StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

A Sorcerer on Montmartre – (Chapter Nine)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on June 17, 2014

Opium Den

A Sorcerer on Montmartre

By Kyle Thomas Smith

© 2013

Ninth chapter from the novel I’m writing

(Click the following for Chapters 1234, 5678910 (p. i)10 (p.2)10 (p.3)111213)

CHAPTER NINE:

The Imaginarium of Dr. Feelgood

So, here’s what that conversation was all about…

Like the actor said, Robert O had set Simon and Belinda up in a Roche Boibois apartment of sorts and, like Simon said, it was the most spectacular residence he had seen to date, one that Robert O had in fact spent more time sprucing up than the actor had supposed. Most of the furnishings had bedecked the condo that Robert O had shared for many years with his oncologist-ex Andre on Telegraph Hill, where the decor had been even more prismatic than the local parrots’ coats. The sofa, rugs and sectionals, low-slung and exploding with colors, from top designers like Gaultier, Hopfer and Manzoni (to name a few), now occupied the lion’s share of the 400-square foot living room in Robert O’s one-bedroom apartment on Clinton Street.

For his first couple years in New York, when he was sober enough, Robert O had spent many of his days off haggling with artists in DUMBO, the Meatpacking District, Soho and the Bowery for the paintings that now lined his walls—most of them were expressionistic à la Rothko in their bold reds, blues and blacks (his interior-design consultant told him to go for those) or jubilant like Kandinsky in a kaleidoscopic vertigo of pastels and geometric shapes (some guy in a paisley ascot, who looked like he knew what he was talking about, at Södermalm Gallery, told him to go for those), though one was a naturalistic recreation of a Weimar café where a patron has his head between the wide-open legs of a chorus girl, smoking a cigarette between sets (Robert O knew nothing about pre-World War II Germany but he owned the Cabaret DVD and a couple early nineties Madonna CDs and concert t-shirts, so he impulse-bought that one). Also on every wall hung a series of mirrors in steel baroque frames to increase the main room’s sense of space, although its arabesque of reflected colors did more to make one feel trapped in a funhouse.

If anyone had pointed out to Robert O how daunting all this was to a visitor, he still would have felt he’d succeeded in his decorating mission since his presiding motto, especially when dyeing and cutting hair at the salon, was “Too Much is Better than Not Enough.” When Simon and Belinda came to stay, Robert O had added another piece of furniture to his collection, a tent bed, complete with a Stearns & Foster queen-sized mattress under a four-point canopy that had soft, translucent white drapes cascading from it. He installed the tent bed in a side corner near the window, where the two Georgia vagabonds could sleep and where there was no fear of them staining the oriental rugs that Robert O had warned everyone were from Victoire.

Simon could not help but notice the jarring contrast between the apartment and the neighborhood itself. No amount of fire-hose water or rent hikes would ever dredge up all the generations of grime that had accumulated on the brick facades of those jerrybuilt walk-ups. Slung down them in black and rust were fire escapes that reminded Simon of cages at the circus or zoo, each linked by black-and-rust iron ladders, and strangers who’d never be anything more than strangers to Simon flickered in and out of sight behind the windows, quick and enigmatic as ghosts. At any given hour, one could find at least one or two people rummaging through trashcans on the block with steely resolve, as though their pride were on its way to the city dump along with everything they’d chosen not to salvage out of the bags on the sidewalk.

Robert O’s building stood apart from everything around it, though. For one thing, it was only twelve years old. There was no grit on its golden yellow bricks yet. It looked more like something on its way to Oz than something that should be rising out of the grunge-caked sidewalk. Unlike anywhere else up the street, if graffiti went up, his building’s super would swash it over with masonry paint the same day. If anyone grubbed through the dumpster, the manager would be right out to tell them to wait till the bags are on the curb on Friday. Neighborhood stalwarts remarked that this building must have slipped right under the Landmark and Preservation Commission’s noses and the more the warhorses looked at it, the more they clung to their landmark and rent-control statuses and petitioned the governor to build more affordable housing and keep their low rents low.

Robert O’s building had debuted in the shadow of so many of the bistros and specialty-cocktail bars that had sprung up like ritzy weeds near Tompkins Square Park. That’s why he lived there. Robert O liked the neighborhood’s boho-chic but always scowled at the garbage-pickers, who reminded him too much of the days when there was no work and his family had to scrounge, scrape and scavenge for food in the dusty roads, highways and fields outside Laredo. Now that he had shoes on his feet, good shoes, and his income and rent were high and his hair and clothes were clean, mostly dry-cleaned, he wanted to see success and nothing but success surrounding him at all times, even if it came in a thin veneer of trash. “So, let’s see what happens with this twink,” he’d told Belinda on the phone before she’d driven out of Whimbrel Creek with Simon.

If it weren’t for all the drugs they trafficked into the apartment, all from right down the block, Robert O and Belinda’s little Pygmalion experiment might have worked. No doubt, Simon made for quite the nouveau Eliza Doolittle, chased out of the Bible belt with a deer-hunting rifle, making his way through the concrete jungle, where he suffers from ice cream headaches because he eats too fast. The right impresario could have trained this babe from the backwoods, trotted him out, made him make some sort of society splash and put him on the circuit with ballads about how he emerged from nothing like Leigh Bowery and, from nothing, managed to set the big-time ablaze. But Robert O and Belinda never drew up any grand plan for Simon beyond getting him up to the big city, getting him in the right hair and wardrobe and seeing how much he’ll get laid and how much he’ll change as a result of getting laid. But the more Robert O and Belinda caught up on old times, the more their drug use escalated until they became more Sid and Nancy than Higgins and Pickering, and all but forgot about Simon.

As Simon’s first month at Robert O’s wound down, he had seen more than he’d ever cared to see of Robert O and Belinda’s booze and their weed and he had seen all too much of the coke and meth and even the heroin they took to snorting on Robert O’s Bassett Mirror table. Simon wouldn’t touch so much as a drop or a speck of it himself, so he spent as little time as possible in the apartment. Otherwise, he told himself, he might end up like Robert O, whose assistant had a key to his apartment so she could come drag him out of bed, sometimes in mid-afternoon, and stand him up and slap him awake under a cold shower, all so he could go tend to whatever high-profile client had been waiting for him for over an hour. Lucky for Robert O he had talent and could do even an emperor’s wedding party stoned, but Simon suspected luck had a way of running out even on the luckiest hophead, and he also knew busboys were more fungible than lead stylists, so Simon stayed clean and made it to work early and stayed late.

As for Belinda, the job hunt had worked out for her almost as well as it had for Simon. She did a quick scan of craigslist’s want ads and went on to land bartending spots at Mars Bar on 1st Street and 2nd Avenue and Lucky 13 Saloon in Park Slope. Both were punk bars, so she never had to pump herself up to achieve any kind of Über-professional persona before walking into work like office people do. Off the clock, she could do whatever she wanted and sleep however late she wanted and still come on strong for the night shift. Afterhours on weekends, she was out with Robert O or any of the number of friends she started making through her jobs while Simon would sit home and hit the books (novels, mostly, by names he remembered from Beauvoir’s index) now that he didn’t have school and knew he needed whatever smarts he could muster now that he found himself so out of his league in the big leagues.

Simon imagined Belinda was more than canny enough to hold her own in the naked city but he lamented how he hadn’t seen her with a book since that day at Copenhagen Essentials, how she was frying away what could have been a great mind, one he wished he had, at least when it came to IQ. Simon often looked back on one night when Belinda had sat in Desiree’s and shown him all her tattoos, at least all the ones Desiree would let her show in her restaurant. She had lots of crazy buddhas from a long time ago that she’d found in a picture book on Mahassidas at Cody’s Books in Berkeley but she admitted she wasn’t a Buddhist and never even meditated so Simon didn’t see the sense in gawking at iconography that only went skin-deep. But he stared a good long time at the tattoo of Morgain, goddess of Avalon, shrouded in Medieval mists on Belinda’s inner right arm after Belinda said she’d gotten it after reading a book called Mists of Avalon and her eyes went wild as she described how the women of Avalon worshipped their own bodies and how having Morgain on her arm was a constant reminder to her to do the same. Belinda still smoked a lot of cigarettes and pot but Simon was thrilled that, somewhere in that wacky-tobacky mist, she at least had the intention of going clean. Then she moved to New York. Now even the intention behind the Morgain tattoo had gone up in smoke.

Simon never expressed his sorrow over this to Belinda, though. Anyway he barely ever saw her anymore, except when he would wake up in bed next to her. He knew Robert O wasn’t going to let them freeload forever but Robert O never fixed any kind of end date either, so Simon held on to his wages (which was easy to do since Belinda still hadn’t taken him up to Citibank to set up an account like she said she would) and hoped Belinda hadn’t been spending too much of hers, though she already was doing a bang-up job of squandering the money Hilda had given them.

As for the mismatch between Simon’s job and clothes, it turned out Margie and Paula had nothing to worry about when they saw Simon donning his glorious raiments on his first day of work. He’d assured them when they asked that he didn’t dress himself, the people he was living with did, but he rolled up those silk sleeves and got to bussing and scrubbing as only a Wizard’s Stone stepchild could. Even so, it took a couple weeks to sell them on what a hard worker he was, but this is where living at Robert O’s helped—not wanting to go back to the apartment, he’d ask for whatever extra shifts were available. Often he’d work a triple. Sometimes he’d work the breakfast shift and hang around in back reading books he’d bought by the pound at The Strand until he’d have to go back on the floor to work the dinner and graveyard shifts.

New York itself was still too much for Simon to take in, so he preferred to stay within Chelsea Night & Day’s four walls instead of venturing out between shifts. Long hours and dishpan hands were never any big deal to him. He needed the money so he was all gung-ho for going into a bathroom stall before work and stepping out of his new glad rags and into the uniform Paula had given him, which was all white cotton, just like at Desiree’s. And Paula couldn’t help but notice the new cache of regulars the restaurant was reining in once word got out about the cute southern busboy with the dyed hair. Soon enough whatever open shifts Simon wanted, he was more than welcome to and Paula let him eat whatever he wanted for free, which meant he didn’t have to spend on groceries and get dirty looks eking out space in Robert O’s fridge.

In short, all habits aside, all three inhabitants of Robert O’s Clinton Street apartment were good enough at their jobs to keep them, at least for the time being, but Simon learned from the gate that even functional users weren’t always so functional when it came to cleaning up after themselves. It was bad enough Belinda left her dirty bras and panties all over the floor instead of putting them in the laundry bag, but a few times, she’d passed out after a night out and had accidents in bed and it fell to Simon to clean it all up, even though every time he’d just come home from working a double or triple and was tottering on his aching feet. Twice he’d even had to drag Belinda’s dead weight to the tub and clean her up like a pig in slop or something just as far down from Simone de Beauvoir, and even though Simon felt no temptation to sin with her, it still felt sinful looking at, scrubbing down and sleeping next to a naked woman who wasn’t and never would be his wife. Then again, Simon started thinking to himself, who’d want to make a wife out of a woman who goes to the bathroom all over herself like that, on top of everything else? Lucky for Belinda, Simon was handy with cleaning products and laundry needs or Robert O might have shown them both the door their first week. And lucky for Robert O, who hadn’t always made it to the toilet either after binges, he had both Simon and a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to keep his sty in style.

The best investment Simon had made in his time at Robert O’s, besides in books, had been in a $1.58 pack of earplugs from Duane Reade. Simon had just started reading Balzac, specifically Lost Illusions, and he was entranced by how the character Lucien Chardon hailed from the provinces, just like Simon and, just like Simon, found himself thrust into too big a beau monde. Simon also pawed a good deal through a 1977 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary, one he’d excavated from a remainder bin at The Strand so he could bone up on Lost Illusions’s big words and esoteric allusions like “aleatory,” “oleaginous” and “Janus head.” Often the translator left in French phrases that Webster’s didn’t have definitions for, but Simon just skipped over those, suspecting he’d know them some day when he got better educated. Lost Illusions was over 650 pages in small print, just like The Second Sex, so Simon felt like he was scaling a whole new mountain of erudition and the abecedarian’s story was taking Simon into a whole other time and country, so he plugged up his ears to stay focused on the story, or, on something other than his roiling belly and quaking hands as the same fire that had burned up his past refused to illuminate a single instant of his future.

Even when Simon had the apartment to himself, staying focused on the book proved no easy task, given all the noise on Clinton Street, but it proved insurmountable the few nights Robert O had decided to stay in too. While cranking VH1 or some equally obstreperous cable station, Robert O would hang on his cell phone, smoking joints and Dunhills and saying things he knew Simon could hear through his earplugs like: “So, our lil Eliza’s in tonight—Eliza-doing-little, Eliza-saying-nothing, Eliza-paying-nothing…Yeah, he’s cute. So what? So was I when I was his age…No, no rent money yet, but there are ways of making lil Eliza—Liza!—pay.” Robert O would laugh after saying these things, so Simon just chalked it up to so much pettiness; plus Menard used to say a whole lot worse, so it was nothing more than white noise to Simon’s ears, which he pretended were too stuffed up with foam to hear a thing Robert O was saying.

But one night—another one of those nights Robert O had also decided to stay home—Simon had a dream. He didn’t know he was dreaming at first. A couple minutes earlier, he had been at least half-awake in the tent-bed, sitting up and reading all about Lucien Chardon’s forays into Paris’s salons. Now, though, he saw that the tent-bed he’d been sitting up in wasn’t in Robert O’s apartment anymore. It was stationed on the sidewalk outside Chelsea Night & Day Diner. He was still in the bed and it was still nighttime but now he was wearing white pajamas of a much finer silk than the black pajamas he’d gone to bed in, the ones Robert O had bought him at Macy’s. Candles were lit all around him and white incense smoke plumed above his head. A couple sewer rats streaked by on 7th Avenue and the pavement was scored with the same kind of encrusted black gum and gook that Simon had espied on the sidewalks to and from work all this past month. His eyes raced every which way until they settled on an old Chinese man, who was dressed in the same white silk that Simon found himself wearing. The old Chinese man bowed to Simon and held out a hand to Chelsea Night & Day’s door as if to conduct Simon through it.

Simon had heard good things about Chinese people, although the first time he’d ever seen one in the flesh had been that time he’d driven out of the Holland Tunnel with Belinda but, ever since then, he’d been seeing them everywhere, except they weren’t always Chinese like Simon thought, sometimes they were Korean or Japanese or Thai or Cambodian or from countries (or at least partly descending from countries) Simon had only heard about in passing. In any event, he saw them all over New York now and sometimes he cleared their plates at Chelsea Night & Day, but if they’d ever set foot in Simon’s part of Georgia, Simon had never seen or heard about the incident.

One time, though, Menard had invited a Reverend Saber to take the pulpit at Calvary to share his experiences of Christianizing the eastern world. Reverend Saber held forth on how people from the Orient were easily redeemable because they were descendents of Noah’s greatest son Shem—unlike the Africans and their diaspora, sons and daughters of Ham, the son whom Saber said “took advantage of Noah in the vilest of ways” and who was “the progenitor of the race who,” according to Saber, has needed all the luck it could get finding redemption ever since “God-fearing plantation masters were outlawed from keeping them in line with the Living Word.” All this said and done, Reverend Saber brought his own son, also named Noah, who had just graduated from Oral Roberts University, up to the pulpit.

Simon, then 14, had snapped to attention when he saw Noah Saber at the microphone. In a low, sonorous drawl, Noah spoke of how he’d accompanied his father on a Liberty Missionary Fellowship to China. Noah elevated his chin and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in an even rhythm as he stressed the need for more Christian missionaries to counteract the spread of Islam in X’ian and Linxia Hui. Simon’s eyes had been a lot more open than his ears, though, as they riveted on to Noah’s honey-dark skin, sapphire blue eyes and lean, sinewy body belying the white Oxford Shirt, brown-and-pink striped tie and navy blue suit coat. Simon had to cover his crotch with his arms as he watched Noah mouth the words “brothels,” “iniquity” and “opium.” Simon’s breath caught. It was all he could do to keep his hands gripping his arms and his arms on his lap to further conceal the effect Noah was having on him in church that day. Menard took the pulpit next and invited everyone back to the house for refreshments but Simon never dreamed Noah would come too, not until Simon walked into his own living room to see Noah holding a paper plate and eating a piece of lemon-vanilla cake that Simon’s mother had whipped up from a Betty Crocker box that morning. Not only did Simon get to shake Noah’s hand but, about half an hour later, he found himself sitting next to him on the calico-covered couch. Reverend Saber pointed at Simon and said to Noah, “Think we got a future candidate for a China fellowship here?” And that’s when it happened: Noah put his arm around Simon and said, “Could be.”

Not for all the tea in China would Simon have moved from that calico-covered seat. Noah did not take his arm out from around Simon for the rest of the hour as guests milled about in their Sunday best, thinking nothing of Noah’s half-embrace of Simon, though it went on a full 48 minutes. Simon knew he couldn’t take his arms off his own lap through it all, not even to reach for his punch cup, not if he valued his life. When it came time to stand up, Simon held his King James Bible upright below his belt, excused himself to the bathroom, and didn’t come back out until he could say goodbye with impunity. Last Simon heard of Noah, he was back in China, but the memory of that time on the couch would live in Simon’s cells to the grave, and now it was making its way into Simon’s dream.

The Chinese man in white silk smiled and nodded to Simon. Simon left the tent-bed, whose sheets and curtains rustled in the 7th Avenue winds. Simon walked barefoot to the door and turned around and bowed to the Chinese man before going in. Chelsea Night & Day didn’t look itself inside. All its tables, chairs, booths, dividers, even its kitchen had been cleared out. In their place stood a large, dark room, lit by candles, much like the ones on the sidewalk. Arabian pillows and cushions dotted the floor with people of all races either passed out or fornicating on them. Another tent-bed, just like the one he’d fallen asleep in and just like the one on the sidewalk, stood dead center as the room’s lone piece of standup furniture. Propped up on pillows, smoking a hookah and wearing the same white pajamas as Simon and the Chinese host, was none other than Noah Saber, looking as young and as good as he did at Calvary’s pulpit.

Noah seemed to have aborted his missionary mission. He seemed to have taken to the very things he’d denounced that day at Calvary—brothels, iniquity, opium. Simon kept hearing those same three words, in that same order, whispered throughout the room over a lush string arrangement from exotic instruments Simon had no recollection of ever having heard in real life. Who knows?, Simon thought as the music played and he crawled on to the bed where Noah smoked, Maybe Noah Saber is one of those Muslims now? Noah exhaled smoke and offered Simon the pipe. Brothels, iniquity, opium. To Simon’s own surprise, he took it and imbibed it. Noah put his arm around Simon’s back like he had a long time ago on the calico-covered couch but he didn’t stop there. He traced the side of Simon’s face with his index finger, hooked him under the chin, and brought Simon’s lips to his before inserting his tongue into Simon’s virgin mouth. Simon had heard people did these things when kissing but it always sounded disgusting. Now, though, Simon laid back to take Noah’s tongue in all the more as Noah’s embrace went from half to full and Noah sprawled his tawny, silk-covered body out on top of Simon. Brothels, iniquity, opium.

In waking life, Simon stirred and twisted on the tent-bed in Robert O’s apartment. The dream faded but he wanted to be back in it so he kept his eyes closed and pressed his hand over the space where Noah’s back had been. Simon found, though, that in flesh-and-bone reality he was drawing a real figure to himself, something other than the air he’d been expecting to find, something he could feel, something flesh-and-bone, something that weighed on him. Feeling two tongues in his mouth, Simon opened his eyes and awakened with a start to find Robert O looking down at him. “Shhhh,” Robert O put his finger over Simon’s lips, “Don’t be scared, lil Liza. I’m just showing you how it’s done.” Robert O had already unbuttoned Simon’s black pajama shirt and his lips travelled one kiss at a time down Simon’s chest and stomach as he untied the belt to Simon’s black pajama bottoms. At first, Simon closed his eyes, hoping to bring Noah Saber back to mind, but the Liberty Missionary Fellow and Oral Roberts grad faded from focus as Simon opened a whole new set of eyes to Robert O, who’d always seemed too dangerous to contemplate before now.

Yet Simon noticed that Robert O was even darker than Noah and he had a firm, if bony, body and he knew what he was doing as he took Simon’s bulging erection deep into his mouth, letting it glide from his lips all the way to the back of his throat and back again, and again. Simon arched into his pillows, closed his eyes and took a few long, slow, deep breaths until an oceanic feeling settled into his body. Robert O crept back up, kissed Simon’s lips and with unaccustomed gentleness turned Simon around. Simon could hear a wrapper crinkle open and a light snapping sound behind him. Robert O said, “You’ll feel a little pain, but it’s good pain, trust me.” No sooner did Simon close his eyes and cringe than he relaxed and let it happen, only to find that, whatever the eternal consequences, there was something good about the pain.

Simon was late to work the next morning. Only about 10 minutes late but still late enough for Paula to notice. Paula didn’t feel she could bawl him out for it, though, since Simon was always early, by a lot, unlike everybody else she’d ever hired. Besides she wagered that something’s gotta give when a boy so young is picking up so many shifts. Simon had a whole sink full of dishes waiting for him, which was good because he didn’t want to be out on the floor now. He didn’t want to be around people. He wanted to be steeped in suds and dishes so he could be alone with his memories of the middle of the night and his fantasies of more to come. He wanted to get into some kind of flow with rinsing dishes and loading and unloading the hulking steel dishwasher, a flow that could reinstate the oceanic feeling he’d been up with all night.

As he worked, Simon’s mind kept drifting back to the dream he’d had about Noah Saber and, better still, the reality he’d woken up to with Robert O. He thought of how he’d ended up on top of Robert O. He’d been running his fingertips over Robert O’s ribcage and nipples. It was the first naked chest he’d ever done that to, other than his own. In fact, he’d straddled Robert O. Isn’t that what someone who knows what they’re doing does? And yet he did it on his first time.

Simon got so swept up in these ruminations that, when he went back on the floor to get to clearing and setting tables, he dropped a whole tray of glasses and dishes. A saucer and three water glasses broke. Customers gaped. Paula didn’t have to say much about it. Just, “What’s with you today?” but that alone was enough to snap Simon out of dreamland. He went and got a mop, rag, and broom. As he swept up the broken pieces, he slipped a shard from one of the water glasses into his apron pocket. He silently warned himself that he’d prick himself with it next time he got lost in daydreams about Robert O. He couldn’t afford to lose this job.

Still and all, Robert O had shown Simon something he’d never expected, something that felt good, something hard to keep his mind off. Simon’s conditioning had left him thinking he’d done a bad thing and he’d long been told bad things tend to feel good, at least at first, or else people wouldn’t do them. He also began to consider, though, that maybe the dogmatists were wrong and also maybe he’d misjudged Robert O. Maybe there was something soft under Robert O’s rough edges that just needed a little love and coaxing to come out. He wondered if it might be worth seeing if Robert O was his mission, what fate had driven him out of Wizard’s Stone for. Maybe with a little rehabilitation and encouragement, Robert O could prove a prince among men.

Soon, Simon had stopped volunteering for overtime at Chelsea Night & Day. He started going straight home at the end of each shift. He wanted to be there in case Robert O might decide to stay in too. Night after night, Simon still would find himself all alone with Balzac, though, and any number of other books he could no longer keep his mind on in the motley apartment. Simon would wait up but neither Robert O nor Belinda would come home until well after he’d fallen asleep, if even then.

Yet after ten days of waiting up nights, Simon woke up at about 2 am to hear Robert O snoring in his room. Simon got out of the tent-bed naked and tiptoed over to the bathroom, where he sprayed his whole chest with the Armani aftershave that Robert O kept by the sink. Simon inched open Robert O’s door as bands of moonlight and city lights cast over the slung-out figure of a sleeper, many fathoms under from liquor, drugs and work (but mostly the first two). Simon crawled into bed next to Robert O and stroked himself as he kissed Robert O’s jaw and cheekbone. Robert O lay motionless. He’d managed to struggle out of all his clothes before passing out, except for a t-shirt with a print of a nude Bjork covering herself with a frond as she laughs and frolics through a pastoral fen. By the time Robert O felt a thing, Simon’s tongue was in his ear—and not just the tip but the whole amateur mass of it.

Robert O wrenched up to sitting position. Simon gave a sly smile and said, “Don’t worry. It’s just me.” Robert O gathered up his comforter and blankets and lurched back. “What’s wrong?” Simon said. “Fuck off!” Robert O shook. Simon said, “It’s just me. Simon. Here. Look,” and Simon turned on the lamp revealing the whole scrawny length and breadth of himself. Robert O brought his comforter and blanket in all the more, covering as much of himself as he could. He shot Simon a look that Simon had only seen on cornered raccoons. This wasn’t the same rapier who could yawn and cut someone to ribbons at the same time. This wasn’t the same rake who’d turned up in his bed ten days ago. This was someone or something as ferine, wretched and, for some reason, scared as a baited raccoon. Robert O might as well have been frothing at the mouth for how lupine his eyes looked. Simon wanted to say he was sorry but he didn’t want to be told to fuck off again. And it was obvious Robert O was coming down off something, or many things, so Simon backed out of the room and closed the door behind him as Robert O wept and hyperventilated.

Once in the main room, Simon put his pajamas back on and jumped back in bed, bracing himself for Robert O to come out and tear the place apart and Simon with it. But minutes passed and all Simon heard was some rustling, followed by a cold silence that did not stir as the hours passed. By and by, Simon managed to lie back. He closed his eyes and pulled the covers up to his chin, but it was a full hour before he could fall asleep again and, when he did, he woke up within fifteen minutes with his heart battering like a newly caged bird against his ribs.

By now, it was five a.m., so Simon decided to wake up and get ready to head down to the restaurant to get an early jump on his morning shift. After washing the aftershave off his chest and brushing his teeth, Simon came out of the bathroom to find that Belinda had come home and crashed on his side of the tent-bed with her black Subhumans t-shirt still on and her boots, jeans and panties kicked off. Simon walked up and saw there were now scabs and bruises on the Morgain tattoo on Belinda’s inner right arm. He covered Belinda with their 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton comforter while she moaned to be left alone. He hoped that, after work, he wouldn’t have to put all the bedclothes through an emergency wash cycle like those other times Belinda had been at her passed-out worst.

The first thing Simon did when he got to Chelsea Night & Day was ask Paula if he could work overtime. She said, “Sure, hon,” and he went off to clear tables.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his husband and two cats.

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