Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day

by McCutcheon
I live alone. Somewhere in no man's land, above the Upper West Side and below Columbia. The rent is cheap. I am inside on this cold winter night.

There is a funk that surrounds me. More than the smell lingering in my dingy one room apartment. My place is pretty empty. Not a lot of amenities.

It looks cluttered- beer bottles (empty of beer, full of smoked cigarettes), pizza boxes (empty of pizza except for the crusts), a small futon (empty of love, except the self pleasure I administer myself- which is quite frequently) a Computer (turned on, but empty of any great ideas), and a small boom box (full of songs about depression and desperation).

I graduated a couple months ago. People told me Brown was a good university. The world was at my feet.

I didn't get the job with the magazine of my choice. I didn't get any job. The closest I get to the publishing world is stealing magazines from the Port Authority. Now I take long solitary walks through Manhattan. My shoes are wearing thin.

The idea of being unemployed is not bad. Having no money is. My woes don't end there. Constant state of complaint. I am not lazy. Just unsatisfied.

My girlfriend Nicole left me. Or rather, we left each other. A relationship is two people. It ends with two people. But she didn't leave me much choice.

We were still together. I walked into our place (down in the East Village-she paid) and Nicole was making it with my best friend. Stuart had her from the backside. Furious fucking. Pumping away. he had her doggy style. They were humping like animals in heat. It didn't exactly stop when I walked in.

Stuart told me later they were both too close to simultaneous orgasm. Nicole never came with me, not even faking it. Our relationship ended with three people. Now I'm alone with too much time on my hands. Instead of creating art or some other worthy pursuit people with no money can achieve, I just burn inside, unable to tell if I even have potential.

Yeah, I still talk to Stuart. He is my best friend. I read in one of the magazines that didn't hire me, but that I stole, that men never make friends after college.

I curl up on the futon. I use a sleeping bag as a blanket. Another sleeping bag left in its sack as a pillow. Snow falls outside my window.

Tired. Ten hours of sleep last night. Permanent bed head. I lay there wishing I was dead. I want to go deeper than sleep. I lay and try to will myself to death. It doesn't work. Like trying to hold your breath underwater. You always come up for air before it's too late.

...Drifting...

...Dreams...

...Nicole...

...What?

The phone rings. I wake up. Maybe it is Nicole.

"Hello? Hi mom...I was sleeping...Because I was tired I guess...No, I have the answering machine I just have it turned off...Because I was sleeping...Yes it works fine...Really? Since Christmas, well that wasn't so long ago...Really?...Yeah, Happy Valentine's Day to you...Yeah, I've been busy, well, looking for work...You know looking for work is a full time job...Sorry, yeah that did sound like dad...Yes, you can get a great piece of pizza for only about a dollar...No I don't want to come home...We talked about this at Christmas...So, mom...Mom...Listen, what are you and dad doing tonight?...That sounds nice...No, I don't have a date...I don't see her anymore...Because...I don't know...Okay...I love you too...Hey mom, uh, could you send me some money?...I spent it all, you know I have to eat...New York is expensive...Yeah, thanks mom, and don't tell dad okay. I love you...Bye."

Hang up. Headache. Pinch the bridge of my nose with thumb and forefinger.

I sold the answering machine (X-mass present from my father-didn't want me to miss all my important calls) to some swindler outside Port Authority.

My Prague calendar is still set to January. I turn it over to February.

Junior year of university I went to the Czech Republic. It was the best time of my life. I lived more than I have ever done. Felt so alive. When experiencing a place that has so much history passed through it the everyday moments become vivid.

Prague. My spiritual home. Where I was happy. I don't even speak the language. I seemed to escape conversations of any length. That was okay by me. Sometimes the distance of mundane melodrama keeps you sane.

Prague. The old alluring architecture, beauty of the old world. The grey buildings seem proud yet comforting, satisfied with their history. In New York the buildings take on an overbearing effect. They instill a sense of vertigo from the streets. Especially when you have a hangover.

Prague. Changing now. When I was there the Capitalists hadn't moved in yet. An old German I met in a bar (he was so old I wondered what he did during the thirties) told me that Prague of the early nineties was like Paris in the twenties. A place young people could come and live cheaply. The more talented ones made art. The others drank lots of the cheap beer. There was much activity and adventure for those willing to seek it out.

Prague. My bohemian city.

Sirens whiz outside my window bringing me back to the reality of New York city. The red lights splash against my white wall. For a second the room takes on the presence of a florid Jackson Pollock. The cop car races down the street, taking the color and noise with it.

I hear loud voices in the hallway. Rogue characters around here. Not the kind of people you feel comfortable borrowing sugar from. I step to my peek hole. A man and woman are standing outside my door.

The man looks like a bruiser; big, strong and construction worker stupid. He is wearing a heavy coat and stomping boots.

The woman looks like she used to be beautiful. She has a rock star face but her features look like they have been beaten down by life.

Too many drugs, booze and late nights. Either that or she is in a bad relationship. From the looks outside my door anything is possible. Her figure is well-rounded. Perfect for the type of guys who say, 'I like a little meat on my bones.'

She is wearing a skimpy outfit consisting of a sheer fabric top and tight denim trousers.

The man is flushed crimson with anger. The girl's face is streaked with mascara. They are shouting at each other.

"Come back!" The man demands.

"God damn you!" She screams.

"I love you!"

"How could you?"

"Honey please!"

"Don't 'please me' you son of a bitch!"

My head is pressed against the door. The woman makes a fist and swings at the man. The man ducks. My vision goes black. The woman punches my door.

Slam!

I feel the impact and jump back. It is a good thing she didn't connect with her lover's head.

Ouch!

I can still hear the voices.

"Honey! Are you okay?"

"Don't 'okay me' you son of a bitch!"

The hallway door slams. Party's over. I grab my cigarettes and sit by the window.

The couple is illuminated under the street lamp. Standing within its glow, under the falling snow. Just a few feet from me. Still yelling. I sneak in for a closer listen.

"You fuck!" Belting it out. "My sister! I am going to fuck the next guy I see!"

"Can we please go inside?"

"I am never going inside again!" She is out of her head.

"But Honey, it's snowing." The man points to the sky. No longer enraged. Wants life to be back to normal. Everything forgotten.

"I can see that it's fucking snowing! I can see everything now!"

She spins around. Looks right at me. Fuck. Caught eavesdropping. I jump away from view.

"Hey you!"

I stay hidden. My heart races for the first time in months.

A snowball thumps against my window. The melted ice slush streaks down the pane.

I see a long finger nail click, click, clicking on the glass.

"Open up, kid. I just want a smokie treat."

I show myself. The woman is right there. Peering in. We are face to face. I open the window. Let cold air in. I point at my chest, like she couldn't possibly be talking to me. The man is still lurking around on the sidewalk.

"Me?" I ask.

"Yeah you. What's your name, sweetheart?"

"Brett."

"Give me a cigarette, Brett. You have any French ones?"

"No."

"Honey," the man interjects. "You don't smoke anymore."

I hand the woman a Marlboro Red.

"Well, light it."

The woman bends over. Flutters fake seductive eyelashes. The mascara gives her the look of a raccoon. It's sadly attractive.

I light the cigarette. The woman inhales deeply. She blows smoke in my face. It's mixed with her hot breath.

"Honey," the man says, " you know it's bad for you. Your mother died of cancer for Christ's sake."

"I want to die of cancer!"

The woman takes off down the street. She isn't wearing a jacket. I feel bad for her. The man is standing in front of my window. He points a big meaty paw at me.

"You are on my shit list! I'll be back for you!"

He runs down the street after his wife. A block away I can still hear him yelling. "Honey!"

Me? On his shit list. I don't like the sound of that. Doesn't make me feel too good. Doesn't inspire a feeling of well-being.

I close the window.

I have to get out of here.

I don't know who to call, so I call Stuart. Nicole answers. I hang up.

A Village Voice on the floor. Not too hard to reconstruct the scattered pages. Movie section. Times. Place on Broadway is showing a new romantic comedy staring Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis. What the hell. Nowhere else to go.

Outside the movie theater there is a long line. I'm toward the front. Everyone seems to be in couples, hugging and kissing. I stand with my hands in my pockets. Trying not to be noticed. The bystander on the side of life.

Two men in cheap polyester tuxedos are having a conversation inside the lobby. They look as important as their jobs require. I can't hear what is being said, but the one wearing the manager tag has a serious look on his face. The fat man, who might be about my age but seems more manly in years and girth, is taking his instructions and nodding. His hair is wrapped around a bald spot. Of course, it keeps falling out of place. The manager walks away, giving the thumbs up sign. The fat man instinctively fixes his hair, takes a deep breath (his belly rolling over the cummerbund) and walks outside to face the crowd.

The fat man stands at the head of the line. He paces with his hands behind his back. A general inspecting the troops.

"Okay, listen up. We got one place left."

The people in line are so in love they don't pay attention. I am the only one listening. Like an idiot I raise my hand.

"Ladies and gentleman, PLEASE! We got one place left. Anyone by themselves?"

The crowd goes quiet. Everyone looks at me. The fat man grabs me out of the line. I put my arm down.

"Okay, ladies and gentleman, we are sold out. Sorry."

The crowd mumbles. A few people swear at the fat man. The couples move off into the snowy night. On their way to wine in bistros. Snuggles in front of a fireplace.

The fat man brings me up to the box office window.

"This kid is all alone. He is the last one." He explains the situation to the girl behind the thick glass divide. Fixes his hair in the reflection.

The girl is sensuously out of place. Skin the color of melted caramel. Hair so black it's almost blue. High forehead. Beaked nose that remains pert. Bee stung lips. Green eyes like exotic jewels.

"Hi." I say. She is worth re-entering society. "How are you?"

"Another day in paradise," she says deflated. " $9.75."

I reach in my pocket and pull out three crumpled bills. The girl flattens them out with long slender fingers.

"So what are you doing?"

"I'm working on Valentine's Day. I feel like such a loser. You owe me $6.75."

I pull out a bag of change. I make little piles of four quarters.

"You want to do something later?" I ask.

"I have a date. I am not such a loser that I don't have a date on Valentine's Day. This is $5.75. You still owe me a buck."

I make my last pile with dimes and nickels. The girl hands me the ticket. The fat man grabs my arm.

"Come on Romeo. The previews already started."

We hurry through the lobby. Then the fat man stops. Tears my ticket. Wraps his hair around the bald spot.

"It's theater three. Straight back."

I open the door to theater three. It's pitch black inside. Wait for my eyes to adjust. The place is huge. Five hundred capacity. Everyone is already seated. The previews end. The movie starts playing. I look for the one lone place available.

I get my bearing and locate the spot. It's right in the middle of the whole theater. Row number thirteen. I walk down the aisle and approach the man sitting at the end.

"Uhm, excuse me. Could you move down one?"

"What buddy? The movie is startin' here. What you want?"

"There's one place left. I thought if everybody moved down one it would�"

"Kid, will ya shut up."

I try to squeeze past.

"Okay, okay. If I could just get through, uh, excuse me."

The man stands up. Over six feet five. Looks down at me menacing. Like he enjoys confrontations.

"Listen pal, my wife and I are tryin' to watch the movie here. Now quit buggin' me."

"I'm just trying to get through."

A woman's voice shouts from a few rows back. "Down in front!"

The man spins around. "Shut your hole."

"You shut up!"

This is going nowhere fast. I am not getting past the bastard.

The man sits down. The woman shuts up. I turn to face the movie screen. A pretty young actress with big hair is walking through the park on a bright sunny day. Music plays in the breeze. She hasn't a care in the world.

I walk back up the aisle, around the back, and down the other side. When I get to my row I don't say anything. Make my way to the seat with determined indifference. I hear a crunch. Look down. My foot is in a large tub of buttered popcorn.

A fist shoots up and grabs my jacket. I am pulled down to eye level. Face to face with what looks like a mild-mannered librarian. With attitude.

"That cost me ten dollars," he says. His voice is educated, callous and neurotic.

I'm sorry. I didn't see it. I..."

"Sweetie," The man's wife leans over. "I am sure the boy didn't mean it. Count to ten." She has a soothing psychiatrist voice.

On the movie screen the actress is in a rowboat on a placid pond. She is with a handsome man. The guy doesn't have much hair but it doesn't matter. This is a movie. They are kissing.

The popcorn man takes a deep breath. Trying to find his happy place.

"Just reimburse me. Everything will be fine."

"I don't have any money."

"Listen you little son of a bitch." He starts to hyperventilate.

"Now, now, dear," the man's wife says. "Remember lesson number one. You must breathe. How about I pay for the young man's mistake."

"You? You! All the money you have is my money! Now why in the hell would I want to pay myself?"

I can't believe this shit.

From the row behind, a mature woman leans over. She has Audrey Hepburn elegance and Grace Kelly grace. She is the grandmother I never had. I envy her grandchildren. I am sure their life is without much difficulty.

"Excuse me," she says. "I will pay for the mess if we can all just enjoy the film."

The lady hands $10 to the angry man. He puts the money into his pocket and starts watching the movie. His breathing returns too normal. The wife takes her hands and claps her husband's hand, with her left hand she interlocks fingers and the other, gently pats the top.

I look down at my shoe. It's covered in greasy popcorn butter. I am still in a crouched position. Don't want to sit down next to Mr. Psycho and Mrs. Wellness. The grandmotherly woman taps me on the shoulder. She puts a small piece of paper into my hand. I palm it and get the hell out of there.

In the lobby I look into my hand. I hope it's not a phone number promising sexual acts. I don't want to ruin my vision I had of the nice woman.

In my palm is a crisp folded $100 bill. Well all right. I want to go back and thank the lady but I wouldn't go back in there for $1000. I put the money in my sock.

I have to get the butter off my shoe.

I step into the restroom. My first foot hits the glistening tiles and flies out from under me. The second one follows. I fall flat on my ass. The floor is all wet. It soaks through my pants.

Fuck!

The fat man is across the bathroom. Looking at himself in the mirror. Pampering his remaining locks. A mop and a yellow "Caution! Slippery When Wet!" sign are leaning against the wall.

He looks at me. "Whoa! I just mopped that."

"I can see that." I get to my feet.

"Why aren't you watching the movie?"

"I couldn't get to my seat." I blot my ass with paper towel. Wipe off my shoe.

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind."

"That's not right. You pay for the movie, you watch the movie. You aren't getting your money back."

"That's okay"

The fat man puts his attention back into the hair. I am about to walk out when he turns to me.

"My name is Harry."

"Hi Harry, Brett."

"Harry Toes."

"What?"

"My name, my real name is Harry Toes."

"Yeah?"

"Well don't you want to ask me?

"What?"

"If I have hairy toes?"

"Uh..."

"Well I do. I have thick flat feet covered with hair. Just like the hobbit."

I don't know what to say, so I say, "I don't know what to say."

"You know The Hobbit?"

"Yeah."

Harry smiles. He has let me into his life. Told me something personal.

"Just man to man, what do you think?"

"What?"

"I just got rid of the toupee. I might shave my head bald. That's popular now with those Michaels.

"Michaels?"

"Jordan and Stipe."

"Yeah, I guess. I got some money. You want to go out for a beer?" God, I must be desperate for company. Before I get too smug with slumming it I am rejected.

"Love to, but I got a date."

"Oh."

"With Franny." Smug smile.

"Who?"

"Franny. The girl you tried to sweet talk."

"I didn't really try to sweet talk..."

"Don't sweat it. Man, I know how it gets lonely on national holidays."

I walk out of there. Harry goes back to his hair. He should shave it off.

Outside the theater it is still snowing. The white powder makes New York look cleaner than it is. Fluffy. Fresh. Domesticated.

I come to a crosswalk. The lights are flashing red. I stop to watch the snow flakes fall. Squint eyes at the lights. Calming effect. Psychedelic winter wonderland.

Red Chevy comes rumbling up. I don't take notice. The horn honks, disturbing me out of my trance. The car pulls along the curb.

Harry Toes is driving. Honking and waving like a lottery winner. Franny is in the passenger seat, applying dark sticky blood-red lipstick to her thick pouty lips. She completely ignores me. Weakly I wave back.

The car roars off. There goes Harry Toes. Hairy toes and all. With the lovely Franny. Beauty and the beast.

I turn off Broadway and head towards Amsterdam. Not many people out tonight. Makes me lonely. Whenever I am somewhere that is usually full of people but isn't, I feel funny. Like I've just come in at the last part of a tragedy and everyone is dead.

I pass a bar. People are always out drinking. Not the better class of society. Truants. Perverts. Losers.

I try to look in the window. It's so coated in grime I can't see through it. The door is open. I walk in.

The tavern is dark and dirty. Smoky haze hovers close to the ceiling. Only two people sitting at the L shaped bar. Hank Williams sings alcoholic soaked love songs softly on the jukebox.

Barfly one is round and blushing rose with alcohol. Bulbous nose. He is like a toad plopped on the barstool. Butt crack is sticking out the back of his pants. Looks like a broken heart. He is wearing a pin that says 'Kiss me I'm Irish'. A bottle of Budweiser in his hand.

Barfly two is as thin and lanky as his drinking buddy is plump. He has the posture of a question mark. Whisky sits in front of him.

I turn to walk out.

"What? We ain't good enough for you?" asks barfly one.

"What?"

"I said you think we ain't good looking enough for you?"

"No." I sit down at the bar. Barfly one points to his pin.

"Then why don't you give me a kiss. Ha Ha Ha."

"Wrong holiday."

I sit there nervously. Tap my fingers on the counter. The barflies don't move from their spots. Doesn't seem to be a bartender. The music on the jukebox turns off.

Barfly one looks at me. "Tis' Dexter and I'm Ralph."

Dexter doesn't move. Calm. Cool. Collected.

"So Ralph," I say. "What do I have to do to get a drink around here?"

"Mike stepped out," Ralph says. "Fightin' with the missus."

"It ain't right to be fightin' wit da little lady on Valentine's Day," says Dexter.

Ralph slowly gets up and makes his way around the bar.

"What do you want?"

"Well..."

"I ain't making any of those trendy Cosmopolitans."

"That would take some mixology."

"I could make 'em. I jest don't like the people tat drink 'em."

"A beer. You...they got Pilsner Urquell?"

"They got Budweiser."

He puts the beer in front of me. I reach down to take the money out of my sock.

"Thanks."

"On me." He puts a dollar in the till.

"Thanks. You know that Budweiser in Europe is just called Bud? Because the original Budweiser, called Budvar, came from Czechoslovakia. Now the Czech Republic. I went to the brewery just outside Prague. They make the best beer in the world. Better than this shi...um, it has a higher alcohol content."

The barflies look at me like I am speaking a foreign language.

"You rich?" asks Ralph. "Hell boy, you can buy your own beer next time."

"No."

"You must be rich to go to Europe," he says.

"Actually it is very cheap. The Czech economy is behind the other European Communities, but they are getting Westernized with Mc Donald's and shit� they have this cool president named Havel, he was a playwright who spent time in prison and hung out with Frank Zappa and Lou Reed�.I wish I was there right now."

"I like Mc Donald's," says Ralph.

I sip at my beer.

"It's not where you are," says Dexter, "but how you behave. I was in Seattle, a nice small town in the Pacific Northwest, but I didn't behave so they kicked me out."

"Kicked you out?" That whisky must be getting to him.

"Nothing clears the head more in lookin' at Mt. Rainer on a bright day."

"Wait," I don't buy this. "What do you mean they kicked you out. Who? The mayor, the governor, the state police?"

"All I know is that I'm banned for life."

"Out of Seattle? It doesn't make any sense."

"It don't matter. They don't sell whisky in the bars. Sports teams always choke in the playoffs."

"You know what, Dexter?" Says Ralph.

"What?"

"I jest figured out that we jest be sittin' here."

"We are always jest sittin' here Ralph, 'cept when you run down to Pizza Palace."

"No, Dex. I mean, besides Mr. High and Mighty World Traveler, we got the run of the place. I think this is a dream come true."

Ralph gets back up. He hitches up his pants. Rubs his hands together.

"Okay Dexter, this one's on me. Whatta you have?"

"Jest a refill."

"You wantin' the good stuff?"

"No jest the same."

Ralph looks around. He picks up a huge plastic liter jug of whisky. Pours a little into his friend's glass. Looks around again. Settles for another Budweiser. I can't believe this.

"What? We are all alone in the bar, everything is free and you're drinking Budweiser and whisky that comes in a plastic bottle. How about I make us some nice martinis. Gin or vodka?"

"Vodka. Gin is for English faggots," says Ralph. He points to his pin.

I get up and walk around the bar. As I pass Ralph I blow him a kiss. Behind the bar is a dusty shaker and some dirty Martini glasses. This is a high class joint these boys hang out in. I wash everything out and proceed to make the drinks. There is not much choice when it comes to the Vodka. I find a half- empty bottle of Smirnoff, some olives in a little refrigerator. I chill it all down with ice.

Shake. Shake.

I pour the drinks. Light a smoke. We all hold up our glasses.

"Cheers."

The bar door swings open. In walks an imposing figure.

"What the fuck is going on in here Ralph? Dexter?"

Out of the shadows steps the man from the apartment. Doesn't look very happy. And me already on his shit list. Ralph turns even more ruddy. Dexter spills his drink with an unsteady hand.

"Oh, hi there Mike," Ralph greets the grim hulk with a shrug of his shoulders. "This kid was jest makin' us drinks. Don't worry we was gonna pay."

Mike turns to look at me. Does an extemporaneous double take. Recognizes who is sitting behind his bar. His beady eyes get small and focused. Staring at Public Enemy #1. Shit list winner extraordinaire.

"It's you! The guy who wants my wife to die of cancer. What are you trying to do, you sicko? First you try to kill my wife and then you fuck her. Now you sittin' in my bar like you own the place. You tryin' to become me?"

I have no idea what he is talking about. He is spitting out the words. Starting to shake. This isn't good.

He runs at me. I dodge left as he goes right. He jumps over the bar but trips getting over. I run around the other side and out the front door. The barflies stay glued to their seats. I run down the street and take another left down Broadway. I don't stop until I am out of breath. No one is behind me.

I feel like going home. Getting into the sleeping bag for a good ten hours. But the crazy son of a bitch knows where I live. I go to a phone booth. My little bag of change is almost empty. Enough for one call. I weigh my options. Don't seem to have many. I call Stuart.

Come on. Come on. Answer the phone.

On the third ring Nicole answers.

"Nicole can I talk to Stuart� When is he coming back?�No wait, don't hang up!!!�"

But she does hang up. Fucking bitch. I check for change. There is none. There never is.

I walk to a bodega. An Arab is behind bulletproof plexiglass. A caged animal. If this is an escape to a better life, I wonder what he left behind. (Has he found the American dream? Money. Freedom. Independence.)

I reach into my sock and pull out the $100.

"I want change."

"You buy something."

Valentine's Day candy sits on the counter. Looks stale. It could have been around for Adam and Eve's courtship. I pick up a piece.

"I'll take this."

"No, no, no. You buy something more."

"All right, throw in a packet of matches."

"Ha Ha. Not funny."

"Are you going to make change for me or not?"

"No."

"No?"

"Okay."

The deli man hands me $99.

"Hey, I need some real change."

"No change. Go away."

"Give me a pack of Marlboro Reds."

I pay with a five. The deli man hands me a dollar. I pick up a packet of matches.

"I'll take these."

"They are free."

"I thought they were ten cents."

"No. Free when you buy cigarettes. Please leave."

"Listen I need change for the phone."

I pick up a plastic red heart.

"How much is this?"

"Seventy-five cents."

"Okay."

I buy the heart. Finally get my change. Walk back out to the street. Central Park is a block over. I walk along the side but don't go in. It's too late for safety. I bet it is very pretty with all the snow.

I dig into my wallet. Find the phone number of this girl I met. It was last year before all the craziness. I was in a bar and she just started talking to me. I remember getting the number. Feeling guilty. Like I was cheating on Nicole. Didn't last very long. It was the same night I came home to find her hunched over a chair taking it from behind. Getting her orgasm.

I never called the girl because I haven't been up to it. Her name is Jane. I put the quarter in and dial. A girl answers the phone.

"Jane?...Is Jane there?...Really?...that's so weird...Yeah, that is like her...No, I'm Brett...Well, I am sure she must have mentioned me before...What?...Oh, hi Ariel...Happy Valentine's Day to you...Wait, uh what are you doing?...You want to get a drink or something...Great...Yeah I know it...Short...Not balding, just cut short...Yes...See you."

Little bullshitting and I got a date.

Ariel wants to meet at a trendy bar by Columbia. That isn't a problem. I am already in the neighborhood. I walk up along the park. Take a left on 110th street. Pass the cathedral. I get to the bar early.

I walk inside. The bar is cozy. Intimate. Five or six tables with couples sitting at them. Long stem roses in Burgundy wine bottles. Lit in vermilion candle light flame. I take a place up at the bar. Bartender comes up to me.

"Yes?"

"I'll have a martini."

"Straight up?"

"No, wait I don't want that. Do you have Pilsner Urquell?"

"Yes."

"Wait. I don't want that."

"Listen, we have a special on all drinks red or white.

"Red or white?"

"Yeah, red or white, you know the colors of Valentine's Day."

"So like what?"

"Well, like a white Russian or a vodka cranberry. All wine."

"I'll have a vodka cranberry."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

The bartender goes to make my drink. I light up a cigarette. A woman leans over me. Whispers into my ear.

"Can I have one of those?" She wants one of my cigarettes.

"Ariel?"

I turn around. It's the woman from the apartment. The crazy man's wife. She smiles a broad grin at me. Winks at me like it's a conspiracy.

"No Brett, it's me Honey. The neighbor you like to watch. I didn't know you were such a little voyeur." She rolls the R even longer than the French would.

"A what?"

"Voyeur. It's French for pervert."

"I know what it is, but I'm not..."

"My husband thinks you're sexually deviant."

"Yeah right. I saw that crazy guy."

"Where?"

"Some bar."

"I wouldn't hang out with him."

"Hang out with him? Yeah we are best buddies."

"He thinks I'm fucking you."

"What! Why does he think that?"

"Because I told him we were."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because. Besides, don't you want to taste Honey's pot?"

There seems to be a reason behind all this madness. I am talking to it. I turn my back on Honey. How many poor saps she has used that line on? My drink arrives. I pay the guy. Don't turn back.

That doesn't stop her from talking to me.

"We were married young. I'm thirty-four and have been married sixteen years. Never get married. My mother had just died, I was lonely I guess. It was just me and my sister. I think it was I wanted the company."

I turn to face her.

"Is he dangerous? He knows where I live."

She ignores me.

"Companionship, yeah. That son of a cheeky monkey. On our honeymoon we were supposed to go to Paris. We went to the Indy 500. He got into a fist fight. Put in jail for six months for assault and battery. All he knows how to do is fuck and fight."

Comforting news. I take a big sip of my drink.

A lithe girl, who carries herself well, sits down next to me. She has fair skin. Big blue saucer eyes. Pouty mouth. Long blonde hair. Looks very much like Gwyneth Paltrow. I am surprised when the girl turns and talks to me.

"Excuse me? Are you Brett?"

"Yeah that's me, I'm Brett. Ariel?"

"Yeah. I'm glad you called. I was supposed to go see this new movie with my grandmother, but it had Julia Roberts in it. Besides, a date with grandma didn't seem so fascinating on Valentine's Day."

So much for those horror stories you hear about blind dates. This young woman is gorgeous.

Honey leans over me. Puts her head between us. Stares Ariel up and down. Disapprovingly.

"Aren't you a sweet young thing. You look like that actress."

"Yeah, I hear that a lot," Ariel says. "That girl who was in Shakespeare In Love."

"Looks like you don't eat no fast food," says Honey in a tawdry tone.

"What?" Ariel is a little taken aback. "Brett is this your friend?"

Before I can answer Honey continues.

"Looks like you can afford fruit plates out of season for breakfast. Nice clothes over your slim body, probably drink vodka. Use words like 'Fascinating'. I have the croissant sandwich from Burger King. It's not French."

The bar door slams open. Heads turn. Snow blows. A gust of Arctic air. In steps Mad Mike. Everybody in the bar freezes.

I only have time to stand up before I am knocked back down. Mike's fist lands a good one right on my nose. Stars explode inside my head. White light. White heat. Kicks to my ribs. They pale in comparison to the searing pain of my face.

Then it's over. Seemed like forever. Lasted seconds.

Mike and Honey leave in a hurry. Ariel bends over me. Helps me to my feet.

"Oh my God! Are you all right?"

I straighten my balance long enough to make it to the stool. The bartender gives me a white dishtowel. My blood soaks it through. I am really gushing.

Ariel looks at me with concern. She rubs the back of my neck. I tilt my head backwards.

"Let's get out of here," she says. "We can go to my place."

Ariel helps me outside. On the sidewalk she bends over. Picks up snow. Puts it gently on my face.

'It's cold," I say. Talking about the night. Not the snow.

Ariel understands me. We walk towards her apartment. I give her my plastic red heart.

"When it's cold I want to die," she says shivering.

I take the snow off my face. Look at the warm red blood and cold white snow. Red and white. The colors of Valentine's Day.
Back to Short Story Menu