By Neil Crabtree
I met a woman I’d been in love with long ago, coming out of the library. Not recognizing her at first, I was about to give out a reluctant ‘excuse me,’ the type that means ‘you’re in my way,’ when she smiled her big toothy smile and put her hand on my chest.
“Move it, mister,” she said, reading my mind.
“Susan. My God.”
She leaned forward and hugged me, acting on emotion while I skipped a cycle thinking first. Her hair had a scent I’ve woken up to several times, though I’ve slept alone for years. I caught myself with my arms around her, a natural thing turned strange as I realized we were blocking the entrance and that she had left me to marry someone else.
She spun us around like a dancer leading a novice partner. I found myself peering out the door into the afternoon sunshine, and the silhouette of the man trying to enter.
“Susan. You look terrific.” And she did, in many ways. We were both older, after all. I certainly showed it more. I could see myself through her eyes for an instant, a quick camera shot, and was embarrassed by what I saw.
“Jeffrey Baines. I was talking about you the other day. Now here you are.”
“Were you looking for me?”
“I hired Pinkertons, if you must know.”
“It worked. Here I am.”
She took my hand and led me outside again. I followed, delighted. Under a scraggly looking shade tree we sat on a bench of spray painted graffiti. I did not let go of her hand, though I wanted to. Susan could override the rational suggestions my brain threw out protectively. I had done things with her I never did again.
“How’s the family?” I had to ask. The perfectly ordinary question should have killed any conversation right there, a blunt instrument to the head, knocking the white noise of emotion out of us. But she knew all my tricks.
“They’re all gone, thank you. Eaten by bears. And how about you? Are you still wasting money on that stripper?”
“I shot her,” I said. “Shotgun to the face. Fed her body to the alligators out on old 41.” There was no stripper. She was a bartender, with enormous talents.
“Good for you. I hated her. Intensely. That awful boob job. Lord.”
“I have a grandchild now,” I said.
“That’s wonderful. Really. Do you mind if I smoke?”
My affair with Susan had cost me my wife and kids way back when. Then I moved out into my own apartment, and Susan disappeared for a month. When she came back, she told me it was over. Like, sorry for all the trouble. She married a restaurateur three months later. My wife remarried the following year.
“Do you ever think of me, Jeff?”
“It’s better that way. I’m single now myself.”
“Don’t you watch the news?” She looked at me, not joking.
“Nightclub Owner Killed in Gangland Slaying,” she intoned.
“That was you?”
“My better half. They shot him 18 times.”
“Jesus. I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not.” She blew a cloud off smoke out away from us that drifted right back. “Sorry.”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
“I meant no, you’re not sorry.”
“That’s true.” She lied. I’d seen photos of the dead man’s family. She did things like that, associated herself with news events, visits with haunted places, disasters.
We sat and watched a lynch mob of multi-colored children, led to riot by an enormous redhead talking into a cell phone lost in her fleshly hand and face and curly dyed hair. The children looked us over, ready to report any dangerous or sudden movements. I froze, hardly breathing.
“That could have been me,” Susan said.
“Don’t be cruel.”
“I am cruel.”
“That’s right. You are.”
“Oooh. Walked into that.”
She had withdrawn her hand while fumbling with the cigarette lighting ritual and I found myself now watching her smoke and look around. I knew what she was thinking. We were stunned by the reality of ourselves, 20 years later.
“How do I get in touch with you?” I asked. She turned and looked at me oddly.
“Why would you want to?” She asked. The way she said it was like, what a strange idea.
“I’m looking for someone to change my life,” I said.
“You’re looking for a miracle in your life?” She frowned.
“Right.” Mental note: no more Moody Blues songs.
“I’m not dating right now.” She said it and smiled crookedly.
“I don’t want a date. Why would I want a date? Is there still such a thing?”
The air filled with music, a New Age tone so subtle at first I thought she had a radio in her pocket. The phone was also a PDA, with buttons and functions that enabled God knows what. She looked at the number and let it keep ringing, playing music. When I tried to see the name, she moved it away.
“Hey. Nosey. You know what happens to nosey boys, don’t you?” She flicked my nostril with a sharp fingernail, Roman Polanski style.
The music stopped. A couple key commands then she put the device away.
“No dates. No sex. I’m sick of hairy men sweating on me. I’m sick of penises.”
“Me too. Whiskers. Testicles. Gross.”
We laughed. Despite our best efforts, it was pleasant sitting together, far from where we’d been but far from strangers as well.
“It’s not like our whole relationship was based on sex,” I said.
“No. There was cocaine too. Cocaine and sex.”
The memory of those days, sound tracked by the crappy 80’s video music. Dear God. She remembered my dependency, while I’d been programmed not to. An addiction is measured by the amount of damage you do. Losing your home and family, ending up in a court-ordered rehab, that’s a powerful addiction. Everyone pretends you do not want to fuck up. I knew the truth though. I think Susan knew it too.
“I just want someone to email,” I said at last. “Someone somewhere far away, who will let me pour out my heart, then write ten minutes later and deny it all.”
“True love, in other words.”
“Exactly. But without the hair and the sweat.”
“And the penises.”
“Well, that’s kinda taken care of itself.”
She laughed. “You’re a case. What do you want, me to help you overcome ED?”
“No, not like that. What I have is much worse than ED. I have JBS.”
“Jake Barnes Syndrome.”
“You want to watch bullfights.”
“Well, yes. But mostly I want the unrequited love.”
“Like your unit was blown off.”
“Blown to bits.”
“Is that unrequited, or unfulfilled love?”
“I’ll take what I can get.”
“You are a nut.”
“Easy for you to say.”
What happened next amazed me. She leaned into me and pressed her lips to
“Oh you are a naughty girl, Miss Susan. I be tanning your bottom ‘bout this
Susan brushed her hair back behind her ear. “I don’t know what came over
“I nearly came all over you.”
“There are no words.” She rearranged herself, like Haughty hung in a closet
Susan stood up. There were cars going back and forth in the parking lot, not everyone ignoring us. I could feel a pressure I could not see, the weight of being observed, even photographed. Where the feeling came from I had no idea.
“Look, I don’t know about any of this,” she said.
I stood up as well. She felt the pressure too. She fidgeted around.
“Do you have to pee?” I asked.
I took one of my cards from my shirt pocket. “Here’s my cell and email. Call me if you can.”
“Is this a brush-off?”
“I don’t have that much sense.”
She gave me the card back. Smiling. “I can find you when I need to. I’m not a client.”
“Your call, Susan.”
“Don’t look so down. I’m happy to see you again.”
“Go pee. You’re making me nervous.”
Away she went with that funny feet-shuffling walk that held her legs close together. As she went in the door, she turned, knowing I’d be watching, and blew me a kiss, all lips and closed eyes, a caricature drawing, not caring who saw what she did.
That night, I began checking emails for messages from Susan. Looking at my phone to see if I’d not heard the ring. I Googled my name to see how many ways there were to find me. I tried to find her, in the phonebook and through search engines and archived news articles. I told myself I was crazy. There was no way we would ever get together. After what she’d put me through, I should be running in the opposite direction.
Later that night, unable to sleep, I drank half a bottle of Scotch my brother had left behind after a party, though I’d promised I’d never drink again. Wobbly legs carried me up the stairs to my large empty bed.
In the dark, as the bed began to spin, visions soaked me like drops of rain. I laughed, more loaded than I’d been in a long, long time. The room became a funhouse of freaks and mirrors. Strange smells tickled my nose. Lady Brett whispered. Right by my ear someone sucked smoke through a freebase pipe, a slow steady intake I remembered so well. Even with my leg over the side, the bed’s circular motion seemed relentless. I closed my eyes and spun backwards in its Time Warp, spun away from old steady Jeff to young dangerous Jeff, before the counseling and the behavior-mod; felt myself again, a loose and happy idiot, open to anything, able to laugh as he pissed the sheets.
Neil Crabtree reports daily on weird news, celebrity brainwashing, and books and writers, at Believable Lies. His stories have appeared in VerbSap, Denver Syntax, Bewildering Stories and soon will appear in Gulf Stream. He attends author John Dufresne’s open workshop, Friday Night Writers, and interviewed Dufresne for VerbSap. He is at work on a collection of stories, some poems, and a novel.
Photo "Dying Rose" courtesy of Ruth C., Manchester, U.K..
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