“What is that?” Jake asked, breathlessly sitting down across from Martin. As usual Martin had Jake’s beer waiting, a Stella Artois.
“Oh, do you mean this?” Martin said pointing at the rash on his neck, and the ones going down both of his arms. “This would be a rash brought on by using that spray and starch shit that you left out for me.”
“I didn’t tell you to douse yourself in it, man,” Jake said fidgeting, staring out the beer-sign slathered window, before taking a pull on his beer. He gave no money to Martin for the drink, par for the course as well. “How much did you use?”
“Not much,” Martin said, wincing. Then he scratched both arms. “I sprayed it on my shirt and on the suit pants.”
“Good God, man. You should see a doctor.”
“Don’t start. You know how I feel about....”
“Listen,” Jake interrupted. “Something happened to me today.”
“What now?” Martin asked, having some of his own beer. He tried not to scratch his neck, but the tickle underneath the skin was too much.
Jake poured down half of his pint. “You know that girl that I was telling you about? The one who comes into the center for my poetry class?”
“You mean the sixteen-year-old?”
“The very same.”
“Do I want to know about this?” Martin asked.
“No. But you need to. It affects us both.” Jake was silent a moment. He finished off his beer, as a flock of blonde administrative assistants came cackling into the bar. Jake had slept with the tall one. Martin had failed with two of the others. “I sort of slept with her.”
“How does one sort of sleep with a teenager?” Martin asked, incredulously.
“Easily,” Jake said. “You meet for coffee after the poetry class. She gushes over some of your favorite poets, she gushes over you, and then nature sort of takes its course.”
“I see. And where did this illicit encounter take place?” Martin scratched both arms then finished off his beer.
“You brought a sixteen year-old girl to our apartment!” Martin shouted, standing up. When he realized he was making a small spectacle of himself he quickly regained his composure, and leaned in close to Jake. “You brought a child to our apartment...and fucked her?”
“If you want to be base like that, and put it in those terms,” Jake said.
“What other terms are there for statutory rape?” Martin asked, grabbing both pint glasses off the table.
“Now you’re just being crass.”
“I doubt I’m the crass one here,” Martin said. “Think about that while I’m gone.” Then he went and grabbed two more pints from the bar.
While Martin waited for the beer, another set of pints that he would pay for, he watched Jake. Jake sat there like he hadn’t a care in the world, smiling at a few of the blonde women then fiddling with his cell phone. How had this happened? Martin thought. No one should get an apartment with someone they don’t really know, no matter how desperate the situation. But it had been desperate. Elaine had left him with a note. Two years together and she couldn’t even level with him in person. Had he been that bad? Martin wondered. Had he been that horrid to her? A rough time finding a job, a few bouts with the bottle, and Elaine was down for the count. Rumor had it that she was living over in Hoboken with a dentist. A dentist. And here was Martin left with the Jake the kid fucker.
“Your beers,” the bartender said, breaking Martin out of his thoughts.
“Thanks,” he said, throwing a ten on the bar.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Jake said, when Martin sat back down. He took his draft and had a good pull on it.
“Of course you are,” Martin said, scratching his neck, watching his roommate suck down the free suds. “If memory serves me correctly, you mentioned that this little tryst with the child affects both of us.”
“You really should buy some cream for that rash,” Jake said, coming up for air from his pint. “It looks really red.”
“Never mind that. The girl.”
“Oh.” Jake was silent a moment. He looked outside the bar at the quickly darkening street. “There might be some complications that we’re both going to have to deal with.”
“Like there’s someone waiting outside our apartment right now.”
“Right now?” Martin asked. Frustration welled inside of him, similar to when Jake left clothes all over the place, similar to when Jake had random women over, similar to...no, no this was much worse. Way fucking worse. “Could that person be, I don’t know, the child’s father?”
“No, thank God,” Jake said. “It’s her boyfriend.”
“So there’s a sixteen year-old boy outside of our apartment waiting to exact his revenge upon you because you deflowered his girlfriend?”
“I wouldn’t say I deflowered anything,” Jake said, smiling. “And he’s seventeen. A pretty good poet too.”
“Is he in the workshop?” Martin asked, disbelieving this entire conversation. He had some beer, wondered what Elaine and her dentist were doing in that moment. Surely they weren’t discussing statutory rape.
“No, but she lets me read some of his work.”
“It’s sappy and overly sentimental, but with the right teacher he could have a future.”
“Not his fucking poetry,” Martin spat. “I mean what are you going to do about this?”
“I was hoping he’d just go away,” Jake said. “You know teenagers. With all the technology they can’t keep their minds on anything sustainable.”
Martin nodded, looking down at Jake’s cell phone, portable video game player, and his portable music player, resting like a digital bundle on the table. “But what if he doesn’t go?”
“That’s where you come in,” Jake said.
He took a long pull on his draft, finishing it. Martin was determined not to buy him a third. “I want you to talk to the kid.”
“You’re better with words than I am,” Jake said.
“You’re a published poet for Christ’s sake!” Martin said. “You have a blog. You teach a fucking class! How in the hell am I better with words than you are?”
“What are soothing words?”
“Look,” Jake started. But then he stopped. He scratched his head and looked Martin right in the eyes. “I know what happened between you and your girlfriend. I heard you talking on the phone to her that one time, and I just thought that maybe you could relate some information to the kid, you know, like smooth things over.”
“Because my girlfriend left me?” Martin asked, before finishing off his draft in one long pull. “Because I’ve been fucked over?”
“Well, not in those words. I-I just thought you could relate to him better.”
“Of course you thought that,” Martin said, standing. He sighed then scratched the swelling red blotch on his neck.
“So you’ll do it?”
“If he’s standing outside of the building, I mean, what choice do I have? I’d like to get a peaceful night sleep, you know.”
“Don’t thank me for shit,” Martin said. He made to leave.
“Hey, Marty?” Jake called to him.
“Can you spot me a ten? I’m going to hang out here a bit,” Jake nodded over toward the pack of blonde administrative assistants, “and see what’s happening.”
Martin laughed bitterly, but opened his wallet and gave Jake a ten. “You and I need to talk once this is all said and done.”
“Sure thing.” Jake held up the bill. “Thanks.”
Outside the bar there was a decent wind, and Martin huddled into himself. He was underdressed, a symptom of the rash. He couldn’t handle clothing touching his red and welted skin. A light rain began to fall. It figured. Light rain always fell during dooming moments such as this one. Light rain fell the day Martin came home to a half-empty apartment, and a quickly scrawled “Dear John” letter from Elaine. Light rain was the blight on Martin’s world.
Around the corner he saw a tall, lanky figure hanging in front of the building. The light from the lamppost made him look imposing, and Martin wondered if it wasn’t, in fact, the girl’s father. He braced himself, walked a little bit gingerly in the rain. As he got closer Martin loosened up. It wasn’t the girl’s father. It was the boyfriend, an awkward kid with a matt of wet hair, and cheeks that looked rosy and newborn. He almost looked pathetic. Martin put on his kind smile and approached.
“Hey kid,” He began. But the boy charged him.
“No, you listen!” he shouted. “I don’t know what kind of a teacher you are, or what. But how? How could you, dude? She was my girlfriend!”
Martin backed away a little bit, and the boy didn’t pursue. “But I’m not...”
“I should’ve known too,” The kid interrupted. “She kept talking and talking about this poetry class at the center, kept saying how cool you were, and what a great writer you were. Then she came home with one of your books, right? It was even signed. She kept telling me I had to read it, like you were the greatest poet or something. And you know what, dude?” The kid stopped for a moment, and tussled his wet, sticking hair. “You suck as a poet! My little brother writes better poems than you.”
Martin couldn’t help but smile at that.
“You think that’s funny?” The kid asked. “I guess you got it all figured out, huh? Living in this big place, banging a bunch of chicks because they think you’re all smart. Having some rash all over your neck.” The kid got a crooked smile on his face. “Or maybe you aren’t so slick. Yeah, maybe you’re some kind of loser who has to go around and pick up high school chicks. You know that’s illegal right, dude? You know I could go and tell her dad, and then it would be the end of you. He’s like a cop or something.”
“Is he really a cop?” Martin asked, scratching himself.
The kid glared at him. “No. But he knows some cops. Dude, you could go to jail.”
“Kid,” Martin began, but then he stopped. He looked at the kid. His hair was soaked, a dirty brown, sopping mess. And his jean jacket was damp at the shoulders. He looked like a drowned rat, to use a clichéd phrase. “You probably don’t want to hear this, especially from me, but I know how you feel.” The kid crinkled up his face at what Martin said. Martin didn’t want to continue either. But he felt he had to. “It’s true. Did you know that I was married once? Did she tell you that?"
“Well, I was. I had...Christ, she was beautiful, man. Raven hair. The softest face. Her eyes were almost purple; they were so dark and rich. And we used to just spend hours together, doing nothing but being together. I mean we’d read or watch a movie or go for walks or something, but it was just good to be together, you know?” Martin was silent for a moment. He could feel the rain begin to weaken. “We were like that for a long time.”
“Yeah,” The kid said. He crossed his arms but seemed to calm a little bit. “And then what happened?”
“She left me.”
Martin paused. “She left me. I came home one day and the apartment, this big apartment, was half empty.”
“She took all your stuff?”
“No. She took her stuff. Maybe she took some of my stuff too...er...but that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that she was gone. She left nothing but a note, kid, and not anything worth keeping. All it said was that she’d probably never loved me.” Martin took out a cigarette, the one luxury he allowed himself toward the end of the day. But he needed it now. “Do you mind?”
The kid took out his own pack of smokes, and lit one. He held the match out to Martin. “Do you mind?”
“Touché,” Martin said, cautiously lighting his smoke.
“So you got fucked over, and you go around fucking other people over. Is that what I’m supposed to get from this story?”
“No,” Martin began. “That’s not it at all. What you’re supposed to get is...is...that this shit happens to everyone, right? We all get fucked over in this game of love. Some of us get it when we’re young, like you, and thankfully you can get over it pretty quickly. And some of us.... well...some of us get it later on in life, and it takes some time, a long time to get over it.”
“So you’re not over her?” The kid asked. “I mean your wife.”
“Not even close, pal.” Martin took a drag on his smoke, and blew it out into the cold, rainy night. Then he looked at the kid. “But I hope to be one day.”
“I guess you deserve a second chance.”
“I know this doesn’t mean anything to you,” Martin said. “But I’m sorry. And I am a loser. I’m a huge loser who has no business being with teenaged girls. But I didn’t know she had a boyfriend until things got too complicated. And when I found out I stopped it. I guess that’s why she told you.”
“She didn’t tell me,” The kid said. “I found some poem that she wrote about you. Then I looked you up on the Internet, and found your address.”
“You don’t know the Internet?”
“Of course I do. I just didn’t think my address was up on it.”
“Everything’s up on the Internet,” the kid said.
“So she didn’t tell you anything?” Martin asked. “You just assumed something happened between us.”
“I read her poem.”
Martin laughed out loud in spite of himself.
“What’s so funny?” The kid asked.
“Humanity,” Martin answered. “My advice to you, kid, is to get yourself another girlfriend. You’re young. And there’s got to be some little poetess out there who only wants to write poems about you.”
The kid took a drag on his smoke and considered the advice. “I guess.”
Martin tossed his smoke and made toward his front door. “I’m going to go inside now, get out of this rain. You should go home too.”
“Okay,” The kid said, tossing his smoke.
“And kid,” Martin began. “Keep writing. It’ll all work out in the end.”
“Yeah. You too. And get some cream for that rash, dude.”
Martin watched the kid cross the street and run over to a small car that was parked next to a fire hydrant. Then he scratched his arms until they burned. Martin saw the amber of another match being struck and then the kid fired up his car. Horrible bass music permeated the street, and then the headlights made a flood that poured onto the next block. The kid revved his engine a couple of times, and pulled out slowly. Then he was gone. And Martin went inside to fix himself some dinner and a stiff drink, before Jake stumbled in from the bar.