Chapter 41: Malice Aforethought. Smoking in the Girl’s Room.
Suitably invigorated by quality skin time with Lucinda, during the next couple of days I finished two profiles whose connections were fear. The first, fear of truth, and the second, fear of failure. It takes great courage to face fear and move past it because one must acknowledge it exists, has power, and can wreak havoc if ignored. As all soldiers know, successfully facing fear requires acceptance of current reality, a leaving off of wishful thinking, and a willingness to change.
M— barely escaped being murdered for want of that courage, and G.T. missed out on a good woman because of the same. Here are their stories.
Malice Aforethought: M—
“Dude, you look like you’re at death’s door.”
These words greeted M— as he walked into O’Malley’s bar. As you may recall from my columns, O’Malley’s was a favorite place where wounded warriors often gathered and I had been frequenting in my research. Though most did not speak of the war, or their wounds, M—’s condition was so bad it could not go uncommented on. C— spoke for every man in the place.
“I feel like hell, men.” M— was a master of understatement.
“What the hell is going on with you?”
M— climbed onto a barstool. Other than C—, no one spoke, so shocked were they at how stiffly he moved, pain clearly etched into every line on his pale face. He leaned on the bar and took a moment to catch his breath. The bartender sat a beer in front of him.
“Thanks,” M— managed to whisper as his hand slid across the bar and wrapped around the cold bottle. By force of will, he managed to bring the bottle to his lips and sip.
C— couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out his thoughts. “Look, dude, you’ve been getting sicker and sicker now for two years. Every now and then you start to get better and then, bam, you get sick again. Have you been to the doctor?”
“And what do they say?”
M— shook his head, resigned to his fate of a slow and painful death. “They can’t find anything.”
A sickening thought came to me. Some years back, I had once seen a man who looked similar. He’d get sick, get better, get sick, get better, get sicker, and then better and sicker until finally, he died. His widow was too perfectly grieving. In other words, it seemed like an act she couldn’t wait to get through so she could move on. I felt this to be a similar situation, so even though I was still the new guy here, I felt impelled to speak up.
“Can I ask you a few questions about your situation?”
M— said, “Hey, I’m game.”
“When did you start getting sick?”
“Two years ago.”
I had to tread carefully here because I knew what I was going to say might not be taken well. “What was going on then? You know, in your marriage.”
I nodded that he understood my question.
“We were going through a rough time.”
“But then she got to feeling lovey-dovey toward you again?” He nodded.
“So you got sick.” He nodded again. “When you got sick, your wife was very attentive and worried? Made you special treats to lift up your spirits? That sort of thing?”
M— looked at me in surprise. “Yes. How did you know?”
“I understand from C— there’s been times when you started to feel better.”
C— groaned, and stared hard at me. “Nah, man. Nah, I don’t like where this is going.”
M— swiveled his head from me to C— and back. “What’s he mean by that?”
I continued. “Has your wife been on vacations with girlfriends or gone to visit Mother?”
M— nodded. “Sure. I told her she should go and get a break from looking after me so much.”
Relentlessly moving on toward the very thing I dreaded, C— staring at me, confirming my path, I continued. “M—, I need you to think about this very carefully. Every time you got to feeling better, was it when she went on vacation?”
C— stared at his bottle and began peeling the label off. He already knew the answer. M— knew the answer, too, but he was unwilling to state it quickly. He made a small show of needing to think about it. He finally answered as if this thought had not occurred to him before when the expression in his eyes told me he knew it.
“Yeah, come to think of it, that’s how it’s been going. Why? What are you trying to say?”
M— was like a lot of people. He couldn’t believe someone he loved wanted to hurt him. A gentle fellow, loving all mankind, he only wanted to be peaceful.
I said, “M—, you know what I’m saying.”
“No! I don’t. Spit it out. Say it. Say it!”
C— summed it up nicely. “How much life insurance she got on you anyway?”
M— tried to look shocked, but it was a pitiful attempt.
I continued. “Listen to me, dude. Are you willing to die just so you don’t have to face reality? You think anybody here will think less of you if you live?”
M—’s bottle hit the bar in his last futile attempt at denial. “It ain’t so. It just ain’t so.”
He looked from me to C— and to everybody at the bar.
“Is it so?” he wailed.
Every man-jack in the room nodded. It was as clear as day. M— slowly turned his head back to me. He whispered, “What can I do? What can I do?”
I challenged him. “Do you want to live as a man or die as a dog?”
All heads turned to M— for his answer. He stared at me for a long time, but then I saw it. The glint in the eye that says I choose to live. I grinned.
“Good, M—. You want to know what to do? I’ll tell you what we gonna do.”
I outlined a plan. He was to pretend to get a project going with a buddy, say C—, who nodded eagerly already seeing where I was going. M— was to tell his wife to make him a sandwich and a drink and he’d take it with him over to C—’s house where they’d spend some quality man-bonding time over an engine of a car. C— piped up and said he had just the engine they could work on. I’d arrange for a detective I knew to meet us at C—’s house, who’d then take the sandwich and drink to the crime lab and have them check for poisons.
“Will you do this, M—?”
He nodded and said, “Yeah. I will. But what if there is no poison?”
“Then we’ll do this for a week. I’ll pay for the tests to be run if I have to, okay? If after a week, and there is no poison, then you are dying of something nobody knows and not much we can do about it, but I have a feeling we are going to find it.”
“Okay. Let’s do this.”
And we did. And just as I predicted, the food was loaded with so much shit it was a wonder he was still alive. My detective friend called to tell me the bad news. I thanked him for rushing the tests through, called C—, told him, who called M— and told him to get his ass over to his house. The detective issued search warrants for M—’s house, her stash of poison was found, and she was arrested, and is now in prison for attempted murder.
M— got better, divorced her sorry ass, got all the assets of the marriage as compensation for her trying to kill him, he took her name off as beneficiary of his will and life insurance policy, and wrote me this note:
Let me say first off, thank you. Until you spoke up and said those things that had to be said, hard things, difficult things, well, nobody at the bar had a clue as to what was going on. But I have to confess to you here that, while you saved my life, and I’m grateful you did so, I had already begun to think of this possibility but was willing to die to avoid facing the truth about my wife.
Wife! She was my wife, but obviously I was nothing but a dollar sign to her. A dollar sign, by the way, that I found out was going to fund her move to another country to live with some foreign dude she was carrying on with. Whose idea it was to do this, I can’t say for sure. In other words, I don’t know if he knew about it or not.
If he did, I can’t prove it and he’s gone anyway. If he didn’t, he has been saved from a lingering illness, too.
Wife. What a misnomer for her. I’m gun shy right now and so won’t be dating anytime soon. I wonder, though, if you’ve ever done any research on this topic. You know, how many women kill their husbands?
Again, thanks for having the courage to speak up.
As to the question as to how many women kill their husbands, that cannot be answered. We only know of the ones who have been caught. How many sweetly innocent, church-going, pillars of the community have slowly killed their husbands as they smiled at them and pampered them and took care of them in their great hour of need? How many a husband has gone to his grave telling his murderer how fortunate he was to be married to her? God knows.
Literally, only God knows.
Smoking in the Girl’s Room: Give Me Three Steps (G. T.)
Like a lot of young divorced fathers with joint custody of their children, G.T. wasn’t getting any and had no hope of it. Not that offers didn’t come because they did, on a regular basis. But the nooky came with a steep price: The women wanted to be his poor, precious daughter’s mother, and they wanted to marry him.
He didn’t want to live in hell, he replied, and furthermore his daughter had a perfectly fine mother so she didn’t need another one. All offers were rescinded. To avoid that conversation, he studiously and successfully avoided women and three years passed. But one evening his luck almost ran out and, as it often does, it almost ran out at a trade show. On the last day of the event, a celebratory dinner was arranged.
There he was, he said, minding his own business when R— showed up. Aside from noticing she was at least fifteen, maybe twenty, years older than him but still looking pretty good, he paid her no mind, and she did not notice him — at first. But as is the nature of small groups, eventually everybody meets everybody, and so within five seconds of talking to her he was a recipient of a smile that shone right out of her twinkling eyes and blew his mind.
Within sixty seconds he couldn’t keep his hands off her nor could she keep her hands off him. He touched her shoulder and held her hand to punctuate his clever lines and witty flirtations. Each time she laughed, she’d touch his arm; the warmth ran straight to his crotch. His eyes closed involuntarily. He could barely swallow. When he opened his eyes, there she’d be, a slow blink communicating exactly what he was thinking.
Ten minutes of that had him going blind. Then she excused herself. He watched her walk away. With all the confidence no one knew what he was doing, he excused himself a minute later and followed her. He opened the door to the women’s bathroom and stage-whispered her name. He bent down and saw one pair of feet in the bathroom. He knocked on her stall — “R—. You in there?” — and heard her surprised question, “G.T. Is that you? What are you doing? Just a minute.”
He stepped away into a corner, stared at the stall door, and tried to breathe calmly. Her door opened, she paused and stared, then faster than light she was in his arms. Kissing and clutching and moaning, he had fistfuls of her hair and she was climbing his body. Then her knees got weak and she sank to the floor, her back against the door.
G.T. shook his head at the memory, and gave me a sheepish grin. “Dude, I can’t believe what I did next. She sat on the floor, staring up at me, and I said ‘Baby, do you wanna see what I’m gonna give you one day?’ She nodded vigorously. I unbuckled, unzipped, and whipped it out.”
The woman gasped at what she saw, but not from shock. Her eyes went wide, one hand flew to her mouth to stop the scream of passion, and the other reached for him as a rabid fan would a rock star on a stage. He, though, not wanting to be arrested for public indecency should somebody else walk through the door, stuffed it back into his pants, closed up, took her still outstretched hand, and with a strength fueled by desire, lifted her bodily. Slamming into the door and the wall, they wrestled passionately until finally she said they should not be seen going back together. He slipped across the hall to the men’s room while she went back to dinner.
Five minutes later he was back at the table. His boss stared from him to R— and back again. With a quick glance, G.T. noticed several men smiling, winking, or chuckling at him. For the life of him, he had no idea how they knew. But he didn’t give it much thought because she was next to him. They continued talking, but this time they held hands and, as would-be lovers often do, twined their fingers caressingly and pressed their legs together.
“Yeah,” G.T. grinned, “We were canoodling. All the guys were jealous!”
A half hour later, G.T. excused himself and a minute later she followed. She pulled him into the women’s room. He had her laying back on the sink counter, her legs wrapped around his back, going at it hot and heavy, and soon to be naked if something didn’t stop that progress.
Oh my God! they both heard a woman scream as she came in the bathroom. She shielded her eyes and locked herself in a stall. G.T. and R— couldn’t stop grinning, but they got upright in a flash and apologized to the woman. They grinned, kissed, and out the door they went. This time they arrived back together.
He got her number. She said call me. And then her co-worker called out We gotta go and she was gone.
“Did you ever call her?” I asked.
“Hell, yeah. Of course.”
“Turns out, we live in the same state, not far from each other. She invited me to meet her at this place she knows, for dinner and music, but —” G.T. sadly shook his head.
“Ah, come on. Don’t tell me you chickened out?”
He set his beer on the bar. “Yep, I chickened out.”
“Did you not show up? Leave her hanging with no explanation?”
G.T. sat up straight and said, “Oh, no. I’d never do something that low class. I called her and told her I couldn’t make it. Gave her some excuse about my daughter and having to do something for her, but that wasn’t really it.”
“Sounds like you two got along great. Why’d you choke?”
“Yeah. She was a lot of fun to talk to. She wasn’t an airhead. Real deep. She listened to what I said. And best of all, she didn’t want to be my daughter’s new mama; didn’t even want to meet her. Man, that was great. And she really liked me. Me! So we talked on the phone a few more times and I kept saying I wanted to get together and she kept figuring out ways to make it happen.”
I watched him as a sweet sadness settled in on him and waited silently for his reason.
“She’s out of my league.”
“Out of your league?”
“Yeah, way out of my league.”
“But, G.T., R— sounds like she thought you might be in her league. Or else she wasn’t scared that you weren’t.”
“That’s what she said.”
She had also laughed and said it was the first time any man had said that to her and she thanked him for the compliment, but it was frustrating to her at the same time. He agreed his frustration level probably matched hers. We fell into a silence and sipped our beers in understanding of the nature of the limitations of fear.
Chapter 42: Nothing Good Lasts Forever
Saturday night came around but on this one I didn’t have to sing I ain’t got nobody because Lucinda was sitting right next to me, grinning like a fool at another fool who was grinning back at her.
Mike said, “Hey. What’s up with you two? What’s the joke?”
Lucinda didn’t say anything. I gave Mike the look that said Hey, buddy, do I really gots to esplain this look to ya? Mike grinned, then shook his head. He’s seen it all before and was probably making a guess as to how long this one would last.
Men came up and asked Lucinda to dance and she went. I didn’t want to stop her from that and she didn’t ask my permission. A couple of women asked me to dance and I did. Watching Lucinda cut loose on a song with a couple of other women, I heard a familiar voice.
“Good evening, Gordon.”
The clipped syllables of Bitterroot reminded me of her unfinished story.
Polite to the extreme, I enunciated just as clearly. “Good evening. How are you?”
She said she was fine and sat next to me. “It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen you. Where have you been keeping yourself?”
Mike interrupted us. “Can I get you anything?”
She answered him without deigning to look his way. Nose in the air, she said, “Yes. My regular beer, please.”
“Coming right up,” Mike said graciously, while behind her he slowly pulled a finger across his neck after which he pretended to pull the pin out of a grenade and throw it my way while mouthing Incoming!
“What’s so funny?” Bitterroot demanded softly.
“Mike just said something funny.”
“Oh. Him,” she said dismissively. Then again putting on a bad imitation of a coquette, she said to me, “How have you been?”
I kept watching Lucinda but answered. “Fine. Busy. Working.”
“What do you do? Oh, that’s right. You are a journalist.”
“Yes.” She had done her research.
Bitterroot reached over for her beer, took a sip, set it down. She softly laid a hand on my shoulder then let it slide down my arm. Making quiet sounds of appreciation for the muscles she felt, she leaned toward me, bare breasts pushing hard against a tight silky blouse, and said huskily, “I’ve been thinking about you.”
“Oh, have you?” Then I turned my eyes back to Lucinda.
“Yes. I have. A lot.”
Noncommittal to the core, I said, “That’s nice.”
“Gordon, look at me. I want to make love to you. You are a fascinating man.”
I turned away from Lucinda to Bitterroot. Lucinda, who was alive and smiling and didn’t play games, to only to see this dead woman full of gall and hatred. The contrast was so great I must have let my thoughts show on my face clearly again.
“Why do you like her better than me?” Bitterroot demanded as she sat up straight in her chair.
“You gonna kick me again if I tell you?”
She didn’t kick me this time, but she slapped my face. Sorry to say it, but I didn’t slap her back. Oh, I wanted to, but Lucinda walked up and sharply called Bitterroot’s name.
She followed up with What the hell’s the matter with you? Come with me.
Bitterroot followed Lucinda to the bathroom where some sort of vigorous conversation took place. Lucinda came back in fifteen minutes. Bitterroot did not.
“What happened in there?” I asked, stinging in my face slowly subsiding.
“We had a woman-to-woman chat, that’s what. She’s a stupid bitch. I don’t say stuff like that, but God! I hope she doesn’t come back.”
“Me, too.” I pointed to my cheek. “You wanna kiss it and make it all better?”
Lucinda laughed at me and said sure. So she kissed my cheek then she kissed my mouth. With that kiss every man was put on notice she had chosen me. Yeah. I was walking tall. Oh, Gordon, Gordon, Gordon. What is it they say about pride going before a fall? But I wasn’t thinking about that then. Let the future take care of itself, and we’ll get to that too soon.
For this moment, right now, Lucinda was in my arms in public, smiling at me. I took her hand and led her out to the dance floor. The DJ changed up the tunes and couples flooded the floor. I am happy to say I was part of one of those couples.
We danced close. Passion rose in her; I could feel it. She whispered in my ear, Come home with me tonight? I said Of course. We finished that song and another so much did we not want to stop touching each other. Eventually, she took my hand, I settled the bill, and we drove out. I followed her home. Would she want me to stay all night? I hoped so.
She did, and we made love every way we wanted to, and enjoyed it. I never thought of another woman while laying with her and I hoped she wasn’t thinking of another man, though I could not tell. She called my name, so maybe Big Rig or Dazzle or Attorney wasn’t on her mind. She woke me during the night and, laying on top of me, held me, kissed me, and as the natural course of events would have it, she was attentive to me in a way I had never had a woman attentive.
She sought not her own pleasure first. This wasn’t about her. This was about her giving to me and knowing that I was receiving happily what she gave. Her legs wrapped around mine, her arms holding her above me, she moved her hips against mine and pressed her breasts into my chest until I thought I’d go blind. Then she lay still, not moving, while I regained control. But finally, when she could no longer remain still, she kissed my mouth in time with her hips. There came a moment when she could not stop and I could no longer hold back.
Gordon, oh, Gordon, she whispered as I moaned Lucinda, oh God, oh GOD, Lucinda.
She lay her weight on me, unable to move. Breathing heavily, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her tighter. We kissed and we whispered unknown things to each other and we kissed more until we fell asleep.
Hours later, I felt her get back in the bed and crawl next to me. The clock said it was four-thirty. She pulled the covers up close around her shoulders and we slept again.
The amount of happiness and contentment I felt at that moment in time was more emotion than I thought I could handle.
The alarm on my watch dinged at eight. Pressing the switch to shut it off meant I had to move my arm. It was, at the moment, pinned tightly between Lucinda’s breasts and she clutched it with both arms. It had also fallen asleep. I couldn’t have moved it in any case. So the alarm kept dinging until it penetrated Lucinda’s mind and she woke in a half stupor.
“What’s that?” Her whisper could barely be heard over the alarm.
“My watch alarm. Can you reach up here, baby, and push this button, please?” She reached a hand over her head. I put my wrist into her hand, and she groped around for a couple of seconds until she found the button. She pulled her hand back to my dead arm still tucked nicely between her breasts.
“Mmmm…good morning.” This I whispered somewhere near her ear. I snuggled back down into the covers and pulled closer to her. “Stay in bed. I’ll make breakfast.”
For an answer, I got a nice push against my hips with hers and a long ooooh. She released my arm and I dragged it, unfeeling, over her. When the blood began to flow back into the arm, the pain was outstandingly horrible, but I kept the scream silent as I worked it back to life. Eventually I could dress and prepare breakfast.
Yes, I served her breakfast in bed. Yes, I did the dishes. Yes, I told her to go back to sleep. And yes, I locked the door behind me when I left. It was a good evening, a good night, and a good morning. Again invigorated, I got a lot written and sent to my editor who again praised several things I had already sent him. Fueled by the fact I was one of the few journalists whose writing clearly had a trackable positive effect on sales of newspapers, it seems Human Resources had magically forgotten about my earlier contretemps and was off my back, with good graces passed around like confetti in a pennant parade.
Of course, nothing good lasts forever, right? Right.
Chapter 43: An Ah-Ha Moment at O’Malley’s
Still researching the subject, during the week I was back at O’Malley’s, a small bar where I was successfully finding stories from wounded warriors. You know, tell the price of the war, put a face on it, and decry man’s inhumanity to man; the sort of emotional heart-tugging column filler everybody goes gaga over. My pick that evening was between three men whom I observed for an hour. All had their eyes on the big screen TV above the bar as they slowly sipped their beer, their whiskey, and so forth. Opinions about the news program were freely given by each. But only one had no enthusiasm for the sports of bashing politicians and making fun of TV journalists.
His eyes were cloudy, his actions rote. This was the face for my story. Picking up my beer, I moved down the bar and sat next to him. I left one empty stool between us.
“Hello. My name is Gordon. I’ve never been here before. You a regular?”
The cloudy eyes turned to me, startled at being spoken to. “What?”
I held out my hand. “My name is Gordon.”
“Oh. Yes. Gordon. My name is W—.”
“Hello, W—. I’ve never been here before. Are you a regular?”
“A regular?” He turned his eyes toward the TV again. I didn’t think he’d answer. Five minutes later he did. “A regular? Yeah. You could say I’m a regular. A regular asshole. A regular idiot. A regular…” He groaned and bent over the bar.
Man, can I pick the best subjects or what? Unerring ability? I’ve got it. I gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder by way of encouragement to talk. Taking a few deep breaths, he finally sat up straight.
“I can’t stand it anymore!” he wailed to the ceiling.
“What? What can’t you stand?” I asked.
Fucking? “What do you mean?”
He leaned toward me and hollered. “I mean just what I said. Can’t you hear?”
Then he repeated his statement.
“I. Can’t. Stand. Fucking.”
Of course, I had to wonder at all the meanings for that statement. Was he an aging gigolo? Had he escaped from a sex-slave farm in Nevada? Was he an attorney for a large corporation? Did he work for an insurance company in Claims Denial or for an ad agency? Until I knew, I would not know how to proceed with this conversation, nor would I know if he was the best subject for my column.
“Can you define fucking, please?”
“Fucking. Fucking women! Are you stupid?”
“You mean to tell me you don’t like to do it anymore?”
He slammed his fist on the counter and screamed in my face, “I’m all fucked out! I’ll die if I have to do it again. Can’t you understand what I’m telling you?”
He began to sob, slowly lowered his head to the bar, and kept saying I’m all fucked out. Sob, sob, sob. I’m all fuuuuuuuccckkkked ooooouuut. Sob, sob, sob. He continued for a while and I let him get it out of his system as I watched because I was finding this fascinating. I’m not all fucked out and had never met another man who was.
What about sex could so drive a man to hate it?
He eventually quit sobbing. He sat up. Wiped his eyes. Blew his nose on a few bar napkins. Wadded them up and threw them violently at the trash can behind the bar. They went in. Then he looked at me sheepishly.
“Hey, man. I’m sorry for—”
I shrugged dismissively as if it were nothing. “Hey, no skin off my nose.”
He sighed and breathed deeply for a minute or so, then he smiled. “Damn, I feel so much better.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“Yeah. I do. Sure.”
With that emerged a fascinating tale of the life of one man.
W— was an earnest boy. He wanted to do right and he loved his mama. So when he met and fell madly in love with M—, it was only natural he should marry her once he had lightened her of her virginity. M— got pregnant from that first liaison and delivered a baby boy within seven months of the marriage. The boy was told he was “born early,” well before the “expected time,” and yet, robust young fella that he was, he wasn’t considered a preemie. He was his mother’s little miracle, all the doctors said so as they winked at each other, and so M— and W— proceeded to make two more children who arrived at the full limits of their times in the womb.
But M— turned into a vicious harridan, just like her mother, and W— was summarily kicked to the curb. As a good boy who had turned into a good man, he did right by the children and paid alimony and child support on time. They never had to worry.
Still, though his feelings were hurt, W— decided only his ex-wife was that mean, and proceeded to jump into marriage with another woman who turned out to be even worse. She beat him. The first time it happened, he was so shocked, he stood there and took it. When the apology came a few hours later followed up by the best sex he had ever had even if he was wincing from the bruises, he assumed it was a one-off situation and stayed with her.
Four years later, body bleeding and battered, he was found wandering by the side of the road, taken to the hospital where they asked him his name. Eventually they identified him, assumed he was the victim of an assault, and called his wife. As she entered the room, he began screaming Get her away from me. Get her away from me. Don’t let her touch me there.
By there he meant his private parts, but nobody else knew what he meant. Nobody, that is, except an old doctor who happened to be wandering by the room. One glance, just one, and he knew the whole story. The doctor walked into the room, told the wife to go away, closed the door when she left the room, and approached W—.
“She did this to you, didn’t she?” he asked.
W— nodded yes. The young doctors and nurses in the room were shocked. The old doctor proceeded to tell them he had only seen three cases of this in his whole life, but they should never assume facts not in evidence. They should ask the patient for the details. It was a teaching moment for the young people, one they’d never forget, and W— was happy to be a part of it so that other men would get help quickly. The old doctor called the authorities who, the next day upon his release from the hospital, escorted him to his home.
W— had his wife evicted, restraining order served, and happily proceeded with a swift, uncontested divorce as there were no children and the assets were his from before the marriage.
Now cynical, jaded, used, and abused, W— was staring down at what remained of his life. He was forty-five. He threw himself into two things. He had college educations to pay for now, naturally work was the first thing he threw himself into. And sex.
In his own words he fucked every woman who’d allow it. If he had to dance with her to do it, he danced. If he had to buy a meal, he bought. If he had to climb into the back seat of a car in a parking lot in front of a club, he climbed. Every day and every night for five long years, he fucked and he fucked and he fucked everywhere, anywhere, and in all ways.
Reader, you may be getting tired of the word fuck. I apologize. It is a hard word to repeatedly read. So I replaced that word with sex, intercourse, making love, doing the nasty, tapping some of dat, getting laid, getting some, hitting the glory hole, and other permutations I could think of and nothing — absolutely nothing — other than fuck can fully get across to you, the reader, the full import and impact of what this man went through. So I beg your forgiveness and ask only that you remember that war is hell, and this man had been through hell.
I continue with his story.
W— couldn’t get enough of it. Every woman he was with screamed his praises. But most wanted to get married, so he had to stay on the move and roamed from club to club. When he ran out of clubs in his city, he took a job traveling. This facilitated his efforts and his fucking continued until this day.
Until this day when he — in preparation for celebrating his fiftieth birthday and having made plans to party all night — got dressed, stuffed his pockets with condoms, took the elevator down to the lobby of his hotel, and instead of hailing a cab to take him to his destination, walked out the door of the hotel and down the street past the long line of cabs.
He walked five miles when his eyes spied a small sign, battered and worn, hanging from one hinge over a doorway in a dirty alley. It said O’Malley’s. In O’Malley’s he thought he’d find refuge, safety, a harbor in a storm. In other words, no women.
So there we sat. He having his ah-ha moment. Me watching it.
He stuck out a hand to me. I took it and we shook.
“Thank you, man. Thank you for being there for me.” He left.
I would see him a few years later.
Chapter 44: Edward and Zenia
The following Saturday I met Lucinda. We sat at the bar together. As the evening progressed, and she danced much more than I leaving me alone quite a bit, I heard a familiar voice behind me after a light tap on the shoulder. It was The Reed.
In his usual courtly fashion, he inquired after my health. I allowed that it was fine at which time he grinned.
“Ah,” said he. “I see you and The Lovely Lucinda are an…ahem…item, might one properly call it?”
“Yes. We are an item.”
“Hmmmm…in that case, next Saturday evening, how about you two meeting me at Hydrate?”
“I’ll ask her and see if she’d like to attend. Suggested time?”
“Late. Around eleven. Get a nap that afternoon.”
Then he was gone in search of another lovely lady with which to dance. I turned back to watch The Lovely Lucinda. She was lovely. She was fun. She was mine. Yet it seemed I’d constantly have to share her. I thought of PM and Burqa Man, and all the others who want to own her, have her as their personal cheerleading doll they can pull out when they want and not share with the other kids.
Everywhere we went, people seemed drawn to her. I didn’t mind, but unless we were alone in a secluded fashion, others often intruded. People wanted to be around her. They wanted to touch her. Cling to her. Begged her to be their friend, do things with them, and so forth. She was tired of it, that I did know. She once told me it was hard being on stage. She couldn’t imagine how actors, singers, and sports figures coped with the unrelenting attention.
I was mid-reverie when I noticed a man walk in. No one else noticed him. Not even Mike who never misses anyone. He sat two seats down from me which would put Lucinda’s seat between us. To judge from Mike’s response to him, which means there was none, the man could just as well have been invisible. I was the only one who noticed him. He did not ask for a drink. He glanced around the room as if this was a foreign port of call and he merely a traveler taking it all in so he can tell the family back home.
As all the men do, this one was no exception, and soon his eye fixed upon Lucinda. He watched her during the course of three songs. A country song, where she clogged and buck-danced with a group of women proud to say they were from the mountains. A pop rock song, where she did her beautiful free-style mash-up of moves from various disciplines. And a slow song, where The Reed grabbed her up and they Fox-Trotted around the edges of the crowd.
Finally ready for hydration, she made her way to her seat. The man watched her approach, horror and love and adoration in a most complex expression played across his face. His eyes wide, he watched her sit.
“How can you live? I buried you,” he said to Lucinda.
Now, if that had been said to me by someone with that expression, I’d have told him to shove off. But not Lucinda. She knew something was going on with him that was huge, momentous, and life-changing. She held out her hand and said, “Hello. My name is Lucinda. I assure you I have never died and I have never been buried. But I believe I may very well look like her.”
The man took her hand and, overcome with emotion and unable to speak at first, nodded his head. Lucinda let him hold her hand as he got himself under control.
“I…I…I mean it’s…it’s amazing how much you look like her,” he exclaimed with all the reverence of a worshipper.
Lucinda, in a simple and clear fashion, gave him opportunity to get out of his system that which was dogging him.
“Who was she?” She smiled in encouragement.
And thus begins another story of the innocent casualties of war.
Edward first spied Zenia when he was seventeen and she fifteen. Though American, he lived with his father who was serving on a now non-existent American military base on an island in the Pacific. Edward was an adventurous boy full of good-natured mischief. His father was always being called somewhere to bail his butt out of some fight or another. It never failed that, when his father arrived, the police would be laughing and slapping the boy on the back as they pushed him toward Dad. Often, just with his wit and ability to tell jokes, they thought he had paid his dues and waved any fines.
But then one day there was Zenia. He was smitten, and so was she. This formerly unruly boy became a courtly gentleman. He went home and told his father he was marrying. His father, knowing the nut didn’t fall far from the tree, rolled his eyes and wished him well because he certainly couldn’t stop him.
And thus Edward and Zenia married. Edward lived with her family until they said they couldn’t take it anymore. It being the sex the two were having. They couldn’t stop and it was loud. The family found a small house and installed the happily married couple in it. They continued their studies, graduated, and Zenia, happy days, found herself pregnant in the third year of their marriage. No one was happier than Edward; and Zenia, who against her family’s wishes had used birth control until she could graduate, was now being fussed over by her family.
Edward’s father shipped out and said for Edward to bring the family when the little rug rat was big enough to travel without bothering the other passengers. All was lightness and joy and Edward, previously a fighter for the fun of it, now became a fighter for his growing and happy family. He continued his education, held down a job, and together he and Zenia made plans for a move to America. These plans were kept private and not told to any family member.
Edward knew the family would come around to their way of thinking eventually and, trusting in his ability to schmooze his way out of a tight spot, did not further concern himself with the family’s thoughts on the matter.
The pregnancy continued and all went well. Zenia delivered of a baby girl. If Edward thought he was in love with Zenia, when he saw their daughter his heart was truly ripped in two. There was a perfect girl, looking like her mother, thank goodness. He was a father. He was a husband. He was a man. Life was good.
The child was three years old and, like all children do, they get sick. His child was no exception, but she didn’t get better. Plans were made to fly the child and Zenia to a large hospital on the nearest mainland, a short flight of only two hours and made often enough by thousands of people every day. Edward made arrangements for a hotel. A limo was arranged for to pick them up at the airport, take them to the hotel and hospital, and to be at the sole disposal of Zenia and Mary, named after his mother, during their entire stay.
Edward kissed them both at the airport, watched the plane take off, and turned and went to work. When he arrived at work, his co-workers were standing around a radio, tears streaming. They quickly wiped their faces and turned from him.
What’s going on? It was left to his boss to tell him a plane had gone down in the ocean. They were not sure if it was the one Zenia and Mary were on. Probably not, said the boss, but there wasn’t enough information to be definitive.
Edward, being the proactive guy that he is, did not wait. He returned to the airport and began to quietly work his way up through channels until he got to someone who could tell him the flight number.
Yes, it was Zenia’s flight. A short time later confirmation of all souls lost punched a hole through his chest where his heart had been. Mary’s body was never recovered. They wouldn’t let him see Zenia’s. She was identified through her wedding ring still on her finger with the engraving My heart is yours forever, Edward.
Zenia’s family comforted each other, and they attempted to console Edward. Edward could not be consoled. His life had been defined by Zenia and then Mary. Where would he get such a definition of purpose again? It’d never be. And just as he knew utterly and completely upon seeing Zenia that they’d marry and be happy, he knew just as absolutely he’d never marry again. And he had not.
So thoroughly had he buried the pain of that time, and moving forward in his life as if his happiness had never been, that when he saw the spitting image of his Zenia in Lucinda, all the horror of those days rushed in on him.
He apologized for reacting so badly and he hoped she could forgive him. She said she could not forgive what was not a wrong. He smiled and said Zenia would have said as much. Zenia, gone these twenty-five years, was now free to live within him again with the power of good that she had brought to Edward.
Out of his shirt, Edward pulled a gold chain. Hanging on the end of it was Zenia’s wedding band. He kissed it, stood, and still unnoticed by anyone including Mike, shook our hands and left the bar.
– – – – – –
“That was weird,” I said to Lucinda who was sipping her wine.
“How is that?”
I shrugged. “How nobody noticed him except us.”
“Ah,” she said. “That’s because we are open to see the invisible. Most people aren’t.”
“What do you mean?”
She gestured with her wine glass in the air in tight circles and said, “Edward wasn’t ready to be seen. So he wasn’t. He’s one of those people who are invisible. He could walk through the middle of a bank robbery in progress and nobody would see him. He probably has a job where he doesn’t need to be seen. He has probably never been promoted and probably doesn’t care. He ceased to exist when his wife and child died.”
“You know. I’ve seen that before. Once. In a battle. A guy walked through to the enemy camp and took a look around and walked back. Nobody believed me. He smiled at me and said I was the first to see him do it.”
“There you go. Invisible. But you and me, Gordon, see…we are open to the possibilities of such things and so we get a great view of humanity.”
A slow song came on, I took Lucinda’s hand and led her to the dance floor. She could move her body in time to mine in a way I could only describe as intuitive. As if she knew where I was going to be before I did. As if I was dancing with myself. It was great to hold her.
I remembered about next Saturday night’s invitation from The Reed and told her while we danced. She liked the idea. The song ended and we left. We kissed at her car and she said she was tired and would see me in the morning at breakfast.
“It was a very emotional evening. Edward’s story sucked the life out of me. Same place, same time, Gordon?” she asked as she kissed me one last time.
I smiled and nodded.
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