by Thomas Weedman
It starts when I lose my keys at work and unexpectedly find K in my apartment bed. She’s a nubile barista I serve coffee with. She’s half my age and size, part-time bassoonist, but like me, a full-time flirt. Out-of-my-league, she and her touch-me-please mestizo skin are swaddled in Egyptian cotton sheets – 700 thread count, but who’s counting – made in India. So what the hell, I jump in like a ridiculous porn cartoon character and touch worthy of the confessional. It ends two months later when she finds them. But she’s not talking about the keys.
When I come home from the morning shift at the cafe for the too-good-to-be-true noon assignation and refrigerate the beer, K is sitting up-right with the elegant posture of a bassoonist on the edge of the Murphy, unmade for weeks. It’s been a battleground of non-stop all-aboard twisted and fluidic love-making. Now, instead of mouthing her cane reed, me, or composing an Elgar-like composition, she’s holding her maroon motorcycle helmet socked with knuckle-armor gloves. She’s wearing her cracked black leather jacket, which looks better littered on my dusty hallway floor. Her immaculately pretty face seems defeated, eyebrows lowered as a portcullis. Instead of donning a ribbed condom, I keep my corduroys on.
“I found them,” she says.
“Concert tickets to see Philip Glass?” I bluff and joke – her favorite composer. They’re in my breviary. I know she hasn’t found them because she wouldn’t be so sad. I’m planning to surprise her. “His opera Satyagraha is playing this Saturday, about India and Gandhi’s passive resistance to British colonial rule.” She fetishes older opera guys. But I’m no Librettist or a taxi-cab driver. She claims Glass is both, collects fares, ticket sales, and royalties. I don’t drive, I walk to work. The city and its Victorian and Gothic topography is a museum to marvel through. Plus, I’m closer to penury than royalties after maxing out my credit card for the tickets and bed sheets. Glass is a septuagenarian and banging a nineteen-year-old. I am not his age but I am older than K’s menopausal mother, also a biker. And I still don’t know how K carries a bassoon on a Softail Harley, reaches the foot-pegs, or does wheelies. No way she pillions me.
She doesn’t respond, eyelids down, long black hair softly corded around her lovely neck.
“You found what?”
“I found them,” she repeats somberly.
“What are you talking about?” I ask, wishing she’d get with the tempo, play along.
“I found your Facebook posts.” She eyes me with irises the color of her irresistible skin.
“On my computer? The one I left unlocked for you? The one where you don’t need a password and look at titty–porn?” I knew it would backfire, despite her confessions.
“Whatever. Why didn’t you tell me you had so many girlfriends? I lost count.”
I want to joke, make light of count, light as Steve Martin’s comedy routine on vinyl record from way back. He’s at a Vegas strip show, ogling, pointing, and counting all the dancing girls on stage: look at all the tits up there. One, two, three. Why, I bet there are fifty-seven tits up there. But this is no time for joking or counting.
She says,“You said there was no one else after that hot lady customer at work gave you her business card and invited you for a drink. The blond bitch.”
“If you recall, I declined.” It was awkward, the three of us standing at the espresso bar. No one at work knew about us; they wouldn’t believe it anyway. And the fifty-seven customers in line waited impatiently for caffeine. I banged the portafilter on the rubber-lined knock box like a judge a gavel.
K says, “You didn’t sound convincing. You couldn’t even make eye contact.”
I saw the Cross next to the name, the M. Div abbreviation, and panicked. “Again,” I reiterate, “I threw her business card away in front of you. Right down the espresso hole.”
“You know she’s a chaplain at a mental ward? Her name is Harley Quin. With one N. What, did she intern at Arkham Asylum?”
I’m surprised and pleased she knows the cartoon Batman character who went bonkers and astray, teaming up with the Joker. I could make the distinction that Quinn is a psycho psychiatrist and that Quin is a chaplain with a master’s in theology. Instead, I want to joke that her moniker – Harley – matches K’s loud-ass motorcycle. “You went through the trash and coffee grounds at work to find out her name?”
“So how many more girlfriends are there?”
“There is no one else. I haven’t seen anyone in six months. You and I started seeing each other eight weeks ago after you started working at the cafe. We flirted about music and woodwinds, then you filched my keys. You know, by the way, work charged me ten bucks for a new key but not the new locks. Lucky I didn’t get fired. And my landlord also charged ten bucks for a new key but didn’t change the locks. I couldn’t tell work or him the truth. And God knows how he hasn’t stopped to ask who you are, passing through every day before I get home.”
“Whatever. That day, you should have called from the intercom downstairs.”
“How do you think I contacted the landlord?”
“Better yet, if you had a cell phone I could have texted you.”
The only texts I know are in books and biblical manuscripts. A cell phone is not another operating system or expense I want to figure out or count. I’m no Luddite and have enough technology not serving me well. Then I say, “What difference would that make? How was I to know you took my house keys and were waiting inside? We never talked date. I didn’t know you were available. Plus, I kept my distance because you are so young. And hot. I never thought I’d have a chance.”
“Still.” Her eyes fix on me, a sour cord.
“Still what? Maybe you’d like to scour my posts with the fiance you live with, who you didn’t confess about until after you stole my keys and we consummated. And of course, it was then that you started wearing his engagement ring?”
“That’s different. You lied. And you still kept fucking me.” Her eyes swell like hard-boiled eggs pushing through almond-shaped sockets. They raise the portcullis. For a small thing, she irons a look that could dagger, shred a man’s will. Or break his dick like a baseball bat over the knee.
“I didn’t lie,” I say. “And I don’t have any girlfriends. I, like you, just flirt with the masses of customers every day.” But I have many beers in the fridge. Like every day.
“But you still have feelings for one. You even said you loved her in one of your posts. M is it? Are you working through the alphabet? And will you refer to Quin as Q?”
That would imply up to 26, the number of letters in the alphabet, one less than the number of books in the New Testament, because I would think of Q as a lost gospel source, both too great a count but wouldn’t add up to Steve Martin’s 57.
“I’ll always love her. Like my ex-wife, H. But it doesn’t mean I want to be with her either. It was a term of distant affection.” Plus, I was drunk and randy when I wrote it, but I don’t her tell her that.
“I didn’t lie. Here, let’s call the fiance you live with and ask.” I crank the imitation WW II field phone canvased in olive drab akin to a company clerk in the TV show M*A*S*H, calling some constabulary. “Does he know about me?”
His name is Joe Conrad, thirty, and a conductor – the train kind and not symphony orchestra or literary author. K says he’s home by five in his locomotive attire, billed cap, ticket puncher, and walkie-talkie. He expects dinner by six. I don’t know what happens after that, if they talk about the heart of the matter, or if he’s half in the bag by seven. She says he’s stopped paying her bills.
“I haven’t told him. And it doesn’t mean you didn’t lie.”
She doesn’t miss a beat; I get a dial-tone, pause, and hang up because I don’t know his number. “Look, I’m not doing this. I have nothing to hide.” But I’d like a beer. I hid an extra forty ouncer in the lettuce bin behind the kale and one in the icebox behind the tilapia. Sometimes K chances time, stays past 4 pm, and cleans me out.
“I didn’t. And stop saying that.”
“You should just go and start dinner. Your conductor will be expecting you.” Something inside my chest shifts and thuds.
“I’m not going anywhere until you admit you lied.”
“I didn’t lie. This is my apartment. So. You. Get. Out. Now.” I’m surprised to enunciate each note without raising the decibel level.
“Not until you admit you lied.” She tempos her breathy bassoon voice to mine, puts her helmet on the battered bed. Then she leans back, propping herself with her padded elbows. Her jacket opens, revealing the ribbed wife-beater molded to her tiny and pointy breasts sans bra. Her indigenous nipples pierce like the pits of drupe stone fruits, so they don’t droop. She opens her thin, powerful legs in skinny jeans. Her inner thighs kill yet invite. Her look morphs, portcullis arching into rainbows of possibilities. Her long hair slithers over her pulse cords but she’s not getting choked up. My breath shortens.
She’s made her move, posting up. Eyes locked on, she occupies and this could take a while. The wheels aren’t coming off. Her pants, though, could at any moment. Buckled harness boots first and skidded soles. My guess, she’ll demand make-up sex before the matter’s been resolved.
I resist, disengage from the Armageddon stare-down. Since she won’t leave, I grab my keys, no longer interested in winning the argument. I try to be kind, or not mean, or however you spin it. I recall the movie Gandhi and him partially draped in home-spun cotton, saying to a British general and the occupying army: you just get up and walk out. Good advice, but I don’t have to leave India.
She hollers, “By the way, I found the tickets in your prayer book but Joe already got tickets!”
“Great! See you two there. And don’t forget to lock up,” I say, leaving the apartment, exiting stage left cartoon-like. “And don’t bother logging off.”
Solves the problem of being seen in public with an engaged girl.
I head anywhere, feeling crazy and embarrassed having no business in this asinine affair in the first place. Like volunteering at the out-of-my-league asylum when in the seminary, studying to be a Catholic priest fashioning a Roman collar in holier-than-though vanity. Course, that didn’t work out either. But in the mental-ward, I felt choked and that God had abandoned the insane souls stuck in metal beds. Then again, so did I. Crazy coincidence, though, a hospital chaplain availing herself decades later. Too bad I lost her number. But maybe I’ll find her at the cafe in time to invite her to Satyagraha.
I wander through the shopping district, passing shop windows of mannequins dressed scantily as Gandhi in spun cotton but with K’s discerning looks. Would they say I lied? Would you? Reservation-only restaurants open. Taxis line up at five-star hotels. Cabs merge and adjust fairly to grab fare – no need for mediation. I flinch at revving motorcycles, backfiring cars, and duck into a bar for pints to compose myself. After, I walk until the dinner hour. Pin-hole stars – I count a trinity – give fuzzy light to the bruised-colored sky. When I’m sure there are only chilled beers waiting at home, I start back cautiously, considering fifty-seven tits and the possible cost of new apartment locks.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story