Drop 126: Little Room

wallWhen I wake up, I’m still strapped down. I struggle against it for a second before I remember where I am.

I’m groggy. My foot is asleep, my neck stiff. How long was I out this time?

Lights go on and off, sometimes synching to the sporadic beeps. The low drone persists, adding to the claustrophobia. Row upon row of us, trapped in here together, staring ahead. We are neatly arranged and controlled. We must do as they say.

Another shudder and we all feel the fear. I’m a bit nauseous too. Whatever they gave me earlier hasn’t sat well.

We are crammed in, on top of each other, but it’s all very organized. They are professional. They wear uniforms and speak their rehearsed lines. The big one bustles by again, all business. She’s carrying a metal box to the back. God knows what’s inside.

She is the one allocated to our section. Robotically, she goes about her tasks: pushing buttons, stacking and storing, draining liquid from receptacles, preparing different vile concoctions. She cleans up the mess too. Sometimes she disappears into the little room; sometimes she just opens the door an inch and looks inside.

She collects orders through a wall-mounted phone. She’s always watching us, making sure we don’t break the rules. For your own safety, she says with that fake smile.

Another one has the section nearby. A man. I counted eight of them when they ushered us in. There are others who work behind the scenes, not showing their faces: the higher-ups. They only make themselves heard, announcing how it’s all to go down through the jarring PA system that cuts through everything.

The little room is ahead of me to the left. We enter, one at a time, through the hinged door, and come out minutes later. This has been going on for hours. I’ve been in three times and hope I won’t have to go back. But it might be inevitable.

For the rest, we sit, wait, do as we’re told. Everyone is exhausted, broken. Some are obviously heavily medicated, some are plugged into little screens that feed a stream of propaganda. I was too, earlier, but that effort is over for me now.

She’s back: our matronly overseer. She has the trolley again: its ominous contents, now all aligned, ready for distribution.

This is round two. The first, some hours ago, was most unpalatable and I want nothing to do with this second course, whatever it is, but you don’t have much choice here.

She starts at the front. No one refuses what she offers. We are all brainwashed by now. We succumb to the rhythm of this massive, efficient machine. We’ll take what they give us and be glad.

And soon she is beside me.

‘Chicken or fish?’

‘Chicken,’ I say, unfolding my little side table, ‘and apple juice.’

She gives me my tray. I peel back the foil to peek inside. Looks disgusting but I’ll eat it.

Good evening, everyone, the captain’s voice comes loudly through the PA. I trust you managed some rest and are enjoying your dinner. Still cruising at 32,000 feet, but just to let you know, we will be commencing our decent into JFK about 35 minutes.

I drink down my juice. I’ll have to visit the nasty little room once more before we land.

By EM Vireo

Drop 125: Crossing the Road

crossing the road–Oh good, you’re back.

–Yup, had quite a walk.

–Oh yeah?

–Yeah, saw loads of people we know.

–Like who?

–Like Sarah.

–Nice. I’ve been meaning to catch up with her.

– She was with some tall guy. Looked British. Guess she’s banging him. Then, just after, I saw Julie. Round as a melon.

–Oh yeah. She sent an email saying she was pregnant, but I guess that was months ago by now.

–Also saw Ben and Bill on the corner of the street with like nine bags of groceries from Dean and DeLuca. Probably having another of their crazy dinner parties.

–Man, I love those two. Haven’t hung with them in ages either. Wow, you saw all those people!

–Yeah.

–Awesome. What a great chance to catch up with them all! No wonder it took you a while. Post office isn’t that far.

–Well, I stopped for a slice too, and get this: when I got there, Norm Jericho was just leaving the pizza place.

–No shit! Norm ‘The Noodle’ Jericho.

–The one and only.

–That’s incredible. I’ve been trying to find that guy for years. God, how the hell is he? In fact, how are they all?

–Huh?

–What’s going on with them? Sarah, Bill and Ben, Julie. They must have told you so much news.

–What do you mean?

–What did you talk about? Tell me everything.

–Oh, no. God. I didn’t talk to any of them.

–You didn’t talk to any of them?

–Of course not. I just saw them, and as soon as I did I crossed the road so they wouldn’t see me.

–Wow.

–Yeah. Anyway, your stamps are on the table.

By EM Vireo

Drop 124: Leopard

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. It boasts one of the highest leopard densities on earth.

Jeeps scurrying around the place looking to produce what the tourists crave. One of them is driven by Sunny, who’s been chasing leopards in Yala for eight years and is pretty good at it. In the back of his jeep today: two French tourists, Serge and Sylvie, who have never seen a cat beyond the domestic variety, clawing at strings and bugging out to catnip. Another jeep is driven by Stanley, who has run tours for over a decade. In the back of his rugged vehicle sit two Americans: Ken and Jack.

copy

Stanley has been rushing around all afternoon chasing tips that come in on his cell, but few have materialized. Jack and Ken have seen no leopard, though the elephants and buffalo, the kingfishers and painted storks have been lovely. Still, Stanley follows every new lead: a male cat crossing a dirt road here, a female returning to her tree with prey there. But the timing is off, and they just never manage to actually see one.

buffalo pond

It’s getting late, but Stanley chases one last tip, speeding to reach a dam where a male leopard has been spotted. They arrive to a spectacle of nine jeeps, all joshing for position. But he is nowhere to be seen. They pull up next to Sunny’s jeep, wondering what’s up, and Serge quickly let’s them know, flashing, on his small point and shoot camera, with a gloating look mind you, a picture he just took: an almost full frame shot of a leopard, walking across the road.

But it’s gone now, into the brush. They missed it again.whitethroated kingfisher

Nighttime at the lodge. Lapwings screeching, bats circling. An incredible Sri Lankan buffet of string hoppers, fish curry, roti and sambol.

Turns out the French couple, and Ken and Jack are staying at the same place, and sitting at the same table.

‘No leopard, hey?’ Serge makes conversation with Ken, while Jack and Sylvie go for seconds.

‘No,’ Ken says softly. ‘Unfortunately, not today. Great elephants though.’

‘We had three. Check this one out.’ Serge pulls out the camera.

‘Yes, you showed me earlier, I believe.’

‘I got a bunch,’ Serge says, clicking through more photos. ‘He was really posing, but this one’s the best.’

‘Yes,’ Ken says, studying the photo. ‘Pity it isn’t quite full frame, but decent light and composition. You might have stopped down for better depth of field,’ he adds, ‘but it’s a pretty nice shot. I guess you were shooting on automatic.’

‘Yeah, whatever, I think I got it,’ Serge says, while his face says: fuck you jealous American. ‘Pity you didn’t see it. It was awesome.’

‘Nature’s all timing and patience. I guess, I wasn’t there this time, and you were. Thanks for sharing,’ Ken adds getting up. ‘I simply must have some more of that sambol. Addicted to spice.’

trunk

Jack is just getting back. ‘You were showing pictures to Ken? Of your leopard today?’

‘Yes. The one your jeep didn’t see.’

‘Did Ken give you any advice?’

‘Advice? He didn’t even have a camera.’

‘His gear is coming tomorrow. It was delayed in Delhi. This was just a fun relaxing safari I suggested before we start work tomorrow.’

‘What work?’

‘Ken is going to shoot leopards and sloth bears in Yala for the next three weeks. Camp inside, shoot from hides, etc. It’s his third time here. He’s one of the world’s best best.’

‘Nature photographers? You’re joking.’

‘Specializes in big cats. He was the first person to ever photograph mating snow leopards in Afghanistan, and he had that famous shot of jaguars hunting tapirs in Brazil. He practically lived with a pack of lion in the Ngorongoro crater for six weeks in 2004 documenting cannibalism and hyena predation during the drought. He’s a bit of a legend, really.’

Sylvie comes back with a plate of food. ‘Did you show the man the great picture you took?’ she asks Serge, after smiling at Jack. ‘Of the leopard?’

‘Yes,’ Serge answers, looking towards the buffet. ‘I did.’

 By EM Vireo

Drop 123: Tea and Scarves

–Where’s Emily?landscape

–Looking at that temple down the road.

–She take the camera?

–I guess.

–We should put the pics on the laptop.

–Did that yesterday.

–Cool, so we can clear the disk.

–Done. 4 free gigs, baby.

–Awesome.

 

It’s the third last night of an eighteen day trip through SE Asia. They’ve splurged on three rooms with air con.

 

–I’m so thrilled with the gifts we got today. The scarves. The bamboo flute. The tea.

–Yeah. My mom’s going to love her little hand carved jewellery box.

–Mine too. Hey, let’s have another look at the stuff.

–Don’t you have the bag?

–Thought you had it.

 

They look around, then Sarah goes to check her room. She’s back after a few minutes.

 

–No. Nothing. Maybe Emily has it.

–Probably. As long as it isn’t lost.

–Yeah. That would suck.

 

They sit on the bed and play cards till Emily shows.

 

–Amazing temple. Dude was doing this insane ritual with a coconut, smashing it at the end.

–Do you have the bag with the gifts?

–It’s in the computer bag.

–Ah. Cool. Do you mind getting it? We want to have another look.

–What do you mean? I don’t have it.

–You said it was in the computer bag.

–Yeah. I don’t have the computer bag. I thought you did.

 

By EM Vireo

Drop 122: Budapest

IMG_3460He was chubby, greasy, disheveled, mostly bald, wearing sweatpants and a checkered shirt too large. She was cute enough in a perfectly unattractive way, with a perm that would take no bosh from any living thing, and a floral top that could only have survived on a regular crop dusting of DDT. My eyes almost got cancer looking at it!

I don’t usually eavesdrop, filing a decent cappuccino in my overflowing cabinet of experiences, without fail or reserve, as a sanctified pleasure to enjoy alone, like masturbation, deceit or revenge, but they were sitting right beside me, and talking about Budapest with such volume, with such a staunch and vulgar distaste for privacy, I couldn’t help but say my piece.

Thing is: I love Budapest. I know Budapest. I can’t leave Budapest alone, even if the it involves folk that could never get the best out of Budapest — never know my Budapest, but hell, giving them access to even a fraction of the poorest scrap of my Budapest would serve these types a right treat!

So I spoke up (I am a gentleman, after all) in my simplest voice: ‘Base your trip on Pálinka. Whatever you do, do it on a steady stream of the stuff. No buzz is sweeter. I’ll give you three options – high-end, choice middle, and best of budget. Any will serve, though of course, sitting on the top shelf offers the loveliest view.’

‘Excuse me?’ the man said, giving me a positively Down syndromish look.

Pálinka. It’s Hungarian schnapps. The grappa of the east. Civilized moonshine.’

‘Oh. That sounds good. My Pappy’s Pappy was a bootlegger.’

‘I’ve dabbled in the alchemy of distillation myself, you might know. Couldn’t help hearing you discuss my beloved Budapest. Thought I’d offer a few dollops of advice.’

‘Budapest. Oh yes. You’ve been there?’

‘Have I been there?’ I chuckled. ‘Thrice in the eighties, half a dozen in the nineties, and too many to count since the turn of the millennium. Was there just last month, in fact.’

‘Well, I’ll be!’

‘How long will you two stay?’

‘Looks like a week, in July.’

‘Summer. Perfect.’

‘Haven’t quite booked the flights yet, but that’s just, as we say, a formality.’

‘Who exactly says that?’

‘We do.’

‘Of course.’

‘Oh, I’m Nate.’ He extended a hand all knuckle and fat, and my innate grace forced me to take it.

‘So, as for your visit, you might very well skip all the obvious stuff. The churches, the museums and castles – that’s nowhere close to where the place’s charm lies.’

‘Skip the churches?’ It was her turn now: a blind newt crawling clumsily from hibernation. ‘Skip the museums? The castles?’

‘Yes, Your Royal Redundancy. That is what I said.’

‘But I like castles. They’re the homes of treasures and knights.’

I let twelve perfect insults slide in speaking next: ‘What you want to do post-haste, as soon you’ve checked in, is find your way to District VII and one of the ruin pubs. Szimpla kert would be a good place to start, though it’s certainly not the best one. You’ll have to look for the area, and some of the pubs are rather hidden, but it’s the best neighborhood in town. Bizarre and Bohemian with a deliciously dirty, dilapidated overtone. Sit in the garden, listen to some great music, get some food — oh, and you can definitely get your pálinka fix here—it’s obligatory, actually. Chase it down with one of the many cheap, good local beers.’

‘Ruined bars. Got it.’

‘Ruin pubs. You could get lost in this neighborhood for the duration of your trip — I’ve missed planes to stay there, and it was absolutely worth it — but I guess you should see the rest, first time and all. My main bit of advice is just to walk, walk, and walk some more. It’s a great city to do by foot. Stop at the cafes, get to the markets, zigzag the small streets, take in the beauty.’

‘Walk everywhere, hey? Connie here has a couple of nasty bunions that will have something to say about that. One’s damn near the size of a turkey egg.’

‘I see.’ I swiveled and sipped.

‘Wanna see?’ Connie asked, grabbing at a flat pink shoe.

‘No thanks–please! I meant that I acknowledge your gross impairment. Let’s talk food. You don’t eat with your feet, right?’

‘Of course not,’ she said, making an annoyed face. ‘Not unless it’s Pickle Fest fortnight.’

‘Szalonna.’

‘God bless you,’ said Nate with a tiny dip of his rather large head. Who knew he could be so dainty?

‘Szalonna. It’s Hungarian bacon. Bacon on steroids. It will shoot fire into your veins. It has started wars, won wars, fixed marriages. Hell, swipe a chunk of szalonna under a passed out fellow’s nose and he’ll wake up in a flash. I’ll jot down a few hole in the wall joints that make a great sandwich with it, and a few traditional spots where they do it skewered and roasted over an open pit.’

‘Very good. I like bacon,’ Nate said.

‘We both like bacon,’ Connie said, ‘don’t we?’

‘Szalonna. I’ll jot down some spots for nicer meals too. What area you staying in anyway?’

‘Wherever Connie’s cousin’s apartment is. Let me check my phone.’

‘Oh.’ I said, finishing my cappuccino. I was going to suggest one of six supremely charming little hotels, but if you have family in town.’

‘Course I never met Dwayne,’ Nate said. ‘He’s a second cousin. Fancy type I heard.’ He scrolled a finger down the screen, squinting. ‘Here we go. Strada Alexandru Constantinescu.’

‘I’m not familiar with the street.’

‘Domenii, Bucharest,’ he read on.

‘Did you just say Bucharest?’ I turned my chair back round and raised an arm. ‘Check please.’

By EM Vireo

 

Drop 121: List

She writes them down:

Beer, pasta, mayo, white bread, rice, cookies, soda, full cream milk, cake, eggs, chocolate, butter, muffins.

Everything she will avoid from now on. She wants to lose a few pounds, and besides, they’re just not healthy.

She goes to her Pilates class.

When she gets back, the kitchen counter is full of groceries:

muffins, butter, chocolate, eggs, pound cake, milk, coke, cookies, rice, bread, a big mayo, pasta and a six-pack of beer.

Gunther comes in from the TV room. ‘I found your shopping list,’ he says with that imbecilic do-good smile. ‘I’ll just add your half to next month’s rent.’

By EM ‘the giant slayer’ Vireo

Drop 120: My Week

poop cabinMonday was quiet. I made a sneezer salad for lunch – you know, I always aim to sneeze. I went for a drink and had an argument with a friend. I said it was possible for the best driver in the world to have an accident. He said it wasn’t. Neither could win; it was like playing solitaire with an incomplete deck. I walked home. On the way, I slipped down a hill: just one of the unpleasant slide effects of shoes with poor souls.

On Tuesday, I saw an ex girlfriend in the supermarket fondling cabbage. That sentence could be read two ways, so to be clear: she was the one fondling the cabbage. I don’t do that sort of thing, sticking with nobler produce to fiddle with and finger. We went to a super special place with donuts and hung out for a while. We were into each other but we couldn’t have sex since she had a least infection. I didn’t get why it was a big deal. I figured it was a minor thing at most.

On Wednesday I got a radical new haircut and no one noticed – weird that people aren’t closely following my hairstyles. That evening, angry about my anonymity, I bought an intravenous flytrap, stuck it in my arm and sat back on my footstool to ride out the buzz. Sobering up, I spent a while online. Lots of spam. The most impressive subject line: Robotic Surgery Lawsuit. Have you or anyone you know ever had it? Cause we can help you sue, if you have. Interesting, though I find the simple, direct emails like Slutfinder, and Localshag have a certain succinct charm that can’t be beat.

not lupusThursday was a bad day. I hid under the covers all morning, worrying about the blood in my phlegm till I remembered I’d had beetroot juice for breakfast. I went out to clear my bed. ‘You can get it cheaper in Australia,’ I heard, passing two people on the sidewalk. I wondered what it might be. I ate dinner alone in a new restaurant. Sign read: Proudly serving whole brain breads! I passed, opting for the pasta, then listened to the conversations scurrying about around me: ‘I’ve had mantis shrimp maybe a dozen times, but I’ve never had the opportunity to eat a pregnant female.’

Friday, I got a high paying job as the CEO of a large chain of command. Coming back from the interview I went to the station to take the train but it seemed to never come. I read through the paper while I waited. A captivating headline on page C5: One in four Flemish Belgians thinks their partner stinks. I waited an hour until a nice lady with big biceps came over and said: ‘You do know this is a tranny station, don’t you?’ I took a cab.

Saturday, I stopped by a friend to check my email cause my service has been disgruntled for over a day. ‘Go right ahead,’ he said. ‘Laptop’s in the kitchen.’ I didn’t want to stay in there long. He has bread bugs, and he’s got them bad. He’d left a Google page up with an open search for ‘vagina in Latvian.’ I didn’t ask, opening a new window. She’d sent me an email. She was staying at a nearby hotel. ‘I just got back, she wrote. ‘Call me in my womb.’ So I did and went over. Warm in there. Her problem had cleared up so we got sexy. Later she admitted that she’d thought about work the entire time. Well, for a short while she’d also thought about them cloning a woolly mammoth soon. That was when she’d shouted ‘YES! YES! YES! That’s so fucking awesome!’

Sunday I just wanted to chill and watch movies. Mongolian Death Worm, Fragrant Night Vampire, and Robot Geisha were my choices on cable, so I immediately ordered toilet pay per view – a messy channel – but it’s always done the job. In the afternoon, I baked a cake. Unfortunately I misread the recipe and used Yeats, instead of yeast to make it rise. It was a wonderfully poetic, articulate cake, an epic cake, but in the end, it was hard to digest.

By EM Vireo

Drop 119: Cup of Tea

I go to make a cup of tea. When I’m about to switch on the kettle, I see the power strip it feeds off is busted. Piece of the plastic’s broken off the plug, exposing wire. Unsafe. Needs replacement. I can fix it myself so I pop out to the hardware store, get a new plug head, buy a new 4 socket strip too, since the house needs it. I get the toolbox out. It’s a mess. Repacking it I realize the thin screwdriver’s missing. Could use a different one but I look around. Find it in the cutlery drawer. Drab brown rusty thing. I get to work. Free the wires, brown, green and blue from the old head and replace them in the new. Screw the pieces back together, good to go. But I figure I should use the new 4 plug board instead. Would be nice to have the toaster, juicer, microwave and kettle plugged in at once. Have to move the heavy fridge to make the switch. Socket’s behind it. Plenty of dirt under it too, which I pick, sweep, and mop up. Give the old icebox a good rub down too while I’m at it. Interior too, going through the jars and tubes to toss the expired ones. I rearrange the rest. Fridge back in place, the new strip’s an eyesore. Nowhere to rest easy. Too long to fit on the counter like the old one. It won’t do. Back to the hardware store for supplies. I get a new thin screwdriver too. Nice red and black one. Spend some time mounting the extension block on the wall, running its cable neatly behind the fridge, along the bottom of the cupboard with ties so it looks neat. Good. Job done. Of course, now I have the old 3-way adapter to play with. I know just where I could use it, but I have to move the couch and lamp, and hang the three large photos elsewhere. The wall is concrete and I need to drill new holes. Perfect, but it makes the TV console seem too tall. I try it against two other walls before I move it to another room. I quickly pop out to by a longer, lower one. The TV looks great on it but makes the speakers look odd. I replace them with the smaller ones from the bedroom, which takes some rewiring. I need to drill two small tunnels clear through the wall near the door frame to feed them in. Just a small spackle and paint job and voila, done.

I go to the kitchen and switch on the kettle. And that’s how you make a cup of tea.

By E.M. Vireo

Drop 118: Bump

He noticed the bump just after lunch, while washing his hands in the bathroom. It was an inch below his left eye: small, irregularly shaped and light brown. He touched it timidly; it was semi hard. He pulled at it cautiously; it would not budge. How long had it been there? he wondered. Had it grown from an inconspicuous dot? God, he thought, why was he so inattentive?

He returned to the mirror every few minutes to check on it. What was it? It looked dodgy. He had work to do, but could not concentrate, so he typed: small, brown, irregular bump on face, into Google. Many results. They all suggested most were likely to be harmless. Most. Likely. Others were dangerous and should be checked out. Has the area in question suffered severe sunburn? Yes. Several times. Is the bump crusty around the edges? Sure looked that way. Do you have any of these other symptoms? He did have a sore neck the other day, and stiff joints too, and what about that mysterious cough last week?

It could be anything. Most likely, nothing, they all claimed. But anything included something awful, and it was definitely not nothing. It was there, on his face, after all. God, he wished he had been more observant. Could have meant the difference between life and death.

He stopped his research, closing the laptop with a callous click. Too much evidence suggesting he was in trouble. He opened the scotch and poured himself a big glass, gulping it like they did in the movies. Then he sat there, motionless, drenched in the afternoon’s lengthening shadows.

She came home at 5. ‘Why are all the lights off?’ she asked cheerily, switching them on. ‘And why are you drinking?’

She walked over to kiss him.

‘Oh, you have a little schmutz on your face,’ she said, leaning in to pick it off. ‘Looks like chocolate or something.’

She rubbed her fingers together and flicked it away. ‘So, how was your day?’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #117: Hunger

For months, Ben Simon had been working through uninspired days automatically and with no pleasure. He looked forward to little and remembered almost nothing of experiences past. He just chugged on, silently into the malaise. It wasn’t any one event that had placed or kept him in this state; he had certainly not always felt this way. One could look back at his breakup with his girlfriend of a year, or his steadily increased workload at a purposeless and thankless job. One could look at various music and writing projects that had sputtered into failure, or the departure to other cities, one after the other, of the only three friends he had thought worthwhile. Disillusioned, he had made no effort to find new and better ones, leaving him with a plethora of beige, interchangeable colleagues and acquaintances he had nothing in common with, but still met for drinks and dinners he didn’t enjoy, being too tired to consciously end the cycle.

In truth, however, there was no obvious culprit; only a result: he was riding the dull inertia of action without reward: of drinking without wanting a drink, eating and smoking just to pass the time, watching TV shows without laughing or learning or being entertained. He never felt the exciting sting of attraction to a woman, or arousal by her body. He never listened to music at home, or on his headphones, as he had so loved to do in days gone by. He slept a lot, having nothing to achieve while awake: no pleasure to chase, or project to complete; no evolution to forward, or relationship or to build. No life to live.

On an evening in January in which ice cream stores were crowded despite the cold, Ben found himself at another gathering he had merely not bothered avoiding. He was drinking bland, lukewarm beer with five colleagues in an upscale restaurant. Three were woman, and though he knew two of them were attractive, he wasn’t attracted to them. Someone had ordered chicken wings, which he picked at as he laughed sporadically at jokes he hardly heard, using others’ laughter as a cue.

Ben excused himself, needing to pee (one of the few acts that still offered satisfaction). As he unzipped, a large man in a pin striped suit and bowler hat, with a long gray goatee stepped up to the urinal next to his. It was surprising as Ben hadn’t heard the bathroom door open, or seen him come in.

‘How you doin tonight?’ the man asked in a deep voice. His enormous winklepickers were impeccably shined.

‘Same as always,’ Ben answered.

‘And how is that?’ the man asked, starting to pee. It sounded soothing, like a rolling brook on a shaded hillock.

‘Uninspired. Bored. Pointless.’ Though Ben had felt this way for months, he had never voiced these words, and did not know why he would blurt them out now.

‘That’s unfortunate,’ said the gargantuan man, still urinating a steady stream, ‘and may I say, no way to live when there’s so much to enjoy out there.’

‘I just don’t see it,’ said Ben, finishing up.

‘Would you like to?’

‘What?’

‘Feel hungry again. Want things. Be gratified, and eager for more.’ The man finished too and followed Ben to the basins, where both began washing their hands. The man’s were massive and manicured. The way they rhythmically massaged in the soap was hypnotic.

‘I guess.’

‘Don’t you want to want stuff? Have an itch to scratch?’

‘I guess.’

‘Not good enough, son. Tell me now – right now – and maybe things will change for you. Tell me now, and you just might just find that hunger once again.’

They both dried off.

‘OK. I do,’ Ben answered quickly, put on the spot. ‘I do want it back.’

‘Done.’ The man laughed so loudly that the paper towel dispenser rattled. ‘Shake on it,’ he added gruffly, enveloping Ben’s hand in his padded palms. ‘I got this one, but tomorrow, you’re on your own.’

‘Um. OK,’ Ben answered, too intimidated to say much else.

And then, like Keyser Söze, the man was gone.

Back in the bar, two of Ben’s party had left, and soon the others left too. Alone, he looked around for the mountain of pin stripes, but couldn’t see him. He would normally have gone home, but for some reason, Ben Simon had a hankering for a martini; in fact, it was a full-blown urge. He could already taste the cold smoothness as he sat at the bar and ordered in a confident voice: ‘vodka martini, dry and dirty, two olives.’

It came, he tasted, and it was delicious—so delicious, in fact, that he shook his head and went ‘mmm mmm.’

The drink stirred his appetite and he asked for the menu. So many choices and he wanted them all, but he ordered an appetizer platter for two, a steak frites, medium rare, and a bottle of Rioja, cause the meal just seemed incomplete without it. He ate and drank with greed and satisfaction, and everything was sublime. Upon completion of the excellent feast, with only some wine and crumbs remaining, Ben felt a strong desire for a cigarette. It sat at the base of his throat and told him, in no uncertain terms, that nothing could be better, right now, than satisfying this craving.

‘Keep an eye on the bottle, will you?’ he told the cute bartender, and snuck outside. The bite of the chilly wind felt clean and honest on his skin and he took a second to absorb it, noting its luxurious contrast to the warmth in his belly. He didn’t have any smokes so he bummed one off a girl nearby.

‘Sure.’ She smiled giving him one and lighting it. ‘And how are you doin tonight?’

‘You know what? I’m doing pretty damn great.’

‘Good to hear. What use is life when you aren’t, right?’

‘Right.’

She was thoroughly, disarmingly beautiful, and in an instant, Ben wanted her, and badly. They chatted while they finished their cigarettes, Ben’s filling a hole nothing else could, and as they went back inside, he invited her to help him finish the bottle of wine that stood waiting.

‘Why not?’

The conversation was the best Ben had had in years; he was attentive and interested even as she beguiled him with her exquisite looks and intoxicating sex appeal. After another bottle of an even better, more expensive red, which hit an even warmer, meatier spot, she asked if he wanted to come smoke a joint at her place. ‘It’s just around the corner.’

‘Honestly, I could think of nothing I’d like more.’

The joint thickened everything into a creamy cloud: his lust, his hunger, his thirst and laughter. He walked to her fridge and downed a bottle of ice-cold water in four eager gulps. And when he returned to her, she was waiting, soft, alive, and keen.

He devoured her, and she him. Three times they spun the room into chaos with their swollen, rushing lust, feasting and digging and reaching no stop. Giving and taking with no inhibition. Drowning in sexual inebriation.

And at the end, consumed and collapsed, sated on skin and every way in, they were hungry again, for all other things: champagne and chocolate, vodka and latkes, kind bud, air con, jazz and techno, TV and comforters and the sound of the rain, and all that would hide any memory of pain.

So they hunkered down and ordered in. Another joint cloaked all in-depth and stillness, like heavy snowfall in the pines. They touched some more and rode out the dream till the urge for sleep broke over them. As Ben gave in, holding his beautiful lover in an easy embrace, he sensed it one last time: this is as good as it gets.

 

In the late morning, sleek strands of sunlight crept through the living room window to wake Ben Simon. As he sat up and pulled on his pants he mumbled the words: Today, it’s up to me. He was already looking forward to coffee, eggs and toast.

 

And what about you? You still here? You still hungry?

Sure?

By E.M. Vireo

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