Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Ghost, a Girl, and Solid Gold False Teeth

That night in bed, Suzie and I shared a cigarette and talked. We often had long, rambling conversations in bed together. We’d always been able to speak our hearts, and listen to each other as best friends do. 
We knew… at such times dreams can be born. 
We were happy together. We’d been around the world together, had fun together, been tested together, could rely on each other. Suzie lived for the moment and adored life as it came, a true gypsy soul untethered and free. I was enjoying the present but, still without a job in animation in New York, brooding a little about the future. 
I listened while Suzie quietly talked of her mother in South Africa, whom she missed. She spoke of her brothers and sister and their life before her father went “crazy mean with his dopp,” meaning the booze, and she cried a little for things that were lost. Suzie didn’t often cry, but sometimes, after lovemaking, she was more emotional than usual. (Who isn't?) She naturally had a very loving heart and our act of love had set it astir.
After a long pause, she whispered, “I saw him again.”
“My father. He was sitting on the edge of our mattress.”
While we lived in the shared apartment on Seventh Avenue, we slept on a mattress on the floor. For privacy we had hung a row of curtains around. I sat up and looked down towards my feet. 
“When did you see him?” I asked. 
“Yesterday. Just after you left the apartment.”
“Oh? You sound okay. Is everything all right?” 
She had seen the ghost of her father before, in every place we had ever lived. Australia, Africa, New Zealand, and now New York. He was a well travelled ghost, this father of hers, I had to admit that. I had never seen him, but this did not stop me from believing wholeheartedly that Suzie had. He appeared at times when Suzie was by herself. She would walk into a room and he would already be there, sitting quietly with his hands in his lap. He wore a look of inner reproach on his haunted face, as his anguished eyes followed Suzie’s every move.  
He never spoke a word, just sat there on the end of the bed and stared with haunted eyes at his daughter. The way Suzie thought of it, her father was the one who was being haunted, not her.
“He was just checking up on me, to see how I was getting along in the big city,” said Suzie quietly. The little girl who used to be, wanted to believe in the protective father who never was. 
Laying next to me in the dim light, Suzie’s eyes glistened with tears, tears not for herself, but for her tortured father. She believed he suffered the fate of being an unhappy ghost because of the unhappiness he caused other people while he was living, with his violent alcoholic rages and especially the murderous intentions of his ghastly suicide. She blamed his ghostly troubles on his addiction to alcohol when he was alive and held her father, now that he was dead, virtually blameless, at least as far as his soul went, the thing of him that was his essence and that really mattered. 
Within Suzie’s small frame beat a giant’s forgiving heart.
“Had you seen him lately?” I asked. It had been a while since she had mentioned her father and I was curious. Suzie could be casual about things, and sometimes she failed to mention that, oh, by the way, I saw the ghost of my dead father again the other day. 
“No,” she said. “Not for ages.” She thought for a minute. “He’s never been to America before.”
“Did he try a pretzel while he was here?”
Suzie laughed quietly and her splendid white teeth showed. We both detested the twisty, salty things sold on every NYC street corner.
I pulled her to me and gently kissed her mouth. Her cheeks were damp with tears.   
“Goodnight, Suzie,” I whispered.
“Goodnight, dahling.”
She snuggled into me with her long arms folded on my chest. I held her close as she fell asleep. How innocent she looked when asleep. Like a child. 
My heart swelled with love for Suzie. 

Laying there, listening to Suzie breathe and looking up at he ceiling, I thought some thoughts to myself in the night.
So, Suzie had seen her father’s ghost sitting on the bed. Well, that had happened before and would probably happen again. So long as Suzie was okay about it, why should I worry? I stared up into the dark and allowed my mind to wander. Suzie. It was fun in the bathtub tonight. Even after twelve years together, I found her as exciting a lover as ever. It was always no holds barred! Life was fun at the apartment, with friends all around, but it would be good to have our own place, if we could ever afford it. At least I had a job working as a messenger, but it was hardly worth it. The work itself wasn’t too bad, the people I worked with were friendly and interesting, but the money was terrible. No matter how much I worked, there was never enough. It was grinding us down and making life tough. When would animation work come my way? Would it ever come my way? Somehow, I knew it would. It was just a matter of not giving up, of that I was convinced. It was just a matter of persistence. Of believing blindly and carrying on! 
That, and luck. Plain, old, dumb luck.
Well, I thought, I’d always been a lucky bastard. Ask anybody. As my father-in-law Mick used to say, “Rusty lad, if you fell into the toilet bowl headfirst, I swear you’d come up with a set of solid gold false teeth! Ahaw haw haw!”
I smiled to myself and closed my eyes.
Soon I was fast asleep.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Slippery When Wet

New York City. Winter, 1987. 
I’d had a hard day being a messenger for Empire Messenger Service. Some lapdogs from an apartment on Irving Place had tried to kill me, but why go on? Things like that happened all the time to me since I’d become a messenger.
I ought to write a book about it.
Anyway, it had been a hard day, so I was having a nice long soak in a hot bath. For a change the apartment was empty, it was just Suzie and I, everyone else had gone to the movies, so I could take my time in the bathroom. 
I was laying in the tub, thinking about my escape from the gnashing teeth of nasty lapdogs, just happy to be alive, when Suzie came in and asked me how I was feeling. 
“Better,” I said. 
I was leaning back in the tub with a wet cloth over my closed eyes, and I couldn’t see a thing. Suzie knelt beside the bathtub and tested the water with her hand. Little splashes swirled in the tub.
I reached for Suzie’s hand and placed it between my legs.
“Dirty boy!” she whispered in mock surprise.
“You bet!” I agreed. 
I enjoyed Suzie’s familiar touch, bringing me to life. How many times had this happened? Every time the same, yet different! I went to remove the cloth from my eyes.
“No,” she said. “Don’t do that. Keep it where it is.” 
I left the cloth where it was. 
“Hmmm,” I said softly, “that feels good.” 
“Looks good too,’ she answered playfully. 
I heard Suzie shift her weight and an instant later felt her breath on my face. Then her lips touched mine and we kissed deeply. My wet hands reached out and caressed her, getting her clothes wet and splashing water onto the floor. 
“Not yet,” she whispered. “Be patient…”
She released me. I heard a light rustling noise as Suzie stood up and removed her clothes. I imagined her naked body, standing by the tub, only inches away. She stepped slowly into the bath, one foot, then the other. 
She stood for a moment, straddling me. 
I still could not see, the cloth being over my eyes, and this heightened the pleasure of my other senses. I felt the cool porcelain of the tub on my back, the warm water all around, the flesh of Suzie’s ankles against my thighs. I heard Suzie’s breathing and the musical drip of water. I could smell her perfume, so alluringly close as she stood above me, and beneath that a faint trace of oranges from the soap. I tasted Suzie’s lipstick on my lips.

When we’d finished, we lay in the tub together, our racing hearts returning to normal. There was water all over the floor.
After a while I asked cheekily, “May I remove the cloth from my eyes now, darling?”
“Yes,” said Suzie. “You may.”
“I don’t know how it stayed on through the whole thing,” I bragged. “And what was that new thing you were doing with your elbow? I loved it!”
“Dirty boy!” said Suzie in mock disgust.
“You bet!” I answered, and we laughed.
The best sex usually involves a laugh or two, don’t you think? 
I lazily reached up and removed the damp cloth from my eyes, but I didn’t bother to open them. I didn’t want to break the spell. I had just been to heaven, what was there for my eyes to see in this mortal world? 
We lay together tenderly. After our lovemaking, Suzie would be feeling shy and exposed now, I knew. She gave everything to her loving, holding nothing back, and this abandonment I think embarrassed her a little. I hugged her closer. Suzie possessed a charming sense of true modesty, there was nothing false about it. She lay on me, her head on my chest, her face turned towards the wall. 
“I love you,” she said.
I turned her face toward mine and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“I love you too, Suzie,” I answered.

To be continued…

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Me and Moby Dick (Part 4)

I got to my feet and began lurching along as fast as I could, away from the elevator and toward the bright sunlight of Irving Place, a dozen or so paces away.
“Come on, Flasher!” I said to myself. “You can make it!” 
But my foot must have been more hurt than I realized, because just as I was about to reach the exit and safety, I stumbled again and fell with a thud to the floor of the lobby. 
Turning to look behind me, I gasped in terror as the dogs bounded down the last steps of the staircase and hit the shiny lobby floor.
Moby Dick was leading the way.
He stopped, and the pack behind him stopped. He looked around slowly, searching with his little black eyes. I lay still, and held my breath. He seemed to look right at me, but did nothing. His pure white body glowed in the relative darkness of the lobby. Then, looking around, he caught sight of my discarded jacket, and scampered down the hallway, stopping with his little nose inches from the jacket, sniffing and smelling. 
As I and the silent pack watched, Moby Dick walked all around the jacket, sniffing at its circumference. 
He was thinking. Remembering. Scheming.
Then he raised his head and began to howl! It was a wild sound that seemed impossible from so small a thing. Spittle flew from his upturned muzzle and his white coat shook with exertion. His button eyes bulged beneath his bangs as he howled and howled.
Now the pack rushed at the jacket and pounced, tearing and ripping in horrible violence as Moby Dick continued to howl his evil song of vengeance and death.
Suddenly from behind I felt strong hands under my arms and I was lifted to my feet! I turned to face Javier, who had returned to help when he discovered I was not behind him, running for our lives on Irving Place. 
“Rapido!” he cried. His panicky eyes darted from me to the dogs. “Rapido!” he hissed again, tugging at me.
“Madre de Madres!” I answered. “I’m with you, mate!”
Javier started running. All I could do was hop, my foot being hurt, and I had difficulty keeping up. I called out but Javier didn’t hear me. He kept running towards Fourteenth Street. At the intersection, he turned the corner and was gone!
He turned in the opposite direction, I noticed, from Empire Messenger Service.
A few paces along Irving Place, I stopped and collapsed onto a public bench. My foot ached and I was exhausted. My shaking hands vainly searched for a cigarette, until I remembered smokes and lighter were in my discarded jacket. My fallen comrade jacket, torn to shreds in the lobby of a midtown apartment building by a snarling pack of vicious lapdogs.
Lapdogs led by a devil. 
With a sigh I dropped my head into my hands and stared down at the pavement. I was tired, and a little dizzy. I must have looked a sight, too. My jacket was gone, my pants were torn and dirty, my foot was a soggy, reddish mess.
Then a little dog trotted into my field of vision. It stopped and sat down, looking up at me.
“Bloody hell!” I screamed, forgetting where I was and thinking I was back in the lobby. “Get it away from me! Argh!”
“Control yourself, young man!” barked a feminine voice. 
“Huh? What?” I said, looking up. There stood a large, matronly woman, staring down at me. She glared at me in a haughty fashion, obviously disgusted by the sight of another bum or drug addict on her neighborhood bench. She wore an expensive fur coat. In her bejeweled hand was a leash, on the other end of which was her tiny pet, a black and gold Silky Terrier, also bejeweled. It was he who had trotted into my field of vision and sat down to stare at me. I’d mistaken him for a member of Moby Dick’s gang.
“Drug addict scum,” snarled the woman. Her eyes glinted with animosity and behind that, deeper but perceptible, glowed a kind of sadistic delight. One could see she believed that whatever misfortune was heaped upon you in life, it was your own damn fault and you were getting what you deserved!
A pitiless creature. Even to herself, probably.
“Come, Petronius,” she commanded in her haughty tone. She gave a little tug on the leash. 
Ah, but Petronius, who had his pride too, was loath to leave, and stubbornly sat where he was. 
“Petronius!” she repeated louder. “Come!” 
With a second good tug that brought a cry of surprise from pop-eyed Petronius, she turned and they were on their way, looking more like a grizzly bear leading a rat on a string than a well-heeled dowager with her tiny dog in tow.   
I laughed in disgust. I was angry. Angry at the dowager who’d mistaken me for a drug addict. Angry at Mrs Harp and Moby Dick and the dogs of apartment 2C who’d tried to kill me. Angry at Javier for slamming the door on my foot. Angry at the boss who’d sent me to Irving Place. Angry at New York City where I couldn’t get a break in animation. 
Angry at myself for trying to catch my dreams. 
Then I started laughing. 
Aw, what’s the use, I thought, in being angry? It wasn’t anyone’s fault that things sometimes go wrong. So what if a few crazy dogs had tried to eat me? I’d lived through it, hadn’t I? This was New York City, after all, and you had to expect a few ups and downs now and then. 
That’s life!
Have a beer and get over it.
After resting a few minutes, I hobbled to the station and caught the subway home.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Me and Moby Dick (Part 3)

Javier and I reached the elevator at the end of the hall. I turned around to look behind us. Down the hallway came more than a dozen tiny dogs, gnashing their teeth and howling for blood! 
“Madre de Dios!” screamed Javier. The sight was too much for him. Leaping from the elevator, he ran past the scattering crowd in the hallway and escaped down the stairs. 
I remained in the elevator. It was an old-fashioned elevator with two sets of doors. An inner sliding door made of hinged iron bars that moved with a concertina action, and a solid outer door that closed in the middle from the sides. I frantically pulled the inner door of the elevator shut and hit the Down button.
Then I felt the bite of tiny teeth on my ankle and looked down to see, clamped to my ankle and looking back up at me with his coal black eyes, the smallest dog of the pack, chewing and gnawing at my ankle like it was a T-bone steak. His coat was pure white without a blemish. He snarled and wiggled with delight, obviously enjoying my tender taste, or perhaps just pleased to have a change from the unsuspecting mail carrier or an elderly, inattentive neighbor. 
I shook my leg and off he flew between the bars of the inner elevator doors and into the hallway, sailing away in a  tumbling white arc. To my dismay he landed at the feet of Mrs Harp. 
“You bastard!” screamed Mrs Harp. “Kick my dog, will ya?”
In an instant the little white dog was up from the place where he had landed at Mrs Harp’s feet, his tiny paws slipping on the polished floor as he struggled for traction. Drops of my blood dotted his pure white muzzle. Unbidden to my mind came the image of this insanely determined, little white dog as Moby Dick, the great white whale, evilly seeking its vengeance not just on me, a hapless Ishmael, but upon the entire world.

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.” 
 (From Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville)

Ah, Melville, you magnificent bastard!
The dogs lunged on, Moby Dick at their head. 
What was keeping the outer elevator doors from closing, I wondered? I frantically pressed the Down button repeatedly, mightily cursing the pitiless, heartless gods who had forsaken me.
On rushed the yipping pack. Their tiny teeth gnashed in their drooling red mouths and their little black button eyes bulged with hatred. Seeing no alternative to my imminent, horrible death, I crouched down in the corner of the elevator and covered my head, hoping it would be over quickly. For a moment all went quiet and I saw events from my life replayed before my eyes. I thought of loved ones I would leave behind on Earth. Of Suzie and her smile. Of my first wife, Ethne, and our child and what a poor husband and father I’d been. I thought of my mother. Would I see her soon? Again I cursed the pitiless gods. This was no way to die, crouching in an elevator, devoured by lapdogs! 
Who would survive me to tell of my death by devil dogs in the heart of NYC? 
All this only took an instant. As I crouched there, the elevator doors closed and it started down. I heard a series of whacking thuds as the dogs, unable to slow from their ferocious attack speed, skidded and slammed into the closed elevator doors with yelps and whimpers.
“Serves you right, you little bastards!” I yelled up at them as the elevator descended, shaking my fist. I was so relieved to be alive that I started to dance a little jig of victory right there in the elevator, but the agony in my foot stopped me short. I had forgotten about that. It started to throb painfully. 
I now thanked the same merciless, pitiless, heartless gods whom I was cursing a minute before. 
The elevator sighed and came to a stop. The outer doors opened. There stood Javier, a look of panic and disbelief on his face. He was panting for breath and pointing away to the left, but at what I couldn’t see.
“Come on, man!” Javier shouted into the elevator. “The dogs take the stairs! Madre de Madres! Rapido!”
Leaving the elevator, I caught my jacket sleeve on the inner door latch and tore it from the cuff to the shoulder. 
“Damn!” I cursed. Twisting to free myself, the jacket was pulled completely from my back, spinning me around and causing me to lose my balance. I stumbled to the floor. 
I looked ahead to see Javier running from the building’s lobby into Irving Place and turn left towards Fourteenth Street. 
I looked back and saw my jacket on the floor outside the elevator. It looked eerily abandoned, laying there like a fallen comrade on the battlefield. I shuddered and looked away, strangely upset by the image of my empty, discarded jacket. 
What had Javier shouted when he told me the dogs were taking the stairs? Madre de Madres? It sounded beautiful. I made a mental note to ask Javier what it meant, when I saw him next time. 
Then I laughed at myself. 
What was I thinking? I meant if I saw him next time.

To be continued…