|Up: Stories for the Boxglow||[Related] «^» «T»|
Friday, January 22, 1999
By Paul Ford
Narrator says: I'm just a gigolo
It was nine and very dark. I rang the buzzer carrying a long-stemmed rose, bought from a Pakistani. She lives far downtown, near the Puck building, next door to a theater that was once a church, and her name is Rose. The address and phone number were on a card in my coat pocket.
She answered the door and smiled.
"I'm Ted," I said, my voice smooth and cheerful.
"Hello," she said. She was 50, short, a little tint in the hair. "Please come in."
I smiled my "natural" smile, with a tilted head. "This is a beautiful apartment, Rose." Repeat her name whenever you can.
"Thank you. Where do you live?" she asked.
"I live in the West Village, on Bleeker."
She took the rose from me, then led me into the kitchen, where she filled a vase with water. It was odd to see her protect the petals, taking it as seriously as a real rose from a real lover. Habit. "I've lived here a while." she said. She appraised my body. "I don't even think you're 30."
"28," I said, and smiled. Always smile.
"28. Jesus." She thought about that. "I have cash." She turned to a small table and pulled her wallet from her purse, and counted out a number of bills."
"Great. In the future, you can also give me a Visa or Mastercard number; we like working that way. It helps us keep track. People don't like carrying that much money around."
"Do many people try to cheat?"
"Yes, unfortunately. We insist on everything being prepaid. This wallpaper is really something else." Change the topic from business quickly.
The company was me, with an answering machine and a beeper. Discreet, polite, tall, friendly, expensive.
She said, "I was about to have some wine when you rang the buzzer," and sat at the old formica table where a bottle was sitting open. She poured first for herself, and then for me. I sat down on the padded chair. "Do people tell you their stories?" she said. "It must be wild. Do you get tired of listening?"
"No, I like to," I said. There was a spider plant hanging to the right of the scratched stove, with a yellow box of plant flood on a counter next to that. Fed on flourescent light.
"You don't hate it?"
Everyone asks this, too. "The worst thing about it is that it's complicated."
"Is it okay that we talk?"
"Rose. I'm not bored, I won't be bored. My time is very literally yours, it belongs to you." I am always amazed at the variations on the themes. Everyone says the same things, twisting the cadence a little, changing a word here, shifting sentences. It could just be my clients, but I'm sure it's the world.
"It's my husband," she said. And this too was a cliche. "He's dead 6 months but it doesn't seem long enough to meet anyone."
"Those things take a lot of time," I said, doe-eyed and concerned.
"So for 6 months I haven't been touched."
"6 months is too long, Rose. I give a certified massage, if you want." 6 months. When I took a sabbatical on savings, I went for two years, 1995-1997, without a single touch from anyone else.
"Do you miss your husband?" This is a tricky question. I ask it on instinct. Some women want to forget, so they call me. Some want to remember, so they call me. She was the remembering kind.
"Jesus, did I love him. He was taller than you are, brilliant. A genius. He wrote plays."
I named his name, linking it to her last name.
"You heard of him?"
I thought to say, as a joke, "he was a client." I said, "I auditioned for one of the plays."
"Alan in Riders. It's a great part."
"It is! It was produced at the little theater next door."
"It was on 24th when I was trying out," I said. And I thought, "fellow, your people didn't give me the part and now your wife is hiring me to fuck her." It should have felt ironic, but it was the sort of connection that happened too often.
"It wasn't his best. It did well. Do you want to see a picture of him?"
"Yes, please" I said. There was nothing I wanted to see less. She had already put down two glasses of wine, drinking them like soda, so I drank my own quickly when she got up. I began to get up from the table.
"Stay where you are," she said. She reappeared with a head shot of a chubby man in glasses. He peered seriously at the camera.
"He was a great lover, as good as he wrote plays." She wanted to get on even terms with me.
I smiled. "That's a blessing," I said.
"I mean, I'm 65, you know. It's what kept me young."
I was surprised. "You look much younger," I said. "Much."
"How old did you think I was?"
"I have a good eye, and I pegged you at 50," I said.
She was flattered. "No, 65. He was wild, he was older than me, even, he would come home with a Swastika on his arm--we're Jewish...." she trailed off. "I was young."
I was consumed with the image of the man with glasses playing bedroom Nazi, reflecting that against this scene, where his widow showed his picture to an escort, in the house paid for with his plays. The escort has even once auditioned for the part of a gentle, retarded car mechanic who kills his nephew in one of those plays. "The city," I thought, "is shrinking," the eroding shores of the island pressing everyone together.
And then, through the thought, I heard her say, "I was so young." It was a cue. She had mentioned a lost youth, a painful memory, and now I would guide her to reclaim it. I kissed her, standing over the photo. She kissed back, then stopped, placed the frame face-up on the table by the wine, and offered up her forehead to my mouth. After a minute of having her face kissed and licked, she began to sob, and I brushed a tear and whispered, watching her eyelid shake, "if you want me to stop that's fine."
For a moment she was still, and I rested my lips against her ear, crouching down. Then she sat down on the chair, and I knelt beside her. She took my hand and pressed it to her thigh. She was wearing a long dress, and I eased it up slowly, still kissing, tongues exchanging. I kept moving my hand, and finally the dress was bunched up, and my hand was on her bare skin. It was not the most comfortable position--I had to bend my elbow--but it wasn't a bad one. At the pressure of my hand, I felt from her a wave of concern, a fear that came out of forgetting that this was a transaction, that there was a rule, based in cash, that her feelings would not be hurt, that being 65 and alone were no bars to affection. My hand slid and her fears dissolved. She was desirable, and I began my day.