Her Disquiet


       –Today I was out just walking, you know, and thought I saw the first boy I ever performed fellatio on.
       Dim lights. Music–perhaps. But it’s eaten up by the phone’s static.
       –Tell me more, in his violent smoker’s voice.
       –He was limping. I think. His hair was gray. It was still wet, also.
       –Hm. Did you love him?
       –I thought I did. You know, at the time I thought I might have loved him. In any case, I wanted to love him.
       –Did he rape you?
       –Yes, but I let him. It was later on, though, when we were older.
       –Did he spit on your face?
       –Yeah–just as he was about to orgasm, he spit. But I don’t know if he meant to do it or not.
       –Did his spitting excite you?
       –No
       –Do you think about him often?
       –No. But now it kind of excites me to think about it. I get excited thinking about what might have been.
       –Did you ask him to rape you?
       –No.
       –Did you want him to rape you?
       –No. Yes. Pause. –Secretly.
       –Did he pin you down while he raped you?
       –It was at a party. There were a lot of high school kids there, but mostly boys.
       –Did any of his friends rape you too?
       –No.
       –Did he tell people about it afterward?
       –If you mean did he talk about how he fucked me, then yes. All the time.
       –Did you like hearing about it?
       –What do you mean?
       –Did people look at you differently, and did that excite you– having people look at you differently as though on some level you had power over them?
       –I guess so. I never thought about it like that.
       –What else happened.
       –Some girl wrote stuff about me in cherry lipstick on the mirrors on the second-floor girls’ room.
       –Huh.
       –So when I went to fix my hair I was reminded that I was a slut with a ten-gallon cunt, or whatever it said.
       –Did you try to wash it off?
       –I did. Not at first, but after school was over I went back in there and washed the lipstick off.
       –Did it reappear the next day?
       –No.
       –Do you ever fantasize about being raped again now that you’re older and . . . wiser?
       –No. I wasn’t that kind of girl. I’m still not.
       –What did you do then?
              –Nothing.
              –What kind of girl were you?
              –I was just a nice girl who walked a little slow and talked even slower and who lived in a house that had one of those fat ladies in a pink polkadot dress bending over showing her fat ass out on the front lawn. I was the kind of girl who would play catch with you if that’s what you wanted to do.
              –Really.
              –Yes, and my father had no teeth. She laughs. –No. I’m just kidding. He had all his teeth, but he did have a fat derriere.
              –What do you want to do on our date?
              No response. Then, –Dunno.
              –Have you had many blind dates before?
              Before the woman can answer, the bartender changes channels. Tyson versus Holyfield.
              It’s a rerun.


              He just does it–walks right on up to the attractive woman in the long camel-hair coat and red boots and says, "Have a drink with me."
              Surprisingly, she says, "Okay."
              It’s a sidewalk cafe, right next to a chicken place. They sit inside at a circular table by the washrooms, in back.
              He says, "Can I ask you a personal question?"
              She says, "That all depends."
              She has an accent of some kind; he can’t, try as he might, place it, other than it’s someplace east of the Danube. This he finds exotic and in its exoticism slightly intoxicating. He is reminded, all at once, that he is extremely pleased when a woman he will be with wears darkly colored undergarments, especially if she has olive, not paste-white, skin, and deep-set eyes. It turns out that tonight’s woman does, although her skin is borderline olive colored. As he places an index finger thoughtfully on the cleft of his chin, he wonders after the color of her undergarments.
              The bartender also has an accent: Italian, worn thin by years and years of California living.
              She orders a whiskey sour, extra whiskey. He still does not know, yet, what he should get, so he asks for a few extra moments during which he’ll decide.
              "So," she says when her drink’s set in front of her, "what is it you want to ask?"
       Lights are low and smoky-bar-ish. She has, by now, taken off her long camel-hair coat; underneath she’s wearing a green tank top.
       He gives her as shy and boyish a grin as he can; she giggles. Shadows crisscross half of her face, while the other half is as pale as cream despite its olivey complexion. On the mound of her left cheek, on the fleshiest part, there’s a mole the size of a dime.
              He tells her sheepishly, "Right."
              She sips from her drink and twirls a cocktail straw in it, clinking the ice cubes. She does not, yet, say anything.
              He prefers, as a rule, women who are unafraid of their own bodies. He has found that the uninhibited woman is, alas, a rare commodity these days. Consequently, he is altogether surprised when he chances upon the uninhibited and totally sexually aware woman; that is enough to make him happy for a year. Of course, this doesn’t happen very often, as he is not the kind of guy who ventures out into the night very often, but during the past twenty years it has happened once or twice, and that is enough.
              The bartender returns wearing a puzzled look. He has decided on a shot of Jameson, to go with his companion’s whiskey sour.
              She says, "Hey, come on now. Let her rip."
       He laughs, and then says, "All right." He pauses for the moment, to aggravate the already thick tension between them; she seems not to be aware of this, but he most certainly is–uneasily so. He continues, "I don’t know your name and I don’t want you to tell me. But there is something I have been wanting to do for quite some time now." He is trying to sound as sophisticated and mature as possible, under the circumstances; her smile grows wider, and she may or may not wink at him and her wink may or may not be suggestive of certain lewd, well, undercurrents going through his mind at this very moment. He says, "But I never have because of being so shy."
       She might know what he is hinting at, but she doesn’t want to lead on in any way, so all she says is "Okay. I’m still with you."
              Then he laughs, nervously; then she laughs.
       It is noon and they are both on their lunch breaks and decided that even though they aren’t drinkers they might like to have a drink today. Her girl friend Janice, who works upstairs in administration, had planned on coming with her, but at the last minute cancelled–her son’s school called or something. She then asked a guy she kind of half knew, Roy; but he said he doesn’t drink and, plus, he had a few errands to take care of, anyhow. As for him, he was on his way to work when he saw the place and decided, hey, why not? He’s the boss, so he doesn’t have to work much; plus, he was thirsty–and feeling adventurous.
              He says, "I was just wondering if you would . . ." And he lets it tapper off; he’s not sure why; most likely, he just feels like it, and follows his feeling.
       Over the years, he has had a few girlfriends but has never been married. Once, he almost married this one cute girl with red hair but she left him for a mime. This was not a joke; he wished, wishes, it was. The only thing he remembers about the cute girl he almost married is that she gave particularly good fellatio; he is no expert, but he remembers hers being particularly good; she had the technique down, sure, but there was something else going on, too. Perhaps he should ask the attractive woman sitting right next to him if she gives particularly good fellatio, and then, if she says yes, or even if she responds negatively, ask her if he might find out for himself, today or another day. But she is not wearing mascara; in the tapes he watches the girls who appear to perform particularly good fellatio always wear thick mascara and oftentimes have tattoos.
       She reaches over now and taps him on the shoulder and says, "That’s okay. Tell me whatever you want to."
              He notices, of a sudden, that one of her front teeth is gold. She then notices that he noticed, and explains, "An accident."
              "Oh," he says, embarrassed he was caught looking.
              He has never had a threesome and is not sure if he would like to have one. Correspondingly, he has never sodomized a woman but thinks he might like to. Some nights, after all, he has time to fantasize; days he doesn’t, not really, but every now and again there’s a wasted minute or two. Every other night he watches pornographic tapes. He has not yet tried the Web, even though he’s been told on numerous occasions that’s where the future of porn is: online. (He can hardly work his VCR, even still; and he still has an eight-track.) He has never paid a woman, or a boy, for sex, and would not consider himself an amoral or shady man; he just likes to watch people having sex and fantasizes that one day perhaps he will be filmed having lewd and morally borderline and illegal sex, is all. (He also fantasizes that in a previous life he was a gymnast or a diver who wears really tight and constricting clothing, for professional reasons.) In any case, this is what he is thinking of right at this very moment in this very divey bar: he would like to have a threesome with the woman with the questionably olive complexion; at the very least, he would like to have really morally dirty and illegal sex with her. But he can’t, as much as he would like to, as much as he has fantasized ever since he let himself be aware of his own fantasies that one day he would walk right up to an attractive woman in a long camel-hair coat and red boots, tell her–at least, not today.
              So he looks busily at his wristwatch and tells her, "Gosh, I’m really sorry but I do have to go."
              She says nothing. Just glances his way, and smiles.
              Getting up, he says, "You know, I was just wondering if maybe you’d like to have dinner with me tomorrow night."
              In her exotic foreign-sounding voice, with her questionably olive complexion in perfect hue, she says, "Yes, I would."
              "Fantastic," he says and hands her his business card before he leaves.
              He likes a woman with tattoos, preferably on the fundament or to the left of center of her crotch, or around the small of her leg, by the ankle, and he wonders if he might get the chance to discover the woman with the questionably olive complexion’s tattoos, if she has any; he would like that.
       Before he leaves, he notices that the bartender has turned the television back to the talk show that was on earlier. He watches it for a moment and so does she.
              On the screen, a rotund man wearing green corduroys asks the short, plump girl in the too-loose sundress, –How did the rape make you feel?
              Before he hears the answer, he says, "Goodbye," and leaves.
              His new friend says, "I’ll call you tomorrow morning." She looks happy, more or less.
              Halfway down the block, he realizes he forgot to pay for his drink.
 
              When he meets her the following day, after work, she’s reading Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
              He walks over and is about to sit down when a large rotund woman with heavy mascara comes by and asks if he’d like her to take his coat, which is really just a parka, and he doesn’t know what to say and begins at once to sweat profusely like he always sweats profusely in times of awkwardness or danger or both. She dog-ears the page she stops at and sets her book aside, and then places it in her pocket book and smiles. Should she stand and shake his hand or kiss him on the cheek, or would that be too forward?
       She stands, but he’s already sat down.
              It’s a cozyish dining room with dark mahogany wood panelling and napkins artfully sculpted into swans set at each place and a fireplace with a fire in it even though it’s almost sixty degrees outside, unseasonably warm. He had never been here before, never even heard of the place, but trusted her when she told him, "It’s really really very nice, actually." After talking to him this morning, she began to have second thoughts–a date? Drinks between just-friends? A nice dinner shared between two people who just met and who liked each other enough, and only enough, to have nice dinners every now and then but nothing more? The beginning of a torrid love affair? She began to worry because, A, she didn’t remember what he looked like, not really, save for the unfortunate case of his over-oily skin, which made her worry all the more; B, she knew that she wasn’t, and probably wouldn’t be for a long while now, ready for anything as intense as a relationship, if that’s what this was the beginning of; and, C, her favorite TV show was on tonight and she’d forgotten all about it when she said, "Tonight?" He was, she remembers, breathing–almost panting–heavily into the phone, and this unnerved her. "Oh, tonight," she remembers saying, "tonight’s–fine?" Still not quite sure if this was a good idea.
       "Hello," he says, scooting in his chair and knocking one of the table’s legs and almost spilling both of their waters; he still smiles at her.
       She says, "Hello," and flicks a hair out from an eyeball and blinks rapidly for a moment or two. The smile she gives him in return is a nervous, I’m-not-sure-if-this-is-such-a-good-idea kind of smile, and he notices it and widens his smile and chortles, once, nervously, and despite everything she knows is right with the world she giggles, once, softly. She doesn’t know what to say next, so she just looks at him. He hasn’t unfolded the swan napkin on his pre-warmed plate, and when he catches her looking at him nervously, is what it looks like, he glances away, and down, and notices the swan napkin and begins to unfold it, but she laughs, twice, somewhat loudly and come to think of it obnoxiously, which surprises him, because he’s having big-time trouble unfolding his swan; he almost tips over his water; then, once he’s twisted the swan’s head around in an attempt to unfold it successfully, he does–the water cascades off the edge of the table, drips right in his pants. He almost, but doesn’t, jump up and knock the table and knock everything on the table straight up, and off, even the candle. That would have been comical.
       "So," he says, and she says, "So."
       Right at this very moment luckily the waiter introduces himself: Randolph. He asks would they like anything to drink, for starters, and then looks at him, and then looks at her, and she says for him, "Double shot of Jameson for the gentleman, and for me–"
       "Whiskey sour," he intones, then giggles. They both giggle.
       "What–"
       "Yeah."
       "Sorry–"
       "Oh–"
       "I–didn’t–"
       "That’s–"
       "–to–well–interrupt."
       "That’s okay." Her palms have already begun to clam up.
       Their drinks arrive and the waiter asks if they’re ready to order appetizers or salads or even their entrees. The waiter is tall, looks tall, and his accent is somewhere between Jersey and Long Island-y, and he’s garlicky-breathed.
       When the waiter leaves, she asks, "How was your day?"
       "Oh," he replies, surprised. He’s not sure why he’s surprised but he is.
       "Hey," she says playfully, "what do you do anyway?"
       He tells her. He’s not sure he should. He’s not sure she’d understand that this is something that’s serious, a real, live business, not smut.
       "Oh, right," she says and realizes more than anything else right now at this very moment she would like a cigarette, or lozenges.
       He says, "It’s not like you think it is."
       "Oh, of course not."
       "It’s–I don’t know–"
       "Interesting," she says.
       He says, "Somewhat drab is what it is, really."
       "I can only imagine."
       "It’s really repetitive and boring and frankly I’m sick of it and don’t know how much longer I can keep doing it," he says.

       Says she, "Where do you live?"
       He lies. How could he tell her the truth–that he still lives with his mother and not because she’s sick or dead or dying but because he’s just too lazy to go through the hassle of finding a place and moving and paying rent on time every month? With Mom, he doesn’t have to worry about stuff like that and he likes it when life’s like that: worry-free.
       "Wow," she says, truly surprised, or even if she’s not truly surprised she sure sounds like it and that’s all he can think of right now so he doesn’t say anything.
       She says, "That’s–isn’t that still a somewhat dangerous neighborhood?"
       He’s not sure if she means this as a kind-of compliment, meaning, he’s a real big stud and impressive and must be a knockout in bed because he lives in such a dangerous neighborhood and if nothing else living in a real dangerous neighborhood filled with creeps and goons and sociopaths and the low-income elderly makes you a real big stud and impressive and a knockout in the sack, basically. Or if she means he’s a total schmo for risking his life and well-being or if he’s a loser unemployed donkey’s ass who’s basically not her type at all and she’ll never visit him at his place of residence.
       But she says, "Wow, I’d like to see your place sometime. I really would!" Is she always this enthusiastic?
       After an awkward while, and when their waiter Randolph has emerged from the kitchen bearing the appetizer they ordered, that shrimp glazed combo thing, all he can think of to say is, "Maybe later." He realizes at once that he should not have said that because it’s just way too forward and presumptuous for a first date, if that’s what this is.
       "Yeah."
       "Oh–"
       "Wow," he says, and cracks a knuckle. Why did he have to say that?
       She realizes, as the coconut glazed shrimp scampi is set down in front of them, that this guy her date or whatever he is really isn’t as bad as she thought he would be and worried herself all day today since their curt and unexciting phone talk this morning. He’s really actually somewhat very attractive, although she’s still not yet certain if what she’s feeling for him is true-blue emotional attraction or just obsessive physical neediness. Still, she is fairly certain that even if what she’s feeling for this guy sitting across from her is either attraction or neediness whatever it is sure is a real bad and bad-karma-ish thing and not something she needs–or wants–in her life as it’s set up right now. Everything’s–fine? Yes: fine! She’s recently, of late, even begun feeling really really happy. Oh, she forgot to turn off her festive holiday lights this morning before she left for work!
       "Mm," she says, biting into a shrimp.
       He says, "Huh," trying to stab a shrimp of his own with the tines of his fork for the eighth time in the last minute.
       She notices, chewing, that his face actually is quite attractive and handsome in the classical baroque-ish sense, which is something she always used to look for in a guy and only rarely, very, very rarely, with the exception of Jeremy, found, ever, and always wanted, after Jeremy, to find again one day. Just not now. It still may be too early. She has, and for a long while now has known that she has, a thing about the curvature of a guy’s jawbone. She doesn’t know where it comes from because most girl friends she knows worry more about a guy’s eyes or hair or bod or possibly the size and shape of their dingy or if they know how to use it or if they’re into giving or receiving, in the sack, which she’s always agreed with so she never seemed weird and arbitrary, talking to her girl friends about guys, and what’s attractive about guys, or whether they’re smokers or drinkers or perverts or sweeties in the sack or if they’re well endowed, financially. Perhaps the whole jawbone thing is a totally arbitrary fetish she has that’s dug way deep down into her inner Freudian inner child, which would be unattractive, to a guy, if they knew about it. Or maybe it’s because her father had a real strong and inflexible and brusque jawbone and over time and over the long years since he died, Dad, it’s festered from way down inside her where her inner monster is and up into her plain-jane consciousness, and this is the reason she finds jawbones really sexy, basically; at least she remembers her father having a really very strong and inflexible jawbone, and it being marginally sexy.
       "How about you?" he would like to know.
       She smiles but says nothing, and pops another shrimp in her mouth and chews.
       Her chewing’s really very sexy and sexually suggestive, is what he’s thinking, but all he manages to say is "Are you from around here?"
       For a long while now, she has been alone; a long time ago she was hurt and feels that she still has yet to recover, so she keeps up her guard. Always. It doesn’t matter how many guys ask her out, and there are quite a few on a weekly basis, she always responds, "Yeah, right," or, if she’s feeling particularly generous, "Oh, I’m sorry but I don’t think so." Her face she keeps stone-cold immobile and off-putting. She smiles a lot, but there’s nonetheless something cold and distant about her smile; it’s the way, smiling, she doesn’t quite look you in the eye. Plus, her walk is brisk and solid and when she walks her feet whack the floor and when she walks she looks dead ahead, never behind, only rarely to the side. She basically hates anyone who has a dingy dangling between their legs, is what it has come down to for her, since Jeremy. She used to like guys, liked them quite a bit, even liked sex, before and for a short while with–especially– fantastically–with Jeremy. But not now. Now she mostly likes being solo, whether at work or at home in her cramped half-bedroom apartment. She likes baked potatoes for dinner and sometimes even breakfast. She likes tea, no longer coffee. She bakes coffee blonde brownies but never eats them. She thinks frequently about quitting her job and going back to school. She jogs, some mornings, and takes a shower in the morning and a bath late at night, before bed. She wears the pajamas Jeremy gave her and spends most nights cuddling herself and maybe watching prime-time sitcoms. She has dyed her hair twice since Jeremy. Oh, but the best thing is she no longer needs to take the pill. Oh, but the down side is her menstruation’s been worse.
       Her hair is lighter than he remembers it being yesterday noon, so light it’s almost blonde, and it’s crimped and the way she’s tussled it on her head looks intelligent and whimsical all at once and he likes that in a woman. Plus, she’s more intelligent than he remembers her being yesterday noon when they met for drinks. He doesn’t remember her talking very much yesterday noon, and that put him off; he likes it when a woman talks and talks, but only if it’s intelligent. Today, he’s happily surprised. She says big-sounding words he’s never heard before like cornucopia and eidetic; actually maybe he has heard of cornucopia before. He was worried yesterday when they met and got to talking, plus, because she talked like everyone else talked and wasn’t very funny. Plus, yesterday noon after she said yes after he just walked right on up and asked her if she’d have a drink with him he didn’t think she was very intelligent, because, hey, who says yes to having a drink with a strange emotionally afflicted (though how could she know that at the time) man who’s needy and emotionally underdeveloped in all the wrong ways? Only nymphos, is who.
       "Here?"
       What did he ask her? He looks nervously around for their waiter or a busboy or anyone because he would like to order a drink, a fancy, exotic drink, and maybe she would too: but: nobody.
       So he says, "Sorry?" She just looks at him. And he says, "Hm."
       Drawn-out, patently awkward silences are often the earmarks of deep-seated insecurities that might later come to the fore. She wonders if perhaps now might be a good time to tell him about her father. Would that freak him out? Would it matter if that freaked him out? Maybe, if hearing about her dad freaked him out, she’d know if he was a good match and a good listener and what she really looks for in a guy, dependable, or if he’s just another dweebo. Should she wait and tell him in more private surroundings? But then, she’s decided, this isn’t really technically a date so it doesn’t really matter if he’s freaked out hearing about her dad and what her dad did to her and possibly others, years ago. Should she, even if this isn’t technically a date, tell him anyway? He might be able to help, or at least have something deep and moving to say as well as resonant to her life as it’s set up right now. You never know until you ask, right? Should she deflect this whole matter of her father off back to the stratosphere from whence it first came? Should she–wait. She has to potty.
       When she’s gone, their waiter Randolph comes by to let him know, "Only five more minutes. I promise."
       And he’s about to do it, to order himself an exotic drink, and one for the lady as well, but she’s gone and he isn’t sure if she’d want one, but then so’s Randolph–gone.
       In the bathroom, she thinks back to her father and all that happened and all that what happened prevented from happening in her own personal life. Love, pretty much. Though life with Jeremy sure seemed like a life of love and honest devotion and dependable compassion, even though in the end it turned out to be anything but. But–her father. What a strange man! He had so many friends, she remembers, too many to keep track of, and he was always out of the house living life and doing big major-major important things, while mom, when she was around, moped about, drifting, lackadaisical, daydreaming, maybe on good days sweeping the kitchen floor. But Dad. He was smooth, a real tight-handshake guy, a guy who wore cologne and who shaved twice a day and had his shirts pressed at the cleaners and wrapped up afterwards, wrapped up with red bows, as if they were brand new. Plus, he had hairy furball hands.
       "What’s this?" is the first thing she says when she sits back down. "Oh," he stutters. "It’s for you."
       "How very nice of you."
       "Yes."
       "Mm," she says.
       He says, "Thank you."
       "Tart," she says, squeakingly. It’s a gimlet or something.
       Before his cancer, her father had been an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and she had, years ago, gone under his knife once or twice. But you can’t tell by just looking at her. Her father was a good oral and maxillofacial surgeon, one of the best. She looks, still, as natural as they come–scarless, almost. He wouldn’t notice the scar unless she let him close enough, and as things are going that’s not going to happen. Her dad looked mildly like Chuck Norris, and maybe this is why, ever since, she has liked dweebo guys with imperfect teeth and a mildly buttery complexion. He is a crook-teethed butter-skinned dweebo kind of guy, but she’s not liking him.
       Until, gasping, he asks her flat out, "Were you abused as a child?"
       She should be shocked, should be horrified, offended, exasperated, should get up right now and walk straight away, for good. She should at least play the taken-aback part. She instead just gazes at him with absent eyes and says, "Thank you for being so . . . forward."
       Is she serious? "Wow," he says, regretting ever having said anything –especially having asked her for a drink yesterday noon.
       Randolph their waiter approaches now with two steaming plates, his steak tartare, her calamari, and sets them down, says, "Anything else I can get you?"
       "No," she says, responding to her date, whoever he is, not Randolph.
       He’s busily sawing off a bite of steak when he jerks his head up, says, "Oh, I’m so–"
       "Because I’m somewhat–what, exactly?"
       "Fragile," he says, without meaning to.
       "Scarred," she offers, by way of compromise, "is more what I am. But no."
       "I didn’t mean–"
       "Not by my father, although he was something of a tough guy," she says. "Calamari?"
       He’s never quite figured it out, the whole medium versus medium rare question, and ends up, every time, ordering his meat either dry and tough as rawhide or bloody, almost jello-y. Tonight’s the latter.
       She’s lying again, of course, about her father being something of a tough guy. He was, even during the cancer, anything but–he was a sweetheart, a nice, complimentary, fizzy-minded teddy bear, she remembers, unless he was touching her you-know-where. In which case he was a monster. Once, he was touching her you-know-where and was about to insert you-know-what you-know-where when suddenly out of nowhere Mom, who was supposed to be at the library, or wherever, opened the front door as only she could, without using the key, which always confused everybody, and called up, "Honey?" He said, "Fuck," almost loud enough for Mom to hear, and removed himself from his daughter, and zippered himself up and almost zippered his, you know, and went straight downstairs, and must have forgotten to wash his hands because all she remembers Mom saying was what, "What’s that smell?" She waited under the covers for maybe half an hour. If her mother came up and asked why’s she in bed, she would have said, "Cramps." Which wouldn’t have been that big a stretch. Finally, before Mom had the chance to come up, she got up the pluck to go down and see what’s what. They were at the kitchen table, chitchatting, when she came down, her winter coat on, scarf, gloves, her boots too, and was about to leave when Father said, "Have a nice time, sweetie." That was the kind of sweetheart her father could be.
       "Is it–?"
       "No," he suggests, "it just doesn’t taste like steak, is what."

       "I can have them cook you up another one."
       "Oh, no," he says, "it’s all right."
       "All right, then," says Randolph and skulks away.
       He didn’t mean to cause such a ruckus. He just wanted Randolph their waiter to know that the food wasn’t that good in the hopes that maybe then Randolph might drop the attitude. Not that he has attitude, really, but paying this kind of hard-earned cash, not that his cash is hard-earned, selling strangers’ panties and the occasional pet coffin for high markups on the internet doesn’t exactly count as all that hard, you’d expect the food to be really very outstandingly good. It was a guilt type thing, and might even have landed him a free dinner somewhere down the road.
       Had he played his cards right.
       She just sits there, watching, wondering if this guy’s the type of guy who complains just for the sake of complaining. What’s the deal with that anyway, huh? Jeremy complained, sure, but only if there was concrete evidence that you should complain and not just sit there and sulk. That was one of the first things she liked about him, Jeremy, and of course it was one of the first things she began to loathe about him when she began to loathe him. Like, there’s that one time he planned on taking her out for a fancy-fancy dinner at some tres-expensive seafood restaurant by the railroad tracks–when the food didn’t come for like the longest time and they began to get upset about the food’s absence Jeremy walked up to the maitre d’ and asked and pushed and asked until the maitre d’ just . . . scowled. Growled. And eventually placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder, his right, she remembers, and gripped and something else and it was then that Jeremy slugged him with his left hand and of course they had to leave; she remembers it being embarrassing for everyone involved and remembers also smiling way down inside that her man could pack such a wallop with his left hand even though he was a righty and as a righty could hardly do much else with his left hand, which seems to be how all righties are. It was a rush, leaving, everyone’s eyes trained on you and your heavyweight southpaw. The maitre d’ went straight to the carpet, and didn’t wake up. Maybe he never did.
       He would like to take this piece of overcooked overpriced beef and walk right on over to the maitre d’ and shove it right down the maitre d’s throat until he gags and chokes and maybe even chokes to death or at least almost-death and then he would like to fetch his date and take her by her hand and march her right back to his place, or her place, and without saying anything, without having to say anything, have illegal and morally reprehensible sexual relations with her till just before dawn, when, if he was the man he’s always imagined himself to be, he’ll go jogging for five-some miles and then eat a PowerBar and go to work energized, exuberant.
       But all he can think of to say is, "It’s good, right?" Meaning the squid.
       She suggests he try some. He says no thank you. She asks why not. He gives her some lame-o reason that has something to do with chopsticks and an early-morning trip to the dentist’s. She suggests that maybe he should live his life more fully and try things he might not otherwise try, which she’s only half-kidding about, and then, when he doesn’t seem to get it, she touches his cheek warmly and then smiles and then giggles, once, softly, but still he doesn’t get it.
       "Interesting," he says when the calamari’s wiggling around his mouth.
       "It’s an aphrodisiac," she says, not so shyly. "According to some people."
       "Huh," he says. He just thinks it tastes like he imagines a nose would taste like, only saltier.
       She suggests that living life on the edge and taking risks is what it’s really all about, deep down, but after she says this all she can think of is the way her father breathed, more like hacked, down her neck when he did the things he did to her; it wasn’t the way he normally breathed.
       He’s still not sure what to make of the whole calamari thing.

       So he suggests, after dinner, that they walk around, and for a while they do. Then the wind picks up, or the winds, is what it feels like, and they decide together to duck into the next warm place they pass, which turns out to be called Randolph’s. Randolph’s, from outside, looks empty, but once inside everything’s so sardine packed together you can hardly breathe. She’s not quite sure she wants to be her; neither’s he. Yet in they go, and find a relatively peopleless corner in back–by the johns. Why does he always have to pick the locale closest to the washrooms? Is it a smell thing, or a comfort thing? They’re immediately accosted by three large burly men the faces of whom appear as pitbulls’, compacted, wrinkled together, snarling. He places, without exactly meaning to, a hand on the large of her leg; she jerks backward, away from him, but then settles; instead of removing his hand, he squeezes, once, lightly; she doesn’t flinch this time. It seems that the three pugs might light to dance, yet where, and to what music, you can’t be sure. All you hear is the far-off baseline from the techno club two buildings down, toward the reservoir. Hey, why would he let three strange men the likes of whom would send any respectable mother into a grand-mal tizzy just by one villainous wink ever dance with her? He tries, therefore, to fend them off, let them know, "Whatever you got, we don’t want. Get it?" They seem not to, for one of them has just leaned in and whispered something in her ear. She giggles–out of politeness, he assures himself, but how could he know? Then, all at once, two of the pugs are gone. The remaining pug, the whispering one, now would like to know, aloud, "Hey, lady, drop this looser and get . . ."

       He knows this one, though he’s never used it. Does it work?
       Not. For, if his hearing’s right, she just let the pug know, "Do yourself and your friends a favor–and scram."
       Too late. The other two are back, bearing two foaming drinks–one for him, the other for her.
       They move in, and sit. Their necks are humungo and bulge-y and fibrous cords poke out and recede, the skin around the cords pasty and crack-skinned. Eyes are like darts, cold and piercing, and he’s thinking that perhaps it might have been a good idea to have taken those kickboxing classes he vowed he’d take a couple New Years’ ago, from Dolph, or at the very least to have started doing situps and squats and squints every morning on the morning. Because he feels like a zlubb, sitting here with these beef-meisters, thinking that what she’s thinking has a whole lot of something to do with mayo and relish and the extra chunky spare tire he’s been carrying around for a quarter decade now. Not that he’s particularly fat. More like he’s mildly stout, portly, and if he wore wool he’d be fashionable but since he wears polyblend rayon things who knows what he is? Not fashionable, that’s for certain, is what he’s sure she’s thinking. Thinking, now, there’s no way she’s going with the man she came here with, the man who against all odds has been making her laugh all night, so far.
       One of the pugs screams out, "Whoop!" The others echo with "Whoop! Whoop!"
       Music, oddly, is "For the Love of Money" by the O’Jays.
       She eyeballs him and flashes him a look he interprets as saying, "Interesting!"
       Off in the far corner of the bar he spots a woman in a tight red-and-black football jersey who is playing a high-velocity pinball machine. A second woman, this one wearing green velvet on leather, stands right there, winking at him, is what it looks like. He tries not to smile, but of course he does. Then, nervously, shyly, pathetically, he looks away. What is he, a homo? Why did he look away? Is he one of those kinds of guys who’s all big and macho and donkey-hung only in his head, not in real life? He’s all but forgotten about the three pugs and especially the woman with the sweetheart Daddy. Why, because Miss Wink here is tearing his heart to shreds. She’s taller, sexier, classier, and more open and sexually insinuatory than the woman with the sweetheart Daddy. Okay, so she hasn’t completely one hundred percent slipped his mind–but still. Now, in his mind, because of the three beefy pugs, she’s rendered dirty; tainted; yesterday’s fantasy. He no longer wants her in a dirty and morally reprehensible and no-holes-barred kind of way. He no longer wants to take her home and do her XXX. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Or the lasciviously winking woman. Or just . . . him. He no longer wants her at all. When he looks back, the woman who winked at him, the woman he might have been able to have tonight, to have and to hold and to do dirty and morally reprehensible things to, is gone. There’s a breach, a cleft–he looking away and then back, away. Then back. No doubt about it: Miss Wink is gone. Where?
       The bartender smokes two stogies synchronously.
       She feels, at once, that she is no longer quite herself. That instead of the quiet, polite, reserved woman she usually is, everything’s changed. That now she is a loud, brash, no-holes-barred shittalker who lives her life on the edge and doesn’t think twice about changing the linen, which admittedly she thinks twice about all the time, twice a day, more, and generally just lives her uninhibited sexually liberated and adventurous (but always safe) life by one rule and one rule only: Life without inhibitions is the only life for me. It’s liberating, being spontaneously uninhibited, especially considering what happened with Jeremy and happened to her after her life together with Jeremy, after the lies, the fights, the furies erupted from the hinterlands and made something beautiful into something despicable and base and animalistic and something that made her self-esteem go way down, fast. Now her self-esteem is so high it’s off the charts. She feels really really good and at home in her self and especially in her body. She feels like she can do anything she sets her mind to, which is a totally new and uninhibited feeling for her since Jeremy and it’s something that basically causes her to up and–out? With the three pugs? Sure. Why not! Perhaps it is the fact that her date is a tad boring. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Maybe it’s just . . . her?
       He’s fixated on the TV. On the TV, a rotund man wearing green corduroys asks the short, plump girl in the too-loose sundress, –How did the rape make you feel?
       –It makes you feel worthless like a worthless piece of trash. I don’t want to be liked for my looks . . .
       –You think you caused the rape?
       –Um. Can they hear her? –Yeah.
       –So you’re thirteen . . .
       –I want to disappear.
       Not yet flustered but close: –So you’re thirteen and . . .
       –What do you fucking care? Do you even give a shit or are you just here to put your fat ugly face on the videowaves to sell some books, huh?
       –All right. Looking toward the host, who shrugs and waits for the word from her production manager. He says: –We don’t have to get . . .
       –I just want to disappear. Why won’t anyone let me disappear?
       He’s fixated on the TV one minute and then the next thing he knows she’s gone. Hey, where did she go?
       Then he spots them. Out the back door.
       So he’s all irked, okay, and gets up and goes over trying his luck with Miss Wink. He kicks his way through two large guys who look surprisingly exactly like long-lost identical twins of the three pugs, which disturbs him, and doggypaddles his way under the legs of a three-hundred-pound woman wearing no undergarments at all, with varicose veins like advertisements up and down both her legs. He almost loses his dinner. Then, he does–all over someone’s just-shined wingtip. Run! He does, and luckily ends up right where he wants to be, where Miss Wink was but a moment ago but now–now–now she’s no longer there. He’s lost. He scans the room for Miss Wink. Nothing. Maybe he should just take this as some kind of an omen from on-high. What does it mean? He doesn’t have a clue, and doesn’t want one, either. Maybe it means that he is and will always be a pugfaced loser muckball for the rest of his life, even though he had the courage and the effrontery to march right up to an attractive stranger and ask her for a beer. Maybe it means that that kind of thing isn’t what makes you a man. Maybe, after all, he should just forsake his fantasies and go home and pop in a porno and wank it till the early pre-dawn hours when his alarm’s pre-set to go beep, beep, beep!
       Miss Wink? Miss Wink? He scans the bar–still nothing.
       Meantime, the three puggish beefmeisters have maneuvered her out back into the alley. He saw them maneuver her out back, but then didn’t see anything. He thinks perhaps he should go out there, or at least tell the bartender, for he knows without a doubt what’s going on right now or will go on in a minute or two or twelve: sexual assault. He’s in the biz, after all, and knows what kind of monsters sexually uninhibited and morally saucy images on TV or on the Net make docile men into: real bad monsters. He just sells worn ladies’ panties online but isn’t that part of the porno biz? Anyway, being the fine young upstanding citizen he prides himself on being one day in the not so distant future he knows what he needs to do. He needs to go out there and beat the living calzones out of the three beefmeisters who either are or aren’t but will sexually assault the nice attractive withal drunk-as-a-monk woman he had dinner, a rather nice dinner at that, with earlier this evening. That was so long ago, he’s almost forgotten. What did they talk about? What’s her name, Stephanie? He’s not sure he ever got her name. But does that matter? All that matters now is that there is a woman out back who either may or may not be in the midst of the most heinous and longlasting crime that can happen to a woman in this day and age. Just the thought of it excites him, but he knows, he knows he must know, that’s a sick and vile and morally warp-hole-ish thing to think right now. Now’s a time of action, not fantasizing. So he takes one deep, deep breath. Everything comes into crystalline focus. He is going to save this woman from the three pugs and from her imminent disquiet and rescue her and take her away and marry her and make her pure again, and in so doing he is going to make himself a better man. He will stop selling ladies’ panties on the Net. He will stop watching porno tapes. He will eat less, exercise more. He will stop masturbating. He will stop having dirty morally reprehensible thoughts and have only sunshiny thoughts of community awareness and help-the-homeless. He will donate one-thirty-second of his salary to the charity of your choice. "Hey, buddy," the bartender calls out. He turns. The bartender’s face is not a happy face. "Stop pissing on my floor." He looks down. Sure enough there’s a puddle of urine–but wait! He has big great things to do! He has a woman to save! He has three pugs to render infertile and testosterone-free! But the bartender has placed his bear claws on the man’s shoulders and is gripping so hard the man squeals, soft. He’s not going anywhere. He’s not saving anybody. He’s not going to be a better man and make the world a better place. Not today he’s not.

 

 

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