My Love is Going to My Love
The train pulled into Fruitvale station. I looked out of the window to my right and saw the little market-type corridor of businesses, the taquerias and carnecerias, and then I looked to the left and spotted the bus that would bring me to Alameda.
“Hey man,” a stranger approached me. He was a little older, maybe in his mid-thirties. “You waiting to catch that bus?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, wondering what his angle was.
“I got a transfer here,” the man said. “You can have it for two dollars. It’ll save you a quarter.”
I took the transfer from the man’s hand and inspected it.
“It’s real,” he said. “And I could use the money better than they,” he added.
I handed him two dollars, and used the transfer to board the bus.
I stopped in Olé’s, not because I knew anything about the place, but because it was a diner that looked decent enough to eat in, and dead enough, at that time of the afternoon, to allow me to loiter there for a bit.
“Hey,” a tattooed waitress said from behind the counter, “anybody joining you today?”
“No,” I told her. “Should I just take a seat at the counter?”
“I’m going to order a meal,” I explained, “but I have a couple hours to kill. Would you mind if I just read my book here for a bit?”
“That’s fine,” she said. “In fact, I’d like it. We need some customers in here.”
I ordered a burger and fries and a cup of coffee, and I pulled out the book that would see me through the wait.
“Whacha reading?” the waitress asked. Her voice was quiet — not in a way that made her mousy or timid, for she didn’t seem bashful. Rather there was a coyness to her that made me want to wrest the language from her throat.
“Independence Day by Richard Ford,” I told her.
“Is it about aliens?” she asked.
“No, not that Independence Day,” I said. “This book is much more boring. But this guy’s short stories are great. They’re gritty and kind of violent, and they deal with humans struggling to be human, struggling to relate to other people.”
“That sounds like something I could read,” she said. “I love to read. I really like detective novels…”
“Either those, or romance novels,” she told me. “I love it when I find both in the same book — a romance mystery — those are my favorites.”
“Whenever I read erotica,” I said, “I find myself skipping to the good bits.”
“I do that too.” She looked up at me, and though the eye contact was fleeting, she had a grin on her face that was all the more daring because of its subtlety.
The tattooed waitress was diligent about keeping my coffee full, which was doubly delightful because she was such a thrill to behold.
“You live in town?” she asked me when she brought me change.
“Nah, just visiting,” I said.
“You going to be in town tonight?” she asked. “Because you should really check out The Lost Weekend. I usually go to there after work. I know a bunch of the bartenders there, and they treat me pretty good. They come in here too sometimes, and I try to take good care of them, you know, give them whatever I can.”
She leaned across the counter and pointed through the plate glass windows. “It’s right across the street,” she said. She was close enough that I could smell her. “But my favorite bar is Lucky 13,” she went on, returning her torso to her own side of the counter. “I’ll probably end up there later tonight. How long are you going to be in Alameda?” she asked.
I thought about how much information to reveal. “I’m meeting up with a friend,” I said. “I’ll probably just be in town for the evening.”
“Aw,” she said. “Do you come here a lot?”
“Mmm, no, not a lot.”
“Well, you should come back,” she said. “You should come back here.”
I stepped out of the restaurant, pulled out a Lucky straight, and lit up. I took a drag. It was a crisp day and a smoke never felt better than in fifty degree weather.
A man who I at first took to be a tourist approached me, smiling.
“You know they gave me a ticket for that the other day,” the man said.
“For what?” I said. “Smoking? You’re shitting me.”
His smile broadened. “Nope, they got a law on this street all the way down. No smoking on Park Street.”
“My God,” I said, “we’re turning into a society of litigious princesses — and so goddamn antiseptic.”
The man stopped smiling. “I just wanted to let you know. They take it pretty seriously down here.”
“Thanks man,” I said. “You know, I’m going to take my chances.” I dragged my smoke and started walking.
Nicole lived in the old Masonic Temple. The Masons had abandoned that old building of theirs — a temple that they had built themselves — and they’d relocated next door. The old temple was a work of Masonic craftsmanship, an edifice of stone and brick. The new temple looked like a cheap motel. Its existence was announced with a sign featuring the compass and the square — tools of the masonic trade. That the sign was highlighted in green neon gave it an aura of surreality.
The old Masonic Temple had been converted to apartments. Nicole shared the top floor with three other roommates. They paid next to nothing for a warehouse worth of space.
“Here,” I texted Nicole.
“One sec,” she replied. “I’m gonna drop you the keys.”
I stood beneath the fire escape. Nicole appeared above me in her pajamas. She held her arm out, dangled the keys over the railing, and dropped them. I snatched them from the air.
Nicole greeted me at the head of a grand staircase.
“I’m not feeling good,” she said.
“How was work today?” I asked.
She led the way through the living room, across the dark, wood-colored Pergo flooring that the new owners had installed, and that somehow seemed disrespectful to the history of the place. But they’d been wise to do it, because Nicole owned two large cats whose smell had seeped into everything. Little kernels of kitty litter scratched between my boots and the flooring as I walked.
“I only had two clients today, but I wasn’t into it. I drank last night. That little hangover exacerbated a bunch of minor anxieties,” she explained. “I almost had a panic attack. I felt one coming on.”
“Aw,” I said, “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve just been watching TV since I got home.”
“I’m happy to watch TV with you,” I said.
“We have to move the couch then,” she informed me.
Her couch was pushed against the wall in her room, and the TV was mounted above the shelves at the foot of the couch. Nicole had been lying there on her back, feet facing the television. We each grabbed an end of the couch and pivoted it into the middle of the room. I took a seat facing the TV, and Nicole stretched out, her head in my lap.
“Will you pet me?” she asked, draping a bared arm over my knees.
“I’m getting hungry,” Nicole said. “Are you hungry yet?”
“I can eat again,” I told her. It was pretty much always true. I could always eat again.
“What do you want?”
“Burma Superstar,” I told her.
“The one by your place is better.”
“Well,” Nicole said, “in that case I know what I want.”
I settled on the curry pork. Nicole got a noodle dish, and we decided to share an order of samosas.
“You don’t mind picking it up, do you?” she asked.
We ate that night in the old Masonic Temple. Nicole needed some taking care of it seemed, and I didn’t mind doing that. When it felt like I was being effective and kind, I didn’t mind taking care of her at all. Sometimes it felt different though, like I wasn’t being effective, like I was just adding more stress to her life.
We watched several hours of TV, and then we started to get ready for bed.
“Just a warning,” Nicole said, “we’re not getting naked tonight.”
“That’s fine,” I said. It wasn’t a shock. I’d already surmised as much.
We crawled into her bed together.
“In the morning,” she said, patting me on the lap. “I’ll be ready for you in the morning.”
“Can you turn out the light?” Nicole asked.
The old Masonic Temple was wired strangely, and the only light switch in the apartment sent electricity surging through a series of halogen bulbs that lined the high ceilings of the entire floor, so that suddenly everyone in the apartment would find themselves submerged beneath that intense tube-light glow.
Nicole had chosen to illuminate her room via strips of LED lights plugged into a socket by the television. I arose, trudged the twenty feet or so across the breadth of her bedroom, and I unplugged the light. I walked back to bed in the dark.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You could pet me if you wanted to,” she said.
I rubbed Nicole’s body — first hard, kneading a bit, and then soft, with just the tips of my fingers — until she fell asleep. And then I lay there thinking about the waitress at Olé’s. And then I just thought pleasant thoughts about the morning in general.
One of the kitties jumped onto the bed, and burrowed into the canyon that formed between Nicole’s body and my own. She was discomforting me, but I chose not to move her. And then I was just listening to Nicole’s breath as she slept, and I realized that I could hear the kitty breathing, too.
And, also, my own breath.
We didn’t know each other well, and we never would, for love is so fleeting. But at the moment it was fierce, and I would have ridden the bus all night long to take care of my love.
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