Johnny America


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…”

“Same here.”

“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.

“No prob­lem.”

“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.

Filed under Fiction on March 7th, 2014

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