JUST A MAN
“It’s just a book. So what?” He says.
“You’re just a man. so what?” I say. I picked up the novel I had fallen asleep while reading and waiting up for him to come back to our hotel room. He said he was going out for ice. He left at seven. The silver faced clock over the table by the door read: 2 a.m. I pat the dog eared corner back in place. I try to scowl at him. He laughs. He told me once, long ago, when we had first met, that he didn’t like women who read books. He didn’t trust them. They think life was some novel that had to have a happy ending, he said.
“Why did you do that?” I ask and clutch the book to my breast.
Both of us turn away from each other. He toward the window, me toward the bookshelf. The window is closed. The traffic noises of the world twenty floors below sounds muffled like a television through the wall of a cheap hotel throbbing against the splintered plaster.
“You’ll never understand how I feel if you don’t try.”
I’m not sure who said that, me or him. I turn back to where he was standing with that: I don’t give a shit attitude on his face, and one hand tucked into the left pocket on the back of his tight-assed jeans, but he’s no longer there. I am alone. I panic. I wet myself.
John had left a year earlier. The face reflected in the dark glass of the window, shrouded by the glow of lights from the sign on the rooftop of some brownstone on Fourteen Street is that of an older woman, someone I don’t recognize. It’s cracked. Lines run across her forehead and at the corners of her mouth, dark shadows fill the emptiness beneath the hollow eyes. Tears run down her sharp cheeks. She is crying. Is that me?
She is wearing the copper-colored silk dress, the Anne Klein she bought at Macy’s on sale the day after Christmas last year, the one she spent two weeks working overtime listening to screaming teenaged addicts with their broken drippy-nosed, balling toddlers clinging to their firm apple bossoms, and homeless men in fuzzy slippers and tattered house-coats with hairy-asses poking out the back, and popping pills just to stay awake and keep going on five hours sleep a night, so she could please him. The man of her dreams. The man she had found in the arms of another woman, that petite blonde with the oversized tits and shiny bow-shaped mouth in room 1217 on New Years Eve at the Omni. Why was she crying? John was a jerk. He ruined everything. Her marriage, the life she had planned all of her life to have, the copper dress she was wearing. He poured champagne all over the front of it, nearly tore it off me, when he grabbed it–before he went over the balcony. Why?
I reach up to touch the torn fabric over my left breast as though it will help me remember. It’s still there.
“Why would he want to jump? A young man, an all star quarterback making ten million plus a year with a bright future ahead of him,” The policeman, the little man with the waxed mustache, had asked. The brass buttons were freshly polished. I remember I could see my teeth in them oozing out from under that frozen smile on my lips. It didn’t match the tearful expression on my face. I had looked like a clown making faces in a fun-house mirror.
“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t know a lot about John it turned out at all. Not about the blonde he’d been seeing in 1217, not about his temperament, quick fist at the end of his ten million dollar arm, the hospitals when i was young, the mental illness I had forgotten, but not about my own propensity to violence when provoked. Was it self defense? Did the detective ask me another question?
The blackened eyes, the torn dress, the broken glasses by the table. He must have seen that, but he only asked me about the bruises on my neck. The hickies. John was a sucker. Rough sex earlier, I confessed.
“Do you want me to lift my dress. I’m not wearing any panties.” I sobbed a little and wiped the back of my wrist over my eyes when I’d said it. He must have believed me. Perhaps. He may have considered my size. I was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds; John was 6’2″ and over 285; a quarterback for the Giants, used to taking hits from linebackers the size of bulldozers. In his mind: impossible. Or maybe he was thinking of something else. It seemed he stared at my legs for a long time. I don’t know.
He looked at me with a strange little smile on his plastic face. The corners of his mustache twitched. He shook his head and turned back toward the door. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he said and left.
That’s was the last I had seen of the little dick with the plastic mustache until after John’s funeral. He came by my apartment late one evening. I had already gone to bed. I was wearing only a shear negligee when I answered the door. We stood staring into one another’s eyes for what seemed several minutes before he walked in, threw his jacket and me onto the sofa, and pulled up my nightgown. I guess he wanted to see if I had lied. We had sex then he left. I never saw him again.
I remembered wiping the front of my thighs with the palms of my hands. They were slick from the champagne the night that John died. Why did I come back? I look down into the spinning lights of the street below my bare feet. I am standing on the ledge of the rail of the balcony. I see the shock on John’s face when I reach out for him, or did I push? I don’t know.
The ledge is slick and wet and I wonder where the blonde went after he died, whether she loved him as much as I did, whether she went to the funeral,
and where my shoes are when I slip.