A heavily made-up 6-foot-4 redhead marches into the coffee shop this foggy morning wearing a discount power suit with a skirt so short I can see the top of her stockings as she bends for a free copy of Providence Business News. She keeps her sunglasses on while ordering a pink lemonade and chocolate chip cookie, and then in the same curt tone apologizes to the cashier for the fifty-dollar bill. The Amazon puts the cookie in her knock-off tote and walks away from the counter completely overlooking my dressy casual 5-foot-9 handsomeness. When I step outside with my coffee, she’s standing at the edge of the patio sipping her lemonade, eating her cookie, and smoking a butt. She blows a cloud in my face as I pass. I take it in deep through the nose, hoping her faux self-assurance might grow inside of me.
I unleash my dog from the horsehead hitching post and take a seat. She stares down at Buddy, taking a bite and then taking a drag. She finishes the cookie first.
“He’s a cute accessory,” she says and then sips.
I give Buddy a few feet of leash so he can sniff for crumbs around her patent leathers.
“But look at me,” I say with an ironic smile. “All dressed-up with nowhere to go.”
She aims and flicks her cigarette at the wrought iron horsehead. A shower of tiny sparks burst off its muzzle.
“Tits on a bull’s eye,” she says.
Oh, Perverted World
A mother, daughter, and their Schnoodle take the table next to Buddy and me. They have a dog. I have a dog. Clearly were soul mates and must now spend the next fifteen minutes engrossed-out in canine small talk. The mother looks like a recovering sex addict and/or realtor. The daughter looks like the Virgin Marys ugly teenage cousin. She brings up The Shins because I look cool and thats what cool people listen to, right? She says she likes their music but not the actual band members. She saw them in concert recently and says they werent friendly. I look over at the mother. Her bottom lip is scabbed from biting it at every thought of sex. She keeps looking into my cup and commenting on the blackness of my coffee. She likes lots of cream. I turn to the daughter and agree that James Mercer is somewhat affected. She then calls me friendly. Fuck that. I’m out of here. I stand up to leave. The mother hands me a pamphlet from her purse and invites me to an event. I glance down while bending it in half and spot the word Jehovah. The subheading reads happy, positive thoughts? No, thanks. I roll up the pamphlet like a phallus and stick it down my front pocket. “Looks like a big event,” I say. They don’t get it. I tug on Buddy’s leash and leave the two of them biting their lower lips in contemplation.
Love Means Nothing in Tennis
Buddy and I get to the park and through the chain link we watch some shirtless egomaniac beating the pants off his weak-serving wife. They’ve got just the one ball and his vicious backhands are bouncing off her chest and chin. Buddy runs along the outside of the fence after it, as if and if only. The guy barks at his wife’s poor play and she apologizes profusely. She’s too pretty to be breaking a sweat. Her dimpled cheeks are red with exertion and defeat. It’s brutal. I’m not sure of the rules but his next serve is something like match point. He whacks the hell out of the thing. She gets the racquet up in time to protect her face but the ball ricochets backwards and sails over the fence, taking a couple of high bounces off the grass. Buddy snatches it up on the roll and continues running towards the baseball diamond.
“Jesus Christ!” the guy screams.
I thought he’d be happy sacrificing the ball for the sake of a win, but this guy ain’t gloating. Victory isn’t enough. He wants the ball because it’s his. My dog wants it because he truly loves tennis balls. He loves their cute green fuzz. He loves their pep, their joie de vivre. Buddy is far more deserving of the thing.
If only the world worked like that.
It kills me to do this, but I whistle Buddy back. I pry the ball out of his mouth and toss it back over the fence.
“Thanks,” the woman says, not really meaning it.
You Only Die Once
Bedroom window wife has loud woeful orgasms at 4 a.m. Bathroom window wife cheers the Red Sox every evening. Kitchen window wife curses her man in Portuguese just before supper. Living room window daughter sings Rain on My Parade out on the sidewalk every day after school. It’s Monday, not quite noon. I’m home from our walk with coffee jitters and foot blisters. Buddy’s on the kitchen floor panting. I point to his water bowl and say drink. He just raises his eyebrows and sighs. My wife used to put ice cubes in his bowl. I don’t believe in that. I no longer believe in anything she ever said or did. I love Buddy to death, but I’ve only got a mini fridge with a small icebox in this dinky, street-level apartment of mine. There’s enough room in there for a small tray and 750ml bottle of vodka, not much else. I can’t spare the cubes. In about fifteen minutes, I’ll be needing them.
Buddy and I lie on the couch and wait. I try not to feel anything, namely myself. It’s hard because I don’t have a television. I’m too smart for one, and we all know what happens to smart people. In the meantime, I’ve been growing succulents. They’re all over the apartment, a dozen or so in the living room. They’re the perfect plant for men. They’ll take the abuse. They’ll thrive despite neglect. I doll them up in fancy little pots. I can manage them. They’ll never outgrow me.
It takes a while but eventually thirty-six cars drive by my building, not counting motorcycles, of which three pass. One more car ought to rationalize a trip to the mini fridge, but we all know what happens to smart people who define their existence with arbitrary numbers and dates. They become alcoholics and then they become Christers. Before another car passes, Buddy hops off the couch and moseys into the kitchen. He starts drinking. His dog tag clangs against the porcelain like church bells. I get up. The first few cubes stick to my fingers like glue.
I kill the bottle and then chew up the last bits of cube in my glass. Outside my living room window, the daughter appears on the sidewalk and goes right into her act. I refill the ice tray and head outside. Buddy whines. I tell him to stay and walk out. She’s a pretty little girl with dirty clothes that hang off her skinny frame. She’s always sporting a juice moustache of some color or another. Today it’s green. Today she’s started off with “My Shining Hour.”
I stand there staring up the street at the liquor store while Maya sings her guts out. My presence doesn’t make her self-conscious. She’s got mountains of confidence, or spirit, or whatever one calls that stuff. Her voice is pitch-perfect. Not in a million years could her mother afford her singing lessons, nor would she ever try. I’m not thinking straight, or maybe I am. I open my wallet and hand the daughter all my cash, maybe forty-something dollars. She folds the money in half and slides it down her filthy sock.
“I’m feeling sad today, Maya. I want to hear Rain on My Parade.
“Why are you always sad?”
“Because my wife left me for a better man.”
Maya shrugs and then belts the song out. I watch Buddy watching from the living room window with that worried look of his. It’s killing me. When Maya is finished I reach into my front pocket and hand her the pamphlet from earlier.
“What’s this?” she asks, reaching for it with a cautious hand.
“It’s absolutely nothing,” I say. “All lies. Never believe a word of it. When you’re famous, when you’re on television singing in front of the whole world, please don’t thank him. He hasn’t done anything for you. He never will. What’s yours is yours. Hell with him.”
Buddy starts barking from the window. Maya looks over at him and then back at me. She squints down at the pamphlet with reluctance, her hand hovering above it.
“My mother says you and Buddy look alike. She says you could be models in a dog food commercial.”
I smile graciously and drop the pamphlet onto the sidewalk. Maya and I watch it wobble in the steady breeze. It doesn’t go anywhere. Not even the wind wants its happy, positive thoughts. Maya giggles and then stomps on it as if trying to kill a snake. She says something about evil, but I don’t catch all of it. A motorcycle passes and then a utility truck. Today is my thirty-seventh birthday.
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