Stories

(but it just don’t work on you) – Ian Phlegming

“My name is Bond,” he said to the blond in the red miniskirt sitting adjacent from him at the bar. “James Bond. What’s your name?”

The girl stared at James, nursing her cranberry vodka drink, mouth wide open in an expression that was equal parts shock and disgust.
“Would you like me to buy you a drink?” James asked with the brightest smile he could possibly manage.
The girl turned to her friend seated next to her at the bar, and the two quickly stood up and headed toward the restroom. James’ false smile quickly shifted to a frown. The bartender strolled up to him and asked him, “What’ll it be, mate?”
“I’ll have a pint of Harp,” said James disappointedly. He slumped into his chair and tried to ignore the gnawing sense of embarrassment in the pit of his stomach. He had spotted that blond girl the moment he walked into the Lion Head pub. She was in her mid-40’s, obvious divorcee, plain looking, but certainly not the most attractive lady in the bar. In his mind, though, she seemed the most within-his-league girl in the entire place.
James remembered the old days and cringed a little bit. He never used to settle on the easiest looking girl in the bar. In fact, the moment he stepped into a room, his aura of suaveness and sophistication had every girl automatically eating out of the palm of his hand, swooning over him passionately. In those days he hung out at fancier places – exclusive clubs, and casinos even, where he attracted women of more distinguished breeding, not to mention beauty. He never would have set foot in a place like the Lion Head, with its beer-stained bar tables, scent of stale cigarettes and body odor, not to mention the puddles of god-knows-what you had to skip over on the way to your torn-cushion seat. But these days, these were the only kind of places that would serve him, and the only kind of places where he could have a drink without feeling completely out of place.
The bartender slid a pint of Harp toward James and asked, “Shall I open a tab?” James nodded his head dejectedly. He took a deep long gulp. In the old days, he never would have stomached this kind of swill. It would’ve been all vodka martinis, shaken and not stirred. That little “shaken not stirred” twist was a big hit with the ladies back then. The problem was that as James got older it became more and more difficult for him to handle the ensuing hangovers that resulted from a night’s worth of martini binging. He’d be out of commission for the entire next day, nauseous with deep fatigue, and a splitting and unbearable headache. It got to the point where even a single drink would wreak havoc on his rapidly aging body, and the mere scent of hard liquor would send pangs of pukey hangover sensation through his head.
As a result, James started drinking more and more beer. It took more beer to give him a buzz than it did martinis, and soon he started to develop a magnificent gut. Within a couple months of the beverage shift his waist size went up 10 inches. Suddenly James looked terrible in a tuxedo, which had always been his trademark attire. It was around this time he started to develop other health issues, aches and pains in his joints, not to mention an on and off back condition that would often have him bed ridden for days at a time. He became slower, and had trouble staying up as late as he used to. Now he felt tired all of the time. None of this would’ve mattered much to the average person, except James was a secret agent for the British secret service, and up until around the time the Berlin Wall came down, one of the agency’s very best field operatives. He had saved the world from eminent disaster more times than anyone could remember, but now he sat slumped on a stool, with his gut jutting out towards the bar, sadly downing back his bitter pint of beer, his best days were clearly far behind him.
James slammed the empty glass onto the counter and watched for a minute as the foam slowly dripped to the bottom of the glass. He ordered a second pint, which he gulped down in even less time. He was starting to feel the fuzzy sensation of intoxication buzzing within his skull. By the time he was on his fifth pint, he felt he’d successfully gotten the better of his previous humiliation. He spun around in his stool and surveyed the bar. It was only a little past midnight, but the place was pretty quiet. It was only a Wednesday night.
There was a heavy-set and ratty haired old redhead wearing way too much makeup that failed to distract from her messed up teeth sitting at the other end of the bar loudly gulping down a tall glass of Guinness. He surveyed the room further, wondering to see what other women were in the bar. There were two or three twenty-something year olds seated at a table near the mildew caked dart-board – at least they looked twenty-something to James. He had long since lost the ability to correctly determine the age of anyone more than a decade younger than him. To him, everyone from the age of 17 to 39 looked relatively the same – young.
Young, and yet again, out of his league. The girls sat with a group of guys who looked to be their boyfriends. He thought for a minute about how with all of his advanced spy training it would be so easy to kill the boys. A quick snap of the neck, poison in their drinks, or a swift bullet from his Walther P38, fitted with a special silencer so no one would ever be the wiser. It’d be way too easy, but what good would it do? Three dead boyfriends, with girlfriends mourning over them, and James would probably still be going home empty handed.
He shrugged to himself, “The redhead will have to do.” He walked over to her end of the bar and sat down to order another round. “Hello,” he smiled at her. “My name is Bond. James Bond.” The redhead erupted in a hysterical giggle fit. “That’s an original line,” she said half sarcastically.
“I’m sorry,” said James, trying to maintain his smile and suppress the feeling of debasement he felt hitting on this woman who would have been so beneath him in his youth. “I just saw you sitting here all alone, just as I was, and thought I’d come over and chat you up.”
“People call me Gertrude,” she shot back. Gertrude Gravel.”
“What a charming name,” he said out loud with a hint of irony in his voice she could not detect. “Gertrude was also the name of Hamlet’s mother. A beautiful name.”
Back in those halcyon secret agent days, the women James was involved with had incredibly sexy and provocative names like “Honey Rider” and “Pussy Galore.” My how far he’d fallen, he thought to himself.
“Well, Gertrude. Would you like me to buy you a drink?”
“Ooohh-hoo-hoo,” she cackled in her thick cockney accent. “You can buy me a drink, luv, but don’t you be getting any funny ideas.”
“What’ll it be?” said the bartender who had descended upon the couple like a vulture.
“I’ll have another pint of Harp,” said James waving his near empty cup. “and the lady will have….” he motioned toward her expecting her to call out the brand of beer she was already drinking. Instead, she ordered a glass of Glenfiddich Scotch on the rocks, a very expensive brand. “Make it a double,” she added.
James recalled fondly a time when he didn’t need to buy women drinks to get them into bed with him. He didn’t have to spend money on anything and the women would still come swarming at him. He sighed heavily as the bartender poured the drink in front of them, Gertrude grinning at him now with her crooked teeth.
The two sat and chatted, and drank some more. With each passing drink, it seemed as though Gertrude’s teeth began to straighten out just a little bit. Nature was beginning to take its course, just as James had hoped and also sort of dreaded.
Finally the bartender yelled for last call, and James and Gertrude got up at the same time. Even through his alcohol induced numbness, James could feel shooting pains in his knees and lower back from having been seated for so long.
“Wait right here, luv,” said Gertrude as she quickly ducked into the ladies room. James felt like a mouse caught in a rattrap, debating whether or not he should gnaw his arm off and escape. He did a quick last minute scan of the bar to see if there were any better prospects than the girl he seemed to be going home with, but none presented themselves. He leaned up against the side of the bar, feeling exhausted, until Gertude returned from the ladies room and clasped his hand. The two headed out the door and hailed a cab.
The darkness of the cab accentuated the thick mascara surrounding her eyes. She looked like a raccoon, he thought to himself as he stuck his tongue down her throat. Her breath was repulsive, and her hastily applied make up smeared all over the place, but James didn’t seem to notice too much as they kissed and he rubbed her thick freckled arms. “Oh James,” she moaned in her gravelly cigarette damaged voice, as James’ hand moved underneath her dress.
The cab careened through traffic, blasting jittery Pakistani music as the couple continued making out in the back seat like school children. Finally it pulled up to a respectable one-person flat in London’s East End. James paid the cab driver and held his breath as he walked up the three flights of stairs to Gertrude’s apartment. All the way up she giggled hysterically between kisses, as she shushed at James, “We don’t want to wake up the neighbors,” all the while, her heels clomped loudly on the creaking wooden stairs.
The two made their way to the bedroom, where Gertrude turned on the lights and made her way to the adjacent bathroom, leaving a trail of removed clothes in her wake. While in the bathroom, James drunkenly inspected the light switch hoping to find some sort of dimmer function. When he couldn’t find it, he turned on the cheap Sony television set, and then turned the lights off. He took off all of his clothes and carefully slid underneath the blanket. His back and knees were still bothering him immensely, but he tried putting it out of his head for the time being.
Within minutes, Gertrude strut out of the bathroom clad in pink bathrobe. She came upon James fully nude underneath the blanket. “Why don’t you join me, darling,” he asked her with a wink in the darkness with glow of the television set tinting half his face as, while chat show host Jonathan Ross’ voice hummed quietly in background. She removed the pink robe and crawled under the blanket with him. The two continued to kiss, and Gertrude’s hand made it’s way below James’ waist. She clasped it in her fist and began stroking softly at first, then little by little increasing her speed and grasp.
The problem was, it seemed to be having no effect whatsoever; James and Gertrude were both starting to become self-conscious of this predicament. “Maybe we better slow down a bit,” James stuttered embarrassingly. He freed himself from her grasp, and moved below her neckline, where he began sensually kissing the wrinkled and fleshy mounds of flab. He slowly made his way below the belt and worked on that for as long as he could but the odor of a night’s long perspiration turned out too much for James to bear. He went back to kissing her again, and she grasped below his waist again, but once again to no avail.
“What’s the matter luv?” she asked. “Nothing,” said James. I think I just need a glass of water.” He fumbled out of the sheets groaning audibly and uncontrollably as he stood to his feet from the bed and headed toward the door “The kitchen’s second to your left. There’s clean glasses next to the sink,” said Gertrude. “Don’t take too long” she smiled. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away,” winked James, as he took his cold footsteps toward the kitchen.
Once there he grabbed a clean glass and filled it with water from the faucet. He drank down the glass with one hand while his other worked furiously between his legs trying to desperately make himself ready, but he remained as limp as before. He drank three glasses of water, and sighed heavily. A stabbing sensation permeated his lower back sharply, as the effects of the alcohol had largely worn off. James felt fatigued, and his head throbbed with pain. He hovelled back to bed where he at this point hoped Gertrude had dozed off to sleep. Unfortunately she hadn’t. James smiled a convincing smile as he carefully underneath the sheets. He began kissing her again. At one point he tried to coax her head below his waist, but met with considerable resistance until Gertrude finally said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t really do that with someone I don’t know. Does that make me weird?” “No, not at all,” James lied. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Gertrude moved her hand below James’ waist as the two kissed, and when she realized yet again she wasn’t going to get anywhere, she moved below her own waist and swiftly brought herself to climax.
“Sorry, luv,” she sighed exhaustedly. “But I just had to do it.” “It’s okay, said James,” sheepishly and unable to mask his humiliation. “I guess I must’ve had a few too many at the pub.” Gertrude ran her hands through his hair, patting him like a school boy, “Awwww, you’re so adorable. Let’s get some sleep. Maybe you’ll feel differently in the morning, and we’ll be able to give it another go.” She smiled and kissed him. Shortly thereafter she rolled over on her side of the bed and fell into a deep sleep. James cringed at the idea of waking up in this apartment with this woman and going through the whole ordeal again, but he was too exhausted to get up right away. He fought to keep his eyelids open, but soon drifted half to sleep.
In his sleep he had a strange dream. He stood before a great big concrete dam overlooking a high cliff. The rotting and decaying wall was all that stood between him and 9.2 trillion gallons of water. Suddenly, one of the cracks became more pronounced, and a leak spurted out in a thin stream of water. James put his finger over the crack to stop it, but he could feel the rumbling of raging waters from behind the wall. Soon the crack widened. James adjusted his hand to cover up the increasing damage, until pretty soon his entire palm was holding back water from the dam. Soon it began leaking and dripping from the palm of his hand, and soon another leak sprang from the upper left section of the wall. He reached up with his other hand to plug the leak, when suddenly he noticed another leak below that, but now his hands were full. He looked out the length of the wall, and saw it slowly beginning to crumble with cracks forming all along it, and new leaks sprouting out, until the wall started looking more like a shower-head.
The water just kept coming and coming, and he was drenched and powerless, soon the rumbling began to grow and large chunks of concrete began to fall from the wall until – woosh – a raging tide of water came cascading from an opening on the dam twice the size of his body. The waters swept him up, and he felt powerless as it dragged him down the side of the nearby cliff, presumably to his death.
He woke up startled with a nauseous feeling in his gut and an overpowering urge to pee. He looked at a nearby alarm clock. It read 4 a.m. Gertrude slept soundly, breathing with slight snores. James got up carefully and made his way toward the bathroom. After that, he put his clothes back on and decided to slip out of the apartment unnoticed. He didn’t want to hail a cab, hoping to use the brisk morning walk to clear his head and reflect a little on the previous night’s series of disappointing events, but his legs quickly became sore, and nausea overcame him from the night’s drinking. He realized he had no choice but to hail a cab.
James reached a busy boulevard and in ten minutes had hailed down a cab. He fought hard to stay awake on the cab ride home, and couldn’t manage the strength to protest when he realized the driver was taking him the long route home. “I’m getting to old for this shit,” he thought to himself.
The cab eventually pulled up to his King’s Row apartment in Chelsea, and the morning sun began to rise. The chirping birds and sounds of children playing in a nearby lot irritated James as he dragged himself to the elevator and up to his apartment. He passed by the lobby security guard on his way to the elevator. “Long night, Mr. Bond?” James nodded exhaustedly, with deep bags underneath his eyes that seemed to perfectly garnish the quivering frown beneath them. In his apartment he stood before the mirror in his living room and carefully examined these facial features, which only made him more miserable. He studied the wrinkles that seemed to line his face like routes on some sort of complicated and cluttered road map. His hair color had changed from a sleek black color to a coarse and scraggily gray.
He looked around the room and everything was out of place and unkempt. In his bedroom the floor was covered with dirty laundry. James had lived extravagantly in his youth, and neglected to save much. He was trying to get on top of the crippling debt that plagued him now, and certain luxuries, such as a maid had to go. His salary as a field operative for the British secret service had not changed much in 20 years.
James had not slept in his apartment in over a month, and felt glad to be back as he lay down underneath his bed sheets. He had been to Afghanistan on assignment. These days the work of a secret agent was not as exciting as it once was. It mostly included hiding out in remote desert outposts, intercepting and cataloguing stray radio transmissions from nearby terrorist cells. It was tedious work. James pined for the days before the fall of communism when field operations meant hanging out in casinos, drinking martinis, and shacking up with exotic Eastern European women.
James could feel an immense soreness in his back as he went into the freezer and pulled out and ice pack he kept specially prepared for just such occasions. He went into the cupboard and pulled out a prescription vial of oxycodone, popped 4 into his mouth and swallowed it with a glass of tap water. He lay on the couch in the living room with the ice pack placed on his lower back, while Vivaldi gently emanated from his stereo system. He fell into a deep and satisfying sleep that lasted a total of 13 hours. When he woke up, he still felt quite exhausted, but trudged out of bed anyway.
**********

When you’re young, not much matters. When you find something that you care about, then that’s all you got. When you go to sleep at night you dream of pussy. When you wake up it’s the same thing. It’s there in your face. You can’t escape it. Sometimes when you’re young the only place to go is inside. That’s just it – fucking is what I love. Take that away from me and I really got nothing.