… remembering hospitality;
some having entertained
—Hebrews 13:1 (KJV)
12:00 p.m.: The light through the blinds is bright enough that I wake up. It’s about time. Cat notices I’m awake, she licks my forehead, a sure sign that she is hungry. I am excited to be awake relatively bright and early, perhaps I can get some writing done today. Coffee is not a bad idea, look in the freezer, no coffee. Feed the cat. Lie in bed contemplate going to the deli round the corner for coffee, basking in the zebra striped sunlight I fall back asleep.
4:30 p.m.—Get up to get coffee. Debate whether to shower or not. Walk round the corner to the deli, when I look in: there’s that obnoxious guy who leers at me. Once he said,
“I am going to take you dinner, you think I am joking!”
On another occasion he had said:
“You are my girlfriend!”
At this point, I’d had enough of him. There are other options; actually it would be pleasant, I decide, to stroll down to Atlantic Avenue to the Arab strip, fine French-Colombian roast to be purchased there. It is several minutes before I realize I am walking in the reverse direction. I find myself right outside Emily’s house. She is practicing her scales at the piano, I listen by the window a couple of minutes before I ring the doorbell. It is always a pleasure to see Emily—
“I was just on my way to get some coffee—“
“Really, you want some coffee?”
Why not? She makes coffee, we read cards—as usual as of late the Magician shows up and we talk about that and erstwhile lovers. It’s five-thirty and she has a student coming in. Outside, it’s getting dark. I remember I need to get coffee.
Since I’ve had some—I don’t really want coffee anymore. I walk down to Court Street and now I’m in the mood for red wine. At the liquor store I pick up a nice full-bodied Syrah. Next door is the butchers, I realize I am hungry. Cornish hens. I walk past a vegetable stand. Asparagus, new potatoes, red peppers, pearl onions…
And then cheese and crackers. Looks like I’m home for the evening.
6:30 p.m. —I am struck by the deliciousness of the simple pleasures in life. The choice to eat out or have Cornish hens roasting; the sublime-ness of actually having money to spend. How devious to run a citrus bath, while dinner cooks, a film score from the speakers; the affordancy of the phone off the hook and solitude. I have the option to paint my nails, vacuum clean or write. I do neither. I sit down to a dinner of rosemary stuffed hens, roast potatoes and caramel onions; asparagus in lemon butter sauce. Red wine.
An hour later I want dessert, with coffee.
8:30 p.m.—The strong pull of dessert is unmistakable.
I falter, on PBS Woman of the Year is showing, but I guess I can rent it later. Best to walk down to Atlantic Avenue before the shops close. There’s a guy walking a pair of greyhounds down the street. When I lived with Andreas, we owned two greyhounds (his actually), Harriet and Agnetha. I’m not fond of dogs, but these were beasts of breathtaking beauty. When I walked them I renamed them Actaeon and Jasper. We would hurtle full speed across the bridge. Actaeon, Jasper and I, Diana—Goddess of the Hunt. I might not love Andreas anymore but I miss the dogs.
My reverie has taken me elsewhere, I find myself on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Jehovah Witness Clock says it is nine on the dot. There is no point turning back, the Arabs will be closed, besides Manhattan might hold the key to my desires: French restaurant on Lafayette or the Bowery, Le Jardin, where the raspberry sorbet expresses the charm of the civilized. An autumnal chill settles in, the night is dark, but clear. I whizz past Chinatown with the speed of thought. At Le Jardin I peek through lace frosted windows—overcrowded. Of course, it’s Saturday night, what was I thinking? Absent-mindedly I wander into Marion’s, my usual haunt. It’s crowded too, but I figure if I sit in a corner no one I know will see me. At some point I make my way to the bathroom and run headlong into Ulrich seated at dinner with an art-type crowd. A hawk-like Italian woman glitters at me. Ulrich introduces her as Principessa di something, I decline to dine with them and make my way back to the bar.
On their way out Ulrich comes over,
“We’re going to see Maxwell at the Supper Club, you should come, we’ve got comps—“
“Nah, I think I’ll pass,”
“The Principessa personally asked if you would come,”
“Where do you get these people from? Who the hell calls herself a principessa anyway?”
“She’s bona fide, she was a principal with the Paris Opera Ballet for years. Now she’s here on the board of the Costume Institute at the Met—“
“So nice, these people with money—“
“You surprise me, aren’t you curious in the least?”
“Yeah, but I’m on the prowl for something else.”
“Lots of coffee at the Supper Club, doll—“
“Well that and dessert,”
I can see he feels I’m simply being contrary tonight.
“Well good luck on your quest, it sounds like quite a challenge—“
“I’m well up to the task.”
They leave, but so do I, some guy in a vanilla suit has been throwing me come hithers from the other end of the bar. He looks like he’s about ready to head my way and I’m not in the mood.
The streets crawl with weekend types. I meander into the Propeller Lounge. Foreign territory, as I’ve never seen or heard of it before. Sort of what I was looking for: exotic and loungy—trance-y eastern music, Very Marrakesh. I make my way to the back where it is cozy with couples, cushions and dim lanterns. The couple next to me are being effortlessly annoying. She indulges the conceit of being the only beautiful girl in the world, and he’s preying on her idiocy. At some point she gets up for the bathroom, he glances over at me and smiles. He takes out a cigarette,
“Do you have a light?”
His English is richly accented. I toss him a book of matches laying there on the table. He lights his cigarette all the while watching me,
“Nice matches. Thank you—“
“May I keep them?”
“You shouldn’t play with fire.”
He smiles, confident, seductive: so lucky am I to bask in his charms. He pockets the matches,
“I will keep them—“
“Fine if you like—“
Suit yourself Romeo, see you later. His friend returns and a couple of minutes later, they leave.
They are back in a half hour.
“Have you seen a wallet here, we might have left a wallet here—“
We? Apparently she was speaking for the both of them. Everyone in the vicinity sort of shifts and pries between cushions. He looks hassled, she turns to me.
“Do you remember we were sitting right next to you… did you see anything after we left?”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re looking for a wallet, leather, sort of burgundy?”
“Yes?” She gets excited, “Do you know where it is?”
“I have it.”
“Oh. Great! Can we have it back?”
She seems baffled, and he equally puzzled: a language barrier—she’s trying to explain to him in Spanish,
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand, did you say you had the wallet?”
“You heard me.”
“So you have the wallet—“
“Yes I have the wallet—“
“So can we have it back then?”
Her face darkens.
“Do you have the wallet or not?”
“I’m not repeating myself—“
“Can we have it back please?”
I laugh, she doesn’t get it.
I whip out a drivers license from on of the pouches, she attempts to grab the wallet from me but fails miserably: my deftness is legendary.
His name is Gabriel.
“Well it appears for all accounts and purposes the owner of this wallet is one Señor Gabriel Barcelon and not an entity called ‘We’. I suggest that Mr. Barcelon deal directly with me.”
Gabriel intercepts in Spanish, I can’t follow, but I know enough to know that I’ve aggravated them. At this point we have an audience, the resident din lowers by considerable decibels.
She decides enough is enough,
“I’m getting the manager—“
“May I intervene?”
Who invited you? It takes me a minute to realize that this is the same vanilla suit from the other bar. I hadn’t noticed him here before, it is as if he has popped into relief. His eyes— dark flashes are disturbing.
“No. Go away it’s not your business—“
“As you wish.” He bows and vanishes into the crowd
The manager weaves his way over,
“There seems to be a problem here, they claim that you have his wallet, is this true?”
“So they would like to have it returned, is that a problem?”
“I’m not so hot on this ‘We’ business. Gabriel wants to talk about the wallet—then he can do so directly—“
“What’s really going on here?”
“A simple transaction. An exchange. Ask him why he left his wallet here with me—if not that he wanted me to have it,”
Gabriel tries to articulate something, we are all watching: perhaps he is struggling with the English vocabulary? But no sound comes out, his face turns pure alabaster and he collapses—
“Gabriel! Somebody help us please! Call 911—“ The Girlfriend is in hysterics
“Everyone clear out, we have an emergency here—give the man space, he needs to breathe!”
No one moves.
The manager and the girlfriend loosen Gabriel’s collar and sleeves. The Vanilla Suit pushes his way through,
“I’m a doctor.”
On the floor, Gabriel’s eyes flutter white.
“What’s happening to him?”
“No, we haven’t done anything this evening—”
He looks up at her, it’s not sympathy in his face, something else,
“Maybe not collectively. Any private trips to the boy’s room?”
“I was the one who went to the bathroom—not him!”
“Ah. Do you have any idea what transpired then?” He is looking at me now. The Girlfriend is illuminated with some arcane understanding:
“You fucking whore! What have you done to him! I’m gonna kill you—”
She lunges for me, screaming
“Someone get this woman out of here—”
She is dragged off by a bouncer, kicking and screaming.
“Some peace of mind—Can we get some space here, for the man to breathe? Has anyone called the paramedics?”
No one moves.
Gabriel stirs, the Vanilla Suit bends over to listen to his breathing.
We all weigh in a little closer. Pale skin looms beneath a tan, the unconscious man’s eyes open and flutter, a slow release of richly shaped syllables emit from his lips—he is speaking in Spanish,
“He’s saying something—”
The Vanilla Suit translates:
“Something about a young woman— a hungry ghost,”
Everyone looks at me for a second and recall that somehow I am the culprit…
The Manager snaps out of his trance for a second,
“Did anyone call 911?”
No one budges. He realizes that was his job in the first place—and weaves his way back to the bar to get to a phone.
Gabriel still speaking, the Vanilla Suit still translates:
“—puzzled by this element, an object that switches hands, exchanged, one object for another, until the ultimate transaction is made—”
What was he on about? Could this possibly be the muttering of an unconscious man—or is the Vanilla Suit off on his own tangent? I look at the stilled crowd, everyone fascinated: hanging on to every word. Everyone in a trance.
The Vanilla Suit stops for a second to clarify what he has just heard, everyone holds their breath. After a beat of consideration, he continues:
“—an object that you do not recognize, yet an image which troubles you. I will give the interpretation. Very simple, you’ve suffered a trauma from which you have never recovered, it might have happened last night, it might have been weeks, months ago. Or even a year. It does not matter because every moment has become the same, never moving past the initial point of trauma always looping back on itself—”
I don’t like the tone of this. I want to leave this bar. Now.
I find myself frozen, forced to listen, Gabriel’s voice turning raspy and louder.
The Vanilla Suit continues:
“And how does Newness enter the world?
Lucifer falls from heaven:
A shooting star, you make a wish; a comet crashes and—
With that reverberation a resonance in the body, a subtle jolt: and you begin to crave things. You craved things dark and bitter, things that cause you to stray from your quotidian orbit. Had she realized that in fact the death she had been avoiding was the ultimate in Novelty, the superlative in dark and bittersweet? If she could only accept this she would transcend her mundane hauntings—“
He stops frozen.
Something startles, even frightens him…
Slowly I realize I have dropped a facade: I feel myself a hissing mass, vaporizing past the crowd that has become a parted sea of horror around me. I do not know—or care—what they see:
My illusion severed, I release myself into the swirling tradewinds of the crisp Manhattan night.
©1997, 2013 onome ekeh