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Chonklit Cupcakes


At the store where he buys his lotry tickets. Hoping for two numbers in sequence because that’s luck as everybody knows. Let the machine pick the numbers because the machine decides who gets rich. Not you.

The girl at the lotry counter with butiful eyes. But she never smiles. He knows it’s not because the smile is lost, only withheld like something in her pocket that she secretly fondles. She has a tooth missing. Not a major tooth but one to the side by a moller. A minor tooth but one that matters. To her.

He lines up behind the old lady with a cane who calls out her numbers like they are majik. None of them in sequence he notices. He dances from leg to leg, shifting his weight. Impatient. He has a new stragy to employ. He would always smile and look into her dark, liquid eyes. She would avert her gaze and punch the auto-lotto button and out spits his ticket which she would hand to him and say “good luck”. She said good luck to every customer but for him she meant it.

But today he doesn’t look her in the eye and he doesn’t smile to try to coxe her own. And he can feel her looking at him with question marks and without wishing him good luck she hands him the ticket.

On his way out he looks at his numbers and sees not two numbers in sequence but three and this sine tells him something has changed and stops him by the shelf that has the chonklit cupcakes in a two pac with the frosting shiny and smooth as her skin but a bit darker. He breaks open the sellfane cover and lifts out a cupcake and bites deep so he reaches the creamy center that is like his own skin but whiter. He returns to the lotry counter where no one is in line to try their luck and he hands her the second cupcake. Which she reseeves and opens her mouth so he can see what has been lost and takes a bite leaving cake and crème on her full lower lip.

And she smiles.

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

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

 

 

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

The Storm


Six inches or more says the bouncing blonde on Channel 8. Her expression is serious but Arthur detects shadenfreude. Or maybe it’s just the thrill of the performance. If you’re a comely weather girl with the ink barely dry on your weather degree what you want most are thousands tuning in to hear about the approach of the biggest snowstorm of the season with you on stage as the prima ballerina. Her knit wool skirt clings to the cleft of her ripe plum and the hem falls at the knee-cap to accent delicate calves and ankles.

We can expect 6 to 8 inches beginning at 5 p.m. and continuing overnight

before tapering off before daybreak. Stay in, stay off the roads, make

cocoa and get into your jammies. If you must go out, take it slow and easy.

Slow and easy.

Jeannie is going to stop by the store on the way home from the mall. Arthur isn’t going near the place. Desperate housewives, terrified of being snowbound. Driven to clear the shelves of milk and bread and other perishables. To hoard and hunker before the hearth. To huddle and cower before the coming onslaught. How thrilling! Jeannie will pick up the fixin’s for a big pot of chili. Arthur had stocked the refrigerator with beer yesterday and an unopened bottle of Bushmills watches him like an alert and smiling doorman. Welcome, good sir.

###

Jeannie honks the horn for help. They carry in the paper bags. She asks the clerk for paper instead of plastic because the stiff, brown paper bags stand upright on their own so they can be filled with cans and glass and plastic water bottles for recycling. Jeannie is practical and organized and wishes Arthur was practical and organized too. But he isn’t and she knows it and no longer expects it. Arthur wants to burn the house down and run away to Ireland.

Or fuck the weather girl.

Ground beef, a yellow onion, cans of kidney beans and tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes and smoked chipotle and a bright green jalapeno pepper with perfect, smooth skin. Arthur picks up the jalapeno. He likes its firm shininess and the crown with a stem like a handle.

Arthur wants to insert the jalapeno in the weather girl’s anus.

Jeannie wordlessly sheds her coat, takes a knife from the drawer and a cutting board from the shelf and sets to work. Arthur assumes the task of browning the ground round in a skillet. Arthur hates the idea that the red mound of flesh was once part of a living creature. If he could start life over again he’d be a vegetarian. But they are already poisoned.

Arthur wonders what the weather girl eats.

“I ran into Molly at the store,” Jeannie says. “She and Frank have finally called it quits. He moved out this morning.”

Arthur grunts an acknowledgement as he moves the chunks of sizzling meat around in the skillet.

“She says she’s lonely and it hurts but it’s for the best. She said she’s glad the kids were grown and gone before it happened. I was afraid she was going to cry right there at the meat counter.”

“Frank’s an asshole,” is all Arthur says.

Jeannie pours oil into a pot, dumps in the chopped onion and the once perfect jalapeno and turns on the burner. They stand side by side at the stove. She works the chopped onion and pepper. He works the meat. In a minute he turns off the flame from under the skillet and bumping Jeannie at the hip, puts meat into her pot.

“I wasn’t ready for that yet,” Jeannie says. “Mine wasn’t soft yet.”

“Sorry.”

###

“The T.V. says we might not get the full brunt of it,” Arthur says. The station is interrupting regularly scheduled programming to give storm tracker updates. Arthur senses the weather girl’s deflation. Maybe this stage isn’t big enough. Maybe this is the pinnacle of a very short meteorologist career before some old guy convinces her that the fastest route to fame and fortune is to take off her clothes.

With the chili on to simmer, they have moved to the living room and the larger flat screen television. Arthur is happy because he can smell the chili, has a beer in his hand and the high definition Toshiba renders the weather girl larger, more life like and more accessible.

“Doesn’t look like we’re going to get the six inches. I knew we wouldn’t,” Jeannie says as she stands having heard the muffled ring of her cell phone from inside her coat pocket draped over the back of a dining room chair.

She talks into the phone as she stares out the big kitchen window that overlooks a patch of woods. The snowstorm is already two hours late. Arthur joins Jeannie in the kitchen to stir the pot of chili and to get another beer. Jeannie looks at him without expression as she talks to her phone. He deduces that she is talking to Molly based on frequent references to Frank. Arthur lifts the wooden spoon from the chili and puts it to his lips. Takes the bottle of chili powder from the counter next to the stove. There is only an inch of powder left in the bottle. They’ll have to remember to buy some more. He dumps the chili powder into the pot and drops the empty bottle into the recycle bag. Jeannie frowns. He always makes things too hot.

###

They eat dinner in the living room while staring at the television show that neither one of them is watching. Sitting atop the unused dining room table is a stiff, waxy candle with dusty plastic holly leaves and berries twisted around the base, a pile of Arthur’s papers and Jeannie’s purse. She gives him an update on Molly and Frank as they eat but there’s not much else to talk about. She says that a month ago Frank had told Molly that he was no longer attracted to her. Molly had cried but had no defense for a charge of such finality. Molly couldn’t remember the last time she and Frank had sex let alone good sex, she had told Jeannie. Molly had put on weight and certainly wasn’t the woman Arthur remembered from the early days, the woman who was cute and flirty at parties and to whom he had made more than one pass and could have closed the deal if he had been a more persistent salesman. Still and all, Frank had little room to talk, fat and balding as he was. But it isn’t the weight gain or the lack of sex that pulls couples apart, Arthur thinks. It’s entropy.

###

He should have married Jeannie years ago. When she wanted him too. After the last ‘on again’ of their on again, off again relationship. When a more familiar and comfortable passion had been briefly re-ignited. Before the real estate business failed and money got tight and Arthur lost interest in houses and the people that live in them. Jeannie’s job at the County Assessor’s Office is what keeps them afloat though they take on a little more water everyday. They are just two clocks ticking, springs slowly unwinding, unsure why they are still marking time. Something will happen, Arthur knows. Something has to happen. Maybe Molly is the beginning of it.

Arthur exists at the very limits of Jeannie’s imagination. He is the boundary of what she knows about the world, what she cares to know. She once believed him profound and full of mystery, with great secrets. Now he is just an unruly wilderness. Dark and bestial and unknowable and of little use to her everyday world. She had bragged to her friends of his insatiable appetites, his exploration of her senses. Now, she might say, the adventurer is lost. He spends his days drinking or wandering around the neighborhood taking pictures without purpose. Driftwood looking for a beach.

Arthur remembers their lovemaking. The way her mouth would form a perfect O during the bliss of her orgasm. The tight slickness of her vagina and how she smells like no other woman he has known, not unpleasant but distinctive, oily and resinous like balsam or tree sap. But what he loved most, he must admit, was her ordinariness, her lack of ambition, her lack of need for what he didn’t provide. Now, in contrast to his degradation, she serves as a constant in an equation long since solved.

###

Jeannie carries their empty bowls into the kitchen. He hears her rinsing them in the sink and opening the dishwasher. Arthur follows to drop an empty beer bottle into the recycle bag and to get a full one.

Jeannie lifts her coat from the back of the dining room chair.

“You’re going out?” Arthur asks.

“I’m going to visit Molly. She’s a mess. She’s at Ruby’s. In Near North.”
”Aren’t you worried about the storm?”

“There is no storm,” she says and leaves.

###

Arthur stays in the kitchen with his beer and the view of the woods and the smaller television still tuned to the storm tracker channel. He opens the bottle of Bushmills and pours a shot. The weather girl comes back on with her creamy skin and her lovely, firm girl arms and gripping a baton she uses to point at the Doppler weather map.

With an overnight low in the teens and winds from the west at 10

to 15 miles per hour things are going to get slippery.

Arthur touches his erection.

It has begun to snow.

 

 

The End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

The Connoisseur


I like rye more than bourbon and Scotch more than bourbon or rye but not the cheap blended stuff that you pour over ice or dilute with water or soda so you get the buzz without much taste. I like the single malts, beautiful golden liquid that smells and tastes like smoke and sometimes the sea, served neat like something rare and valuable which it is, relatively speaking, because you see, I’m the kind of man who has a taste for things that many people don’t like because they’re too busy following the masses, doing and drinking and thinking what everyone else is doing and drinking and thinking and if that makes me a pretentious snob according to Judy, my ex, well then that’s what I am because I am Gunnar.

I am a connoisseur.

I like books that aren’t on the New York Times Best Seller list and movies with subtitles that none of my friends have ever heard of and wouldn’t watch anyways because they’re too busy watching “Housewives of New Jersey”. I like women with tiny breasts and maybe an over-bite or another visible flaw that makes them special and unique because any dumb-ass can go ga-ga over a bleached blonde with big boobs and lips and nails all painted up like a zulu warrior while hanging out at Friday’s instead of eating sushi or Cuban food or attending poetry readings at the coffee house or the bookstore which is where I meet Nanette thinking at first sight she is my kind of girl because she is dug in deep like a tick in the literature section and ignoring the display tables where you find the stuff that gets forgotten.

Before the book tour is finished.

Nanette wears glasses which I also like and she has the requisite shortage of mammary glands and good legs in tights as she stands languidly in front of the O’s and P’s flipping through a copy of Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins while I’m stiffening up as I pull Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London from the shelf and pretend to look at it while secretly staring at Nanette but, of course, I don’t know her name yet. I’m even more excited when I learn her name because I think I said before that my ex is Judy which is about as common and undistinguished a name a woman can have. I know Judy didn’t get to choose her name but I always held it against her along with her lowbrow tastes which include country music but not the good old stuff like George Jones but the modern tinker-toy tunes and Judy smokes which she tries to hide when she says she quit but I can smell it on her breathe through the peppermint and especially in her hair and on her clothes and I can sometimes taste it through her koochie, as she calls it, while I am down there feasting which is something I like to do but I don’t think she enjoys it quite as much because maybe it’s not featured in her favorite bodice ripping, romance fantasy novels which are full of chivalry.

And damsels in distress.

No, No, Nanette is an old musical and not a terribly good one I think though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it and I’m not particularly interested in musicals anyway which is a shame because it might have served as a topic of conversation after Nanette and I became introduced so I was relieved to learn that Nanette does not have an affinity for musicals either, not that it matters because I relied on George Orwell for the introduction. Though it has been years since I read Down and Out I find a passage I like as I flip through the book and read it out loud to the girl who will soon be known as Nanette – It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety –. Nanette looks at me with brown eyes through medium thick lenses and asks – I’ve never read it, do you recommend it? – to which I say – highly – with a mixture of hope and disappointment because in my idealized vision she has, of course, already read every important book but then maybe if she knew Down and Out she might just smile and turn back to her Walker Percy which she holds at her side with one of her long and pretty fingers tucked in to mark her place as she looks at me with interest. So her ignorance, if you will, allows me to follow up on her question and even to coax her into having a drink with me in the Bronte cafe attached to the bookstore where they brilliantly have a liquor license that allows a connoisseur to not only talk to a sophisticated female reader of the high art of literature but to learn that she likes wine and good ones to boot instead of the white zinfandel that Judy prefers when Judy drinks wine at all because you’ll usually find Judy with a rum and coke or worse, like Captain Morgan’s or Southern Comfort, in Judy’s hand and I can’t stop repeating Judy’s name when I make references to coarse tastes and habits. I talk with Nanette about Orwell and Dostoyevsky and Camu and Kafka and I can tell she is impressed by my knowledge of literary fiction because of her rapt attention and not talking much herself other than to ask questions so I go on and on because I finally have an appreciative listener instead of Judy who would just walk away and file her nails or something. Nanette shakes her head in agreement while holding a glass of Chianti in her pretty hand when I say that bohemianism is a form of connoisseurship and proves that a Rolex or a Beemer need not be involved in leading a life of thought and sophistication and sensuality.

Like George Orwell

A bookstore is the best place in the universe to meet women except maybe a wedding but that’s a whole different dynamic so I still think a bookstore is better because they know you want to get them in bed but they can pretend they don’t know it and you can pretend that you don’t know they know it so it all works out pretty well because you can build a healthy amount of anticipation just before the climax like in a Henning Mankel mystery which represents the kind of book you don’t mind re-reading  even though you know the ending which is how really good serial sex with the same woman is though you, irrationally, keep hoping for a surprise, a slightly different ending each time which is unrealistic to expect in a book and probably in a woman but that would sure make for the perfect book and the perfect woman.

Which Judy is not.

###

I wander around Nanette’s dining room and kitchen and living room, which is actually just one room, looking at her stuff like the Leica camera on the dining room table that she said was a rangefinder, whatever that is, and I’ll remember the brand because I pronounce it leaka and she corrects me. It’s a warm, sultry evening and the apartment building doesn’t have central air conditioning only window units which Nanette doesn’t have so her bare arms and shoulders and legs have a sheen and I find her glistening as she peers into the pot on the stove makes me all the hotter in a different way so I make small talk like maybe I too should take up photography as a hobby and we could go out and take pictures together and maybe some day we can both afford big cameras. After the dinner she cooks which is some kind of creamy, cheesy, pasta, broccoli thing and tastes pretty good though I realize she is a vegetarian without her having to tell me and I should be too. We snuggle on the couch and wind up lying down face to face kissing like teenagers and she throws a skinny leg over my hip and while probing I find a surprising absence of panties and an unsurprising absence of pubic hair as girls seem to prefer these days so I reach in and grab a veritable fistful of what feels like warm, oiled dough and she opens her eyes wide and looks at me in a strange way perhaps expecting a reaction but all I do is venture deeper into her cooze though I admit I really want to jump up and flip on the lights and take a really close look because in addition to the dough I have between my thumb and forefinger the biggest clitoris I have ever encountered, as big as a bullet and just as deadly, so I roll the bullet between my two digits without too much pressure and continue to knead the calzone because boy am I in need and she must be too because she goes crazy grabbing at my belt which I am myself trying to work free with my other hand that is partially pinned to my side on the sofa while Nanette lolls her quick and agile tongue around in my mouth. When I finally free myself I kick my pants and underwear down around my ankles and soon enough I’ve gained entry having rolled over and pulled her under me with my pants balled up at my ankles in a knot and shoes still tightly laced but there is no time to attend to my strictures because she fits like a moist flesh gasket creating a kind of seal that produces the sucking sound that I’m sure was the inspiration for the word fuck and when it ends it’s all I can do to keep from asking Nanette to marry me right then and there. She coos a bit and we kiss some more but before long she drifts off to sleep so I roll off the sofa and I relieve my discomfort by putting myself back together all careful and quiet so as to not wake her and I go into her bedroom and grab a pillow to slide under her head and bend over to kiss her on the nose for some reason and that still doesn’t wake her so I pull down her skirt so she can sleep in a more dignified fashion but not before I get the best look I can of her honey suckle by the light of the moon shining through the old casement windows but what I really want is a spotlight so captivated I am by her horse collar but instead I leave as silently as possible while checking the door to make sure it locked behind me and I go home.

Where I masturbate.

The first taste of a hoppy ale, an Islay Scotch, the discovery of Fellini and Hertzog; garrotxa and fresh pecorino cheeses, Bill Quist’s interpretation of Erik Satie and Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman; Uwe Timm, Jakov Lind and Dino Buzzati (because the connoisseur is nothing if not a lover of the offbeat and obscure). These experiences have put me on the path to connoisseurship and you are about to say that it’s all just matter of taste and you’ll try to drag me into an argument about whether subjective opinion has any standing in the quality debate so I’ll save you the breath and say that – no, it doesn’t – because you may truly prefer a slice of individually wrapped American cheese-like product to a fine Vermont cheddar but that would only prove that you’re an rube and eliminate you from consideration as a connoisseur. My larger point is that anyone with any taste at all, if he is the adventurous type, quickly realizes that with the fruit of discovery comes the seeds of ruination, a raising of the bar to impossible heights, that sets you up for a lifetime of disappointment because once you’ve sampled the best your palette no longer accepts the pedestrian so your only hope is that you are still a relative ignoramus facing future though increasingly rare connoisseur frontiers and I had my doubts before Nanette. So the next day I think to call her with the obligatory “had a great time” message since she hasn’t called me and then I realize that in the fever of our first blush we failed to exchange numbers or email addresses or any of that so I decide to swing by her place in the evening to correct that little oversight but as I park at the curb outside her apartment building I can see into the poorly lit room through the casement windows, which are not adorned with curtains or blinds or any obstruction whatsoever (although I hadn’t noticed that on my first visit), that Nanette is not alone and I can see two people looking at the wall with Nanette spinning like a tiny electron around a second, larger stationary nucleus of a person so I sit there for the longest time like a stalker jealously thinking about the quim that gripped me like something separate and alive on its own before I come to my senses.

And drive away.

I do a couple more drive-bys over the next few days but each time Nanette’s place looks abandoned so I sit there again, stalker-like, which isn’t like me at all and stiffen up just thinking about her sugar canyon and her nub like a bullet and I’ll confess that I relieved myself while looking longingly at those darkened windows. Just as I’m beginning to lose hope and contemplating going to the police because I’m starting to worry that maybe I’m not the only one obsessed and maybe the dark nucleus I saw Nanette with in the window has done something terrible, well, just as I’m considering all kinds of drastic actions some of which, like breaking in, would get me into serious trouble, well, one day, there she is. – I was away for a few days on business – is all she would offer when I inquire perhaps a little too abruptly and eagerly and, of course, I’m dying to ask where she has been and with whom but I know I shouldn’t ask those things at this stage anymore than I should ask about the nucleus that was in the window so I keep my mouth shut and try to find something else to think about and talk about and to keep my mind off my concerns not to mention the lap land down there between her legs like a siren beckoning a horny seaman because I want more than anything in the world to know what her thing tastes like and I’m thinking it tastes like a briny, sweet  oyster and a peaty, smoky Islay Scotch all in one but a Scotch flavored oyster that I can chew on rather than one that slips down my throat leaving but a faint memory of  its succulency, if that’s even a word. Lo and behold this girl doesn’t disappoint, first taking me into her mouth and like most guys I enjoy looking down on a sweet face pressed to my groin especially if it is looking up and I like watching my bishop disappear and appear and disappear again like a magic act. Yes, I like that a great deal but her fig bush has spoiled me and I don’t even let her finish before I insist on my turn and again she’s a little shy because I’m sure she understands her exceptional attributes and what happens is I’m so thrilled kneeling at the alter of the blossom and filling my mouth with her mumbler that I accidentally finish what she had started and leave a pool of myself on the nice rug in front of the sofa so I apologize and I can tell she is confused by my excitement and the state of her rug so I try my best to explain my fascination with her crumpet but she is not as flattered as she should be and will have nothing of my praise which comes just short of a proposal of marriage so she says she has some important business to attend to and all but gives me the bum’s rush out the door which leaves me feeling lonelier and longinger, which I also realize is not a word, than I’ve ever felt in my life and stranded at home alone.

Without Nanette’s phone number.

I’ve told you my name is Gunnar but it was not the name given to me at birth which was John and hardly a name for a connoisseur and since a name is only a label whose owner should feel free to revise at any time which is what I did though I couldn’t convince Judy of this logic with her saying that she likes the name Judy and has no intention of changing it which is just further proof of her commonness and she totally rejected my suggestions including Natalie which you can see is not that far off from Nanette and perhaps evidence that my encounter with Nanette and her fabulous clutch was preordained and a sort of destiny on my part and an indication that my search for the ultimate, the Holy Grail if you will, of fur boxes was over and I could turn my attention to other topics.

Like rangefinder cameras.

On my next surprise visit to Nanette because remember like a fool I still don’t have her telephone number, she responds to the intercom downstairs in the foyer but takes forever to buzz me in and does so only after I ask – Nanette are you still there? – over the crackly speaker thing and she is a little distant and wary when I enter and I don’t know why other than it is late on a Friday evening and maybe she thinks I’m scouting her social life or it has something to do with the nucleus in the window and her unexplained absence and I’ll admit that her attitude and lack of forthrightness has me irritated to the point that this visit doesn’t go all that well because I erupt in what I can only assume is a jealous rage which is something I’ve only experienced from the other party, you see, and I realize quickly enough that I’m being childish and have overstepped my boundaries but the damage has been done so I must comply with her request that I vacate the premises thinking it for the best that I go home and cool down and make amends tomorrow. Despite my foolish behavior I have tucked into the back pocket of my jeans the phone number I secured first off in my explanation of my unexpected visit and before the meltdown and I scatter quickly before she asks for the number back and I dig into my back pocket on the way to my car to make sure it’s still there but my jeans are now so tight.

Thinking about her swollen love button.

The problem is Nanette won’t return my phone calls despite my apologies piling up in her voice mail box so my depression and self-doubt cause me to return to the well from which I regularly draw since, you see, despite our differences Judy and I occasionally quench each other’s thirst which is how I end up at her place on a Sunday evening with Judy’s ankles on my shoulders and me lapping away like a dog at a puddle on a hot August day but Judy’s slit is a faint scar compared to Nanette’s gaping wound and I slink home, tail between my legs, unsatisfied and I suspect Judy feels the same since I didn’t follow-up the slurping.

With the customary poke.

###

Judy and I are naked and lying on a mattress in the middle of a river and the mattress is soggy and uncomfortable so I am complaining but Judy seems to think everything is fine and dandy and I can see Nanette on the bank with a camera but not the little Leica from her dining room table but a huge camera with a long and thick telephoto lens which she strokes as she snaps pictures of Judy and John which is the way I’m thinking of myself in the dream and the river becomes a raging torrent and I can hear the waterfall ahead so I understand I am in deep shit while Nanette fades in the distance as she strokes the lens faster and faster while Judy sits smiling. I alone am ashamed of my nakedness and humiliating predicament and I decide that I am not, absolutely not, going over the edge to die with Judy so I roll off the mattress into the river but instead of being swept along in the current I sink to the bottom where I am eaten by a giant clam and the clam meat is as soft as a pillow or maybe a ball of fresh dough and the clam juices flow over me. I am becoming one with the clam as I think about Nanette on the riverbank and wish I had been able to swim over to her and that’s when I awaken to realize I have disgorged copious amounts of my reproductive fluids on myself which is called a wet dream and something I haven’t done since I was 14 shortly before I discovered masturbation and nookie, which hasn’t been in short supply since, and I remember in my dream Judy over the edge and the beautiful Nanette standing on the bank taking pictures and me under water and alone with the clam.

Such was my revelation.

Imagine my low opinion of myself when my rangefinder research shows Nanette’s Leica to be a prestigious camera and worth a pretty penny to boot and when I google Nanette to find her website and her art and photography I begin to ponder those images and the others I saw on the walls of her apartment that I should have had the good sense to ask about though many were sort of abstract representations of genitalia of both persuasions and I guess I didn’t bring them up at the time while she was cooking because we hadn’t done the deed yet and I was as yet unacquainted with her quiver but I still should have shown as much interest in her art as her honey pot and the dates of the recent art and photography show referenced on her website coincided with Nanette’s recent absence so I purchase from her site a print that looks like a small, strange flower.

 

Or a puckered asshole.

The End

 

 

 

 

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

Small Rebellions

August 21, 2010 1 comment

A radio personality with a microphone urges people to step up and participate in the ice cream eating competition. He sounds like he’s talking from inside a culvert. The person who can eat a quart of Creamery Brand Ice Cream fastest wins a year’s supply. What exactly is a year’s supply of ice cream?, Nate asks himself.

Nate steps up on the gazebo in Riverside Park where a long table is laid out with intermittent spoons. The contestants can choose from a variety of Creamery flavors. Most of the contestants choose vanilla because it is bland and will melt quickly under the withering sun, perhaps thinking they can drink their way to victory.

Except Nate, who chooses Mint Chocolate Chip even though it has big slabs of dark bitter chocolate that, like life, he will need to chew. He chooses it because it is his favorite.

When the contest starts, the frantic competitors shovel great gobs of ice cream into their wide mouths, many swallowing the frozen cream whole without savoring, tears in their eyes from the searing, cold pain.

Nate calmly scoops a small spoonful with a bit of the chocolate as he looks around at the desperate, cream-slick mouths and soiled shirts. He loves the tingle of the mint, the way his mouth comes alive when he draws a breath. Fire and ice.

By Nate’s fourth spoonful, a contestant rises from his seat and brandishes an empty carton to the stunned and cheering gathering. The winner is declared but Nate, with most of his carton intact, has already wandered down the makeshift steps from the stage and onto the Square, leisurely enjoying his treat. Eyes of confusion or mirth follow. The Creamery Ice Cream Representative and the Radio Personality are not amused. Nate sits by the fountain and scrapes the waxed paper carton with the wooden spoon. Tosses both into a waste can.

At the far end of the Square, a group of people wear stickers that read My Name Is on their breasts. They sip cocktails in clear plastic glasses within a velvet roped area. Signs and buttons with stars and stripes read Re-elect Senator Powers. An effusive young woman asks Nate if he is a registered voter and satisfied with his answer and his signature, fictitious address and phone number, writes NATE with a Sharpie in big block letters on a label and presses it on his shirt pocket. Ms. Effervescence smiles and moves on to an unlabeled human.

Nate looks down at his pocket and seeing, from his perspective, his name upside down, peels it off and inverts it.

Nate makes small talk with the guests. Answering questions about his place of residence and livelihood and other matters demographic and social. Harmless fictions. He sips at his gin and tonic through the tiny straw. When an interrogator tells him his name tag is upside down, he looks at his breast and says it looks right to him. They are amused and take him for a prankster. They thrust business cards in his face. Nate accepts the cards though he has none to offer in exchange. After he has accepted enough cards to warrant five weak gin and tonics he moves toward the velvet rope where he encounters a young woman who blocks his path. “Hello. I’m Alex,” she says even though her name-tag is clearly visible. She offers her small, soft hand, “it’s short for Alexandra.” “Nate,” says Nate taking her hand in his, “it’s short for Nate.” He does not shakes it but holds it delicately as though he has been handed a Faberge egg. When her hand is released, she takes a business card from a small, grained leather pouch. “Do you have a card?” she asks, handing him her own which identifies her as an attorney.

“I have several,” Nate says as he withdraws the stack from his pocket. He flips through them. “I think this is my favorite,” he says handing a card to Alex. He smiles, steps around her and walks through the gap in the enclosure.

Alex watches him for a moment before she looks at the card. It reads Margaret Tomlin, Vice President of Sales, Hummingbird Communication. There is a colorful hummingbird, snout poised above a honeysuckle flower in the upper right hand corner of the card. Alex knows Margie Tomlin. She laughs and shakes her head. She studies the gathering, busy sipping, chatting, gazing, listening, posturing. Looks at faces she recognizes. Then she turns and follows Nate, who becomes ever more diminutive in the distance.

Nate crosses the street against the light. A car skids to a halt inches from his thigh. Horn blaring, the driver gesticulates from within the fishbowl Ford, air conditioning blowing at full blast. He hits the horn repeatedly as Nate passes but fails to capture the jaywalker’s attention. Nate’s expression is not defiant but detached. Nate is already across the street when the driver drops his window. The driver sits open-mouthed and confused through the light change, his eyes wide in something akin to, but not exactly, amazement. The driver withholds the invective but continues to idle until the driver behind him begins honking. The light has changed again.

Alex quickens her pace but can’t close ground in her fashionable heels. She’ll lose him now, she fears, but looking through the traffic she sees him turn into an alley off Rubicon Avene which was, more or less, the demarcation between the prosperous Riverside and the dilapidated Near North neighborhoods. She should reverse course and return to the party, to her friends, but she doesn’t. She crosses the street. At the alley she pauses. Even in the bright sunlit afternoon the alley is dark and bleak. Foreboding. She presses on. In the alley she discovers the entrance to the Delirious Dissident bookstore near The Lemongrass, a Vietnamese restaurant she had heard good things about but never visited because she avoided the area. She has practiced her lines to explain her unexpected presence. You were so captivated that you accidentally gave me someone else’s card. A card you might need. But once inside the practiced words fall away. She sees Nate talking to a bearded, long haired clerk behind a glass counter displaying old books. She can only blurt, “Curiosity kills the cat,” and wonders, herself, precisely what she means. Nate smiles a crooked smile. The speechless clerk shifts his questioning gaze back and forth between Nate and the young woman who is sweating profusely in her business suit.

Alex peels a lock of dark hair from her sticky forehead. Delirious Dissident has no air conditioning but she is intermittently greeted by blasts of air from a large, swiveling pedestal fan. The store’s climate is pleasant, liking stepping inside a cave. The fan’s thrust lifts her fine, silky hair from her shoulders and makes her skin tingle like the taste of mint. The shop holds only the three of them and books that smell pungent and ripe. Alex plops down into one of the old over-stuffed chairs scattered about the shop. As Nate and the clerk study her like a curio she scans the bookshelf nearest her. Dusty volumes of books by people whose names she doesn’t recognize and some she can’t pronounce: Hannah Arendt. Amiri Baraka. Nathaniel Chalmers. Noam Chomsky. She kicks her shoes away from her tired, hot feet as if she has arrived home at last from a long journey. On a battered table next to the chair is a copy of Blue Lard by Vladimir Sorokin. She picks up the book. The text is in Russian.

“I could translate it for you if you like,” Nate says. “What do you usually read?”

“I don’t know,” Alex says and is disturbed by her admission, “maybe you could make a suggestion.” She kneads her foot cocked upon her knee and knows that she is showing too much thigh but shifts her leg higher instead. Brazen and obverse. A thrilling self realization hits her like a crashing wave.

A large dog arrives from the back of the shop, tail swishing vigorously, rolling his rump to and fro. The dog tries to push his nose into Alex’s crotch. She grasps the dog’s big head with both of her hands, kneading the fur and scrunching his ears clumped in her fists. The canine teeth, capable of ripping out her throat belies slobbery smile and loving gaze. That’s how the world is, she is learning, it happens or it doesn’t and the vagaries of life, the randomness of reality make a mockery of her plans. The dog tries to launch himself up to lick her face, to climb into her lap, riding her skirt farther up her thighs. Alex doesn’t wear undies and she imagines that her fecund fragrance fills the room and complements the musky books, that it beckons all of the animals in the room.

She fondles the animal’s ears as she pushes his head back down between her knees, the insides of his ears feel like velvet.

“Zhivago!” the clerk scolds.

Zhivago turns and looks at his owner with a contrite expression. Then backs away to sit. Drooling. Admiring his new friend.

Nate, who had wandered to the back of the store, has returned. He studies Alex with an expression she doesn’t quite recognize. He hands her three Mad magazines from the ‘70’s, their back covers creased from folding the cartoon puzzle. “This is a good place to start,” he says. Alex thinks he’s kidding, then decides he isn’t. He smiles, steps away and strides to the door. The bell’s ding signals his departure.

“…?” her eyes ask, maybe of the clerk, maybe of the dog. Maybe of the books. Maybe of herself. The dog puts his head back into her irresistible lap.

The clerk shrugs and says, “He’ll be back,” remaining motionless behind the counter.

The dog’s muzzle has dampened her skirt.

She closes her eyes and enjoys the breeze from the fan. She feels like a hummingbird probing an exotic, beautiful, fresh blossom.

End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

Rubicon Avenue: A Short Story


Rubicon Avenue                   3,833 words

Stumbling from the bar, stepping from curb to street, Jimmy goes down. Approaching, Kyle grips the shirt collar and with a forearm under the armpit, lifts him up.

“You okay?”

“Back.”

“Huh? Your back?”

“Back to Ruby.”

Kyle contemplates the request as the light changes and cars move toward them.

Who the fuck am I to argue? Where I was headed myself.

Sluffing along, arms around shoulders in a friend’s embrace, they go. Kyle and Jimmy beneath a sky of blinding luminosity, ablaze like a supernova.

###

“I already cut you off Jimmy,” says Tonya as she dries a glass with a towel. Sets it up-side-down beside two others on a towel spread on the bar.

The Ruby Cafe, murky and cool as an autumn dusk while the afternoon August sun broils the pavement outside, heat waves warping your sight, baking all of your senses. Cool Ruby despite the broken air-conditioner. A ceiling fan breeze.

“One more Tonya. Jimmy needs it. I’ll vouch. You’re not going to get him more fucked up than he already is.”

Tonya silently stares at Kyle. Wipes her hands with the towel. The faintest hint of a smile. A scar runs across Tonya’s right cheek. Then an inch of unmarred flesh before the scar turns downward to her throat. It’s an old scar but it’s still angry. Though not as angry as the criminally jealous ex-boyfriend doing time.

Tonya has a soft spot for Kyle. She’d do pretty much anything he asks. He hasn’t asked for much.

“It’s on me,” Kyle says as Tonya sets ‘em up.

“It better be. I’m already running Jimmy a tab. Don’t tell Mike.”

Jimmy’s usual P.B.R and shot of Jameson. Jimmy smiles sheepishly, appreciative of his shepherd. Silent, knowing he can’t harness the tongue that would careen like a bumper car inside his mouth. The Jameson down the gullet before Tonya sets the Burning River in front of Kyle. She tries to make eye contact but Kyle is studying Jimmy. Studying Jimmy’s worried expression. Jimmy worries about his perpetually drunken state, about his empty wallet, about the cat that hasn’t been fed today. Or yesterday.

“Haven’t seen you in a while, Jimmy.”

Kyle tips the Burning River longneck to his lips. Looks away from Jimmy to Tonya who has moved to the other side of the horseshoe shaped bar to attend to the only other 3 p.m. customer on what she calls Melancholy Monday. The quiet customer had appeared as if conjured. She doesn’t recall his request for the first beer. Recalls no echo of his voice. The man wears a tan sport coat with jeans. Mature though Tonya can’t get a fix on his age.

Kyle studies Tonya from behind. Firm, fine rump and nicely defined calves.

“Jush got out,” Jimmy finally says mushing forth.

“What this time?”

“Drunk’n d’sorderly.”

“…” Kyle takes another sip.

“an zist’n ‘rest.”

Jimmy can think clearly. The words form perfectly in his mind. They just don’t come out right. And his limbs have turned to jelly. His ears ring. If he hadn’t fallen, he’d be home by now in his studio apartment in Near North.

Shoulda’ kept going.  Home to feed Jinxie. She hates Meeces to pieces. Stop smiling. They already think you’re nuts. Shoulda’ refused the drink. A loser and a mooch is what they think. I’ll show ‘em. Never coming back to Ruby again. This shithole.

Jimmy takes a drag off the P.B.R. Slides off the stool with the cracked vinyl seat, batting peeking out of the wounds. Staggers to the bathroom. A glimpse of himself in the mirror as he passes. Sandy disheveled hair receding. Bleary blue eyes. No comb in his pocket. Closes himself up in the bathroom stall. Sits just in time for the eruption. Releases in a single explosion. Elbows on knees, head bent low. Too despondent to wipe.

###

“He’s been here since I opened,” Tonya says.

“Says he just got out of jail,” Kyle says. “Zistin ‘rest is serious business,” Kyle says. Tonya smiles.

“He came straight here after his release. He said I’d have the honor of being the last bartender to serve him. He’s done after today.”

“We’ve heard that before.”

Tonya hitches a hip on the edge of the cooler, presenting her good side to Kyle. Her slender arm rests atop the shiny bar freshly lacquered a few weeks ago. Refurbishments at the Ruby are infrequent and usually derided by the regulars. Her hands pretty despite all the washing and wiping. Small hands with unpolished nails clipped short, unadorned with rings. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the brown bottle resting in the recessed edge of the bar. She crosses and sets a fresh one in front of the laconic customer. Did he arrive before or after Jimmy? She tries to remember. Clinks the empty into the tall trash can.

###

Clean of ass and retrousered, Jimmy spins around and drops to his knees on the sticky toilet floor, embracing the bowl as the poison gushes forth. Filthy drool hangs from his lips. Jimmy gasps, teary eyed. He feels better instantly despite his disgust at the puke-slick atop shit like the sum total of his existence.

###

A corona enveloped form erupts from the shimmering maw. Before the eclipse of the closing door clarifies the view Kyle knows it is Ted. Laconic man watches like an astronomer observing. Measuring. Calculating mass, trajectory and force.

‘Pull up a seat,” Kyle says.

“Already have,” says Ted.

“Jimmy was sitting there.”

“Jimmy T.?”

Kyle nods. Ted picks up the three-quarter full P.B.R. and moves it to his left.

“Must’ve fallen in,” Kyle says nodding to the bathroom door. Tonya sets a Bud in front of Ted and a fresh Burning River in front of Kyle.

“J.T. working?”

“Doubt it. He just got out of the klink. You’ll have to ask him.”

Stepping from the restroom, Jimmy hesitates.

Asshole’s here. In my seat.

“Hey, Jimmy. How’s it hanging?” asks Ted.

Jimmy acknowledges Ted with a nod but doesn’t speak. Sits at his re-assigned seat and takes a drink of the warming Pabst.

“Here, Jimmy. This will do you good.” Tonya sets a pint glass of ice water with a slice of lemon in front of him.

She moves to the cash register and pulls her purse from the shelf underneath. Rummaging in the bowels, subconsciously looking for a smoke. It has been four months but she still craves, especially when she’s in the bar. She has yet to cheat. She knows if she does she’ll be right back at it again. And she knows that she can’t hide it. The smell gives her away. Kyle would know, not that it fucking matters. He hates smoking and smokers. Disgusting habit he reminds her over and over. “Good for you,” he said lamely at the news of her quitting.

“You playing anywhere, Jimmy?” Ted asks.

Jimmy shakes his head.

“You guys could rock,” Ted says looking back and forth from Jimmy to Kyle. “What happened to the Bangers?”

Kyle shrugs his shoulders and finishes his second beer faster than the first. Jimmy remains mute and solemn. Gulps the cold, citrus flavored water, Adam’s apple bobbing.

“Linda thinks you were the best. Guitarist, I mean. Not so good at other things, huh, Jimmy?”

Ted laughs and punches Jimmy on the shoulder, not hard but enough to nearly push the wavering Jimmy off his stool. Linda is Jimmy’s ex-wife and Ted’s current one.

I’m going to kick your ass as soon as I sober up. I’m going to beat you to a pulp and then I’m going to piss on your Armani suit and shit on your hundred-dollar haircut.

###

“Tonya, will you turn that shit off?” Kyle asks, pointing to the ESPN broadcast on the wall-mounted big-screen T.V. “I want to play the juke box.”

“The T.V.’s muted, it’s close-captioned,” Tonya says.

“I know but it’s distracting. Hey, buddy,” Kyle calls across the bar to laconic man, “mind if we turn the TV off and put on music?”

The drinker shakes his head. Sets his empty into the grooved inner lip of the bar as he turns to gaze at the television. Watches the screen blacken over his shoulder. Turns back to the fresh beer that has materialized.

“Mike’s not going to like having it off,” Tonya says.

“Fuck Mike. Who cares what Mike does or does not like?”

What a question! What’s Kyle doing here on a Monday afternoon anyway? Stay the hell away and let me live my miserable life in peace.

###

The first song starts. Kyle punches in the last of his series. Walks back to his seat. He always plays the same songs.

  • I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire, sings Peggy Lee.

“Lord, help us,” said Tonya when the music started but she sings along anyway in a soft, low voice. When Tonya lets go, when she lets her rip, she sounds like Grace Slick, Kyle has told her.

As Kyle remounts the stool, he says, “Randy Newman…”

“… provided the orchestral arrangement and conducted. You’ve told me a thousand times,” says Tonya.

– Is that all there is, is that all there is?

Kyle with a hurt expression. He likes telling stories about songs.

“And the lyrics were inspired by the Thomas Mann story Disappointment,” says Tonya.

“Disillusionment,” says Kyle.

“Whatever.”

“You always play the same crap,” says Ted. “Why don’t you play some good music for a change?”

“Who are the fucking musicians in the room, asshole?” asks Kyle with an ambiguous smile.

“Yeah,” says Jimmy emerging from a dark, fathomless place. The P.B.R. is warm. He is working on his third glass of water.

“I think a little gratitude is in order here, Bub. Who gave you that cushy job?” asks Ted.

Tonya perches herself back on the cooler and says to Kyle, “Why don’t the Bangers play anymore?”

“No time for it. And look at Jimmy.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re too busy selling ads. Chasing the American dream,” she says and casts a disparaging look at Ted.

“Remember the Riverfest gig?” Jimmy asks with alarming clarity and diction.  The puke has done him good. He talks across Ted who is busy punching at his smart-phone.

“One of our best performances,” Kyle says.

“Nick on drums. Lunatic,” says Jimmy.

“Possessed,” says Kyle.

“And the new song you wrote. Li’l Bruno dances no more.” Jimmy sings the line slightly off-key.

“You gents enjoy your stroll down memory lane,” Ted says standing to leave. He puts a twenty on the bar. “I’m covering the next round for the degenerate arteests. The rest is yours,” he says to Tonya. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Ted’s narrowed eyes, finger pointed at Kyle, winking.

“Don’t need your fucking beer,” Jimmy says. He takes a gulp of the water.

“Have it your way,” Ted says as he moves to the door. “I’ll give Linda your regards.”

I’ll cut your balls off if when I get the chance.

“Don’t let him get to you,’ Kyle says as the door closes behind Ted. “He and Linda are on the ropes, anyway.”

Kyle sees Mike’s Cadillac Escalade pass the front window, through the garish beer signs. He’s earlier than usual.

The laconic man follows Kyle’s gaze.

“You know that your stuff is on the box because of me,” says Tonya.

“And because Mike knows that the minute my songs are gone, I am too.”

“Mike doesn’t give a shit if you’re here or not.”

“I don’t think that’s true. For a variety of reasons.”

###

Mike steps into the Ruby. He is a large man but not a jolly one. He’s a spent sun at the center of a dead solar system, providing no warmth to the bodies on the periphery.

Kyle, in a testy mood, asks Mike, “How much does Budweiser pay you to advertise for them?”

With a confused expression Mike says, “The signs are free.”

“You think somebody is going to walk into this dump because you have a free fucking Budweiser sign. Did they offer you a free forehead tattoo?”

“When you own the Ruby you can make the business decisions. How’s that sound?” Mike says before he wanders away to get a case of beer to ice down.

“Sheep,” says Kyle but Mike doesn’t hear.

Mike doesn’t care for Kyle. The feeling is mutual. Mike knows about Tonya’s infatuation. Still, business is business and he’ll tolerate the prick if he keeps drinking the expensive stuff and buying for all his buddies.

The next week Mike will add a Corona Extra sign and a Miller mirror embossed with NFL logos and cheerleaders out of spite.

The room was humming harder,

As the ceiling flew away

###

“How’s the peanut gallery treating you today?” Mike says as he bends to kiss Tonya. She turns and defiantly offers her damaged cheek. He hesitates a moment before giving her a peck. Tonya is self-conscious about the scar. When she is not working, seated at the bar or in a restaurant, she’ll use her hand to hide the scar. Lately, though she has been taunting Mike with it. Mike knows a plastic surgeon who says he can help. The surgeon can’t eliminate the scar but he can soften it, smooth it out. He can also enhance her boobs like Mike wants. The facial procedure is scheduled for next week. The boob job isn’t on the docket yet. Kyle has told Tonya that he loves her little titties and the scar accentuates her beauty. Says the imperfection calls attention to her creamy complexion and delicate jaw-line.

Why the fuck should I care what Kyle thinks? 

“I need you to stay late. I’ve got errands to run this evening,” Mike tells Tonya.

Great. Another double shift.

“I have plans,” she says.

“Cancel them.”

That her face at first just ghostly,

Turned a whiter shade of pale

“I love this song,” Tonya says to Kyle.

“It’s about a drunken seduction,” he tells her.

“So you’ve told me. I love drunken seductions, I guess.”

###

A pretty woman walks in alone. A very pretty woman. She halts after a few steps into the Ruby and looks around. Her eyes adjust to the darkness. Everyone looks, except laconic man who treats her arrival as something inevitable, a prophecy fulfilled. Tonya gauges Kyle’s reaction.

The newbie sits two seats down from Kyle. Kyle studies the young woman, and she, smiling, returns his gaze.

Tonya throws the bar towel on the cooler and tells Mike she’s taking a break. She marches to the cigarette machine and, with a flourish, buys a pack of Capri Menthol 100’s. They thud into the tray. She snatches them up.

Lights up in the blistering heat. Sidewalk like a griddle. She takes a few pulls off the Capri and feels nauseous. Drops the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grinds it with the toe of her old Nike that looks like a club connected to her delicate ankle. Walks toward her car in the un-metered alley. “No Parking” signs but she gets away with it. The meter cops know her and don’t give a shit. She drops the pack of Capri’s into the green garbage can as she turns the corner of Rubicon and Tinsley. The beige Camry has a crease along its side from a hit and run. A Ruby’s customer no doubt. A drunken coward. Inside she cranks the air conditioner to the maximum setting. Begins to cry. Considers driving away.

###

“Christie,” says the pretty woman in response to Mike’s question. She has ordered a Cosmopolitan and Mike is stalling for time. He hates making drinks. Tonya should be back.

Mike learns that Christie is newly arrived in town. She’s getting settled in her apartment in Riverside. She’s looking for a part time job. She’ll start Nursing School in the fall.

There must be some kinda way out of here

Said the joker to the thief

“A Bob Dylan song,” Kyle says, looking at Christie’s slightly equine profile.

“This is Jimi Hendrix,” says Christie.

“Right. But Dylan wrote it.”

“What kind of work do you do?” Mike asks Christie, looking irritably at Kyle.

“Customer service or bar tending.”

“Same thing,” Mike says. He opens the cash register, lifts the cash drawer and takes an employment application from underneath. Hands her the form.

“We know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Kyle says to no one in particular. His mind working on unrelated problems.

Mike glances at his watch. He is furious with Tonya.

Two riders were approaching

And the wind began to howl

Mike sets a drink of dubious quality in front of Christie.

“Hendrix’s guitar builds the anticipation. The shit is about to hit the fan,” Kyle says to the fresh bottle of Burning River.

###

When Tonya returns, Mike glares at her. “Thirty minute fucking break,” he says under his breath. He sees that she has been crying so he’ll save the confrontation for later. Now he has to go.

The Ruby has recently caught the attention of residents in the newly renovated apartments around the park on the border of the Riverside District and Near North. A four-some of “Riversiders” (which refers more to an attitude than a place) have taken a table up front, near the jukebox. Fresh, young shiny faces, like polished apples. Kyle fears they’ll punch up some of the crap music that Michael, desperate to curry favor, has loaded on for them. The young crowd loves the Ruby for its dive atmosphere that they are doing everything they can to ruin.

One of the shiny apples comes to the bar to order drinks. He asks Tonya to turn on sports. Mike has left to run his errands without noticing the dark t.v.. She tells the shiny apple the television is broken. Kyle punches in more songs. Tonya turns up the volume. Kyle takes a thin book from his bag. He found Claire Rabe’s Sicily Enough in The Delirious Dissident used bookstore. He has read it a half dozen times successively. He takes a pile of white bar naps from the plastic container with the Johnny Walker logo. Flipping back and forth between the sections he has highlighted, scribbling on the napkins, crumpling some and throwing them aside. Tonya and Jimmy watch. Laconic man smiles at the act of creation.

###

Kyle shuffles the little napkins into an appropriate order and hands them to Tonya.

“It’s about her isn’t it? Your new inspiration.” Tonya nods to the empty stool. Christie has gone to the Lady’s Room.

“Read it.”

I arrive, dogshadow thin

Broody men watch me bending

Mandolins in the tavern

Desire never ending

He stares at my thighs

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

Desire flares inside me

As the sun on my back

Hot as hell and red in corners

Deep like that

Thick smell of sex everywhere

Lets my name out with his sperm

We make love like religion

Fills my vagina, I fill time

Adored like no virgin

Waiting for an end

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

Some nights I want to be held

The purpose of my being

In a kiss there is not time

Only constant eating

I grow not old, only deeper

Here on my knees in filth

Licking away at my self esteem

Praying at the altar of a groin

What’s it mean?

A witch ensnared by a fool

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

“What’s it mean?” Tonya asks.

“It’s about you. Pretty much everything I have ever written is about you.”

“. . .” She cannot respond.

Kyle takes the napkins from Tonya’s fingers, though she doesn’t want to let go, and hands them to Jimmy. “Set it to music.”

###

“Too many words,” Jimmy says.

“Shorten it.”

“It doesn’t rhyme.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s not the kind of stuff we do.”

“Time for a change. Just write it. It’ll occupy your mind while you’re riding the wagon.”

“What wagon?…. Oh!” Jimmy says with a reflective pause.

Jimmy pushes himself away from the bar and the warm beer. He is steady on his feet.

“I didn’t mean right now,” Kyle says but Jimmy doesn’t stop walking.

“Your phone still out?”

Jimmy nods yes and stops just short of the door.

“Come over to my place. This Friday. You too Tonya. We need your voice and your advice.”

Christie returns to witness Jimmy’s departure.

###

In the restroom, Kyle splashes his face with the cool water gurgling from the faucet. Wipes  face and hands with coarse brown paper towels. Rakes a comb through his dark hair, shorter than his rock days but still too long for the corporate world. Looks in the mirror and wonders who is looking back. He takes a small leather case from his breast pocket, containing his business cards. Kyle McGee, Account Manager. He pulls the cards from the sleeves and drops them into the waste can. Fingers the grain on the case before tossing it in after them.

###

Tonya picks up Christie’s application, abandoned by Mike beside the cash register. Pretends to study it.

“You’re hired. You start now.”

“What?” asks Christie, setting down her second Cosmopolitan.

“You have anything better to do?”

“I guess not. But I’ve been drinking.”

“So? Come here and I’ll show you the cash register.” Tonya writes her phone number on the back of a bar check.Takes her Ruby keys from her purse, hands them to Christie.Tommy will be in at 9 to relieve you. Call me if you run into trouble.” Tonya ignores the uncertainty etched on Christie’s brow.

“You’re not staying?”

“For a little while. I’ll stick till you get the hang of it. Trust me. This is the easiest bar tending job in the universe.” Laconic man nods his head and takes a drink.

“What do I tell Mike if he returns?”

“Tell him anything you want. Tell him Tonya said to go fuck himself.”

Tonya takes a seat by Kyle.

“I’ll have a Gin and Tonic,” she says to Christie.

When Christie sets the drink down, Tonya says. “There’s a price list taped above the register. Gin and Tonics are $5.00 but mine are on the house. At least until tomorrow.”

###

The songs and lack of sports have driven the Riversiders away. Kyle leans and whispers into Tonya’s ear. She giggles and blushes. A Whiter Shade of Pale is up again. He stands and offers Tonya his hand. Leads her to an area with space to dance. Her ruined cheek against his.

Tonya notices that laconic man’s seat is empty and there is a $50 tucked under the empty beer bottle.

How did I not see him leave? 

Tonya and Kyle turn and turn. Slowly. Locked in mutual orbit as the cosmos hums around them.

The End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend