Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Last Supper

Doug didn’t choose the restaurant. Laurel did. She said it was elegant and that it would be a good place to celebrate Jerome getting his novel published. She was right. The restaurant was elegant. All of the local politicians and sports celebrities dined there. They didn’t have a liquor license so you could bring your own wine. But they charged everyone at your table at two-dollar corking fee. The restaurant didn’t serve dessert either. You could bring your own desserts to the restaurant as well. But they charged everyone a two-dollar dessert fee. Laurel chose to bring an almond tort from a bakery in Shadyside. Doug chose the wine. He chose three bottles of Sierra de Siles, a Spanish red made from Tempranillo, the nation’s noble grape. Doug knew that Jerome liked a decent red.
“This place is fantastic,” Jerome said, looking around. Then he got behind Aimee and pulled out her chair so she could sit down. Jerome and Aimee had been married for ten years.
“Now why don’t you do things like that for me, Doug?” Laurel asked. Doug’s face turned red. But then she laughed and waved him off when he rose to do the same. “The moment has passed, dear.”
“Really, though,” Jerome began again, “this really is a great place.” He looked around. At a table in the far corner was a group of men sitting together. They looked rugged with long hair and scraggly beards. “I think that’s some of the guys from the Penguins.”
Doug looked at the table. “I think so. Isn’t that Crosby?”
“And that’s Sykora!”
Aimee looked toward the table full of hockey players. “I like them better without the playoff beards.”
Laurel laughed. “Give me a baseball player any day over a hockey player.”
“But it’s good for the city,” Doug said. “The playoffs.”
“It’s good money for the city,” Jerome said.
“Speaking of money.” Doug paused. He grabbed the thin, silver bottle opener that the hostess had given him. He grabbed the first bottle of the Sierra de Siles and opened it. It was tough. The bottle opener had no give. Doug struggled. He bent low and turned away from his table, just in case he blew the whole bottle all over the restaurant. He wondered what the manager would tack on for that. But the opener gave and the bottle popped without spilling a drop. Doug poured everyone a hearty round. It finished off the bottle. “Here’s to Jerome! May In Heaven Among The Saints bring you and Aimee all the wealth and fame a man can handle.”
They clinked glasses and drank.
Aimee laughed. “Don’t worry, Dougie. Jerome can imagine a lot of money.”
“And a lot of fame,” Jerome added. Then his cell phone rang. Aimee moaned. “Now dear.”
Jerome answered his phone.
Aimee looked toward Doug and Laurel. “I swear not a day goes by without this thing ringing at the most inopportune moment.”
“The price of fame,” Doug said. He laughed and took a good pull on his wine.
The Jerome stood. He looked at Aimee. “I have to take this.”
“Yes. It’s my publicist. She’s setting up a book tour.”
“I’m sure that’s not all she’s setting up.”
Doug laughed again. No one else did.
“Don’t be that way, Aim,” Jerome said. “I’ll be a few minutes.” He waved his arm around the table. “Drink. Order a few appetizers. I’ll be back before I’m missed.” Then Jerome put his phone to his ear and headed out of the restaurant’s double glass doors.
“The price of fame,” Doug said again.
“Oh shut up, Doug,” Aimee said.
Laurel laughed. “You don’t know how many times I have to say that in a day.”
“You mean when we do talk, right, hon?” Doug said.
“Yes. I mean in those rare moments of actual conversation.”
“Talking is over-rated.”
“Do you think talking is over-rated?” Laurel asked Aimee.
“No. I think publicists and novels are.”
“Me too. Tell your husband to stop writing and tell my husband to quit talking about writing.”
“I swear I have a good idea somewhere in me,” Doug said.
Laurel took a pull on her drink and rose. “When you find it let me know. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the ladies room. Care to join me, Aim?”
Aimee looked up at Laurel and smiled. “I’m a camel.”
“Well good luck with this one while I’m gone.”
Aimee turned and watched Laurel weave through the small round tables full of people. She watched her long curly, auburn hair and the way the back of her dress was cut low to reveal a decent amount of her tan and muscled back. When Laurel was gone Aimee turned back to face Doug.
“Wedded bliss,” Doug said. Then he finished his wine and uncorked the next bottle of wine. It came easy. He filled Aimee’s glass.
“Doug, how long have we known each other?”
He thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe ten years?”
“Every since you started in the English department with Jerome, and he and I were newlyweds.”
“I would say so.”
“Would you say you and Jerome are still close?” Aimee looked at Doug with a crooked smile.
Doug was silent a moment. He looked at Aimee’s short blonde hair and smiled. He had been in love with her for ten years now. Ever since the first night Jerome brought him home to their apartment in Squirrel Hill, and Aimee asked him about his poetry. He’d been in love with her through dinner parties and readings, through girlfriends, through courting Laurel, through his engagement, and through the two years of his marriage. Doug could ponder Aimee forever.
“I would say Jerome and I are still close,” Doug said, smiling. “When our better halves allow it.”
“Like calling on the phone all the time close?” Aimee asked.
“I don’t think I’ve called Jerome in months.”
Aimee nodded.
“What gives?” Doug asked.
Her smile vanished. “I think Jerome and Laurel are having an affair.”
Doug was startled. Of all the things he didn’t expect to hear. “And your proof is?”
“About a dozen or more phone calls a month to your apartment,” Aimee began. “Not to mention Laurel’s cell phone showing up on Jerome’s bill. Not to mention this.” Aimee reached down and grabbed her bag. She pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Doug. It was a receipt for a room at the Red Roof Inn in Monroeville.
“And you think Laurel and Jerome went here?”
“Either he did with Laurel, or with someone else. Jerome hasn’t been exactly faithful.”
“But...” Doug began.
Aimee leaned closer. Doug could smell her perfume. Lavender. “Look at the time on the receipt, Doug.”
He did. It read Tuesday, May 6th, at 6:45 in the evening, just about the time Doug was teaching his Modernist Tradition class at the University. “This could be a coincidence.”
“Ever notice any other coincidences on Tuesdays?” Aimee asked.
“Maybe the occasional new and fresh set of sheets on the bed.”
“What about phone bills or bank statements?”
“Laurel takes care of all of that.”
“And what do you do?”
Dough thought a moment. The first time he ever went to Jerome and Aimee’s apartment the three of them got drunk on Spanish wine. Tempranillo. He remembered when Jerome got up to use the bathroom, the way Aimee leaned in close to him to tell him about the new Garcia book she was reading. He could smell the wine on her breath, and he wanted to kiss her and hold her forever. Doug hated Garcia’s novels. But with Aimee around he could learn to appreciate them too.
“Doug?” Aimee said, waking him.
“What do I do? I guess I make the dinners. I guess I take out the trash.” Doug could feel the heat rising in him. He looked up from the table at Laurel making her way back. “I guess I make for a pretty shitty writer, and a decent cuckold.”
Aimee took a good pull on her wine. “We should form a club.”
“That’s not all we should do,” he said.
“Jesus,” Laurel said. She sat down. We already opened another bottle of wine?”
“The night is young, dear,” Doug said.
Laurel turned to Aimee. “Any sign of Jerome?”
Aimee cocked her head forward. “Here he comes.”
Jerome walked toward the table with a slight swagger. His face was flushed and the odd tangles of his short, professionally messed-up hair looked even more unruly. He winked at Aimee and then he sat.
“The cell phone has been officially shut off,” he said. “No more shop talk. Especially not tonight amongst old and dear friends.
“Here, here,” Laurel added.
Jerome took a good pull on his wine. “Give me another glass will you, Doug?”
Doug poured a heaping one for his friend and then finished off the bottle in his own glass. Then he leaned down and grabbed the third bottle. This one was tough too. Doug struggled with the thing. The cork inched out. It went on forever. Finally he got it.
“So what are we going to do, Doug?” Aimee whispered.
On cue Doug rose. “I want to give another toast to Jerome, for his new book.”
Laurel looked up at her husband. “Don’t be an ass. We already toasted.”
But Doug didn’t listen. “Here’s to Jerome!” he said, loudly. People at other tables stopped to look. “May In Heaven Among The Saints bring you and Aimee all the wealth and fame one man can handle!”
Then Aimee and Laurel clinked glasses and applauded Jerome. Doug finished his wine and clapped too. So did the rest of the patrons in the restaurant, including the table full of hockey players. Then Doug sat down, and the waiter brought over a pitcher of ice water and four menus bound in navy blue leather.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Drinker

He was moaning and feeling like shit when she came in his bedroom.
“I can’t believe you’re still in bed.”
“What time is it?” he asked.
“A.M. or P.M.?”
He looked up. “Then good Christ let me sleep.”
She walked over to his window. “Were you up all night?”
“Doing what?”
“Scotch mostly.”
Then she stood in front of the curtain. The curtain was brown and heavy to keep out all of the light. He had previously had a sheet tacked up on the wall, but she made him take it down.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Getting some light in here.”
She opened the window. Light flooded the room and you could see dust particles swirling about.
“Goddamned!” he shouted, sitting upright. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“Sunlight won’t kill you,” she said. “Have you had anything in your stomach today.”
“I thought that was last night?”
“It was this morning as well.”
“You got out of bed to pour another scotch?”
He looked at her like she was alien. “No, it was left over on the nightstand.” He held up the empty glass for her to see.
“Well, can I get you anything now?”
“Yes. Another scotch and a pair of sunglasses to block out that damned sunlight.”
She looked down at him. “I’m not fixing you a drink until you have something to eat.”
“What’s the use?” he said. “I won’t remember the meal.”
“But you need something.”
He thought a moment. “Fine. I’ll have toast with a side of scotch.”
“How about toast and orange juice.”
“Yes. I haven’t had a vodka and orange juice in months.”
“Just plain orange juice.”
She went to make the toast and get the orange juice. When she came back with his meal the blinds were closed again.
“So we’re done with sunlight for the time being?” she asked.
“Yes. If I could I would put up aluminum foil on the windows.”
“Elvis did that.”
She handed him his food then sat down on the bed next to him. She watched as he ate his toast and drank his orange juice.
“Was that good?” she asked.
“You want that drink?”
She went back into the kitchen and got the scotch bottle and an extra glass. When she came back into the bedroom he was propped up and waiting, with his glass in hand.
She poured them both a decent sized one, and then got back on the bed.
He drank.
“I really missed you last night,” she said. “Did you miss me?”
“But you know why I left, right?”
“Of course,” he said. “I’m not a child. I just act like one from time to time.”
“No. You get drunk and violent.”
“How are you?” he asked. She showed him her wrist. It was already turning black and blue. He winced when he saw it. “Christ.”
“It’ll be okay,” she said.
“It was an accident.”
“I know. But if I hadn’t tried to stop you, you would’ve broken every window in the place. I’m actually surprised you didn’t.”
“A few beer mugs bit the dust.”
“I saw that.”
Then they had more of their scotch. When he was done, she poured him another.
“What am I going to do with you?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Maybe I shouldn’t come over when you’re having nights like that.”
“But I never know when I will, until I do.”
“What’s really going on?”
He finished his drink and sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve been feeling washed up lately. I have no good ideas. I can’t seem to paint anymore. And the collage idea has gone to hell.”
She looked over to a corner of his room where newspapers and pornography magazines were stacked in three piles. A small amount was on the floor. Some were cut up. Leaning against the wall was a four-foot-long block of wood. It was painted white. There were images of naked women and stock quotes glued to it.
“What was the idea anyway?” she asked.
“The fallacy of commodity.”
“Seems interesting.”
“You’d think.” He finished his drink and she poured him another. “But I couldn’t do it. Like I said, I’m washed up. I’m thirty-eight and I’m done. I never even had a moment to shine. Now I just sit here and paint for shit and make other art for shit. Or I stay in bed and wait until it’s scotch and saturated fat time.”
She looked down at his belly. Their eyes met. Then he grabbed his fat and shook it.
“Do you want to go outside?” she asked.
He looked toward the window. “No. There’s nothing and no one out there.”
“There could be inspiration out there.”
“Humanity is a meat grinder.”
“Some people make great art out of feelings like that.”
He thought about that for a moment then he finished his new scotch. He held out the glass but she wouldn’t pour him another.
“Come on,” he said.
“Will you go outside with me?” she asked.
“Maybe. Tell you what. I’ll let you open that window again. Then we’ll have one more. I’ll shower and maybe we’ll go for a walk.”
Then she got up off of the bed and went to the window. She hesitated a moment but then she opened the blinds. Blue and yellow light poured into the room. He squinted when he saw it. But then she came back over to the bed and poured him another drink. He looked over at his artwork, and wondered about how good a hot shower would feel.