Morena y Agil
She stands near the bus stop on the corner
of Western and Division, watching cars race by. The light turns red as an
old Cadillac, its bent front fender wired to the rusted grille, negotiates
a left ten miles too fast. The tires screech and leave a long, black arc.
Her eyes follow the rubber-etched trail until the marks fade further down
the boulevard. She stares down, smiling at her own shadow as if to say hello.
Across the street Charlie waits, leaning against an olive mailbox. He unwraps
his new wire frame spectacles, resting near the tip of his narrow nose, from
around his ears and buffs the lenses, using a section of his shirt. Charlie
holds his glasses up to the streetlight. Clean enough, he decides and hooks
the frail wire arms gingerly back behind his ears, yanking tight until the
twin plastic nose pinchers dig into the two craters alongside the bridge of
his nose made from always yanking his glasses tightly back.
The old lady who had been standing behind Charlie brushes his coatsleeve walking past him to step off the curb. He glares at her, wanting to say something, but she is peering down Western. He looks at his watch, muttering. The woman on the other side remains still, absorbed only in waiting. A yellowjacket dive-bombs at her charcoal bob, spirals around her silver hula-hoop earrings, and then hovers over her left ear. She backs away from where the yellowjacket circles. It ignores her, zeroing in on a fire hydrant.
"Looks like it's coming," she says. The old lady is back on the sidewalk.
"Hmm?" Charlie asks.
"I said the bus is coming."
Charlie squints and distinguishes a yellow hyphen among interspersed red and green dots above the lower headlights seven, maybe eight, blocks away. Phosphorous lines like dancing comets scriggle across his clear lenses.
"It's moving awfully fast to be the bus," he says.
She raises her gloved hand over her eyebrows, framing her field of vision.
"Could be. The bus would pull over more and be on the inside lane." He jams his hands into his pocket and rattles his change.
Reaching into her mirrored pearl bag, the woman pulls out her Walkman, putting the earphones carefully on sideways, while fiddling with the dial tuner. Slowly she undulates her torso in rhythm to the beat, wriggling her shoulders slightly faster and faster, and dances toward the streetlamp. Her long, tapered legs, whitewashed under the unnatural fluorescent light, hopscotch the sidewalk cracks near the lampbase. She stops, her arm wrapped around the pole, and pans quickly everything surrounding her, aware people are watching, and curtsies, expecting applause. Charlie crosses his arms and clears his throat; something almost impels him to clap, but he refrains.
The old lady shifts her bulky handbag over to her other arm, cursing under her breath. She faces Charlie and asks, "Getting off of work?" Her question snaps Charlie out of his thoughts.
"No, Saint Mary of Nazareth," he grunts, hoping to end her curiosity.
"I was visiting my grandmother." Charlie sighs and looks straight ahead. A young girl, sitting in the back of an Impala doubled parked in front of the bus stop, presses her nose right against the rear windshield and juts her long tongue out at Charlie; she fogs the glass around her mashed features. He grins.
"Oh, I do hope it's not very serious."
"No, she's doing okay." He thumbs his glasses back up his nose.
"Tell me if it's none of my business, but what is she in the hospital for?"
Charlie absentmindedly rubs the back of his neck. Then he stiffens, his eyes growing blank, magnified by the blinding gleam reflected off his eyelenses from a semi rumbling by.
"She got beat up."
A silver Eldorado stops in front of the woman. Inside the car, a man dressed in a white linen jacket rolls the window down. Charlie watches him mouth something to her that she ignores. The man laughs when she finally shakes her head, indignant at his remarks, only prompting him to stretch his arm out to beckon her to come closer. She hunches, stepping back.
"Damn horny bastard. You'd think he'd leave her alone," the old lady announces, "where's the police when you need them?" Charlie nods and answers, "Probably all gathered at the Seven-Eleven scamming free coffee and doughnuts, where else?" just as a squad car cruises by. The officer riding shotgun is preoccupied biting into an unwieldy hot dog couched in white tissues while his fat partner sips coffee from a styrofoam cup, steering the wheel with two fingers.
"See that. They didn't even bother to stop. It's practically happening in front of them and they drive by," the old lady complains, "Too damn busy stuffing their faces." The patrol car slows down at the end of the block just long enough for the cop driving to miss the garbage drum tossing out his cup, the leftover coffee splashing over the pavement, and then speeds along.
"Maybe the guy'll get the hint and move on," Charlie states.
"Hopefully. But to tell you the truth he won't stop soon," she observes. "Not the way she's dressed."
The woman wears the same black spandex minidress she wore the first time Charlie met her. Now as then, the outfit, at least one size too small, hugs her sleek body like Saran Wrap, her nipples poking through the thin material. She self-consciously pulls her hem down several inches to her knees, the fabric stretched so taut it could rip. Charlie closes his eyelids and feels the tight wire frame clamp against his temples, refusing to ease the pressure up. He remembers her toothy smile, full crescent lips curled upward, when he mentioned how much she reminded him of a poem he memorized for a literature class not long ago. Charlie had left Saint Mary of Nazareth and hiked up the block when he saw her waiting at the corner. Even from a short distance, his heart began to pump nervously; for something about her demeanor caused him to boldly walk up beside her. No one else was around, and the two of them stood next to each other, silent. Occasionally, Charlie would sneak a glance her way and caught her gazing right back. After awhile, he opened his mouth to break the ice, introduce himself, but nothing came out. Finally she faced him, tilted her head, and stared directly through his thin glasses into his eyes. Charlie could see his distorted face in her brown pupils.
"You look..." was all he could muster. "You look beautiful---like a poem," he finished.
"Thank you," she gently said, "I thought I'd heard of every pick up line
in the book but if that isn't the most original."
"I mean it sincerely," Charlie protested.
The woman slowly smiled as he slumped his shoulders, dejected, before she said, "And I took it as an compliment." Her beaming face melted away any doubt he could have had.
"I like you,---"
"Charlie..." And he spent the next few minutes talking her ears off, trying to explain his poetic reference in personal detail, before she suggested they continue their conversation someplace inside.
"Do you have anywhere particular in mind?" he asked.
"It's a walk, but how about the Artful Dodger?"
Charlie knew of the place as a bar in a tough neighborhood frequented by locals during the day and the art crowd at night only through what friends have told him. To venture in that part of town was against his better judgement and he hesitated slightly. What the hell, he thought. How often is a beautiful woman going to ask me out? He nodded at her and off they headed, across Division Street just as the 149B bus pulled away from the curb, northbound.
It was getting dark outside when they arrived at the Artful Dodger about twenty minutes later. Two regulars, an old guy and his buddy just off from his plant shift sitting near the door, eyeballed Charlie and the woman as the two entered, arms around each other. Another man whose gut hung over his khakis, maybe a week or two from going into labor, stopped his chitchat with the bartender. He swiveled on his barstool just enough to see who had walked in and grabbed his warm beer mug in disgust, swearing "goddamn art students, already" under his breath. The woman led Charlie to an empty table sandwiched between the jukebox and a coat rack along the wall. She sat facing the old men and said, "I'd like a gin and tonic, please." Charlie complied, turned and headed toward the bar. A huge mirror hung over a long collection of bottles behind the bartender. The antique ceiling fan above the pinball machine spun slowly, whirring a hypnotic hum that blaring music from the backroom dance floor would later into the night drown out. Charlie summoned the barkeep away from the television set suspended on a wooden platform at the end of the bar.
"Gimme a gin and tonic---," he scanned the chalkboard menu to the right of the cash register, "and a Moosehead." Waiting for his drinks, Charlie saw a ponytailed young man in a leather motorcycle jacket walk in, accompanied, a few seconds later, by his artist friend, multicolored oil paint splattered on his torn faded jeans.
"That'll be four bucks." The bartender set the drinks next to Charlie. He handed the man a tattered five and balanced two glasses and a bottle on one hand.
"Nice place. You come here a lot?" Charlie asked, placing the drinks on the table.
"Yeah, every week it seems," she confessed. "Especially Saturday
nights when the DJ rocks this place---it jumps."
"Part of the crowd then?"
"Not really." She bent back the straw, making an inverted check mark, and stirred the ice cubes in her glass. "I usually come to dance." She looked beyond Charlie who nodded, saying, "Dance with me,---um---Im sorry, but I don't know your name." Her brown eyes focused on the ponytailed guy wearing a motorcycle jacket near the bar, examining his broad shoulders and scoping his tight buns.
"You never told me what your name is," he tried again.
"I know him," she said, almost to herself, and sipped her drink, casting aside the straw. Perplexed, Charlie turned to see who she was referring to. "You know who?" he asked, peering in the direction of her gaze. His question sank upon deaf ears as she tensed her eyebrows, deep in concentration. Charlie waved his hand in front of her face, breaking her trance.
"Who were you staring at?" He sighed before swigging his beer.
"Forgive me. I thought I saw someone I know," she said.
"Oh, no problem---I understand." He picked at the beer label, ripping small strips off one piece at a time.
"Thanks." She finished her drink, raising her glass high to empty the ice cubes into her mouth. "So go on with what you were saying," she told Charlie, her teeth gnashing the melting ice softly as her pupils wandered away, distracted, obsessed.
"Well, I wanted to know your name," Charlie repeated.
"It is him." The woman suddenly got up, her eyes widened. "Please excuse me," she said, "but if I don't say hi to a friend, he'll never talk to me again. I hope you won't mind."
"No, go ahead," he assured. "Want another gin and tonic in the meantime?"
"In a little while. Sure, when I get back." She reached for her mirrored pearl bag.
Charlie watched her walk toward the restroom sign past the pinball machine where the ponytailed guy she wanted to greet stood, his back to the bar, talking to his friend perched on a wooden stool. She stopped halfway, as if unsure of her bearings for a second, calculating how to approach her prey. Then like a buzzard she swooped behind him and yanked his ponytail. He swung his head around violently, ready to curse, his face an angry mask and found her giggling, arms wide open to receive him like a medicine ball. Immediately his disposition shifted from mad to glad as they both hugged and exchanged pecks on the cheek. He pointed to a seat next to him, inviting her to join in, but the woman declined and pointed at Charlie, waving hello to show her allegiance. Charlie removed his glasses delicately, one arm at a time- the wire frame was cutting into the sore fleshy area behind his ears causing his head to ache- and waved back. She misunderstood his gesture to mean he approved and sat down with them. Damn, he thought, just my luck now she'll spend all her time with that bozo. Charlie edged forward on the chair until he decided he needed another beer. He put back on his glasses tightly and headed for the bartender.
"Another Moosehead if you will," he requested. The bartender stuck his head beneath the counter into a large cooler compartment, searching deep down, hidden from view, until he surfaced, scrunching an empty carton, "No more as far as I could tell." Turning to a sleepy-eyed aproned bald man in the rear, screamed, "Do me a favor, Pedro---grab a case of Moosehead from the stockroom, will'ya!" right through Charlie who recoiled, ears ringing.
"Sorry about that, mister." Charlie motioned it was alright. "Can I get you something else instead?" he offered.
"Any beer will do."
She was sitting at their table again when Charlie returned with a Leinenkugel.
"I totally forgot about getting you a drink," he said.
"That's okay. Maybe later."
"Who's your friend?" he asked, adjusting the position of his lens slightly forward so that outline of her profile became diffused.
"Oh, Seve. He shared an apartment with a guy I dated for about a year," she explained. "Shortly before we broke up, Seve moved out all of a sudden and I never got the chance to say goodbye. Speaking of which, you sort of look like my old boyfriend."
"Great." Charlie pushed his glasses back up his nose.
The woman reached across the table and touched the rim of his glasses, gently tracing the round shape with her finger.
"In fact, he wore the same kind of glasses you wear." She came closer, her soft face only inches away from his.
"Is that good or bad?" he inquired.
She pursed her lips and blew lightly on his glasses, fogging his lenses. Charlie lowered his head, letting the wire frame slide to the tip of his nose so that he could see her over the top rim.
"I don't really know," she answered.
"What do you mean?" He lifted his spectacles off his nose just enough to air the steam away.
"I had a stupid argument with him and---"
"And what?" Charlie swallowed a big gulp of beer.
"I can't---it'll embarrass me to say."
"Why should you be?" he encouraged, "besides you're no longer seeing him. Even if you tell me, who's going to find out? Go on!"
"I grabbed his glasses and crushed them."
Charlie froze in suppressed silence. Slowly the corner of his mouth twitched upward until he finally caved in and burst out laughing, nearly upsetting the table kicking up his knees. He held his Leinenkugel away from his body, trying hard not to spill any of it on himself.
"Don't laugh," she pleaded, "It's not funny."
He shut his mouth, face straight momentarily out of respect for her wishes, but cracked up again more loudly, a staccato cackle that pierced the room. Everyone in the bar turned to stare.
"Stop laughing!" she shouted and ripped his spectacles off his mocking face. With both hands, she twisted his glasses in half, wringing it like a wet towel. Then as though poison oozed from the broken frame, she dropped the contorted remains on the floor, disgusted, her eyes aflame.
Charlie stopped laughing, mouth agape. He knelt down, picked up the parts of his glasses, and stood up. "No" was all he said when he put on his jacket and left.
"Maybe he knows her and just wants to offer a ride," Charlie says to the old lady. "Hmmph. He's up to no good!"
A shiny Camaro slams on the brakes, honking wildly, stuck behind the Eldorado blocking the inside lane. Annoyed, the white linen suited man returns the honks twofold, angrily waving on the other vehicle and spits at the passenger side of the Camaro as it pulls around.
Charlie watches, completely transfixed. He
can still recite portions of the poem. He fingers his lips, mouthing a few
Girl lithe and tawny, nothing
draws me toward you,
The man howls as she tugs down at her
spandex skirt again. She sneers and gives him the finger. Laughing out loud,
he blows her a wet kiss and guns the engine twice before racing off, leaving
behind a cloud of exhaust fumes. She coughs.
My somber heart searches for you,
A coned light illuminates only one
half of her as she leaves the sanctuary of the streetlamp. Her arms akimbo
form a shadow resembling black silk wings. She notices Charlie across the
street and beams.
Dark butterfly, sweet and definitive