« Jack, this is my wife Annabella»
We could hear a pin drop. Vanessa, a.k.a Annabella, smiles tentatively, looking somewhere behind me, burying her discomfort deep inside the hedges. It takes me ages to snap out of shock and extend a slightly shaking hand.
“Nice to meet you”.
A drop of sweat plods slowly down Mark, a.k.a Jack,’s temple. His hand’s clammy as I shake it. Pinpricks prickle my fingers and palm where they are touching his. Electric , the same touch, the same feeling.
“She works in the bank across the street from the office”. She told me already. What else do I know? Next to the bank, there is a bar. Not a classy downtown one with leathered booths and mahogany tables. No neon lights running along the glass shelves holding countless pricey bottles. No hot waiters or waitresses, carrying around, on trays, Champagne buckets with flare candles. No tiled , clean , dimly-lit restrooms.
“ Jack works with me”. I thought he was from out of town. Just driving through the city, taking a break before moving on. The barroom, poorly-lit, floorboards oozing beer, the clicking of pool cues, the menu in the middle of the table held by salt and pepper, the checkered linoleum in the bathroom, piss-stained, the full bins, the dirty and scarred mirror. The stools lining the counter, a fake worn out brass railing, the shiny light of the beer taps, the tea towel casually swept along the bar, the humid and bloated coasters.
“Been together for almost ten years”. What’s this all about V? What about Skippy, your cat waiting for you at home, purring and arching his back around your legs when you come back? You told me about those rainy Sunday afternoons, boring, the prospect of work on Monday morning looming depressingly. Your best friend, Tina, always picking up jerks, real heart-breakers, liars. Your Friday nights together, when you wouldn’t return my calls. Do you really exist? Or is it some parallel universe? This bar, this motel, a rip in reality’s fabric.
“No, Jack’s the bachelor. Always been.” Mark. The whisky-drinking guy at the end of the counter, you motioned for the bartender to serve me a drink. I smiled. You got closer. This ring you’re wearing on a chain around your neck. Whose is it? Your wife, she died while taking the kid to school. The coma, his holding on to life, the little coffin as it was lowered into the ground. The drinking bouts to ease the pain, the sleepless nights, the endless mourning, the black band tattooed on your forearm I gently stroked.
“What about dinner? Next Saturday. Anna won’t be there, but we can grab beers and some steaks. Believe there’s a game that day.” I can’t make it next Saturday. I have a date with Vanessa. She is looking at me now, right in the eye. I can feel goose bumps and a little shiver. I’m getting hard, in the middle of the street, while her husband is schmoozing me. Saturday night. Can’t wait for it. The cabin’s already booked. I am to pick her up at the bar and then drive away. She just needs to be back on Sunday morning before noon, Skippy’s got to eat and god knows what jerk Tina would pick up this time.
“You can’t make it. Gee, too bad pal. When can you come over?” A message for me, his blue eyes are casually coursing through my body like his hands did. Saturday’s still on. The cabin by the lake, a bonfire, a fishing lodge, tacks tacked to the wall, the moon’s reflection, the mysterious howls, the musky and dusty blankets, prickly on our naked bodies. In the morning, the smell of coffee engulfing the pine walls, a shaft of sunlight through the dirty window, the cool air from the lake, an excuse to get back into bed.
“Sunday for lunch sounds fine to me. What d’ya think honey?” She smiles wistfully. Not even a trace of panic. My move is cheap , I know it. I’ll drop her a few blocks from their home , then wait at a nearby coffee shop, reading through the sports page. The drive to their place would be exquisite. I will hear the chirpy birds cheering me on my way through the open window, the light crushing of my tires on the gravel of their driveway. I will not knock. Instead, I will walk round the house to the back yard, a legitimate home invasion. I might surprise them into a kiss, something that would hurt. The bottle of Cahors in my right hand will be my sesame. Its ripe, inky, blood-like juice will blunt his awareness, lull him gently into a nap , swaying in the hammock, a light rhythmic snore plunging him even deeper into sleep, ignorant of my designs.
“ Well, ‘t sounds like a date”. He gives me a shy smile. I know what’s in his mind. I can read him like a book. I will show him around the house. The master’s bedroom will be our first stop. The sturdy oaken bedstead, its immaculate sheets ready to be tangled up, the dressing-table and its mirror in which I dreamily gaze at myself as I languidly brush my hair and in which I’ll be looking at him. He ‘ll come up with something, Eric’s always falling asleep at the wrong time. We’ll find a way. I’ll prepare his favorite dish, vitello tonato, he’ll have to bring a bottle of wine, Lirac would be the best, a white one, of course. We’ll be seating at the table and I will feel his searching foot under the table, feel the moist sock running up my shins, extending to the thighs, so close and yet so far. I’m dying to see Eric running for something in the kitchen, the perfect opportunity for a stolen kiss, just a quick one, a taste of things to come.
“It was nice meeting you Mark.”
“Nice meeting you Vanessa”.
Eric guffawed. “I think you guys got it wrong” .