Three WaysA Triptych of Love and Its Imprint
Haight Street the Night Before, on the Back of Roma’s Harley
Nick Sweet is riding sidesaddle in a cotton-candy Marilyn wig and flecked wiggle dress. The black air perfumed with night-blooming jasmine. When Roma kills the engine, it seems the world has ended; it is that glass-ly quiet. On the sloped lawn at Buena Vista Park, she works his neck raw with her teeth and cat’s tongue.
Now it is the next day. Nick is freshly showered in jeans and flannel shirt, Greyhound-bound back to San Pedro. He chats with a spirited pre-teen who reminds him of his niece. Her parents are clearly relieved a polite adult is taking an interest. Every half hour, Nick excuses himself for the clattering metal restroom, where he removes a loafer, scrapes cherry polish from another nail. Each time he pulls on a toe, it emits a small pop.
It Added Up; It Just Didn’t Work
To ease her broken heart, Susanna chose a painter, mournful and louche. He spoke French and had Cat Stevens’ eyes, George Harrison’s soft handlebar. He rolled his own cigarettes with fingerless gloves. This was Susanna’s version of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.”
He visited her at the Film Arts Foundation, where she was editing a friend’s film. The film was a documentary about vibrators. He pushed her down onto the couch. Susanna kicked. “I’ll scream,” she swore. He ascertained otherwise. He slipped his fingers into her mouth, knowing she would not bite.
She let him do it. She just couldn’t bear to think of herself as a victim. The man was simply a mediocre carnivore, with a musky aura of tobacco and amber resin.
“I’m not in a place for something serious,” he told her afterward. In French. Those eyes. Susanna understood. Her trick hadn’t worked. She yearned more than ever for her mechanic ex-boyfriend. His musky underpinnings, those battered hands on her skin, marking her with the scent of motor oil.
We Were at It Again
Richard’s mother was a pageboy-coiffed, Sherlock-Holmes-cap-wearing woman. A gap-toothed leading player on the community theater scene. Now she was single, working as always in the office of the elementary school around the corner from their house.
His dad had gone without a word to his son. He’d taken only the framed Lautrec print, which we’d replaced with a Ouija board and a thrift-store painting of a wolf.
Richard and I were hired to paint his mother’s bedroom and organize her shoes. We painted one coat. We shot a Polaroid picture of every pair, then affixed the photos to the outward-facing side of each shoebox. Then we sat shoulder to shoulder on his mother’s soft bed. I touched the spray of lavender paint in Richard’s hair, then slipped my hand inside his shirt. He ducked his head and kissed me on the cheek. “We’d better get back to it,” he said.
At 3, we were done. We celebrated with ice-cream-and-schnapps shakes. I found a strappy orange wiggle dress in the closet. The last Polaroid is of me, slit-eyed and moue-ing. I remember the moment Richard snapped it. The soft punch and whir of the camera. The way, under the camera’s lens, his sweeter lips imitated mine.
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