A Goddamned Dream – Eric Cecil

I was unemployed and broke.  Somehow I spent my nights in bars.  I begged drinks from friends.  I occasionally hustled them from women.  But that didn’t work very well.  Most of them could sense my desperation.  Lara couldn’t.

“You look lost,” she said.  She sidled up to me as I scowled in the corner.
I looked at her and said, “I’m not lost.  I’m alone.  My friends have all left.”
“Do you want a drink?”
I followed her to the bar in the center of the room.  We introduced ourselves.  She ordered herself a vodka-soda and for me, a whiskey and coke.  I thanked her and gulped at it.
She ordered me another.  I asked her for a cigarette.  She obliged.  We stepped outside and lit up.
“I don’t really want to go back in there,” she said.  “It’s crowded.”
“I have a full drink in there,” I said.
“So do I.”
“So let’s go finish our drinks,” I said.
“Let’s go to my place.”
“Let’s go finish our drinks,” I said.
She looked up at me and blinked through her black curls.  Then she nodded and stepped off the curb, extending her arm to the neon traffic.
She was pigeon-toed.  But she had nice legs.
We left the drinks.
We entered her apartment.  She accidentally kicked some shoes on the floor by the door and cursed and turned on the light.  A cat walked into the room, yawning, and she scooped it up and caressed it, talking to it like a baby.
It was a nice apartment.  Subtle red lights.  She’d bothered to paint the place a reddish-brown.  She had furniture that looked deliberate, selected, nice.  No roommate.
I asked for a beer.
“Wait here,” she said.  She lowered the cat, cooed to it and walked into the kitchen.  I sat on a plush black couch.
“You from Chicago?” she called from the kitchen.
“No,” I said.  “I’m from a shitty town in the middle of nothing and nowhere.”
“Which one?”
I told her.  She returned to the living room, handed me a beer.
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“There’s no reason why you’d know it,” I said.
“I’m from New York,” she smiled.
“Mm.”  I didn’t care about New York.  Or Chicago.  Or my hometown.
“You been there?”
“You like it?”
“I suppose.”
“I miss it.”
“You look very Midwestern,” she said.
“I am very Midwestern,” I said.
“Your clothes are Midwestern.”
I shrugged, gulped the beer.  She sat next to me.
She grabbed the collar of my shirt.  “You dress like most ‘hip’ Midwesterners.  Like you think you’re cool, but you’re not.”
“Is that so?” I asked.
“Yeah.  And you talk like a Midwesterner, too.”
I nodded ahead.
She turned on the TV.  Then she removed her heels and stretched out, reclining her legs in my lap.  They were big, full legs, wrapped in blue tights.  I rubbed them for a moment.  I wondered about pigeon toes.  How do those happen?  And was she ashamed of them?
I asked for another beer.
“You just going to drink all my beer?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, and then I asked to borrow a cigarette.
“You don’t ‘borrow’ cigarettes,” she replied.  “It’s not like you’ll return it to me when you’re done.”
“Mm,” I said.
I came home the next day and wandered around the apartment.  I cut the shades in my shoebox bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed my eyes for a long, long time.
I thought about Cindy.  I wasn’t going to call her.  She wasn’t going to call me, either.
The phone rang.
“You’re there.”
It was Wilder.
“What are you doing today?” he asked.
“Jerking off,” I said.  “Taking a bath.  Pretending to look for a job.”
He laughed, and said, “Let’s go to the park.”
“No,” I said.
“I’ll buy you a coffee,” he said.
I hesitated for a moment, then I agreed.
I got out of my old clothes and into some clean ones.  I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror.  I brushed my teeth while walking around the kitchen.  I didn’t feel so hot.
“You don’t look so hot,” said Wilder.
We walked the boulevard to the park.  The sun cooked us and brought a buzz to the air.  Hispanic families laughed and walked languidly about.  A few folks lounged outside of apartments or businesses, sipping out of brown bags.
Wilder looked at me from behind the sunglasses.  He had the dead stare going from behind the black.  I wondered if he were really alive under there.
“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I would’ve done my hair if I knew this was a date.”
“Cut it out,” he said.  “You’ve got self-pity all over you, you know that?”
“I know.  I stink of it.”
“Girls don’t go for that.”
“Some of them do.”
He cut me a leering glance.  “Go on.”
I told him about Lara.
“Pigeon-toed?  Jesus.”
“I think.  She did her best to hide it.”
“You sleep with her?”
“I slept next to her.  There wasn’t much hanky-panky.”
“You’re a dream, you know that?”  He blew on his coffee.  “It’s too hot out for this.”
I agreed and blew on my own coffee.  We skirted the park and found a nice shady spot in which to sit.  He talked about work for a minute.  I listened and nodded.
“So where do you go from here?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“With what’s-her-name?”
“We have a date in a couple days.  We’re going out for tapas.”
He laughed behind the sunglasses.  “Do you even know what tapas are?”
“Not really.”
His laugh grew.  He nearly doubled over.  “How do you expect to pay for this?”
It was my turn to laugh.  “I don’t expect to pay for it.  Her treat.”
“A goddamned dream,” he said.
I blew on my coffee, trailed a serpentine line in the dirt with my finger.
She answered the door quickly.  She looked good.  She’d clearly put a lot of effort into her outfit, her hair, her makeup.
“You’re right on time,” she said.
“I’m a punctual person.”
“I’d taken you for a slacker.”
“Not entirely.”
She smiled and told me to come in.
“Take a seat,” she said, clopping to the bathroom in her heels.  “I’m almost ready.”
“I forgot to tell you the other night,” I called from the couch, “that you have a nice place.”
“Thanks,” she yelled back.
I craned my neck and could barely see her fiddling with her hair.
“What kind of place do you have?” she asked.
“You have a roommate?”
“Yes,” I said.  “He’s a good friend.”
“A good friend.”
“That’s right.”
“Are you gay?” she giggled.
“Very,” I said.
She came out of the bathroom.  I pretended to look out her living room window.  Then I eyed her up and down.  She looked exactly the same.
“OK.  I’m ready.”
“You look nice.”
“And you,” she said, “still look like a Midwesterner.”
I blinked at that.
“Let’s go,” she said.
I let her order the food.  I passed on her offer of wine and ordered my own drink.
“You don’t like wine?”
“I love wine.”
“You know, you don’t talk much.”
“Keep the drinks coming,” I said, “and I’ll talk too much.”
The waitress brought those, and I went quick with them.  I was nervous, in a way.  I didn’t particularly care to make a great impression.  But I sensed war.
“So what do you hope to do for work?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“And how old are you?”
“Twenty-six.  You?”
“And I guess I don’t know what I really want to do, but at my job, I’ve been very busy.”
“Where’s that?”
She named some business that brought to mind skyscrapers and Michigan Ave.
“I’ve never heard of it,” I said.
“It’s a design firm.  I’m involved in the marketing side.  I’m the Assistant Director of Marketing there.”
“Do you know what that is?”
“It’s basically public relations.”
“I studied some of that in school,” I said.
I told her.
“A state school?”
She smirked.  “I went to NYU.”
I nodded.
They brought our food and another round of drinks.  I got at mine quickly.  I started to sink inside of myself, like a nice comfy chair.
The food was of small portions and plentiful.
“Looks like appetizers,” I said.
“Ever had tapas?”
“Midwestern,” she said.
I gulped at my whiskey.  “That’s right.”
“Through and through.”
“Sure.  We’re in the Midwest.  I’m from the Midwest.”
“I suppose so.  Here, have some of this.”  She loaded my plate with some tiny foods.
We ate in silence for a bit.
“What do you think of tapas?”
“I think it’s good.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
She looked up suddenly and said, “Are you balding?”
Without taking my eyes from my plate, I held the hair back from my forehead with my right hand, chewing.
“I thought maybe you were balding.”
“You saw for yourself.  I think I’m OK.”
“But still the Midwestern duds.”
“The Midwestern accent.”
“If the shoe fits.”
“And a little bit of a Midwestern belly, too.”
Now I looked at her.  I wiped my hands with a white linen napkin, then picked up the drink, got to its bottom.  Our eyes locked while I finished it.
I set it down carefully.
“You like to be insulting?” I asked.  War.
“Not particularly,” she said.  “I just think it’s funny.”
“That’s fair.  Keep going.  Let’s see what you got.”
She raised her eyebrows defensively.  “No, nothing like that.  I’m just amused.”
“Mm,” I said.  “Why don’t you get me another drink?”
“You place a lot of demands,” she said.
“Is that right?”
“Yes,” she said.  “That’s right.  We haven’t even slept together yet.  And I’m paying for all this.”  She gestured at the table with both hands.
“I’ve no money.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“You knew that going into this.”
“I guess I did.  So what am I getting out of this?”
“I don’t know.  You tell me.”
“Do you like me?” she asked.
I chewed my food.
“You’re desperate, aren’t you?” she asked.
I grabbed another small helping from the plate.  “Well,” I said, eating with some vulgarity, “maybe so.  And maybe the only reason you didn’t notice it until now is that you’re even more desperate than I am.”  Then I rattled the ice in my empty glass and glared at her.
“Fuck you,” she said.
“I’ll need another drink first,” I said.  I rattled the empty glass again.
“You’ve got some mouth on you.”
“I haven’t used that yet, either.”
“You think you’re clever?”
“Not really.  You think I’m clever?”
We stared at each for a moment.
She signaled the waitress.
“Two whiskey and cokes, please,” she said curtly.  The waitress nodded and left.
“Atta girl,” I said.
“Fuck you,” she said.
“I’m not the only one with a mouth,” I said.  Then I smiled.
“Drink up, Mr. Midwest,” she said.
“Cheers,” I said.  “Bottoms up.”
She let the cat scamper off without a word when she opened the door.  I followed her in.
“Think you’re staying awhile?” she asked.
“I guess so.”
“Sit down.”  She went into the kitchen, rattled the fridge as she opened the door.
I hesitated briefly.  She produced two bottles as I oozed into the couch.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the beer.  I kicked off my shoes, put my feet on the coffee table.
“Make yourself at home,” she said.
“I will.  Thank you.”
We sat in silence, both of us staring ahead.
“Maybe we can drink these in bed,” she said.
“OK,” I said.
“Come on.”
We walked to her bedroom, which was as impeccably furnished as the rest of the place.  Women always make a good home, I thought.  Such comfy cages.  Wonderful little traps.  I checked myself before I complimented her.
I removed my pants and got under the covers of her mattress on the floor.  I was still in my socks and my shirt.
“Just like that?” she asked.
“Just like what?”
“You just jump out of your pants into my bed?”
“You’re impossible.”
“I’m not impossible.  I’m drunk.”
She ignored that.  She turned to her dresser and removed her earrings.  “No kiss, then?” she asked the wall.
I silently rose from her bed in my socks and shirt and approached her from behind.  I reached under her blouse and grabbed her sides, which were taut and smooth. I kissed her neck.  She sank a few inches into my chest, smelled like pink candy and flowers.
Then she straightened out and stepped out of her heels.
“You’re a lousy kisser,” she said, sighing with impatience.  Her back still to me, she busied herself with a bracelet on her wrist.
“Never had any complaints before,” I lied.
She turned to me.
“You think you’re god’s gift to women?”
“I think I’m all you got,” I said.
“That’s not true,” she laughed.
I continued.  “I think I’m all you got, and I think I got some dinner and some drinks.  I think I’m going to have this last one in bed, like you mentioned before.”
“I think,” she said, “you need to earn it.”
I bent to the floor, grunting, and picked up the beer I’d deposited by her bed.  “I’m not going to fuck you,” I said.  “Not tonight.”
She stood at the dresser.  “You don’t even want to.”
“Not especially.”  I reclined on her mattress.
“I’ve had better than you, y’know,” she fumed.
“That’s easy to believe.”  I was smirking now.  But I wanted to sleep.
“Get up.”
“I had a better man than you in that bed last week.”
“And where is he now?” I asked.
Her nostrils flared.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “But he was a good lay.  You don’t seem like you even know how to go about it.  You certainly don’t know how to treat a lady.”
“Well,” I said, “I didn’t know I was with a lady.”
At this, she raced toward the bed, grabbed me by the arm of my shirt.  I winced, then let her maintain her grip.  I wore a very silly grin now.
“Get the fuck out of my apartment,” she said.  “Right now.” And she tried to pull me from the bed.  I wouldn’t budge.
“I want to go to sleep,” I said.
“RIGHT NOW!” she yelled.
She lunged to her dresser, picked up a candle, threw it at me as I raised a blanketed arm.  It missed me entirely.  It hit the wall with a hapless thud.
I didn’t want to meet Wilder the next day, but he insisted.  So I did.  We met at a chickenshit diner somewhere in the next neighborhood over.
We slumped into vinyl booths, seated ourselves at a table in the back corner, by the toilets.
“OK,” Wilder said.  “In one word, how was the date?”
I looked through him.
“C’mon,” he said.  He giggled.  “That good or that bad?”
“That bad,” I said blankly.  I fed him a few details.  I said something stupid about the similarities between fighting and making love.
“You’re a goddamned dream,” he said.  He pounded his right fist on the table and cackled in exaggeration.
We both ordered breakfast.