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

Drop #116: Lunch

Megan makes a face. ‘Talk about dry fish,’ she says.

‘Looks like it was frozen,’ says Jane. ‘And I’ll tell you: this lamb is tough as nails.’

‘The mash is lumpy too, and kind of greasy.’

‘And my broccoli is extremely over cooked.’

‘Yes. That shade of green is rather off-putting.’

‘What a shame,’ says Jane, fiddling a fork through her food. ‘I had high hopes for this place, but the entire experience has been quite underwhelming.’

‘Even the bread was stale.’

‘And the butter hard.’

‘And I hate when they put fruit in the drinking water.’

‘Me too. It really lacks class.’

‘I’ll certainly never come here again.’

‘You can say that again.’

 

The waiter approaches with the water jug, orange wedges decaying on its surface like half eaten seals in the shallows.

‘How are we doing here, ladies?’ he asks, reaching their table. ‘Everything to your satisfaction?’

‘Oh, it’s all great, thanks,’ they answer in unison, breaking out two broad smiles. ‘Just wonderful.’

By E.M. Vireo

Not Concrete

Most who haven’t been to Hong Kong think the city is all skyscrapers. Only concrete, metal and glass. Not so. I had the chance to go out into its further reaches the other day. I took some photos:

no smog

These boats were only buckets now:

perspective

leaf water

I was quite alone, but of course I had many friends to keep me company:

magpie perch

white eye

family

The butterflies, moths and dragonflies were out in force, and particularly lovely:

color at rest

pairs

hangin on

Some, however, had not reached their destination:

gotcha

But could anything be lovelier than the lilies I encountered?

shades of black

reflections

store now open

I found the idyllic lily ponds hard to leave.

up and round

But eventually did, by way of this peaceful path:

way through

And onwards, out towards the rigid buildings and business of humankind. But not before one final visitor landed on my wrist (band), resting a while, as if to bid me farewell:

skinny visitor

And now I bid farewell to you.

E.M. Vireo

It’s Time

Things are changing. You can see it, feel it, right? We don’t have much time.

No time anymore to be angry, hold grudges, spend hours with those who don’t inspire in any way, or think that a bunch won’t inspire in at least some way; no time to think we are so great, or forget we are full of potential. It’s no time to be lazy but to be efficient and ambitious. No more time to mess up for the fifth and tenth time, treat people poorly, speak meanly, love too little, not take chances. No time to worry about death, care inordinately about longevity, vanity, inanity, or give in to shame and regret and all those possible problems swimming around us. They might seem big as whales, but most whales eat krill, so you can rest easy. There’s no time to feel so damn down. If you zoom out, you will no doubt see, it’s actually ok, if not spectacular.

Things are changing, for us, and those to come, but we are here, now, as Ram Dass said; we’ve had loads of life to mess up, to scrunch into a ball and burn, and now, it’s time to stop worrying, bickering, being upset when the dish you wanted is sold out.

It’s time for music, time to dance, and dance some more; to share and walk with what moves you; to accept and give affection, pleasure, beauty, newness and comfort, and not to steal them when they haven’t been offered. It’s time to be intimate; to kiss and touch and fuck; time to care and listen and show you are human. It’s time to make the effort for the things, the pastimes and the people you love, and find them if none come to mind.

It’s time to stop being so fucking selfish; time to be stronger than you were, and than they can be, and ask nothing back. It’s time for accountability, to be the one that takes responsibility, that makes it happen; time for lovely things you haven’t even thought of, and for conflicts, as caterpillars, to morph into enormous blue tropical butterflies (don’t be fooled by their dull brown wings at rest). It’s time to be with nature.

It is time, you all, all of me, the lot of us, to claim power over time, with an act, many acts, a community of action, our will, wiry and stubborn, clawing through a field of generic thorns to find place at this flowing, eccentric, endless, colorful table that still holds so much fruit. It’s time to row to the limits of our potential and put it all out there; and it’s serious, sure, but no one asked us to stop laughing. Enjoy the struggle to simply get it right, get it wrong, and get it right twice more. Powerful. Optional. Essential.

It’s time – come on, you got this. We got this. I know we do.

EM Vireo. Not quite over, not quite out.

Drop #115: Plans

nightfall‘You want some dessert?’

‘No thanks.’

‘Waffles? Ice-cream? Before they take it all away.’

‘Thanks, Mom, but I think I’ll pass.’

The lunch buffet is winding down. A short woman in a neat white uniform wheels a trolley around, clearing the large, half-empty platters of food.

Honestly, David, you never want anything. And I suppose you don’t want to come on the museum tour with us this afternoon either?’

‘Yeah. No.’

‘Really? Cause tonight you’re on your own. Your dad and I have the gala dinner, and cocktail party afterwards.’

‘I know, Mom. You guys have a good time.’

‘Well, at least go and out and have some fun tonight too. You could see the night show at the zoo, or go to Aquaworld. It’s open till ten.’

There is a loud clatter, and his mother turns to see what has fallen, and who has dropped it before continuing: ‘You might still get tickets for that circus down the street, or see that motorbike movie on the iMac screen.’

‘IMAX, Ma.’ David laughs.

‘You could see if that girl across the hall is in, and take her. She’s a little chubby, but she seems nice.’

‘I think I’ll just stay in tonight, Mom, thanks. Maybe watch a movie or read my book.’

‘You want me to talk to Jerry? His kids are a little younger, but I’m sure they’ll play—they’ll hang out with you if I ask.’

A man walks briskly by with a mop and bucket.

‘Really, Mom, that won’t be necessary. I think I’ll just go to the gym, or have a swim, watch a movie in my room and go sleep. Maybe I’ll order in.’

‘For goodness sake, David. You’re sixteen. It’s not natural to sit in your room all night. You’re on holiday. You should be out meeting people, meeting girls. You’re so tall and slim and handsome; you should take advantage. I saw a flyer for a young person’s social in one of the auditorium’s downstairs with a Hawaiian band and punch. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?’

‘I appreciate it, but I’m exhausted from cramming for exams last week.’

‘OK. Up to you. You want some money, in case you change your mind?’ She digs in her handbag.

‘I have money, Ma.’

‘Here’s 40 anyway.’ She puts two crumpled bills on the cream tablecloth.

‘Thanks.’ He straightens the messy bills, neatly folds them, and gives them back, ‘but I have enough money to do whatever I like with, you know.’

‘I imagine you do.’ She puts the cash back in her purse. ‘Both your aunts have been spoiling you rotten for years. Those birthday cards get thicker and thicker every time and I can’t remember you ever using any of the money, not even from your Bar Mitzvah, years ago. It must be adding up.’

‘So why are you trying to give me forty dollars.’ David smiled affectionately.

‘Cause I’m your mother, and you’re my Bunny Bear.’

‘Can’t argue with that,’ David says, putting his hand on hers.

‘So why don’t you spend some of it, or are you going to be like that Warren Buffet, and just keep hoarding it?’

‘I’ll spend it, Mom. Don’t worry. I’ll do something special with it.’

‘I do worry, David. You never want to do anything. You’re not interested in anything. Make some plans. Do something. Take a risk. Take charge. You won’t be young forever.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind.’ He squeezes her hand. It feels boney.

‘Eh,’ she says, ‘you just don’t know what you like yet.’

‘You’re probably right.’

‘It will come.’

David’s mother drinks a coffee and steals two profiteroles off the clearing trolley as it heads past them for the kitchen. With a full mouth, she tells her son that the event that will go on till after midnight, and he’ll probably be sleeping when she and his father get back, so it’s best if they catch up in the morning. He has his own room, which is convenient, even though his mother doesn’t understand why they put him on a separate floor entirely when she’d specifically asked for adjoining rooms. David assures her he’ll be fine, but that he won’t wait up, and suggests they meet at the pool for a late breakfast, say at 10.30 the next morning.

‘Perfect,’ she says, getting up.

‘But I’ll check in before you guys leave for the dinner anyway. What time are will that be, exactly, by the way?’

‘Seven sharp.’

‘Good. I’ll make sure to be around.’

‘You’re a sweet boy. Now, I have to hurry. Your father is probably waiting.’

 

David walks her to her room. She kisses him on the forehead and he leaves. He makes a quick stop at his  to put on some slacks, a clean T, some proper shoes, and fetch his sunglasses. He takes the lift to the lobby, walks left out the main door, and carries on for ten blocks till he sees the Royal Blue. The bar on the second floor is deserted.

‘You Fred?’ he asks the barkeep, a short man with ginger hair gone gray, and a mouth that slants downwards.

‘Who’s asking?’

‘You can call me Mr. Leon–you him or not?

‘Yeah, I’m Fred.’

‘Heard you can set things up.’

‘Depends.’

David gently places a crisp 50 on the bar.

‘What you looking for?’

‘You can start me with a Saphire Martini, twist. You do know how to make a decent one, I’m sure.’

‘How old are you, kid?’

‘Old enough.’ David floats another fifty onto the copper bar top.

‘Whatever you say, Mr. Leon.’ Fred starts making the drink. ‘I guess the drink won’t be all, though’ he smirks.

‘You’re a good guesser, Fred, but I need precision from you, you hear? Not speculations, but results.’

David waits till he’s tasted the drink before carrying on. ‘I want three girls, for four hours. One blonde, but pale Swedish blonde, not tanned California blonde. None of those wide toothy smiles please. The second must be black with short hair, or an Afro. No braids; no extensions. The third, a natural red-head with freckles, and I mean they must be everywhere, not just on her face. The girls should all be thin, with real breasts, and bald below. Nothing older than 26 or younger than 20, please. Seriously, I’ll be able to tell.’

David takes a gulp of his Martini. ‘Good; he says, ‘that takes care of the talent.’

‘Not cheap, what you’re asking for, Mr. Leon.’

‘The better things in life seldom are, my good man. Take this twenty-dollar drink, for instance. Not cheap, but worth it. Moving on. I’ll need champagne. I don’t want to get it where I’m staying. Four bottles will do. It doesn’t have to be high end—I can’t tell the difference between the 200 and 40 dollar stuff–but it has to be champagne. No cava. No prosecco, and for God’s sake, none of that Australian sparkling bullshit. Everything well chilled, of course.’

‘Of course.’

‘Please. Temperature is key. Then I’ll need two grams of good coke, and another of MDMA. Both pure. I mean, like a Swiss mountain stream. Here, I can tell the difference. Go the extra mile and do me good.’

‘Expensive menu. Not to be a drag, Mr. Leon, but do you have the cash for all this?’

‘It would be preposterous,’ David pulls a tight roll from his pocket and stands it on the bar, ‘if I didn’t.’ He wriggles off the elastic, removes the outer C-note, and gives it to Fred. Below is another. ‘It’s no false roll, Fred.’

‘Oh, I can tell, Mr. Leon. I can tell. So, what else can I do you for? Another drink, on me, while we chat?’

‘No, thanks. But I will need some threads. I had to pack light, and I’ll need to rent a suit. No time to buy anything for the permanent collection, I’m afraid.. These are my sizes.’ David hands Fred a small white card. ‘I’ll need a slate gray suit, two button, center vent, peaked lapel, tapered leg. Clean. No stripes or patterns. I’ll need two shirts, one gray, one blood red, and I could do with a better pair of shoes. Something Italian, leather, black, sleek. Everything immaculately pressed and shined. I don’t want to see a spot or a wrinkle.’

‘How about a tie, Mr. Leon?’

‘I brought my own. I have my own socks and underwear too, in case you were wondering.’ David looks at his watch. ‘I’d love to stay and chat all day, Fred, but I think we need to wrap this up. Anyway, that’s the lot as far as items go. You got it all?’

‘I got it.’

‘No need to recap?’

‘No.’

‘Good.’ David finishes his Martini. ‘This is the thing, Fred; I want this done right. I want it like I want it, if you understand.’

‘Of course, Mr. Leon.’

‘This is how it’s going to happen: on this paper are my hotel details.’ He hands it to Fred. ‘I want the clothes at my door at 8pm, no later but certainly no sooner. I want the drugs in the jacket’s inside pocket. I want the champagne at 9 and the girls at 9.30. I’ll pay them directly, and leave you to handle the rest. I will leave you with this.’ David peels several notes off the roll. ‘I know how much this is, and how much recreational items cost. I know I can trust you.’

‘Oh, you can., Mr. Leon.’

David peels a couple more notes off the top and puts them in Fred’s shirt pocket. ‘This is for you. There will be a greater reward for you tomorrow, if it all comes off.’ He stands up.

‘Oh, it will.’ Fred extends a hand. ‘Pleasure doing business, Mr. Leon.’

‘You know what, Fred? So far, I can honestly say the same.’

‘You have great night, Mr. Leon.’

‘Oh, I intend to.’

By E.M. Vireo

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