fiction

Scars and other metaphors

At the open of ‘On the Road,’ Kerouac references recovering from an illness but without explanation or detail. From memory,  I think he in fact states he doesn’t want to discuss it. Perhaps not. But when I read the book, I thought it was a very significant flaw at the beginning of a book. I felt it was a loss of artistic control. It nearly put me off reading it altogether. At the time I had been reading a lot of Germans: Hesse, Mann, Musel, undoubtedly the theme of some literature class.  I liked the contrast in these writers between their disciplined description when writing of themes of impulse, mental certainty and the doubt of madness and felt Kerouac threw away a key detail and missed an opportunity to build a better and deeper case to engage alternatives.

 

She sat across from Jose at the airport lounge. She displayed little effort in dressing for the flight: stretch pants, a grey sweat shirt, her hair pulled back, rubber sandals. He couldn’t remember if she showered at all. He normally found this sort of behavior slovenly and rude. Planes now were full of people aggressively under-groomed, disrespectful of fellow passengers. Yet the thought of her skin burnished with their sweat, oil, the fragrance of sex, was faintly arousing.

She sat on one muscular leg while she rested her forearm on languidly the other, her foot on the seat. She filled the chair.

“You know I prefer women who are neat and demure.”

She laughed throatily “Gee that’s too bad.”

“And thin. And brunette.”

“And yet here I am. Wagnerian, I believe you said. Zaftig says my Mother.“ She wasn’t zaftig, She was tall but curvy. And he had called her a Walkyrie which was less insulting but it didn’t seem to matter to her

He had a headache. She got up and went to the bar and came back with a pair of drinks. She smiled “Hey, it’s 11 o’clock somewhere.” It was 11 o’clock.  He had phone calls to make but he took a big drink, finding it to be gin and tonic.

There had been another woman, Laura, with them the night before, an acquaintance of hers, not a friend, who joined them. He felt his age, not in health or strength but his lack of comprehension for norms of her set or age. Sex was casual but it was also mutable, nebulous. The experience with Ingrid and Laura had been initially intriguing but at turns disorienting, uncomfortable and about clumsy as it was satisfying. But it was just more surprises with her.

“Is this multiple partner thing a regular thing for you?” It sounded a little more accusatory than he intended, but he was tired

She laughed, “You said you were interested in doing it.” She was right, he had. He hadn’t expected it to happen and he was surprised how easily she had pulled it off.

“So does your partner know you do the occasional threesome?”

“No, I have to lie to her about it. It’s the women. Girls are threatening.”

“Have you discussed the mechanics of getting pregnant with her?”

“Not really. I’m sure she assumes that we will use artificial insemination. I think you’re a great candidate. But I am not going to have the discussion with her if you aren’t interested.”

“If I said yes, you think she’d be okay with it?”

“Well she hates Mexicans.”

“Really?”

“No. So you’ll do it?”

“I don’t know. Still thinking.”

He looked at her and she grinned and looked down and the magazine on her lap. His ambivalence didn’t seem to have any impact. Many things had changed but her aloofness remained.

The first time they slept together, he woke in a murk in a hotel room. He was used to unfamiliar rooms as he traveled a great deal so this was not unusual. But there was a luridness this time. The shades were open allowing bright light of a not so early morning to come in. The bed clothes were in a chaotic mound in the middle of the bed. His mouth was dry, with the smoky  taste of anejo tequila. His undershorts were twisted around his knee, his dick was stuck to his thigh. But consciousness didn’t immediately  pierce his fog before he felt a stirring and realized that someone else was in the bed with him. Fortunately his torpor was so heavy as to foreclose on being startled. He tried to recall who he would have been  with the night before, that would have joined him in bed. Beginning with the certainty of events early in the evening – the speech he had made, the colleagues that joined him in a congratulatory dinner afterwards,  a tiki bar- he plumbed the murkiness of images and unreliable memories.  But the constant was Ingrid, sitting next to him at dinner, leading the crowd to Fremont street and then Frankies Tiki room, and, now a clear recollection, comparing tequilas and somehow playing blackjack.

So he was prepared but still shocked when  he propped his head up a bent arm, looked over the blankets and there Ingrid slept.  Her face was beatific, radiant but fair, small fine curls of blonde hair serene in sleep as a child, purring almost imperceptibly.

He was certain the sex was lousy. He had a junkyard  of memories: nothing that fit, things that wouldn’t  work, parts that couldn’t be identified. He felt an array of embarrassment but mused that if nothing else he may have confirmed for her the uselessness of sex with men. He didn’t climax and he was certain she didn’t get anywhere near there either.

He paused to doubt himself further. Jose was not, could not be violent with a woman but wondered if there were other aggressive behaviors; had he  imposed himself into her room, over assuming his appeal? It then crossed his mind that perhaps his presence there may have been the result of an act of kindness on her part, drunk as he was and unable to make it back to his own room. But as he retrieved more scenes from the fog and reaffirmed that she was a willing, in fact aggressive partner.

Jose stared at her. He liked Ingrid from the beginning and almost from the beginning he had known she was gay. She lived in California and while the company was relatively conservative, she was generally accepted. She was among the best producers in the department and that ensured a place for her. He suspected that, sexual identity aside, her beauty made her attractive to others and to him. She was calm, confident and prone to laughter and others orbited around her. As department head he didn’t manage her directly but he liked to work with the field staff as much as possible improving skills, quality control overseeing important events, meeting important clients. She brought in opportunities so he found himself spending more time with her than others and then last evening found himself at a bar in the Cosmopolitan too late, after sufficient drinks elsewhere, discussing the relative merits of quality tequilas, thinking to himself ‘She is beautiful,’ and repeating it more than once.  Jose was good at drinking tequila but Ingrid wasn’t bad either. And Jose was out of practice.

She opened her eyes, smiled sleepily and kissed him. He was further embarrassed by being caught staring at her. But she stretched and giggled. “That was interesting. What time is it? Holy fuck I have an appointment at 9:30.”

“I’ll go then.” He volunteered.

“Yeah, get the fuck out.  I gotta fly.” She smiled. “That’s no way to talk to my boss’s boss” and she kissed him  and ran into the bathroom.

He mumbled something and collected his things and left.

And that was it.

Jose flew out that day. He guessed it was a little adventure for her, a bit of fun and resolved it pretty easily in his mind.  Younger people looked at things differently. In fact, after he determined that it was only the two of them participating in the really drunk part of the night, his main lingering embarrassment lie in his lack of performance. He supposed if his wife asked him about his time in Vegas, he might actually tell her, so absurd it was. A couple of days later he talked with Ingrid on the phone and other than joking about their overconsumption, the conversation was as relaxed and professional as before.  Later they worked together as they had before, reinforcing Jose’s notion that the one night in Vegas had been a lark. So while he didn’t forget about it, he didn’t think about it much either. Months went by. The company was setting records, beating all plans and projections, and much of the credit accrued to Jose and the performance of his business development department.

One Sunday evening in March, months later, he had to fly to New Orleans to attend a conference. He had just moved his Mother into a home, as her Alzheimer’s had gotten to a level that they could no longer take care of her.  On the plane, he dwelled on her being in that blank, sterile place. He had chosen the best facility for her. By necessity, an environment designed for of dementia patients was focused on utility, safety and succor. The rails on the walls, the hard, clean surfaces, the innocuous pastels, the alarms, the bars on the windows, the bright lighting struck him as hospital to die in. They didn’t discuss it, she affirmed  with words that she would be happy here, but it was her way of not burdening him. There  was something resembling terror in her eyes.

He hung his clothes in the closet and thought off going to the lobby for drink but it had no appeal. He thought to call his wife or his daughter but he was bored with their sympathy. He thought to share the information with his sisters but he’d wait until later.  He wished he could call his mother because she wa the person he would call with this kind of anxiety. His phone buzzed indicating a text. He almost didn’t pick it up. It was Ingrid’s number.

‘At Napoleon House. Drinking Pimm’s Cups. Join us’

It was easy enough to ignore. He didn’t feel like company. He didn’t know how she knew he was in New Orleans but he wasn’t that curious. He laid back on his bed and meant to indulge his sadness. He thought he might cry. He tried to recall memories of life in Victoria, of Temple, and other memories when she was happiest, his successes, his  graduations.  His sense of his self was something far away.  But sadness  was like a debt; he  was forcing himself to feel falsely. He really felt nothing just loneliness.  He got up and went down to grab a cab.

So the second time he slept with Ingrid was in New Orleans. There was also drink involved.  There was a crowd at bar, a lot ofh industry people, some he knew, none well but mixing in and small talk with them came easily. He was curious about those outside the company, confirming her identity as a lesbian in a stable relationship as well; one guy joked to him that her sexual orientation was ‘a terrible loss’.

She gave a perfunctory hug and said hello the first time they got proximate in the crowd. Her eyes disoriented him; they were green in this light when he had thought they were blue.

“How did you know I was here?”

“I have spies everywhere.” Somehow she expected he would pursue this, try to figure out her cleverness.  “I thought you might come down to the conference and so I asked Jane to look on your calendar.”

“Did you give her a reason why?”

“I told her I wanted to invite her out with us.”

“I suppose that’s okay.

“So you seem a little sad.”

“Personal stuff.” She didn’t react. He didn’t have much energy but he didn’t want Ingrid to think it was marital and that he would try to work as angle “Well my Mother….”

“Oh I’m sorry.” And after a moment she said, “Oh a second line.” And grabbed his hand and pulled him into the street. The band was young but they followed, she was half dancing. He tried to think of something clever to say but had nothing. Fortunately it was loud enough that he didn’t have to. He smiled at her from time to time and she smiled back. He decided that without having to talk he could stay out.

She gave him her drink and ducked into a bar and emerged with a new one for herself. They crossed the Esplanade and ended up on Frenchmen street. There the band stopped on a corner  and were joined by more musicians. The song, for they never broke, got fuller. More people gathered. It was late but the street became very crowded. It was moist and foggy and cool. She danced around and her lost her twice but found her again. She bumped into people – he couldn’t  tell how drunk she was – and he rescued her by telling them she was off her meds, which she found delightful. They went a club and listened to a very young musician trying to play hot jazz guitar but who spent most of her time fiddling with the instrument between songs

“Django untuned.” Jose said

“What?” She knitted her brow like she was serious about the question. He was about to explain who  Django Reinhart was when she kissed him hard.

“How big is your hotel room?

“Fairly, why?”

“Mine is small. I like the echo of a big hotel room.”

“Size queen.”

They tried to get a cab but the mist had turned to rain and many sought shelter in ride somewhere. They went up Decatur for a while silently.  She was holding close to him. He wanted to say something but again he didn’t really have anything clever to offer. They walked some more, finding occasional shelter under awnings but getting wetter as they went.

“Are you cold?”

“I like it. There’s nobody here. It feels like the real town.  Have you ever seen ‘On the Waterfront?’”

“No. But that’s Brando right?”

“Yes”

“He was beautiful.”

“He was bisexual.”

“Who cares?”

They walked a little further. He tried again. “I like it over here because it is run down, but from neglect not attention to some shabby concept of what the tourists might like. Authentic.”

“I hate that word.”

“What?”

“Authentic. It something people say when they want make you feel like you don’t really know how to  enjoy something.”

“Not always. There is so much fake stuff in this world. And worse, stuff that pretends to be real that is just made up to look old, original, um, primary. For lack of a better word.”

“People aren’t stupid. If they want to know the origin of something they can find out.  But if they want to have fun or do something amuses them, why take away their joy?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think about it that way. I think you  have to challenge yourself to get the full enjoyment of things.”

“Why?” She asked the question like four year old and he sensed she was becoming bored with the argument as well

“Because I said so.”

“Have you ever done absinthe?”

“Do they have the real kind here?”

“Jesus Christ.”

She turned up a street, still quiet and dark but after a couple of blocks they emerged on Bourbon. The rain had cleaned the street of much of the human detritus but dead enders remained. The neon blurred in the wet and fog in the distance made the gaudy perspective short. After a block or two Ingrid led him into something called the Old Absinthe House. Among the kitsch hanging from the walls and ceiling were football helmets, business cards, money and Mardi Gras trappings. The crowd was waiting out the rain; people older than Jose but with dressed too casually and too young, with tattoos, old men with men  ponytails. He observed this and caught a couple of women spending some time looking at him while Ingrid cleared a space a the bar. As the blue flame burned the sugar down into the drink, he looked at her as she stared at the drink in delight. That idea again, “She is so beautiful,” repeated in his head.

“Here’s mud in your eye.”

“What does that mean?”

“No one knows.”

And the minute it was done they were back out the door and catching a providential cab at the corner.

The sex was better, it couldn’t have been much worse, and he wasn’t as drunk. But  he was too self-conscious. the way he touched her, the things he did with his mouth, he thought about how inferior his own sensitivity was for a woman who was used to women. However she liked a good grinding fuck. He simply did better, probably, as the night wore on, as he lost some passivity.

Sometime before dawn they woke up. Her hair was everywhere and bright but he got lost in its density. it with her as she kissed him.

“How did you sleep, big shot?”

“As fast as I possibly I could. I have things to do today.”

“Do you need to go now?” He wished otherwise, but she said it as if it was the most practical of questions.

“I have a little time. You?”

“Not until 10 o’clock.” She yawned, “I want to be more successful. Tell me something that makes you successful before you go.”

“I am smart as hell.”

“So what? So am I.”

“Yes you are. Let’s see. Never learn to play an instrument by playing a tune you love. You will come to hate both the instrument and the song.”

“Can you play any instruments?”

“No. Draw your own conclusions.”

“Something else. Give me something I can use.”

“Okay. When you are really pissed off, write an email but don’t send it for 24 hours.

“Because you will regret it?”

“Partially. But it is related to something else. The best way to deal with anger is to think rationally about what you really want. Unless you have an unusual appetite for revenge or violence, the answer you will come up with something more productive than vindictive. Plus editing. At minimum you end up with a better angry letter.”

She considered it. “Okay. Another.”

“Make sure you know the difference between your obligations and your distractions.  Treat them very differently.”

“That seems pretty obvious.”

“It may be obvious but it is confounding to me how much people mix them up. People become obsessed with things that should merely be distractions, material things, status, titles, appearances to the detriment of things that are meaningful.”

“I’ll have to think about that

He almost asked her ‘why me? or  but decided he had figured it out. It was transactional. Not just sex, he did like being with her and she seemed to too. But  amusing, interesting, manageable fun.

“So if you would like to do this again, you’ll have to  let me know.”

She laughed, “That’s a lovely proposal, so heartfelt.”

“I have  a weird pang of propriety here. In my position I have to feel like this is your idea. So far it has been.”

“Meh. If you want to tell yourself that. Is it about your wife?”

“Frankly I haven’t even thought about that part yet. This…” He waved his hand around. “more than once is something new to me.” He expected her to ask something else but she just adjusted herself against his side. “So how does your partner feel about being with other people?”

“I lie to her about women.” Which was something he didn’t quite expect. “ She’s known from the beginning that I like to get a dick thrown in me from time to time.  Girls are different though. More threatening. She’s great but she’s got insecurities.”

He kissed her shoulder, then her neck, moving to the point in the center in the back of her neck and using his tongue up to the beginning of her hair.

“You are going to be late.”

“Mind your own business.”

When he left an hour later, he realized he hadn’t had a thought about his mother since the night before. He felt guilty but then realized the impotence of that.

He was the oldest child and she was, as long as he could remember, a single mother. His focus and dependence on her as a child, as they moved from Mexico to Texas, was complete  and, as he grew and developed resources and agency, they operated with single purpose. And while of course she and he loved his sisters, the two of them were a team. He was extraordinarily responsible at an early age. She sacrificed all she could for him and without a sense of obligation but conjoined purpose, he took her investment in him and accomplished the things that she out for him to achieve without losing sight of his family obligations. He talked to her everyday. His daughter Laura was her first  grandchildren who she spoiled, but with a kind of weariness and requirement made Jose think that more often than not, she was going through the motions. It was possible life had worn her down but the focus and intensity she put on her son may not have left anything for anyone else. His sister’s kids received similar desultory attention.

So his daily visits revealed a deterioration that  was relentless. He lost her not in increments but chunks. It was not the downward sloping saw tooth he envisioned of bad days and good days and gradual decline. She got worse rapidly and he comforted himself that given the inevitability, her that came after diagnosis was at least shortened. But for him, it was an extraction of something visceral. He continued to visit but allowed the pointlessness, with shorter, less frequent visits.

It made his travel schedule easier. Several weeks after that, Ingrid and he worked together in her home market, having a productive day with several meetings the last of which ended around 4. She was driving and took him back to the Hilton across from the airport.

“Drink?”

“Sure”

They got drinks at the bar and went outside to the couches on the patio near the pool “Did you find the Uncle Tupelo stuff?”

“Yes”

“And?…”

“It’s great. Country music isn’t my thing but I really like it. Did you start ‘Jacques the Fatalist?’”

“I did. So I got about 50 pages in and I had to go to Wikipedia. I had a vague memory of Diderot as an old French guy, yet I am reading this and it feels post-modern. I don’t know, like Pirandello or something. But yes, he did write in the 18th century. It’s  really funny and I enjoy the way he breaks down the fourth wall.”

It was beautiful and bright. Her eyes were blue. He caught them, she didn’t look away. “You know I won’t ask you.”

“You are goofy. Lets go.” They took their drinks and headed to the room. They had sex, ordered room service, fucked again, then lolled around.  He learned that she liked oral sex to be a little rough on her.

“In a hurry to go home?”

“Nope. But I do gotta go. If you want me to stay, I have to give some notice.” She laughed. “but you won’t tell me you want me to stay.”

“It is nothing personal, just professional obligation.”

“You are from another planet. How is your Mother?”

“I think she’s about done.”

Before he left  he visited his mother in her community and, for the first time, there was zero recognition. He tried prompts and  tactics he had tried in the past to get some engagement.  There was nothing to her eyes. He asked the staff if she had eaten or had a particularly bad day.  They were sympathetic but he could tell that this was now the regular progression. Through the trip, on the plane, in the cab and in the hotel as he unpacked, he considered that she would not return, that the weak meaningless conversation that he had a few days before, confusing his wife with her daughters, with the granddaughters and with the Jamaican attendant was the last of it.

He began again “We are very close. Were, I guess. We shared so much that I have had to sort out  things that belong just to me.”

“I think you are lucky. I don’t mean to be cruel and you are sad right now but you had this. I didn’t. My memories of my mother are all horrible. Fortunately she left when I was really young.”

He would have preferred a higher degree of sympathy from her. But he also considered their relationship was a friendly transaction and her thoughts did provide a perspective.

“Your Father?” He had wondered about that relationship and she had never discussed him.

He looked him in the eye. “Oh my dad, wait, you think I am going to tell you sad tales of daddy neglect. You think I have daddy issues and that’s why I am with you.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I can tell on your face you are thinking that. There is some kind of line where every guy older than X thinks that women who enjoy sex have to have daddy issues.”

“Love being categorized.”

“Actually you do remind me of him. Because he is fun and  careful with me. He is really smart. He’s gentle. I love my dad.”

At one point he returned from the bathroom; she was facing away and he observed that height of her hips and the circles of her of her cheeks as the dominant center of a drawing or sculpture.  A drawing of Eric Gill came to mind.

At two in the morning when she went home to her partner.

That summer, a few weeks after he sent her to Django Reinhart and she sent him to Foucault’s Pendulum, they were at a meeting in the suburbs of Chicago. A quick exchange of texts and coordination of excuses, separate taxis brought them to a nightclub downtown. They danced  to music he didn’t recognize and while he had a decent sense of rhythm he had no idea whether the mimicry he attempted was proximate to the rest of the crowd.  He didn’t care to ask her and she didn’t say anything though he was waiting for some kind of barb. Instead, she pulled him outside and had him fuck her against a brick wall in an alley.  The little amount of light there, as their faces were close, caught the curve of her cheek. It was dramatic, a bit of a black and white movie, a glimpse of something.

She pulled up her panties, adjusted her skirt and hailed a cab and all he saw was that smile through the back window.

He called her but went to her voice mail. “You don’t have to call me back. That was fun but let’s not do that again. A little too reckless for my taste. An arrest for indecent, whatever, public fucking would not be good for our careers. Well mine.”  She didn’t call him back but she was fine the next day.

That winter they steamed up the windows in a rent a car to the extent that they had to leave it running and go into a bar and wait for the defrost to make it operable again.

Jose found himself holding back compliments. There were so many things about here that were lovely -the color of her eyes, her touch of her hair, the turn of her shoulder, the abandon of her smile – but her attitude to them  was blasé. After a while he felt like was just reciting facts

Probably not the fifth time but probably not the eighth time they slept together, they spent a day in Santa Monica. Their previous assignations had revolved around actual work but when he told her his plan to spend a couple of days there she took it as the invitation it was. The afternoon sex was followed by sushi, a walk at sunset, then more sex until 4 am. He woke around 8 am and found her checking her phone, he joined  the routine and satisfied that nothing was pressing,  he pulled her to him and she lay her head on his chest, her right breast warming his stomach.   The sex had been especially good and his fulfillment and relaxation were complete.

“I have a bit of news I feel strange about telling you.”

“You’re leaving the company.”

“No you are stuck with me. Golden handcuffs. Were you worried?’

“No. I can always go somewhere else.  I like it here but if you left I’d probably start listening to offers. I could make more elsewhere and I think when you leave things will change a lot.”

She got up and went to the bathroom for a drink of water. Her hips swayed even when she walked barefoot and emphasized the muscles in her ass.

“Well lay it on me.”

“I am living in a hotel. When I am home in Minneapolis. My wife told me last week that she has been having an affair.”

It was a strange of circumstances when Pam came to him. With Laura at school they infrequently ate meals together at home. They both took opportunities to work late and so she came in as he was warming something  in the microwave around 830. She had a look on her face that was unfamiliar, at first he thought she was going to tell him his mother had died. “I have to talk to you about something and it’s difficult.” He then had the notion that she had discovered something about Ingrid and him.

“I have gotten involved with someone emotionally.”

He was frankly surprised. But his first  reaction was analytical, trying to understand what the situation was exactly. “So without parsing words, to be clear, you are having an affair.”

After a moment she shrugged and nodded yes. She knew him well enough to know he would not react violently but he could still see fear in her eyes, fear over not knowing what his response would be.  “Anyone I know?” But he asked this question not to fuel any anger but rather thinking about how uncomfortable this might be for them if it became widely known.

“No” He waited. “Someone from my book club.” His new exposure to Ingrid’s world almost made him ask if it was a man or a woman but he knew his wife well enough that it had to be a man. But he didn’t have much more thought than that. He didn’t try to imagine a man. He didn’t try to imagine the steps or the settings for her tryst. He supposed he should but it felt useless.

“What do we do now? Should I move out?”

“That doesn’t sound right. Shouldn’t it be me?” Pam caught his eye and didn’t disconnect. She was waiting, wanted something from him, a reaction. She had a point, she was the one confessing to an affair. And he didn’t feel standing there that there was an equivalence to what he had with Ingrid. That was really just about the sex, the fun of the sex, there was no commitment there, no sense of attachment and intimacy.  He didn’t feel it was relevant to situation here. . At no point did he feel that it foreclosed on his relationship with Pam. It was a temporary and diverting thing.

“We should talk to Laura.”

“And tell her what?”

“That we are going through some issues.”

“I think we have to figure out what the issues are first and then what we are doing about it.” She seemed impatient with him. “I really expected something else from you. I don’t know what.” And now she seemed to start to get angry. “But you have been detached for a long time. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” He could sense she was building some sort of justification for her affair.

It occurred to him at that moment that they might actually not stay married, a possibility he had never considered. Still he looked at it like a problem not a crisis.  “Well, I guess that depends on whether you want to stay married and work it out. Or if you want to to be with this other person.”

“Do you want to stay together?” She was tearing up.

“Yes. Have I ever indicated otherwise?”

She let loose a little. “You don’t seem  to care much. You don’t care about anything at all. You are…” She took a big gulp of wine “flat. Checked out. Polite, considerate, responsible, fuck I don’t know, even sympathetic.” These were said like insults. “I think these things are mechanical, ingrained part of your character. I don’t think you know how to not be those things. You are obliged to act that way but you aren’t particularly interested in much of the human parts behind wanting to do them.”

“You stay here. You think about what you want to do.”

She got angrier, “What do you want? I can’t make any decisions or plans. I don’t know where…I know this has something to do with your mother. I get that. This is hard. But some part of me thinks that you would need me more, not less.”

“if you want, we can go to counseling.” She made a noise of frustration and went to the bedroom. He went to the guest room and when he awoke the next morning she was already gone.

“So,” He said to Ingrid, as the rays of the sun pierced a split  in the curtain “You could now come and visit me in the Cities. If you like.”

“Okay. It sounds fun. But it might also be weird. It is your hometown. People know you. And the company is headquartered there”

“It is Minneapolis. It is not exactly a hamlet. Not everybody knows me.”

Even though she never went to Minneapolis, the frequency of their get-togethers increased. Sex was unprotected with the weakest of promises not to engage in risky behavior with others but his attempts to elicit anything further were met with evasions.  She was both impulsive and uninhibited or guilt. This made him nervous. Yet he continued.

She dropped in details about her history, adventures with this beautiful boy and that beautiful girl, which at first was interesting but after a while became intimidating as the sheer numbers accumulated she diminish his  own experience.

She had him fly to Chicago as she was going to make a presentation at McDonalds headquarters. She asked him to join her, he assumed, to give emphasize the importance to their company of the opportunity. His plane was late and so he moved quickly to arrivals and was texting her when she pulled up.”

“Hi” She purred, smiling.

“Are we late?”

“You are. I’m not.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.”  She drove to a nearby public forest and parked.

She took his hand and walked into the woods.Confused he asked “Are you going to have me killed?”

“Not til I am done with you.” Deeper in the woods she found a picnic bench. She leaned back  and slipped her panties out from under her skirt. “I want some of you inside me when I make the presentation. It will keep me from getting nervous.”

“You never get nervous. Plus I’ll be there to back you up.”

“Oh you won’t be there. You weren’t invited.”

“So I am just here to perform a service?”

“Yes silly. Now let’s go.  I have to get you back to the airport.”

In New York, they tried ecstasy and went to see Rigoletto. The colors flew around the theater. Her face was brighter than the spotlights as he turned and looked at her over and over, her eyes unimaginably blue, her lips coral, smiling with a turn that suggested to him the turn of her naked waist. But they didn’t have sex that night but walked and walked around Manhattan until dawn.

One day he stopped by the bar at the Fountainbleu in Miami, ordered a beer that he wasn’t sure he would drink because he just wanted a spot to answer a couple of somewhat urgent emails and texts. A very pretty Colombian woman of about 40, a bit over dolled up for a Tuesday night, imposed and started a conversation. He was curious at first whether she was  a prostitute but rather she was just a single mom who had the rare free night and nobody to spend it with. He got a room at the hotel and they spent the night and she left in time to get home before her daughter returned from her sleepover.

He wondered if his mother had done something similar in all her years raising kids alone. He hoped if she did it was a pleasant memory, maybe something she was lingering on now in her silence.

He told Ingrid about it and she just laughed and started asking details.

His mother died the following January. It was small wake. She really knew and cared about only her kids. His sisters cried but he didn’t. He told everyone that his overwhelming emotion was relief  and he was lying only in that he didn’t feel anything else. Pam cried but he knew a good portion of that was misdirected. His mother had been very hard on her.  She asked again to go to counseling and he agreed again, but so far neither of them had followed through.  She wanted him to commit to fixing things and he had been ambivalent.

After the funeral they told their daughter who became very emotional, assumed he had done something, that he was leaving and wouldn’t believe it when they both insisted otherwise and both avoided the fact of her involvement. His daughter then locked herself in her room until she drove back to school.

The next day he flew to Las Vegas to be with Ingrid.

The Las Vegas sky was bright blue and threw the tint into the club. The large windows of the club made the room warm. She asked if he wanted another drink and he said yes. The plan would be for a short nap on the plane and then to get some work done and another light drink would help with that plan.

She returned with the drinks, her light belly slightly exposed. He noticed she pulled her shirt down languidly.

“You aren’t going to get started again are you?” She looked around smiling. “It’s pretty quiet here. We could go in the ladies room.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So can you give me an idea of when you will come to a decision? Because if you don’t, I going to have to start working on plan B.”

They walked down to the terminal together until it was time to go to different gates. He kissed her on the cheek and their eyes met and lingered and they walked in opposite directions.

Jose walked to the gate where they were already boarding. When he boarded he found that he’d been upgraded.  It was the bulkhead but he was glad to have it.

He settled in, turned off the TV monitor and stared at the blue wall. He thought of his mother. Nevermore. He thought about what she would think about the situation with Ingrid. He could hear his Mother’s voice saying ‘That’s okay, you can grow up later’ which sounds like a joke, but he took as a great admonishment. She depended on him to do the right and mature thing. It really meant she needed him to step up.  Tears began to well in his eyes. He turned to face the windoe. He missed her now but he was also ashamed.

I think understand better now why Kerouac left his sickness un-named. Any serious illness is a discrete event. The time after, whether a long recovery or a cure once in doubt, is something different. There may be lingering effect , scars and their metaphors, damages to the mind and the emotions, changes the relationships with life, the world and mortality, but the aftermath is a restart regardless.  I suppose some define their lives by the experience of their illness. But most resume attending the articles of their existence, the obligations and distractions. On the Road is about those two things, choosing distractions over obligations. But it is about, specifically about, literally about, moving forward.

He needed to move forward. He would return to his obligations. He needed to seriously address his marriage. His relationship with his daughter needed repair. He had a new opportunity with the company, developing new business internationally,  that he wasn’t even realizing because of his lack of focus.  He hadn’t done anything with a charity for almost two years and he supposed it was time to take music lessons again. It was time to grow up. But there was an unfinished thing for Jose to do. He would return to attaining and acquiring as proud distractions. But there was one more obligation to finish his recovery. But he wasn’t sure he how to do it.

He would begin to write his emails to Ingrid carefully, choosing words precisely and then she would begin to  dwell on them. He would hold back responses to texts, making her wait. He would keep his calls short, ambiguous, evasive. There had to be doubt as to whether when he would respond to any of it. His kindnesses would be arbitrary. Jose would work to create compulsion in her, even if not acted upon, to reach out to him many times a day to get clarity, reassurances, answers. Ingrid needed to wonder. Her importance to him needed to seem at risk. She had to wait to hear his voice, want to hear his voice, interpret the words and interpret the intonation. He knew he could never have her but he had to pierce her armor. He had to reverse things. Ingrid needed to feel like he did. It had to sting. She needed to ache.

 

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