I’VE been sleeping until dusk every day for a long time. Without dark glasses, daylight hurts my eyes. My apartment’s heavy-lined curtains are always drawn. I can roam the house, find the toilet with my eyes closed, squat on it like a woman, and get back in bed in complete obscurity.
Darkness does not bother me, but the thoughts that now and then lurk in my mind do.
Tonight, the light of the open fridge illuminates a soggy old pizza, a few beers, a Styrofoam container with the remains of a salad from the vegetarian place I frequent . . . a hole in the wall more than a restaurant. Red meat grosses me out.
I’m usually the best dresser in the place. This fucking world is full of slobs flaunting their spirituality by dressing like slobs.
A sip of Perrier water, the third I’ve taken since waking up, does not satiate my kind of thirst. Back in the bathroom, my image in the mirror improves with shaving and a meticulous grooming of my salt-pepper mane of hair.
The Old Spice cologne bottle is half-empty. I don’t quite like the smell but my father did, and Mother hung around his neck smelling him all the time like a bitch in heat, never caring about me.
Tonight I’ll wear the Pierre Cardin suit, polo shirt, no tie, and go hunting.
SOON after, I’m driving to the Upper West Side on my way to a bar I’ve never visited, but have noticed stays open late.
I park in the garage I used on previous occasions, but hesitate to get out of the car, eager to resist the craving. I loathe my alter ego’s wickedness.
My breaths frost the windshield. The silhouette of a woman fresh out of a nearby car catches my attention as she passes in front of my Mercedes. She is alone, walking quickly. Overcoming my hesitation, I get out of the car and follow her down the ramp.
I feel better. Just one more time tonight, and God willing, I will stop forever.
The sidewalk is desolate. The woman is half a block away, walking uphill on 96th Street.
She may disappear into one of the apartment buildings.
She doesn’t. Instead, she waits at the stoplight to cross busy Broadway. It gives me time to shorten the distance between us and stand close behind her, amid other waiting pedestrians.
What makes me select this woman?
It seems I can smell them at a distance. Maybe I have a shark-like electrical receiver that guides me to this type of woman. Perhaps it is just fate.
Where is she going?
The light changes, and we dart through the crosswalk with a few other men and women. I am three feet behind her when she veers to the right under the canopy of Eddie’s Tavern. I do the same.
We reach the tavern door at the same time. I open it and hold it for her to go ahead.
“Thank you, sir.” Her dark eyes gleam.
A childlike smile comes naturally to me. I nod and followed her inside, ready to let loose my charm and slake my predatory impulse.
She walks to the end of the bar and around the ninety-degree curve tying it to the wall. Only two stools reside at that location and she chooses the last one. From there, she can see the faces of all the patrons nurturing their inner thoughts. Tonight there are few; the bar has a pathetic ambience.
She nods to the bartender. They are acquainted, because he prepares a Bloody Mary for her before going to greet her.
Mine is one of the faces she can see and lure with a smile, or dismiss with the cool, indifferent gaze of her almond-shaped eyes. She appears oblivious to me, but the way she eludes my eyes is too purposeful. She refuses to duel with me, but not with the others at the bar, and I send over a second Bloody Mary to make her look at me. She doesn’t refuse when, carrying my mojito, I ask permission to sit at her side.
“Thanks for the drink; it’s nice of you.”
“My pleasure. My name is Henry Borman—It’s not—I’m trying to relax after a rather exhausting day. And you are?”
“Catherine Wong. Nice to meet you.”
In the spot she chose to sit; the lighting is dimmer than the rest of the place, disguising the fire extinguisher and pay telephone hung on the wall behind. The bend of the counter keeps other drinkers slightly separated from us.
Her hands, laced around the glass, are thin, with manicured nails. It isn’t necessary to touch them to realize the silkiness of her olive skin. Following the contours of her arms, I stop to admire the svelte line of her neck and her glossy black oriental hair.
“Tell me, Catherine: do your friends call you Cathy?”
“Brilliant deduction, Henry.”
“Just a lucky guess.”
“Are you a lucky man? Haven’t seen you around here before.”
“I’m not a regular. I happened to be going home from work and decided to stop. I’ve noticed this tavern when driving by.”
“What do you do, Henry.”
“Currency trading—work at night, sleep by day; and you?”
“Piano player in a jazz group—work at night, sleep by day.” She is teasing me. “But you said it was an exhausting day.”
“Yes, it was my day off and I had to attend to personal issues. By the way, I love piano.”
I imagine her fingers sliding over the ivory keys while playing Satin Doll, a tune I love.
“You dress like a Vogue model.”
“I have a passion for designer garments.” She looks at me. “You are no slob, I see.”
She is hot.
“I’m interested in cinema. Are you, Cathy?”
In the next forty minutes she amazes me with her knowledge of obscure classic films by directors like Buñuel and Fellini. By the time we empty our glasses, we know the music we like, the books we have read, the places we have visited. Her beauty is beginning to obfuscate my thoughts.
“So you are not trading currency tonight?”
“Are you not working tonight?”
“Oh, no, I have to rest. No one can go twenty-four hours without falling apart.”
The bartender comes over and picks up the glasses. We order our third round for the night. “This will be my last; what about you?” she says. I find her smile and her eyes seductive.
The television is on and a game ends. The bartender changes the channel. There is a momentary rise of the volume coinciding with something she says and I can’t hear. I lean toward her. A drift of Coco Chanel fragrance impels my madness. Her neck is inches from my lips and it takes all the resolve I can muster to control my desire to kiss her.
“I can’t hear you? Did you say something?”
“Yes,” she says. “I want to go out for a smoke.”
We pay our separate bills. Not to leave a traceable record of my presence, I pay in cash. She does too for her own reasons.
OUTSIDE, under the canopy, she lights her cigarette and takes a long, drawn-out gulp of smoke. I refuse her offer to take one.
“Smoking doesn’t appeal to me, although I’m tolerant of other people’s pleasures.”
“Good for you,” she says and puts away the package. “What else don’t you like?”
“What do you mean?”
“You look like a healthy man, the no-preservatives, organic-food-eater type. Need to get some sun, though; you’re as pale as a cauliflower.”
“You’re right. Mine is a healthy diet, with supplements, but the nature of my work is not compatible with the sun. Do you have to go soon, or can we stroll down Broadway and do some window shopping perhaps?”
“I was about to ask you the same question, Henry.”
We saunter closer to the storefront windows, stopping when displayed items educe our interest.
“God knows there is no shortage of curious things to see in New York City,” she says.
“Umm. Lots of Halloween stuff, so early.”
“Are you driving?”
“Yes, I’m parked on 96th street.”
Cathy was a precious find. Never before, and never so fast have I felt this fire growing inside. I was falling in lust in a hurry. Images both loving and gruesome pop into my imagination. For a first time in my nocturnal prowls, I realized I could make love to this woman the rest of my life while dreaming of terrible things, yet never hurt her.
“Would you like to walk by Riverside Park and take a loop back to your car?” she says.
“That would be wonderful. The river walk relaxes me.”
We turn at the next corner, and continue our casual conversation until we enter the park and reach the walk at the river’s edge. We lean on the rail, gaze into the deep waters. Life stands still. Silently I debate her future at my hands.
I offer my arm and she hangs onto it. Her other hand goes into her coat pocket.
The proximity to the river chills the air.
We go on walking. I guide her closer to a park bench beneath the trees, where the night is darker, and distant strollers will respect embracing lovers.
It is the moment I anticipate and dread. Gently I draw her closer, hold her cheeks between my palms and look into her oriental eyes. My hands slide near her neck, but drop along her shoulders and stop at her waist.
Who knows how many nights without loneliness? How many lovemaking raptures could be waiting for me? I think this woman could transform my life.
She removes her hand from her pocket and responds to my embrace. I hear a click and feel a pricking sensation on the back of my neck. A warm, wet feeling follows. I let go of her but she hangs on, slowly easing me against the bench. She sits by my side. Blood flows down my chest and pools around my waist. Cathy has stabbed me with an instrument so sharp it did not hurt. She retrieves and cleanses it on my lapel. Numbness creeps over my body.
“They say sight is the first sense to go as we die,” she says. “Is it true?”
“Apparently . . ., Cathy. Your face . . . is fading.”
She leans closer to my ear. “It’s Lucy, not Cathy.”
Memories of moments when I was the one holding a flaccid body flash through my mind. Her eyes inches from mine erase those images.
“Why?” I say.
“Because I hated my father. Would you like a kiss for the road? My father used to give me a French-kiss, when he tucked me in bed.”
“Yes, please…thank you.”
* * *
Cuban Author Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray was born in Havana, Cuba. His latest novel, Cuba the Crocodile Island, is based on real events in the life of the author, and for that reason this work is published under his real family name.
The characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of those persons still residing in Cuba. Although a few of those persons have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory, some with enormous, and others as a significant part of his spiritual growth.
The author has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield. The author appreciates with all his heart the time you may dedicate to reading his work.
You are invited to visit: www.ecbrierfield.com