The phone is ringing again. He rolls over in sodden tangled 800-count sheets. The sun has overwhelmed the blinds; the bedroom is almost bright. Over the roar of the window air conditioner he can hear his neighbors at their Sunday work, car doors slamming, the creak of baby carriages, gardeners' chatter. For a long time he wonders how this can be. Then he sees from a fluttering blind that while he was sober enough to turn on the air conditioner he was too drunk to remember to close the windows.
Oh God, he thinks, rolling onto his back and hiding his eyes under his forearm.
Wait. What the hell was this? In blurry blue, as though written in felt tip on his
sweaty skin: CAN I SEE THEM?
Oh, God. He pulls a pillow over his face and wraps his arms around it and squeezes it tight against his screwed shut eyes but it all comes back anyway.
When he got home he thought it'd been a pretty good day.
His wife was babysitting in Westport all weekend. Trying to look like a good uncle and better husband he went down for the day. Knowing his limits he took his bike with him so he could abandon ship the second the Spongebob videos rolled.
So he hammered out fifty hard miles over rolling Fairfield hills. As he left Westport he forgot the things that made him make the tires spin: what he would see in the office mail Monday, the way the top of his Lycra shorts rolled over love handles that weren't there a few years before. Soaked through with sweat by the time he got to Ridgefield, twenty miles from Westport, he dismounted and clacked down the street in his cleated shoes, helmet tucked under his arm. Staring at the bouncing breasts of blonde nymphets, perplexed by their failure to return his interest until he noticed his own chest jiggle in a plate glass reflection. Oh well, he thought, I'm trying, anyway.
He put the hammer down on the way back. Unobserved, he was a twelve year old on a Schwinn, playing fighter pilot, vroom-vrooming downhill. Singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" as he powered up hills that he was sure would have felled a lesser man. One of whom he saw, puffing and pushing his bike up hill. He grinned and gave the fallen rider a comradely thumbs up. Pussy, he sneered under his breath.
But now he was home, where there was more food that he wanted but less beer than he needed. But still plenty. Happily he forgot the Lycra waist sliding down his hips and instead thought the miles he rode as equivalent to the marathons he used to run, before the orthotics, before the torn meniscus, before the gray on his head went south to his chest. He attended to his email, each paragraph consuming a bottle.
Soon there was no more. All he had eaten that day was a muffin and a bagel; he wanted more carbs. He was hungry. But rather than eat the food in the refrigerator he decided he needed just one more pint and so thinking well, the wife is out of town, why not, he headed off to the music bar a few blocks away that he hadn't seen since he was married.
He thought the whole way that he should just eat dinner and go to bed early. But there were girls at the door of the music bar, good looking young girls without bras, so he went in. Though it cost him three dollars to see a band he'd never heard of, he thought the money well spent because he might see more of the same girls inside.
It was a long room with a bar at one side and tables at another, bisected by a shoulder-high half wall on which patrons on either side could rest their drinks. The bandstand was at the front near the windows; the walls were decorated with framed pictures of groups that hadn't performed since 1981 and mug shots of rock stars who had been arrested in this college town when the Panthers were still something to be reckoned with. At the bar itself were twenty people, equally divided between the genders, in black tee shirts or tank tops, their arms crawling with spiderwebs, crucifixes, tombstones, motorcycles. He was wearing a LaCoste polo shirt, J. Crew shorts, Kenneth Cole sandals.
He ordered a Bass and took it nervously to the shelf dividing the room. He drank the first half in two minutes. Behind him and to his left at the bar was a man arguing with a woman. He hunched into his beer and tried not to hear it. Usually if he saw a man hit a woman he would stop it, but tonight, and in this place, perhaps he wouldn't, and if he didn't, he would rather not know he could have.
A waitress reached over him to hand a drink to a man with a shaved head and spiderwebs tattooed all over his shoulders and up to the base of his skull. Leaning over the rail to take the drink the tattooed man politely said, excuse me.
He was somehow moved by this display of courtesy and decided that it was a good reason to get another beer. But he still knew that he was the only man in the bar in a polo shirt. So when he was halfway through this Bass and saw a stein on the bar with pens for the waitresses he reached over and took out a blue felt tip and uncapped it and traced out a big blue diamond on the back of either hand.
He finished the beer and got another. The diamonds on his hands looked somehow empty so in one he inked, YES, the right, and NO, the left.
There was a woman nearby watching him. She sat on the last stool, the one closest to the wall. There was an empty stool between them. She was not pretty, particularly, nor was she all that young, though she was a good deal younger than he. She was wearing a black tank top and her large breasts hung over a roll of fat at the top of her jeans. Her arms were covered with blue ink that unlike his was driven below the epidermis.
"What are you doing," she asked.
"Trying to fit in," he said.
"Force of habit," he said, draining his glass and raising it for a refill.
"My tats tell a story."
He raised his freshened glass to his lips. "Ah," he said. "A story."
"Yes," she said. "Really."
He thought very seriously about leaving his half finished pint on the bar and going home and going to sleep and going to Westport the next morning. But her breasts were very large. And even though he knew that the odds against his slipping her tank top off her shoulder and lifting one up for him to suckle were vanishingly remote, the possibility that it might have would carry him through a long middle aged night.
"So tell me a story," he said, pouring the last of his pint down.
"Tell me yours first."
"I have no stories to tell."
"Maybe yes," she said, delicately dotting the diamond on his right hand with her index finger, and then snaking it around to his left, the one holding the pint, and tapping it as well. "And maybe no."
They both laughed. As they did, he wondered first whether she enjoyed watching him as much as he enjoyed watching her; then, ashamed, whether he shook as much as she when he laughed. But then he decided it didn't matter.
So he said, "Okay, I'll tell you a story," and he took the felt tip and wrote over the YES diamond on his right hand, crudely, because he was right handed, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, and as she giggled and shook her head no no, with his good right hand he wrote over the NO diamond, YES YOU ARE.
Their next beers arrived. The pile of cash in front of him wasn't enough so he added another twenty to the beer soaked singles.
"That can't be so," she said, leaning far over to take her pint, deliberately, so that her breasts swung forward like Indian clubs.
She lifted her pint and looked up. To see him looking down. Before he could look away she looked down her cleavage and then looked up again and said, "I thank God every day."
Astonished he laughed and they clinked glasses and he drained half his. He wrote on his left forearm, YOU HAVE GREAT BOOBS. She took the pen and wrote in tiny precise script, thanks.
Their beers gone he said, "Do you like Irish whiskey." She nodded and he threw down another twenty and they both had doubles. Their glasses clinked again and he decided that because it was a hot night they needed chasers so he asked the bartender for a couple of pints of Harp.
He passed her hers with his left hand and as he did he saw the gold glint on his finger and thought well, should I slip that in my pocket, the first time he had ever thought such a thing. And as the guilt charged down from his brain and into his curdling stomach he thought, no need, no need, no reason to feel bad, I'm just playing. And he realized that hand had been in front of her for an hour in plain view and it seemed to make no difference so whew, we both know we're just playing.
He looked at his arm where she wrote thanks. He looked at her shoulder where the strap of her tank top should be but wasn't, because it was halfway down her arm, exposing the fat full uppermost swell of a tanlined tit. He looked over his shoulder, hoping that the bar was empty.
It wasn't. The bad news was that it was closing time Saturday night full. The good news was that it was full of Saturday night college radio nearly forty punk rock types, all pretty much hopelessly drunk and all trying to slip hands or tongues somewhere, so he didn't feel too bad about doing what he did next.
Right under where she wrote thanks he wrote, CAN I SEE THEM? He held up his arm just to make sure she could read it.
She laughed and drained her whiskey and reached over to his and drank half of what he had left. Then she pulled down his arm and held it flat against the bar and under his question wrote in big but still girlish letters, SURE.
He now sat on the next to last stool. She sat on the last. Her back was to the wall as she turned to face him. She grinned and jerked her head at the wall. He stared at her stupidly. She slipped her hands under her breasts and bounced them and jerked her head at the wall yet again.
He stumbled off his stool and grinning kissed her on the cheek. He planted himself with his back against the wall. "Let's see," he whispered.
She turned a hundred and eighty degrees. Her back to the barroom. "Get a load of these," she said. She slipped her tank top straps off her shoulders and shrugged and reached inside and lifted.
They dropped like hanged men. Blue-veined and stretchmarked, ragged unequal nipples reacting unequally to their sudden exposure. For just one instant he wondered what he was thinking about, but that instant passed as he took pen in hand and imagined circling each stiffening peak with sunbursts or Peter Max daisies. "Oh yes," he said, casting a guilty glance at the inexplicably oblivious barroom as he lifted a half-filled water balloon. "So beautiful," he said.
"Your John Hancock," she said.
"I want your autograph," she said, her laughter quaking in his supporting hand. As he leaned forward to write he stumbled a little bit and caught himself on the bar with his free hand. Wondering whether it wouldn't have been better to fall forward and bury his face in the fleshy pillows, he wrote anyway. Just as he finished he realized that perhaps he should have used a name other than his own, but he pushed that out of his mind as unworthy of a man like himself, and defiant lifted her other breast and inscribed a phone number.
"I guess I won't lose your number," she said.
"I guess not," he said.
He was still standing with his back pressed against the wall. She drained what was left in her pint of Harp. She hitched her barstool forward so that she was barely a foot away. She leaned forward. Her head was level with his navel. Her body shielded him from the bar. The bartender was busy with last call.
"My turn," she said. "My autograph."
He began to lift his shirt.
"No, no. Someplace else."
She was looking at the fly of his J Crew shorts. He stammered and pretended not to understand.
"Unless he's just big enough for my initials."
Well, hell, he thought. He handed her the pen and unzipped.
It comes back, no matter how hard he tries to hold it at bay. He lies rigid, staring at his own felt-tip handwriting. In the next room the phone rings again and he says "no, no, it didn't happen, let me just stay here until tomorrow," but when he hears a familiar voice on the answering machine he groans and throws back the sheets and stumbles into the study to hear his wife's message.
His head swimming he stands over the phone. He has to brace himself at the desk. Without his glasses all he can see is that his arms are twined blue, like Popeye the Sailor Man's.
"Hey sleepyhead," says his wife. Her voice is so chirpy that he almost gags with shame. "I guess you're not coming down to Westport. Big night for you Lance Armstrong. That's okay. I'm leaving now. Everybody here is okay, your nephews miss you. Hey, somebody called here this morning looking for you."
Oh God. The last broken tooth explodes in his mouth: though he used his real name, it wasn't his real number. His.
He drops his head and groans. Okay, okay, he says to himself, I can talk my way out of the call. I won't call back, she'll get the message, she must be used to that. But I have forty minutes.
So he staggers back to the bedroom and gets his glasses and looks at himself. He freezes for a full minute. Then he runs downstairs and gets a can of Comet from under the sink. He gets under the shower before the water is warm and with a scrunge abrades away the evidence. Even though the water swirling down the drain is pink tinged with seeping blood his barroom tattoos do not completely fade; after twenty minutes, his forearms and hands are still faintly blueish. Confident that his recently invented fable about an allergic reaction to Fairfield County flora will explain it all away he is about to towel off when he realizes that he hasn't examined all the evidence.
With less than ten minutes to go he stands dripping in the bathroom and pulls at his penis. Shriveled with hangover and shameful blue it seems to crawl into his abdomen. Where it rested safe before he left the womb. Without the slightest erotic intent he pumps out hand cream and slathers and tugs, desperate.
Oh God. Half-hard is the best he can do, but it's enough. DEBBIE on the shaft. Well, what a lucky break, that's his wife's name, he can always say that he got really drunk and wrote her name on his dick for a joke. A possessive. See, I'm all yours.
But what about the smiley face? For a moment he wonders whether he can pass it off the same way, but even with the best faith in the world, his wife won't believe he sat in a mirror and decorated his cock head with a sideways goatee and two staring eyes.
So he is in the shower scrubbing so hard that his tears are mixing with the spray when the bathroom door opens.
"Hello," he says, hoping that when he next tries to pee he won't find that the Comet has inflamed his urethra shut.
There is silence on the other side of the frosted glass shower door.
"I'd like some answers," she says at last.
He rolls back the door and gets out, grabbing a towel from the rack. "Hey, honey, for what?" He says, abrading himself further. "Nice to see you again, how was Westport, jeez, look at this, it's like poison ivy only worse."
"Just look at this," she says.
He glances at his battered cock free from indicting graffiti. Full of confidence he says, "huh?"
He follows her into the bedroom. She walks the way she always walks when he has done something wrong: arms swinging at her sides, fists clenched. Sure that he has disposed of everything that exposes felonies he is prepared to admit any misdemeanor. "Did I leave the garage door unlocked again? Forget to put the milk back in the refrigerator?"
Bedroom door thrown open. She stands at the foot of the bed. "Explain this," she says.
Sheets still damp with drunken sweat have been thrown back. Their cream colored satin stripes defaced with blurry blue.
"Look hard," she says. .
Her lips are nearly white as she snaps the top sheet like a sail and lays it out over the foot of the bed.
He has had no coffee. He is thick with hangover. He thinks that he should say, "oh God, what is it now?", but something tells him better not.
The sheets are covered with blurry blue letters, backwards, like Leonardo's notebooks. The vast mirror-texted tomes in obscure Madrid libraries and British ducal manors, describing helicopters and tanks and parachutes. But instead of marsh-draining schemes and monumental horses his Leicester Codex says WANNA FUCK and NICE NIPPLES in blurry backward scrawl. Transcribed from his own sweaty solitary flesh overnight as he tossed and mumbled like a dreaming dog suckling in its sleep.
"I can explain," he says.
"You can't," she says.
He knows she's right. But the same instinct that makes the gerbil claw and clutch at soil as it disappears down the python drives his frantic search for an excuse. Some horrible mixup at the laundry? Dyslexic vandals?
His heart sinks. There is no explaining this away. The python's throat has closed behind him; all that lies ahead is darkness. He sits on the edge of the bed and buries his face in his hands. "I don't know what to say," he begins. His treacherous sweat rolls down his flanks.
"You never do," she says.
"I was really drunk," he begins again, and just before confessional momentum carries him over the cliff something clicks and he screeches to a teetering halt
You never do? He's never admitted infidelity before. "I was really drunk," he says again, staring at the Kilim on the bedroom floor. His voice quivers. Slowly he realizes that it hasn't occurred to her that the hieroglyphs defacing her bedding are the product of guilty intent.
"Really," she says. "How unlike you. We'll talk about that later. But first, how the fuck did you do this? What were you doing with a Magic Marker in bed? Oh, Jesus, never mind."
Snorting with anger and disgust she began to strip the sheets from the bed. "Oh, Christ, they stink! What did you do, roll around with whores all night?"
His heart rattles his ribcage until he realizes she's kidding. She thrusts the sodden bundle into his arms.
"Throw these out. Now. That isn't coming out."
"It sure isn't," he said.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar: