coffee table is a recent edition. He flips through it absently as he sips Scotch after a long and unproductive day. An interview catches his eye.

Interviewer: With me today is Audrey Miller. Welcome to Stage Left Audrey.

Audrey: Thanks Susan. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Interviewer: We haven’t talked since Typographical Terror. Did you enjoy the role of Amanda?

Audrey: Very much so. Murder mysteries are fun in and of themselves but especially so when the hard boiled detective is cast as a woman. 

Interviewer: Let’s talk about The Wanderer, set to open in the spring. April 4th, I believe, at The Imperial.

Audrey: That’s correct.

Interviewer: A middle aged woman, Norma, is cut adrift by a series of tragic events. Norma is a chain-smoking, overweight alcoholic. She doesn’t see a viable future so she tries to lock onto something from her past to keep her afloat. That something is a long ago failed relationship. A lost love. She can’t resuscitate the romance but learns enough about herself in the process to begin again. What about the part appealed to you?

Audrey: I could relate to it. As you grow older you realize that you’re like a fossil. “laughter” Time wears the fragile, soft part of you away but replaces it with other, harder substances. Also the challenge appealed to me. It’s a very challenging role for a woman who is used to playing romantic leads. I’m a little frightened if you must know but I have to adapt to what’s being offered to me these days.

Interviewer: You’re known for taking great pains to get into character. Obsessively so, I’m to believe. What are you doing to become Norma?

Audrey: First of all I’m not a chain-smoker or an alcoholic but I can fake those things. I’m also not fat so I’m working hard to put on weight. It’s not as easy as letting your hair grow. On stage it’s hard to fake being over-weight. There are no good special effects. Besides, I think to think like a fat woman you need to live in a fat woman’s body.

Interviewer: Audrey, I’m afraid you’re a purist. “laughter” You don’t look particularly chubby. You’re running out of time to fatten up. Are you going to make it?

Audrey: Of course I will. I just worry about taking the weight back off after the run of the play. I might get used to milk shakes and Twinkies. “laughter” Harder than even the weight is adopting the attitude. How to be convincingly angry and bitter and lost. But I know I have it in me. 

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