"There's no way in hell you're gonna get her back."
"What're you bustin' my balls for, Chuckie?" I said. "And who the hell asked you, anyway?"
"I'm just sayin'."
The old lady started cackling. It sure wasn't a pretty sight, seeing her laugh her phlegmy laugh through gaps in her teeth. As always, Dolores was decked out in her muu-muu , sitting by the window, watching and eavesdropping. She waits everyday for Kevin to pull up the gate and unlock the joint, until seven or eight or so, when she slides off her stool and rasps, "Well, I've gotta go feed the cats." As if anyone gave a damn.
"Whatcha laughin' at, you old hag?" I asked, half-serious. Kevin glared over at me, not too friendly-like. "Just kiddin' man."
"Stelllllaaaaa!" she wheezed, then cackled louder.
Chuckie started in again. "That 'Stella' thing did you in, Joey. I mean ... you think she'd go out with you again after you pulled off that stunt?"
"What do you know? She was so into me. I never thought ..."
"You shoulda seen that look on her face when you were screaming her name. I thought she was gonna kill ya."
"Well, I did say I was sorry."
"But you ain't no Marlon Bando."
"That's Brando, asshole. With an 'R.' Jesus Christ, why am I talking to you anyway?"
Once again, from Dolores's corner: "Stelllllaaaaa!"
Kevin checked his watch, picked up the remote, and clicked over to Oprah.
"Jesus, Kevin," I said. "Not again."
"It's Dolores's favorite show. She's a regular and she pays her tab on time. It's only an hour. So give her a break."
"Give me a break, would ya?"
"Joey, do me a favor, will ya? The sound's way down and it's closed captioned, though I don't know ..." - glancing Dolores's way - "... what she gets out of it. But she ain't bothering nobody."
She was bothering me, but I gave in. "Okay. Okay."
Chuckie spouted in my ear again: "So, Joey. You think Estrella will show up?"
"You never know. But it is Friday. And she's always been a creature of habit."
And what a creature she was. Estrella Marquez with a perfect body, perfect face. Half Italian. Half Puerto Rican. A hundred percent hellcat. The hottest chick I'd ever gone out with.
"What makes you think she'd ever talk to you again?"
"We had some really good times, Chuckie. We were good together."
"But when I heard her say quote unquote 'Fuck off and eat shit, dickhead' and she tossed that glass of beer in your face, didn't that, like, send you a message?"
"Jesus Christ. What've I got to do to get you to shut the fuck up?" I wanted to move to another stool, but I stayed where I was. Another creature of habit, I guess.
A couple of the regulars straggled in. Vince and Mikey, the two construction guys, who always sat next to each other in a booth. I think they play for the other side, if you know what I mean. But, hey, there's nothing wrong with that. And they don't bother me none.
A few minutes later, Marla-with-the-beautiful-ass - yep, that's her name, I swear - sashayed in, but with orange hair this time. Looked awful, like a frizzed-out carrot top. But she's a hairdresser, so it figures. With her guido boyfriend, Anthony something or other. Slicked-back hair. Shirt unbuttoned to his belly. Do they buy shirts like that? I wondered. Gold necklace, the works. Drives a black Escalade - stolen, I figure - but, hey, if you got it, flaunt it.
I sipped from my tall neck and then guzzled the rest down. "Hey, Kevin ... How 'bout another?"
Kevin tapped his hand on the bar. I fished a twenty out of my wallet and slapped it down. Kevin uncapped the Bud and brought it over.
Chuckie, again: "Joey? How about one for me? You told me your horse came in."
"All right, all right. Kevin, one for the mooch, too."
Kevin picked up the twenty and brought back another Bud, a ten and five singles. I guess he was fishing for a tip. Sure, right. He could always dream.
By the time Oprah was over, most of the stools were taken, except the two on either side of us. Kevin switched over to ESPN.
And then the door opened. No spotlights, no trumpets, but it was still Estrella's grand entrance, in her - oh man - black mini and shtup me boots. But next to her was some huge football-player-lookin' guy I never saw before. Shaved head. Shades. Damn.
Then I noticed the ring. A gold band on Estrella's finger. It took a moment to figure out it was her left hand. Goddam.
"Hey, Joey." Chuckie tapped me my on the shoulder. "Look who came in." As if I were blind. "And that guy," he whispered. "He's packin'."
I noticed the bulge under his Yankees jacket, too.
"And that ain't no twenty two," he added.
Chuckie wouldn't know a twenty-two from a sixty-nine. But he was right this time. It was definitely not small caliber.
The big guy approached, asked, "These two taken?" while Estrella said, "Oh, hi, Chuckie. And you, too, Joey."
We moved over one. Estrella took the stool on my left. I could smell her musky perfume. She smelled the same as back then. Maybe even better.
Just as I was getting lost in the memory, the mountain asked, "So is this the one?"
Oh shit, I thought. I almost said it out loud.
"Yeah." She sneered in my direction.
"Hey, listen, man. I don't want no trouble. I got no beef with you."
"Listen? ... What do you mean 'listen'?"
"Nothing. I'm just sayin' ..."
"Estrella, this guy sounds like a smart ass to me. What d'ya think?"
"Yup. But he ain't so smart." They both laughed. I chuckled, trying to join in.
The guy raised his voice. "Wait a second, Joey. What's so goddam funny?"
"Nothin', man. Nothin'."
"The way I talk? What?"
"You got it all wrong."
"Let me understand this. Maybe I'm a little fucked up. But ... I'm funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you? I'm here to fucking amuse you?"
Wait a minute, I thought. Lines out of Goodfellas? "Hey ... I didn't mean nothin'."
"How am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me?"
Oh shit. This is for real? Then, a stroke of genius: the Henry Hill line. I said, "Get the fuck outa here."
"Motherfucker! I almost had him!" he shouted, and both he and Estrella started laughing so hard they started coughing.
When they'd calmed down, I Brooklynesed, "'kay, okay. How 'bout a truce. Lemme buy yuz bot' a drink. Whatcha havin'?"
"Same as you's good."
"Hey, Kevin. Another Bud for my friend here, and a glass of red wine for the lady."
"Oh, Joey. You remembered," Estrella over-gushed. She could be so sarcastic, but when she turned towards me, I felt the warmth of her leg against mine.
Kevin served the beer and wine, then took all the bills and slipped them in the cash register. I started to say, "What the fu ..." but let it go.
I turned to Estrella, wriggled my ring finger and asked, "So what's up with that?"
"You mean this?" Estrella twirled the gold band between her fingers. "What d'ya wanna know for?" She pressed her leg harder against mine.
"Are you, uh, like married? I didn't hear nothin'."
"Why, Joey. What would ever you want to know that for?"
I head-gestured towards the hulk. "Him?"
"Who? Paulie? He's just an old acquaintance ..." Her hand disappeared under the bar and found my leg. "And this ring?" She stuck the tip of her finger between her glossy red lips and then slowly pulled it out. "It's to keep jerks like you away." She started caressing her way up between my thighs.
"Wait a sec, Estrella. Slow down." although it felt so good. "People can see."
"Nobody's looking. Anyway, why would they care?" She licked her lips and smiled.
I glanced at the mirror behind the bar. Both Chuckie and Paulie were gazing up at the TV. As the pressure of her hand increased, I felt myself getting harder.
I moved forward on my stool for more contact. I couldn't help it. "You like this, don't ya, Joey?" she whispered in my ear.
"You want more of this, don't ya?"
"That all you can say? 'Oh yeah'?"
I grunted, "Uh, huh."
I felt I was going to explode. She'd always been the expert. And it had sure been a while.
"Joey ... you're gonna apologize to me for real about that 'Stella' thing?"
"I thought I did."
"No you didn't. Not really." She squeezed. "Are you gonna make it up to me?"
"Yeah, sure ... Ooh, that feels nice ... Anything ... anything you want."
"Anything? You're not lyin' are you?"
"No. No way."
"You're gonna promise?"
"Yeah, but you're driving me crazy."
"I don't want you to get there just yet. I want you to hold on. Until I tell you to." But she kept on kneading and stroking. I was at the edge.
"I don't know if I can ..."
"That's okay, Joey. Just a few seconds longer. So you promise?"
"Yes. Yes. But I can't, Estrella. I can't ..."
"Okay then. Now."
"Oh, oh, ohh ..." I had to stop myself from gyrating on the stool as I came in my khaki Dockers. Even after, she kept pressing.
"Good boy, Joey. Now I want you to stand up so I can give you a big hug."
But instead of hugging me, she turned me around and announced, "Look, everybody! Look what Joey did. He could never control himself."
Everyone turned towards us. They couldn't avoid noticing the widening stain. They all started pointing and laughing. I tried to get the hell out of there but Paulie blocked my way. "Going somewhere, squirt?"
After a few excruciating moments, Estrella finally relented. "That's okay, Paulie. Let him go. I think we're even now."
Rev 5 / April 24, 2008
April, 2008 Copyright © 2008, Lloyd B. Abrams