Atchafalaya Swamp

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wells of Eyes

WELL HAVE YOU EVER, in that moment of intense intimacy, whether sexual or otherwise, peered into that black liquid inkiness and looked, really looked—into a person’s soul? And there you are, spent, deep inside her that you swear as you stared in the unfathomable darkness, a glimpse, a connection so intense, a feeling you might have felt in a church, mosque or synagogue however incongruous that may be. Then you wonder why you had never experienced anything like it before, thinking you’ve already seen it all on the conjugal bed you shared with your long suffering but dutiful spouse.

Well I have, and it’s something I am not proud to tell you either, but tell you I must.

As a traveling salesman (shoes are my trade) I’ve had my fair share of women; I am merely stating a fact. Most of these encounters were forgettable, ably aided and abetted by knowledgeable taxi drivers, hotel doormen in a quest for commissions and barmen. Sometimes you might even bump into your quarry at the lobby bar, their eyes expectant looking, furtively making you out. Cheap as you are, you rejoice at being able to cut out the middleman.

And you may very well ask, why do we do what we do? Beats me, but I think it’s a question of release and opportunity. And I would be hard pressed to remember her name a week later, if it was her name at all. And even if she gave me her number afterwards, I would never call her again. Like I said, it’s for release; I didn’t say I was looking for a wife was I?

That was, until I met her. Or rather, I had looked into her soul.

For the purposes of my story, let’s call her Lita.

The women I’ve had, chiefly, were what you might call ‘desperadoes’; divorcees and waitresses and office girls out to make something on the side, or simply looking for a thrill. The sleeve on one of my favorite albums by Steely Dan says, “Can’t Buy a Thrill”, and I dispute that strongly because one certainly can. These women are usually of the older and mature variety, and are not full-time hookers, oh no, not my cup of tea. Besides, the potential for disease is incalculable. There are high-rent ones of course and can usually be found in the Yellow Pages under “Escorts”, spick and span and probably comes with a certificate but on my shoestring budget? Sorry, I hadn’t intended that as a pun.

That was, until Lita came along.

She was something else; a rough, unpolished diamond, heaven-sent in the archetypal Adam and Eve fashion save for one thing: I’m no Adam, not by any stretch of the imagination. For starters she was young; barely out of her teens when she was ‘introduced’ to me by the hotel bartender one fine balmy evening. I was in town to visit our dealers with an express mission to find out why our new range of rubber thongs or ‘jap slaps’ weren’t quite flying off the shelves.

And there I was, balding, with a heavy paunch, embarrassing man-boobs and should I add, thirty years her senior, nursing a beer. The lithe creature appeared in a lady dress that accentuated her cleavage; long flowing locks carelessly caressing her shoulders . . . and legs. Oh legs. And the exquisite calves dragging the eyes to meander down to her gloriously petit ankles . . . dainty feet clad in fashionable black Italian pumps (or faux Italian anyway) –my personal Lolita for the night. I felt like I had scored the lottery, she was that gorgeous. But her eyes I noticed, –were sad and forlorn.

Never in a thousand million years, as I counted my lucky stars and took a long sensual swig of my beer, would ever such a beautiful creature look at me. Let alone once, let alone twice, and God forbid, let alone fall for me.

She moved towards me, hesitant, which is understandable, in light of my age and my bearing. I was dressed in casuals, dark pants with my Arnold Palmer golf shirt hanging over my gut. I gestured her to the stool next to me, and more than once I could net help thinking that she just wanted to get this over and done with. Believe me; sometimes they are no different than any other service personnel.

But I was in the mood for more alcohol, to deaden the pain and make it easier to live with myself afterwards perhaps? I asked her what she wanted and said she wasn’t particular. On cue, the bartender recommended her a lady drink, Baileys I think it was, something that looked like milk-white coffee.

Now I may be crude and crass, but I’ve always believed you should treat people the way you want to be treated. If I feel her aversion to me is too strong I would not force her, no matter what her vocation. As a salesman I can respect a seller’s right of refusal. Then perhaps at closing time after paying the tab, instead of walking to the elevators to the heavens above I would take her to the doorman and order a taxi. Then I would quietly slip her some notes and thank her for her time. Inadvertently their eyes would light up at this point; glad she wasn’t forced to the evening’s supposedly eventual conclusion. If I’m lucky I might even get a peck on the cheek, amidst her mumblings of apologies.

So I sat there with these thoughts in my head; that the night might come up empty, when the sweet young thing old enough to be my daughter slipped her soft hands in mine. I thought I even detected a faint hint of a lovers’ squeeze. What’s this? I glanced over –and was that a faint smile painting her luscious lips too?

So we ordered some more rounds, she too perhaps to deaden the pain and make it easier to live with herself afterwards. I can’t even remember what we talked about but I sensed some heat in our intertwined fingers beginning to simmer, frozen hearts ready to thaw. I should be so lucky, I guess.

More than once as we whispered our version of small talk, our lips would brush, accompanied by a gentle squeezing of fingers. It was like being struck with 1000 volts of current. I mean, is this for real? Can one find love with a teenage hooker? I was still sober enough to tell myself that I’ve only just met the girl, and she was only doing it for the money.

I shall not indulge you with details, but suffice to say, that night was a revelation. I felt truly liberated, the shackles that used to bore love down blessedly removed. I finally felt I had a communion with someone on a plane I never knew existed. The feeling was, and I do not say this lightly or sacrilegiously, bordered on the religious. She was hungry for me as I her. Every fantasy, every fetish I had in my perverted mid-life brain she indulged. When after all is said and done, she did not roll over (and this was a first) and gently laid her head on my chest, basking in the afterglow. And then we would sleep spoon fashion. And right before the breaking of dawn, when male pheromones (even 50-year old ones) are wont to rage, her lips would seek and tease my member. Then we would start all over again.

And when we would erupt, face to face, her lips locked on mine, her eyes would engagingly remain open: begging me to stare in the wells of her eyes, for our souls to cross the divide.

So I broke my cardinal rule about not meeting a trick more than once. In fact, we met plenty of times after that. In a rare moment she confessed that I was her first John (yeah, right, say what you may – it’s true), and she did it because her mother was in the hospital and her only other sibling was about to start school. But what she hadn’t counted on (nor I, not in a thousand million years) was our powerful communion, however ridiculous that may sound.

Fortunately I was been blessed with rather sound plumbing thank God, although looks can be deceiving (don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover and all that) and I will bring to my grave that when we were together, Lita had never faked it. Which also puts into question the so called wonder drug that purportedly treats ED: you don’t need Viagra; you just need a yielding Lolita-type, that’s all.

On the professional side I was reprimanded by HQ on why I kept visiting that same town again and again when the sales figures there didn’t warrant my undue attention. But how could I explain to the Area Manager that I had looked –looked–into a person’s soul?

But like all half-baked stories the affair ended badly (at least for me it was) about a year and a half later. I remember it clearly because it was not long after we celebrated her twentieth and I had bought her a rather daring slip, something with lace and frills. We didn’t really meet that often, once in a blue month, sometimes twice, and of late surprisingly these liaisons were initiated by her.

One rainy evening I checked into the hotel, on my own account, hugely anticipating our meeting of souls when I called and found that her mobile number no longer worked. The computer generated female voice gently admonishing: we’re sorry, the number you had called is no longer in service. This I take to mean that either something bad had happened to her, or, the end of the world as I know it. Because she had come to her senses and decided to move on. In all likelihood, and I’m not averse to kidding myself, it was probably the latter. All fantastic things must come to a crashing end; it was, as they say, par for the course for me.

But it didn’t really quite end that night when it should and then I had literally drowned myself in a sorrow of liquid amber. The bartender was apologetic, because even he, after a few calls, had failed to trace her.

Thinking it was over; I vainly tried keeping her out of my mind. But one does not fall out of love so easily I don’t think.

But some months later, out of the blue, she called, on a different number. She apologized citing reasons that might have even been absurd, but with my heart aching and racing and the embers starting to kindle, reason fell out the window. So we agreed to meet and consume our hunger. Or so, I had thought.

For the second time she stood me up, without a word, or nary an apology. After waiting for a reasonable and appropriate length of time, I tried her new number but that number had also ceased to exist, when hours earlier the breathless SMS she sent still burned in my phone’s inbox: RHW darling I wil brg the bday lingerie u gave im yrs tonite 2 do as u pls. Much muaaach! (RH was the pet name she gave me, and please don’t laugh: Red Hot Wanger). I shall not bore you with tales of my sorrow and how the bartender had helped me drown in it that night. This time it was with something much stronger: Scotch, and make it a double, please. That was how Mr. JW became my choice of poison ever since. I also liked its motto: Keep on Walking.

So I let the episode pass, which was the wise thing to do but I “kept on walking”, which probably wasn’t.

It was a year or so later I found myself in the same hotel where I was to introduce a brand new range of sneakers to our dealers the following day. I walked in with an exaggerated bounce, tipping the doormen who held on to my suitcase, hoping to give the right impression of delight and confidence; tools of the sales trade I say.

It was already late in the evening as I stood at the reception, the hour when dusk had finally settled and vestiges of scarlet had finally disappeared into the cool black sky.

I can safely say I had forgotten her by then, or tried not to think about her at all. At my age, I should have already learned to let bygones be bygones. Instead of going up to my room I decided to walk to the side where the lounge was, perhaps to get an early start in dulling my senses.

As I was about to cross the threshold, the arch that leads into the lounge, something made me stop, a presence, a scent. I could feel her, even if I was deaf and blind I would have known it was her.

She was at the bar, a bald and stout older gentlemen sat by her side, her exposed knee and his bulbous jeans almost touching. I stood there like a deer in headlights. Unless they turned, they could not see me because I was looking at the back of their heads. They bartender stood looking at me, no, imploring me and I knew I must turn and walk away. But I stood there immobile and helpless. Animated in their conversation, she leaned close to him as her hands silkily disappeared into his lap. That was when I felt a breathless stab of jealously hit me, and more fool me, this feeling I had not felt perhaps a quarter of a century ago when I was courting my wife when a dear friend took her to the floor, at my insistence (I don’t dance) and she put her arms around his broad shoulders. A friendly gesture required by dance protocol that’s all.

Dazed, I left quickly, got to the room and took a quick and cold shower. As the water sprayed over my head, I hung my head and wept. But I could not stand myself for acting like that and after watching the 8 o’ clock news, I set the onset of self-pity aside, dressed and headed downstairs to the bar bracing myself come what may.

The lovey-dovey couple had already left, and I refused to speculate where.

The bartender pursed his lips looking up at me with something akin to pity. I smiled my bravado smile, with a shrug and a playful gesture of my palms held open, to show that what is past is past and gone forever.

For a moment we were both lost for words. It has been a year after all. Ever the professional, he turned and grabbed the The Black Label behind him, readying my poison. Presently he said, ‘double, sir?’

‘As always… always,’ I said.

I’ll be damned but didn’t my voice start to falter?

He put the glass on the counter and I averted my eyes, feigning indifference, in case they should show defeat, or worse, tears.

‘Err, company tonight, sir?’

‘Not tonight’, I said (and my heart almost screamed: perhaps never you fool!), a half-smile on my lips, parched from the countless years of cigarette abuse, certain in my belief that I will never peer into anyone’s soul, or into the wells of anyone’s eyes, ever again.


Note: This is my attempt at a short story written in the first person and a passive voice. It was inspired by my daughter’s eyes, a two-year old with wells of eyes so black, looking up at me, sometimes accusingly: Papa I know you’ve been bad, but I love you anyway. Ah, to know such sweet unconditional love.

I wrote this in just a few short hours in the driller’s doghouse, on a rig in the Straits of Makassar, Indonesia, where 250 or so poor souls had perished in a ferry accident in these waters, barely days earlier.

The character in the story is someone I typically meet in lobby bars during my travels.

Regretfully the character in the story is not me, but should you insist, then as a writer, I would have done my job.

Thank you for reading.