"Keep the shirt," she said, throwing open the cab door and crawling over me to get out. She had been resting on my lap for the duration of the ride. She was seductive. She was sadistic and beautiful. She was joy and despair...
“Keep the shirt,” she said, throwing open the cab door and crawling over me to get out. She had been resting on my lap for the duration of the ride. She was seductive. She was sadistic and beautiful. She was joy and despair. She was life and death. She made me feel lucky for everything a woman makes good about a man.
I stood over her at the entrance to the condo while she probed the bottom of her bag for keys. The cab door hung open, music spilled out and reverberated from the tall buildings on the roundabout. The lights shone from high green perches. It was too bright and loud to keep a secret here. We should’ve been careful with our secret. Instead, we were careless. The nature of our secret was careless, and, so, we were careless about secrecy.
“Goodnight,” I said, pulling her to me, squeezing her to let her know I didn't want to let her go so soon. She reached up from the tips of her toes. Her soft lips lingered on mine.
We reluctantly parted and I sauntered back to the waiting cab while she stumbled inside. We glanced back at the same time. For all our carelessness we were perfectly calibrated to one another. If two can be so lucky to be in tune, being careful is not as important. We flashed smiles and continued on.
“You come just for the ride?” asked the cabbie, looking both ways at the corner and turning onto the main road in the direction of the downtown core. I confirmed his suspicion. I’d been riding in the back of cabs quite often lately. “Very nice of you! Very nice indeed!” he said.
Cabbies were my biggest fans. I paid them handsomely to drive me around while I escorted drunk women home with no intent to violate them. What a mad world for such a deed to be something rare. It wasn’t a big deal. I liked riding in the back of cars in the middle of the night.
Someday chivalry will again find refuge in the minds of the weary. Times change and trends die away. Habits, culture, and the organisms which guide them from epoch to epoch all face death. I’m not comfortable with the persistence of time. I appreciate the role it plays in one’s ambition, though. The very nature of time made me desperate for every moment with her. I was never comfortable with vulnerability, but after a long cold absence from my heart, I rather appreciated the reemergence. It made me stupid in a wonderful way. It was a refreshing change of pace from the reckless string of benders I had been caught up in at that time. I’d been deep in the muck with no purpose but to medicate a wavering heart.
Keep the shirt… A peculiar gesture. To what end? Actually, I reflected, it might be the most intimate thing one could do for another. She wanted to linger on in my mind, to penetrate my thoughts when she was absent. When she was absent she was as absent as anyone had ever been. When she was present, she was unapologetically present. Disruptively present. Leaving her shirt at my apartment bridged a gap to me. Perhaps she suspected that I already held her shirt as an idol. Every now and then I’d smother myself with it, and build myself up with a deep breath, only to shrink sadly as I exhaled. All good things inevitably turn bad. And the brighter the day the darker the night. Who has the stomach for it? I feared the outcome.
She had sent a text message earlier. “I’m addicted to you,” it read. I was at another bar. If we’re being honest, I was keeping an unpredictable friend at bay. I’d been careless with the friend, and, now, I’d kept him away from where she worked -- The Bar -- for fear that he’d spill his intelligence. We were all guilty for loose lips when we got tight. He was the guiltiest.
I’m addicted to you. It had an element which made my heart leap. I often told her how she seemed to arrive at the perfect times, always with the perfect words. One might begin to shutter, for this perfect harmony cannot exist forever. It would sting when she up and left.
Ours was a base attraction in the early days, and so it remained for long into our friendship. I was the first one to catch feelings, at some point, over many nights, and over many drinks and mistakes and so on. But I try to be a moral man, usually, and I resigned myself to friendship. When I learned of her feelings, however, I was naturally flattered. Every guy loved the sassy, cute little bartender who threw caution to the wind, who donned the wry grin, and who was unimpressed with pretension. My response was to play. Harmless flirtation. She was fun to play with. Her breathless tone, unimpressed black as night eyes -- except for when she looked my way her expression beamed, a point in the night sky rich with the promise of discovery. And she rarely wore makeup. Not a lick of it really. And she'd recently cut her hair to a brunette flapper bob. Yeah, she was fun to play with. She had become a dear friend. Some remarked that I commented on her more than most comment on others.
The coy play lasted for a while, until one day she sent a message asking if she could come around my place after last call. Believe it or not, still feeling moral, I had the wherewithal to decline. Well, kind of. As an ultimatum I told her I’d stumble back to see her. It was safer that way. We’d smoke a joint and I’d be right back in the seat which I’d vacated only an hour earlier. It seemed harmless enough. We were drunk. We were often drunk. We were high. This was nothing new, either. Except I misjudged her intensity, her ability to drive hard to the hoop. Or, maybe I misjudged my own moral fortitude, or heart, or whatever it is that makes a person stupid with feelings. She slid a beer across the bar and came around and sat next to me. We poured over the usual topics for a while. Our rapport was reliable, stated cautiously. In the dim light she was exquisite. Exquisite. That’s the word. And I don’t use it lightly. I thought about her when I got home that night.
The bar, after hours. Dim but for smoldering embers of Will. Infatuation in this instance is sacred, and it's ours alone, and so we've greedily stowed away. But not from our desires at this unGodly hour when God is ever present. And so one should be so lucky, not only to be availed of the moment itself but to have been through Hell enough to be apprised of such rare fortune. Dim, but for the foreign steadfast lights high above, crowning poles on the street, which shine through and illuminate her face, teasing. She's perched upon her warm seat with the unforgiving metal support. Cold penitentiary support makes for diligent posture. The arched back of a beautiful woman is one thing. The rainbow after the storm is quite another, the sky and everything beyond. She is all of that. And slight as her expression is allowed to shine in the unforgiving bosom of time, the deepest fathoms of night, she prevails. She shines as a beacon in a lifting stubborn fog, blossoms after cold winter. I hear her words, even now as I grasp to the sweet memory of her disappearing melody in futility, holding tight as the wonder of her wandering mind slips through desperate fingers, nectar of a dark matter. And now in the cold wake, the damn sobriety, I struggle to recollect what key might’ve rolled from the pocket of my tongue to unlock her. I remember, though, how her eyes drew nearer, squinting with uninhibited joy, renewed or uncovered. And to be the rare cause for such splendor in another! The heart warms at the thought. Not a manic episode but confirmation of man's labor! Ready oneself to get paid. The effort has been long and I've toiled. She inches closer, until that precious stoppage in time when two hearts beat as one, after being long beaten from afar where they could be neither heard nor felt. Isolated hearts beat to the foreboding rhythm of nonexistence. One might beat such a somber tone for who knows how it feels to watch love recede after being long sought, admired. So be it if it must die in the end. That’s what we’ve been preparing for. Afterward, I’ll thank the Heavens for her Words. One must love words and appreciate them and keep them dear and tight, for the sun has risen on a fleeting slumber locked in heavy pleasant dreams.
I’m not saying they’re perfect words. That night made me want to be a poet. A poet like I was when I was sixteen and stupid with impenetrable ignorance. We kissed and groped and nothing was the same.
I instructed the cabbie to pull into the Seven-Eleven. I needed smokes. I handed him two twenty-dollar bills and told him to keep the change. From there I passed The Bar, darkened and still, revisiting the scene of the crime on my way home.