First she was a she, and it turned out she was a he. After that she became a was, and that's when then the trouble - big trouble - began. Lest you prejudge me, as some say as a disclaimer, let me tell you the truth right from the get-go.
It all began this past November, a late autumn night that was unseasonably warm, record-setting warm. Earlier that day I had ridden up in the elevator with old lady Schwimmer, who was missing a front tooth and spoke with a lisp. Just as she got off at the eighth floor, she asked me, "When do you think winter's gonna come?" but she didn't wait for an answer. I didn't have a coherent one, anyway. I would've said "I dunno" if she had waited and then mumbled something about global warming.
The damn landlord was sending up so much heat that I couldn't fall asleep. Too bad the heat didn't come when it was freezing out. I was tossing and turning, and shvitzing puddles in my bed. The window was wide open, propped up with a wooden dowel, and I even thought about turning on the air conditioner. I was exhausted and getting angrier by the minute.
I gave up and decided to take a walk. Turn a negative into a positive. That's one great thing about living in the city - there's always someplace open and something to see.
"Going out tonight, Meester Remson?" The Hispanic low-rent version of a concierge was sitting at the front desk in the rumpled blue uniform of a janitor.
"Don Diego ... I keep on telling you, it's Charlie."
"Okay, Sharlie. I remember."
"It's so damn hot upstairs," I said. "Too much heat when it's warm. Too little when it's cold." Diego shrugged and gave me a sad look, but said nothing. He obviously understood who signed his paycheck.
When I go out walking, I like to head off in a random direction, so I make up a number from the first four-letter word I see or think of. I usually don't tell anyone about this quirk because they might think I'm nuts. They might think I'm nuts anyway, but that's a different story. I've used four-letter words like "exit" and "taxi" before. "West" and "Ford" and "deli," too. At that moment, a silver Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible glided by with its top down, so the word was "Roll" - and I dropped the S for savings, like in the mattress advertisement. The R, the eighteenth letter in the alphabet, became an eight, O was fifteenth, so it was five, and the L was twelfth, and each L became a two, so the number was 8522. Since the number was even, I turned right, and I walked eight blocks east, then made a left and walked five blocks north, and then made a right and walked two blocks, and another right and walked another two blocks.
Whenever I get to that point, I usually keep on walking. I rarely get lost since the city is laid out in a grid. I can always find my way home, even if I have to check the subway and bus maps I carry in the back pocket of my jeans, along with a tiny, spiral memo book and a ball-point pen in case I get an idea for a story. Worst case, I can always hail a taxi.
That night, since I had broken a sweat, I decided to grab a beer at the first bar I came to. I didn't have far to go. I almost passed right by it, but its door was propped open, and the telltale stench - the "evocative odor," as writers like to put it - of alcohol, smoke and the accompanying whiff of eau de piss was floating out from it.
Its name, Dooleys, was above the door. There was no apostrophe in the name - just Dooleys. I took a few steps inside and let my eyes get accustomed to the darkness, darker than the sodium vapor-lit sidewalk. A half dozen aging men, and a couple of lumpy, ageless women, were hunched over their beers and whiskey shot glasses: hardcore drinkers with one foot in the grave. The bartender, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, despite the city's prohibition against smoking, was idly polishing a glass while his eyes were on a small TV in the corner. He didn't even look up so I changed my mind and left. The place was too dreary, even for me.
A few blocks further was O'Hallahan's Pub - A Fine Drinking Establishment. To me, it looked like an upscale bar with higher prices than Dooleys, and with a higher class of drunks or clientele. It was a place decorated neon signs: Bass, Budweiser and Genesee in one window, Miller, Coors and Michelob in another, and Keystone, Carib and Corona in a third. I said the names to myself: Triplets, poems ... seven syllables of beer brands per window. I wondered if it was intentional.
I walked in to the clinking of billiard balls from the back, and the soft sound of a ballad from a jukebox. I've always hated loud music; thank goodness that this was a place where you could actually hold a sane conversation.
I sat down on a stool near the front window. The Knicks game - they were playing out in Los Angeles, was on a flat screen TV with the sound muted, but closed-captioned.
The bartender came over and drawled, "Whatcha havin' buddy?"
"A glass of draft, please."
"What kind would you like?" as he pointed at the taps.
I said, "Make it a Bud."
He took a frozen mug out of the freezer and slowly filled it to the top. I hadn't had a glass like that in a long time. The first couple of sips went down so smoothly.
I watched the game for a while. The Knicks were up by three when I walked in. By the time they went to commercial, they were down by five. Eight unanswered points: so typical.
The far end of the bar curved around towards the jukebox. Facing away from me was a woman with long blond hair. Hair down to her waist. Lady Godiva hair. I must have been staring at her - a lousy habit I have - until one of her friends motioned to her and she turned to look. She turned back to her friends, said something, and then turned back towards me. And gave me a big smile.
I smiled back and she got up and walked over to me. Yeah, me. I couldn't believe it. Well, I could have, if I were six feet tall and handsome, but I was neither. I have to face reality in the mirror every day: I was simply a short, nebbishy guy, with an unbuttoned long-sleeved shirt worn over a gray T-shirt, in an old pair of blue jeans, with thinning hair and glasses - a George Costanza kind of guy. And she, in a short, low-cut black dress, with a black velvet choker - boy, those really turned me on - was sashaying over to me.
She was breath-taking. Gorgeous face, dark, mysterious eyes, pouting lips. What a body! On the scale of one to ten, an eleven, for sure.
"Care to buy a girl a drink?"
I was momentarily tongue-tied. I didn't think that this was that kind of place.
What the hell. "Sure ... why not. Bartender?"
He came right over. I thought he might have winked at her, and waited until I said, "I'll have another one of these, and the lady ..."
"A bloody Mary, please. But no tabasco," in a voice that was husky and sultry.
We sat and made small talk for a while. I told her my name: "Charles, but everyone calls me Charlie," and what I did for a living. I was a claims adjuster for an insurance company - yeah, a really exciting job - and she was an apprentice in a hair salon. At times, she seemed to inadvertently touch my arm or my leg, which was getting me worked up. I wondered if she knew the effect she was having on me, but then I decided I really didn't care.
When we finished our drinks, it was halftime and the Knicks were already down by thirteen. She stood up and said, "Listen, Charlie. I've had a really good time with you, but I've gotta get going. My friends and I ..."
"Well, can I, uh, see you some time?" I asked. Me, picking up a woman?
"Sure. Give me a call. I'll give you my cell phone number."
I took out my memo book, opened it to a blank page, and wrote down my name and phone number. I ripped it out and handed it to her, gave her my pen, and she wrote down her name, which was Sativa, her number and address, along with "call me" inscribed in a heart.
She kissed me on my cheek and oozed - for my benefit, no doubt - back to her friends.
And, of course, I did call her ... him ... God forbid, it ... I wished a new pronoun had been invented. I know what I was doing. You've got to give me some credit; after all, I had a pretty good idea what Sativa was right from the beginning.
We made a date for several nights later. I didn't know what to expect, but when I got to her place that night, Sativa greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and the faint musk of perfume. She stepped back from me, twirled around, and asked, "How do you like the way I look?"
How could I not? Her Lady Godiva hair flowed over her shoulders and she was wearing dangling hoop earrings that glimmered in the harsh entryway light. Again, she had a velvet choker around her neck. The top two buttons of her satiny black half-shirt were unbuttoned, and so her navel, with the gleaming silver piercing, was exposed. Her short, flared skirt, also satiny black, stopped well above her knees. And she was wearing black knee-high stockings and short high heels. It was as if Sativa snuck into my head and stole my most favorite fantasy image from the libidinous recesses of my mind.
"Jeez ... you look so damn good," was all I could say.
She took my hand and gently led me in, while reaching back to click off the overhead bulb. She caught my glance and said, "Don't worry. My roommate and her friends are out for the evening. We'll have all the time we need." She sat down on the well-worn couch and smoothed the skirt over her bare legs. When she patted the cushion I slid my jacket off, tossed it over a chair, and I sat down next to her. "And this is where I sleep." I figured that it had a pull-out bed.
We made small talk for a while. Then, she asked. "Want something to drink?"
"Yeah, sure. Whatever you're having."
She swung her hips as she walked into the tiny kitchen. Every one of her sensuous movements seemed so practiced, but also so natural. She brought back a gallon jug of red wine and two glasses, and poured each one half way.
Gauzy, red cloth covered two table lamps and romantic jazz, from a CD boombox, was playing softly in the background. It was certainly the right atmosphere for seduction, especially when she allowed her skirt to ride up without seemingly noticing. But all we did was talk, drink her cheap wine and talk some more, for hours. It was as if we were meant for each, like soul mates. I have to say, though, that I did not have sexual relations with that woman. But unlike Bill Clinton, I swear that I am telling the God's honest truth.
It wasn't like she didn't try. We were sitting close together and, like at O'Hallahan's, her hands were all over me - idly touching me here, flicking her hand over me there. I couldn't help getting aroused, but when she slid her hand over the front of my jeans and started to undo my fly, I pulled away. It's not that I didn't want to, just then. But I wanted more. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to be there with her. I wanted to consume her, yet I did not want to consummate, then and there.
"What's the matter? I thought you liked me."
"Sativa ... I do like you. In fact, it feels like I've been hit over the head with the proverbial ton of bricks." Boy, that's so trite, I thought. "But how can I explain it? I'm really at a loss for words. It's love and lust combined. It's a synergy. One plus one is three, if you know what I'm getting at."
"I thought you wanted to be with me? Like right here ... right now." Meanwhile, she was caressing my shoulder and then running her hand down my chest.
"I do, but I don't. I don't want to ruin a good thing. Not yet."
She reached over to me and again slid her hand over the hardness in my jeans. "Come on. Admit it, Charlie. Don't you want some?"
"Sure I do, Sativa. But ..."
She slapped her hands on her thighs, stood up and faced me. She had both hands on her hips. "I don't know what your problem is. Don't you like what you see? Don't you want what I'm offering you?"
I was being scolded by the woman of my dreams. She was so hot, but, at that point, so tempestuous.
"Or ... " She reached under her skirt. She lifted it up with one hand and yanked out her penis with the other, and held it out towards me. I was sad to notice that it was somewhat bigger than mine. And uncircumcised. She stepped closer and thrust herself towards me, "... maybe it's because of this?"
I reached up and reflexively pushed her away. She lost her footing and crumpled to the floor. "Sativa, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ..."
She looked back at me. There were already tears in her eyes, and her eye makeup began to run. She looked defeated and deflated.
I had trouble finding words to say, but I tried my best: "It has nothing to do with what you are. It's who you are that counts. I think I want to love you. I still think I want to be with you. But it's too ..."
And then, a sudden shift. A jolt:
"Get out! Get out of here!" she screamed.
Where did that come from? "Why? Tell me why, Sativa."
"It's me, too. I can't do this either." And she started sobbing.
I slid off the couch and got on my knees to comfort her, but she shrugged my hand away. "Just leave, Charlie. Will you please?" She sounded beaten.
I stood up, picked up my jacket from the chair, and softly closed the door behind me.
And that night, way past midnight, I got the first phone call. It started off with, "Charles Remson? Why did you do it? Why did you hurt her so?" followed by curses and accusations, recriminations and threats of violence, and ending with a lowered voice intoning "You're going to pay for it ... someday."
The calls came every night after that - sometimes, twice, three times in a row. Always the same accusations. Always the same threats. Even after I changed my phone number. Even after I moved. Somehow they knew.
But there was more: The three in the morning banging on my door, and nobody there when I stumbled to the peephole. The anonymous calls to my office with only a cryptic "You know" message left. The occasional elbow in my back when I took the number one local downtown. The burnt-up mail in my mailbox.
And every time I left my apartment, every time I went out to take a walk, I had to look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. And, still, I wonder what the hell I did wrong.
Rev 5 / March 10, 2007
March, 2007 Copyright © 2007, Lloyd B. Abrams