“I think I’m ready,” she said.

Clive and I sat beneath a hue of warm red, flickering red, a bouncing light from the candle that sat in the middle of our corner table. I could see it on her too; it touched her face, Karen’s, like a possession. She smiled like a child, nervous, excited though, like she’d just been told how beautiful she was by someone she’d wanted to love her back. She spoke softly, chin down, eyes up. She bit one side of the corner of her bottom lip. I smiled. I knew what she meant.

“I’m happy to hear you say that,” I said.

I already loved her, after just a minute or two. That was five days ago, Super Bowl Sunday. Clive introduced us, our team won, I didn’t care. I only wanted to celebrate finally meeting her; she had small eyes and dark hair.

Clive sat with Brandy, they weren’t a thing, but sometimes that didn’t matter. Brandy was unsure, Clive was persistent. He had a way. I only knew this, I didn’t hear. Because I couldn’t look away, from her, my her, the only her.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

We kissed a good kiss. The beer was poured, the cocktails stirred, the light still flickered in the darkness of sinister times, and I wondered what it was going to be like.

Oh God dear God

Please let me not lose my strength

Please let me not lose my moxie or my will

Oh God let me not go limp from nerves or pressure 

Oh God dear God 

Please let me ask this of you

We all got drunk, I held her hand. Then back to our place. As we walked they talked. Karen and I did not. Every now and then a look and a smile, and our hands squeezed tighter. I felt just fine, in it pretty bad, enough to make my heart beat faster than a dream. Back at the apartment we opened the door. Clive and Brandy went to his room. Karen and I to mine. It happened right away, her lips, my lips. When our clothes hit the floor she apologized.

“I’m sorry, I haven’t taken care of down there,” she said.

She hadn’t, but I didn’t care. I only wanted her to die at the thought of life without me.

“It’s ok,” I said, because it was.

Her breasts were round, her skin was cream, and she tasted like tequila and lime. And she came, and I came. And we slept a good sleep. I awoke when the moon was still high, grabbed a Camel and sat on the sill by the open window. The air felt like cool water running down my face. It was June. She quietly joined me and we said nothing. It was a good moon, a bright moon, and then we touched. But, I did think to myself, if she knew we were going to have sex then why not prepare, why not take care of down there.

The next morning was comfortable. We stayed in bed a while, held each other, then fucked again. It was slower this time, even better than the first. Then she had to go to work. She promised to come by when her shift was over so we could do it all again. I couldn’t wait, but I did. I waited in my bed in my bare, lonely room for her to return…sleeping, smoking, drinking, thinking. I wanted to call my mother, tell her I was in love. Then it would be something, then it would be real. But first let me take some ecstasy. Yeah, good idea! Now let it catch up, let it settle a while…there it is.

“Mom! Hi, yeah, how are you…No, I’m good…Yeah, I’m ok…I wanted to call to tell you somethi—…No, I don’t need any money, Mom, but thanks…I’ve met someone…I said I’ve met someone…She’s great, her name is Karen…Not long…No, Mom, everything is fine…I just had a coffee, it makes me sound that way…So, Mom, listen, I’m in love…”

And on and on I went. Karen came back that night, she still loved me, lucky me. The lights went out and more of the same, but this time I couldn’t sleep. I wondered when it would all go away, like a high that falls low and you want to hide from everyone outside.

The next day she made me dinner, I cleaned. Salmon Teriyaki with Wasabi mashed, and the dishes in the sink. It was just fine. Then to bed.

“I’ve taken care of down there,” she said.

“I love it,” I said.

I stayed down there for some time, I could’ve stayed longer. Then we slept, and when I woke the sun was bright and the girl was still there.

After two weeks emotions slowed, what a shame. After three, we’d turned, soft and bruised. She asked some things to Clive, not me. Like when Clive went for a run.

“Why isn’t he?”

Or when Clive beat the streets to land the great role of his life.

“Why doesn’t he?”

Clive gave me such a look I could see my future in his eyes, but I refused to believe, still a time of summer yet somehow colder. Three weeks in and the motions routine. Get off work and go to her place. She was house sitting for the director of films.

I wonder if she fucked him? I think she did.

We lay in his bed in his small cluttered room, maybe fuck, mostly not. She’d fall asleep long before me. But she still said, I love you. I don’t know why. There was a night on the town with some from her past. I’ll bet she fucked him, and him, and them. One in particular with whom I disagreed. She took his side, that pretty boy, such a pretty boy.

“How do you not like the Beatles?” I asked.

“I just don’t,” she said, then looked at him and tipped her glass.

The two of them laughed more than her and I that night. I thought to grab a brick from the street, clean his teeth.

I figured when my brother came to visit this Hollywood land that things would go back to the way they were, like that first night, when she wasn’t bare down there. With family around she could learn more about me. But she did not. She wanted to go to bed early. I followed like a dog, pretended to be tired too. It would have hurt worse to not be tired. I was sick with it, sick with the pangs. Clive stepped in and showed my brother a time, but he gave me a look that didn’t agree.

Two months in and barely a smile, she didn’t want me around. I only wanted to be around. After work one night it didn’t go so well.

“How much did you make?” she asked.

“Like eighty,” I said.

“You were there for five hours and made eighty bucks? Why do you even work there? You need to get a new job. That sucks!”

I made excuses, said people are cheap. People are cheap. Back at her place we started a war. Words of pain, words of shame. She called me lazy, I called her a…

“Whore! I know your fucking someone, tell me who?”

“Why is everyone I know making it happen except for you?”

She hit me, I grabbed her, tossed her on the couch. She ran to the kitchen, grabbed a jar of raspberry jam that her grandmother made. It was wrapped with one of those creepy ribbons, made me think of dentures and old age. I followed her in when she turned and threw. I ducked, it crashed, she stood there and didn’t cry. It was worse to see her not cry. I looked at the wall, watched the sticky jam. Some began to slide. It looked like the mess of a heart, smeared, probably the leftovers of her last. Next to her on the counter was an empty jar. Not for me? No way! I won’t, don’t you dare. I’d rather fuck off, curl up in despair. So I cried inside, the outside was steel. I called a cab and left without a word, took whatever she owned and threw it to the curb. It took long, but I stopped trying to understand. For months I drank, drugged, and cried, stayed inside.

Ten years now gone and I see her under a warm hue of red. Our old school has gathered again to say goodbye to one, a good one, my favorite one. A different place, an older time, maybe a different girl. But I could only picture an angry, thorny bush. So hello, I said, then showed her a picture of my wife and beautiful two. She understood. She knew.

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