Things had been going smoothly. I never should have opened my mouth. The unraveling began one night during a freak storm, the kind more likely to hit in summer than in late November, but with the crazy weather we get around here you never know what to expect.
It was almost Thanksgiving, and hurricane winds were pounding rain against the side of the building, sluicing waterfalls along the window sash.
Lightning struck an electric transformer somewhere, and the power went out, so we lit a few candles and sat up in bed. We figured we'd drink up the last of the beer before it went warm, and we were telling each other stories about what our lives had been like before we hooked up.
I had little to add to what she already knew about me, so I rehashed the same old stories of messing with pot and acid in the Mekong Delta in 'Nam. I left out a few of the juicier parts Vietnam though. Some of that stuff scares the women to death, and you've got to be careful with them.
"Come on," I said when I was finished. "Come on, your turn.”
She sipped her beer and told me how she'd worked her way through nursing school as a topless dancer in a bar.
"Hey," I complained, "you've told me all that before. Tell me something new, something I don't already know.
"She looked out the window then turned her gaze back to me, with a crooked smile on her face.
"What? What is it?" I said. I poked at her side. "Come on now, tell me. I know you're holding something back."
"Well, I don't know, “she said.
"What do you mean you don't know? You keeping secrets frome?" "
It's really nothing."
"So tell me, then.”She finished her beer and lit a joint on the candle next to the bed. It was about her and Violet, she said. I already knew they’d danced together at that topless joint.
"I know about that, " I said.
"No listen," she said. She told me about some sleazy guy who approached them one night after they'd finished the show. He wore a plaid sports jacket, she said, and smoked a cigar. He told her and Violet that they were unique, that the two of them had talent. They were not like the rest of the girls. They were special, he said, and they were wasting their time in that bar scene. He said that they were destined for greater things.
"Destined for greater things? He probably said that to all the girls," I joked.
"He did. But we went off with this guy," she said, "this producer in his plaid jacket that had a tear in the back." She didn’t like this guy. She spit out her words as if they were hot peppers.
“Fucking guy,” she said. “Fuck him and his movies.”
“What, you were in porno?” I said.
The whole thing had started as kind of a lark, she said. It was a way to make money, and it had seemed so easy at first. But it turned out that it was not easy at all. It was very stressful, she said. It really got heavy at times, and she and Violet would run to the girl's room and hold each other for support. They hid in there when the going got tough, clinging to each on to each other, as naked as plums.
“I didn’t know you were in porno,” I said.
“That's how it started,” she said.
"Started? What are you talking about?" I asked her. “You mean there’s more?”
"Listen, baby, don't think I don't love you and all," she said. “What are you trying to tell me?” I answered.
"This thing with Violet, it's different, baby, it's not what you think."
"Think? What do you mean, it's not what I think?"
"I mean, well, it's not about you, this thing between Violet and me."
"Not about me?" I shot back. "What do you mean, what’s not about me?
"It’s just different with women, you know? It's different than sleeping with you."
"Jesus, you were sleeping with her? Outside of the porn flicks, I mean?"
She sat up and stared out the window. I studied her face in the candlelight and for a moment. I felt she was somebody else, someone I didn't know.
"How do you think that makes me feel?" I asked her.
“We mostly just hold each other. It’s a different thing, is all. We just like to be close to each other.
"You still do it," I said. I told her I wasn't exactly naive. "I can just picture the things you two do."
"Hey, I resent what you're trying to say. What is it with men? Your minds are like cesspools," she said.
"You're the one sleeping with another woman."
"You know what I think?" she had a crazy kind of smile on her face. "I think you're jealous, that's what you are. You’re envious of me and Violet."
"You're damn right, I'm jealous. Yeah, I'm jealous as hell. To think you prefer a woman to me in the sack." I said.
"I mean you're jealous that you can't do it with Violet and me. I think you wish you could do it with both of us," she said.
"Oh, is that what you think? You think I'm some kind of pervert, likeyou?"
"Pervert?" she laughed. “Oh honestly, baby, grow up. This is thenineties, don't be such a damn prude." She leaned back on the wall and looked at me. "Is that what this is all about? Your old-fashioned ways? Your middle-class values?" she said.
“That’s crazy, I don’t have middle-class values. When we first got together you said I had no values. You said you liked me for that.”
I stared at her and felt the twitch that starts when I get too upset. It began
in ‘Nam. It’s anger, I know. Anger is fear turned inside out. I’ve been to places where you punch pillows and whack each other with foam rubber bats.
I felt my self-control slipping away. I stood up from the bed and slammed my empty Budweiser can on top of the nightstand. The candle jumped. It almost went out. I told her she had better decide, that I wouldn't play second fiddle. I would not compete with anyone for her love, I said "I've already been through that with you. I've been living with you for a year and a half, and you've got to decide. I've already competed for you, and I won."
"You won?" she said. "What do you mean, you won? What am I, some kind of adoor prize you win at the fucking county fair? Is that what I am, some kind of a giant pumpkin or something? What the hell do you mean, you won?'"
I watched the rain run down the window panes like black snakes. The candle flickered and almost went out..
"I won't compete again," I said. "Especially not with a woman. You've got to make up your mind."
* The next night the power and the telephone were back to normal. Violet called to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. I sat in the kitchen reading the Sporting News while they tittered on the phone like two little girls. It was pathetic, I swear. Like two little girls.
“Lions are playing the Redskins,” I said.
After they'd spoken awhile, she hung up the telephone and said that we'd been invited to Violet's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I told her I wouldn't go. "You go," I said. "You go to Violet's and work this thing out. Tell her you've already got a lover and that you're not going to see her like that anymore."
"See her like what?"
"You know damn well what I mean. Remind her you're living with me.Tell her one lover's enough."
She sat opposite me at the table and folded her hands in front of her, kind of staring at them, as if saying an act of perfect contrition. It looked like some kind of routine she had rehearsed. I had to laugh. Sure, I thought, she was an 'actress' at one time: The Queen of Porno, I thought, and laughed out loud.
"What's so funny?" she said.
"Nothing," I said. "Nothing is funny at all." I was still laughing and I had to stand up.
"Alright. I'll go out to Violet's place by myself. “
"Fine," I said.
“All right," she said. "I'll go to Violet's and I'll‘work this thing out.’ But you don't understand, babe. It's just not what you think it is."
I was a little high on the beer, I suppose, but I really wanted to jump on her bones, right there on the kitchen floor. I opened another can. I and stared hard at her eyes, and at her ripe little breasts. I love her little breasts, they're like snow cones, but pointy and hard. I wanted to rip off her tee-shirt and do it to her right there on the kitchen floor, and hear the squeal of her flesh on the tiles. I thought about what she'd said the previous night, about me wanting to do it with Violet and her. Violet's really not too bad looking.
"Are you even listening?" she said.
I gulped beer and threw the empty can at the trash basket next to the sink, but I missed by a mile. I watched it rattle over the floor. "Yeah, I’m listening,” I said. "You go to Violets alone. But. hey, don't do it for me. I mean, go totally lesbo if you want. The two of you make a nice couple," I said.
"Fuck you," she said, and got up.
"Fuck Violet," I replied.
It was two days after Thanksgiving she still wasn't back. They'd lit up the Christmas tree outside City Hall, and they hung the plastic wreaths on the light poles along the main drag. It felt like she'd been gone for a month. I was afraid I would never see her again. Well screw it, I thought. Let her have her final fling. Let her go out with a bang. I looked up Violet's name in the telephone book and dialed her number, but slammed the phone down before she picked up.
I came home the following night after bowling, and found a fresh pot of coffee on the stove. I looked into the bedroom. Her bags were unpacked on the bed and she was sorting her things, making small piles on the bed . The sight of her rumpled clothing made me feel bitter and sad, thinking of Violet's hands all over them, thinking of...
"I’m home! You need anything washed?" she sang like a bird. "I'm going to do laundry tomorrow."
"Hello," I said, and leaned on the jamb. "You’re back."
"Of course I’m back." She stopped sorting her laundry, and said, “I just stayed a little longer, is all.
She came to me and wrapped her body around me, hissing like a viper. I resisted at first, then let myself go and toppled her onto the bed. We made love on top of her clothes, and it was really delicious that night. We burst like fireworks into each other, laughing like kids on the Fourth of July. When it was over, I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and held her there in the moonlight, while both of us tried to regain our breath.
"Let's have a cigarette, baby," she said, and I clicked on the light by the bed. That's when I saw it, the fresh tattoo on her arm: "Violet,"
I felt my body collapse as if I'd been kicked in the gut. All the air went out of my lungs. I stood up from the bed, lit a smoke and walked to the window. I stared at the night as if all the people out there wanted to stab me in the back. I could hear the creak of the bed as she climbed out, and knew she had come up behind me. I felt her hot breath on my neck and the tip of her breast on my back. I was confused and the side of my face twitched. I wheeled from the window and reached toward her for balance.
She slipped on the clothing she’d left on the floor
“I’m sorry,” I said. I was aghast. I tried to break her fall
She landed on the floor, and wound up in some kind of yoga position. surrounded by colorful her panties.
She was afraid.
I did not want to hurt her. I would never do that.
"Oh, baby," I helped her sit up, and took her elbow as I led her to the bed.
Oh, baby, it's not what ..."
“Don’t say it!” I shouted as I went to the kitchen. I was trying to hate her, but I felt too lost and sad. I felt the kind of hollow that nothing will fill.
But most of all I wondered what I had lost.