She never knew. He never told her.
That's just how it is, he told himself, as he did every spring.
Women were everything to him. Poets, muses, and bitches that let him down.
The highest of highs, the lowest of lows. For many straight guys in Frisco, they were the very barometer of success. But even if you licked the Chinese alphabet until your jaw got sore, you had to take the results on trust, so he didn't measure himself that way. Or maybe he did, and that's why he'd come here again, the fifth straight year, just to drink a fuckin' fruit drink.
He was never sure. Trust was not something he gave easily, and any woman who was writhing in orgasmic bliss could not be trusted in any case. She could be faking it, there is no discernible difference, just trust, or worse faith, something he was even shorter on.
Hope, though, he did suffer from that freakish quirk, and so, each spring, he did hope. Because he liked her a great deal. He didn't love her, love was a windmill he couldn't pretend to define, much less tilt at, but he liked her a great deal. He was moved by her.
She was beautiful, doe eyes, huge smile with one snaggly, rebellious eye-tooth, a clever wit. And he loved her laugh, it made him happy, it made him think she was happy. It was mellifluous yet wry in a way that made all the other girls seem unremarkably plain.
But she wasn't easy, she complicated him. The first time she hit on him, she was shit-faced. He was no saint, but she couldn't even walk. Drunk, sweet, full of that magical laugh, and a penchant for looking at him with a direct, unblinking stare. She smelled of cigarettes and olives, but with her steadfast eyes and disarming smile, it seemed like perfume. Another Frisco regular, out on a man-hunt, and he the easy prey? He didn't think so. She lacked the typical obsequiousness. Therefore, he reconnoitered for any untoward male attention and saw none. She must either be trying to piss off some past boyfriend, or trying to get some other bizarre kicks, which was worse.
He was no genius, but far from an idiot. Many girls liked him, he was tall, lean, and dark. He could talk too, really talk, and that surprised them all. But she seemed way ahead of that curve. There was something... It looked too good to be true - a genuine interest in him - like a gutshot strait does, all the while slowly and softly killing you outright. In any case, it was not happening if she was smashed. He just couldn't do it. So he folded out and walked her home.
* * *
But the second time she hit on him, he was not so stoic. He remembered it very well.
She was drunk as usual, beatific as usual, and definitely not a regular. She leapt out from amongst the throng, practically drowned them out to his eyes. She had the shoes, and she had the hand bag, but she was anything but regular. He was ready, looking for a segue to make the play, when she said "Walk me home again?".
She had saved him, and he wanted her more right then. But no, he would let it pass, he was bored of hit skips, those cliche ships in the night, the morning weirdness, and desperate flights in the early morning light.
But then outside, she said "To your home?" with a smile, a sudden dazzle in her eye that fully took him off guard. What was that? He couldn't say. A twinkle really, no movement, nothing forceful and contrived like a wink, just something...remarkable. Helplessly, he said "That sounds great."
* * *
Looking back, he was in trouble right then, she was climbing all over him quick, and the walk home was the part he hated. He detested the chatter - I'm so-and-so, and what do you do - and hated walking them back his waiter's apartment. Waiting was his day job, tending was his night job, but regardless, he still lived in a dump. It would certainly be nicer if he could force himself to accept a roommate just to get a better pad, but no. Take the good with the bad, he supposed.
Quickly, he took an inventory. He was neat, so nothing to worry about there. He had a lot of whiskey, but he couldn't give her that in her state, could he? Tequila, curacao, triple sec, sour mix, and Rose's. No, late night is not a good time for margaritas. He had the fixings for real martinis - none of that chocolate shit people were drinking lately - but real martinis might do. He had milk, yes, and Kahlua, maybe some White Russians? No.
And no accursed wine either - he hated the stuff but it would have come in handy just then. He had some good jazz, but no candles. There was no reason to. Wouldn't any self-respecting woman run hogs if she wound up in a single, straight male's apartment that had candles in it? That was true enough, but for some foreign reason, he wished he had some that night.
Abruptly they were there, and he unlocked the door and walked up behind her into the apartment, where she found the bathroom without asking. Bonus, an optimum time for him to regroup. He started over to the liquor cabinet, and was getting ready to think fast, when his bookshelf caught his eye.
He felt that sharp, familiar pang of hypocrisy and thought 'Those damn books'. He never was sure why he had them out like that or what it meant. He like them, very well indeed, but the names and titles always made him feel a twinge of fraudulence, a bit like Otto, that role played to perfection by Kevin Kline. And what would she think? Spontaneously, he grabbed the Nietzsche and zinged it under the couch. He told himself 'she can't know about your personal inadequacies yet,' but it was too late, he was obviously past listening to his saner voice. He was clearly gripped now, but willed himself to beat down the festering idiocy and turned to the liquor. He was a bartender, Goddammit, this was a strength. He saw the cranberry and was instantly back in control.
She came out then, but he was finished, and said "Sea Breeze?"
She said smiled and said "Love one," and took it, and said "Cheers." It sounded quaint coming from her, this tired thing he heard 100 times a night, more evidence that he was being slain before his own eyes.
And then she looked at his books and asked "What happened to the Nietzsche?"
He froze and said FUCK! very loudly in his head. How had she noticed that? Was she that observant? Instantly he came to the insane conclusion that she must have broken into his apartment on some prior occasion. No, that was projection, she was that sharp and he was clearly done for.
There was nothing for it but to reach under the couch and produce it. She gave him that look, no particular expression other than intentness. He just shrugged and chuckled. She smiled at that, and he was sure she knew all that had transpired, somehow, some way.
* * *
The strangest thing happened when they were making out on the couch. Aja was on and Nietzsche was far behind them, and the moment was perfect. Suddenly they stopped as if on cue, and she lay her head on his shoulder right as Donald Fagen sang "Well the danger on the rocks is surely past." They just sat that way for awhile, listening to the chorus.
He asked her, right then, in that moment, if she wanted to go to bed, and she looked at him with that stare. "Just bed," he said. "There's a skylight in there, you can see the stars and hear the gulls."
"Is it a waterbed?" she asked with a grin. He just nodded, not surprised that she knew.
* * *
It was an superb night, floating on his waterbed, although they never did make love. Instead they talked, and talked, and cuddled, and made out, and talked. Although he would have the mother of all blue-balls the next morning, he wouldn't change it. At first, preliminary whosits and whatsits, moving onto books, movies, and life in general. There was nothing they talked about without connecting, a dizzying repartee, a sublime similitude that fed off one another. That bastard Nietzsche even showed his ugly mug again, and she obviously knew him well, but as they talked about it, he realized that didn't feel phony for the first time, instead he felt more real.
She did that, made him more real. Eventually, she fell asleep but he didn't. He floated until dawn and then snuck out.
* * *
The market was confusing to him for the first time. He went there often, and shopped for himself with confidence, but he had no idea what she would like for breakfast. He settled on grapefruit and cereal, a girl would probably like that, and for good measure, a baguette for French toast. He threw in some strawberries, and also eggs and bacon in case she was seriously hung over. He bought an Examiner and a Chronicler so they could read if they didn't feel like talking. On a lark, he bought a handful of orchids to banish any morning doldrums.
But when he got back, she wasn't there.
* * *
He never saw HER again, in fact. Oh, he saw her everywhere. He saw her on the street, and at the wharf getting off a boat. He saw her on the beach one day, on the street while he was jogging around Twin Peaks. He saw her one lonesome time at Seal Rock, and again at a head shop once down in the Haight when he was buying some grass. He saw her everywhere, but she was never there, just a whisper on the wind.
He was almost completely unmanned one final night, when he saw her eating Dungeness crab with a man thrice her age at the Tadich Grill. He simply walked out, without paying his bill, and kept walking. At some point, it occurred to him that it was one year to the night. And that night, when he was close to praying that the 'ships in the night' bullshit would stop tormenting him, he walked right past that bar.
Helplessly, he poked his head in, saw twenty of her that weren't her, and walked in anyway. And when the tender asked, he said 'sea breeze' before he even thought twice.
And with the first sip, she was there.
He was wrapped in Scarlett once again, with all the things he'd felt and more: The truth about his trying shams, the cleansing of his cloying fraud, perfection in her steady gaze, and happiness upon her laugh. The warmth of her in a kind embrace, and many versions of her face. He heard the sounds of Steely Dan, and wished their words were his for her. The 'smooth retsina' that she served, on one great night, so long ago.
Written for MKO. Peace, tough girl.
Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...
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5.5.05 @ 12:00a
This one reminds me of women I should of married. I just don't know why. I always get a kick out of what you're trying to say Dan. I just wish I was on your planet for a while.
5.5.05 @ 12:03a
If I'm ever in your town...
We are gonna have a drink!!
I love your stuff.
5.5.05 @ 9:52a
The drinks are on me, bud, and thanks.