I was already awake, so why not just get up and face the day? That's what I usually do when I'm by myself. Why change who I am, just because somebody's in bed beside me?
She rolled over, whined a bit about the time, and kissed me on the cheek. Morning breath. She was worried about what I'd think about how bad her breath was. And, well, jugs of cheap wine rarely leave anybody's mouth, including my own, smelling minty fresh first thing in the morning.
“I could sleep forever.”
“I'm sure you could, hon.”
"Heh, so I'm not just a 'chica' now?"
She stretched, rolled over onto my shoulder, put her nose into my neck. Her hair was still wet from her blonde-to-brunette sinkjob the night before, still smelled of shampoo and conditioner and, well, the added bit of sweat that'd built up over the course of the night.
Well, for whatever it was that'd happened, it'd been a fun night, at least.
“Chica, this is kinda awkward.”
“Well... then let's not be awkward. How about we stay here, like, in bed all day?”
“It's Monday. Work.”
I'd promised her I'd wake her before I left for work, promised that, yeah, this was not going to be one of those things I often refuse to talk about, one of those silent, Let's Pretend It Didn't Happen mornings.
But first, I needed coffee. And a shower. And some Motrin.
I slid from against her warm body, out into the cold air that had filled my bedroom overnight, thanks to an open window.
After I loaded up the coffeepot and flipped the switch, I climbed beneath a scalding spray of water, tried to figure out what had inspired the previous night's accident – an accident on my part, one that, well, no guy in his late 20s should make with someone barely old enough to vote.
It wasn't just the cheap wine. It wasn't the fact that she'd found those old PJ Harvey albums in my living room, or the fact that she'd confessed her secret desire to write poetry for a living. And it wasn't just the conversation, the situation, or even the fact that she looked a whole hell of a lot better as a brunette, either...
She reminded me of someone else, another woman, from the past.
* * * *
Mrs. Kitty was the first person I met in Baton Rouge back in 2002, the first person I knew in all of Louisiana.
She was my height, tall for a woman at five-foot-nine, a brunette, skinny as a rail and as flat-chested, in her words, as a starving board. She had the most beautiful green eyes, just enough wrinkles beneath them to let a guy know that she'd seen hard times. She wore braces, yes, the old-fashioned metal wire kind, and they sparkled as she talked in her thick Acadiana twang.
And, well, the wrinkles didn't lie, either. Kitty did have one mean-ass sonuvabitch of a husband. They'd been high school sweethearts; she'd been an honor student before he'd talked her into dropping out and getting married once he'd graduated. She became a bride, with her parent's consent, at seventeen.
Never met the guy. The only things I know about him come from the things I remember her telling me. He was a cop, a good man most of the time, only cheated on her occasionally (no clue, really, she looked like a Cajun version of Kate Fucking Moss), and, well, for a good man he sure liked to verbally abuse her – she was a fuckin' retard, apparently, because she never finished high school.
First, we'd start talking at the mailboxes at the front of the complex, talk for a few hours about nothing in particular. After a few impromptu discussions we realized that the mosquitoes and the humidity were killing us. And since conversation always goes better with a cold six-pack of beer, we started hanging out in my apartment -- she'd stop by whenever she got bored, which was usually whenever her husband worked nights.
And, well, in Louisiana, there's no such thing as just one six-pack of beer. Conversations, throughout the South, just aren't that short. Ever.
* * * *
Well, chica, I just up and moved to Louisiana, left the West Coast with barely a grand in cash to my name, in a Ford pickup loaded full of everything I owned – exactly 21 boxes of junk, mostly books and those cassette tapes there...
... California squeezed all it could out of me, took my love of journalism and raped it, smashed that love against the corporate rocks. After I left broadcasting, I spent a year pretty much drifting from dollar to dollar, picking up freelance work, odd part-time construction gigs, and, well, I worked quite a few shady jobs as well, most of which I'll never, ever discuss...
... And then I heard about this racket, this Library School thing. I'd loved libraries, had always been a lover and user of the information they contained. And I'd never seen or heard of a librarian paid by way of an envelope beneath a napkin, slid across a table...
So there ya go, chica. Here I am. Waiting for grad school to start, dicking around and being a drifter one last time...
Kitty was, for some reason, fascinated by my strange-ass, often fucked-up stories. To me, they've always seemed boring. Actually, most people tend to find my stories a bit boring, drawn out, and, well, pointless.
But how that woman loved hearing me tell my story – I was the first guy she'd ever met from Virginia, the first guy she'd ever met who'd lived in Colorado and California. And that made me interesting, I guess. She'd never traveled much farther than the Gulf Coast, save for her honeymoon to Florida – her husband spent more time fishing than fucking on that trip, apparently. Tragic.
We'd drink beer, play Twenty Fucking Questions. I got in some of my own, too, learned quite a bit about how to survive living in the City of the Big Red Stick.
Rice and beans? Cheap. Cajun jambalaya? Far superior to the Creole variety. Surviving trips to the Winn-Dixie? Shop for groceries on Sunday mornings, so you can get the best deals before the old ladies get out of church. Abita beer? Goes great with cold boudin, crackers, and, especially, with Southern Comfort...
The more she hung out in my apartment, the more we talked and drank and smoked cigarettes, the more I wondered what husband could call himself a man, if he chose beer and stripper pussy over such a bright, beautiful person. I'd forget that she had a husband. I'd pretend that he wasn't real, or that he was just a placeholder, a stand-in. Again, never met the guy. Never cared to, either.
That was a mistake. A husband is a husband, his wife is his wife, until death or divorce do they part. There are dangers to drinking Southern Comfort straight from a lipstick-coated bottle, late into the night. Especially when you find yourself forgetting all about those two rings on the fingers of the hand that's passing you the bottle.
* * * *
So, yeah. Shit happens.
Late one night, during a horrendous thunderstorm, a mysterious knock at the door, a loud, machinegun-fast series of raps, echoed through my darkened apartment – lightning had knocked out the electricity and, well, I'd gone to be early.
The knock startled me because, well, Kitty was the only person I knew in Louisiana, the first friend I'd made in Baton Rouge... and she was supposed to be out of town, celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband.
Not sure who was outside, I grabbed my old trusty machete (and yes, I still answer the mysterious late-night knocks at the door with some blade or firearm tucked behind my back), turned on a flashlight, and made my way to the living room...
And there she was. Kitty was soaking wet, as if she'd been wandering about in the rain for hours, black and beige ribbons of makeup streaking her cheeks, dyeing her white teeshirt.
She'd been worked over a bit, slapped once or twice, by her mysterious, anonymous husband. He'd forgotten that they'd planned an anniversary getaway, picked up an extra shift for the overtime, staggered home from the bars just drunk and pissed off enough...
She'd lit him up with a barrage of insults the moment he'd walked through the door. She'd bought lingerie, had booked an expensive room at some fancy inn in Mississippi, even booked a few nonrefundable plantation and museum tours on their overextended credit cards.
So he slapped her once or twice, told her to go over to the faggot librarian's place, to go on a trip with her new boyfriend, the California Boy a few apartments away, the guy she was always hanging out with, drinking with, talking about...
Standing in my doorway, shivering, she explained that she hit him with the heaviest thing she could find – a book I'd loaned her. She'd hit him back, bitchslapped him across the face several times with a hardback copy of Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts.
It wasn't the money or the disrespect that drove her to retaliate; it was the accusation of adultery, a razor-sharp comment he'd made about how she and I were spending too much time together, were fucking while he was at work, that he'd started cheating on her years before I'd moved to Louisiana in anticipation that, one day, she'd cheat on him...
... She'd never thought about it, at least with me, until he'd mentioned it, never thought an educated guy who'd been all over the place could be interested in her skinny Cajun ass...
And she fell into my arms, rain and tears and mascara melting into my shoulder. I held her and told her that, well, if she needed a place to stay, she could always stay with the faggot librarian. She ran her hands up my back, I ran my hands down to her waist, and we entangled ourselves in something, a moment.
And so she spent the night. And we turned her husband's accusation, finally, into a self-fulfilling prophesy, on the floor, on the couch, and on the cheap curbside-recovered kitchen table on which I'm writing these words, six years later, in the magical land of Ohio.
She quit stopping by for beer and conversation after that night. I never saw her at the mailboxes, never ran into her again. And I never even found out what her husband looked like, or if she told him where she'd stayed that night, what had happened. That's probably a good thing. I just can't respect a guy who'd voluntarily choose cutting bait over a night, a lifetime, with Mrs. Kitty.
Just two days before my graduate school orientation, two weeks later, I watched through my bedroom window as she loaded up her little Toyota with a few boxes of her own, as she began her own escape from a life that had sucked her dry.
I figured she'd come by and say goodbye before she left. She never did. C'est la vie. It's for the best, really.
She was the first person I met in the great state of Louisiana, that great city on the banks of the Mississippi, Baton Rouge...
* * * *
I finished showering, dressed, went to the kitchen to grab a cup of my signature, black - as - Lucifer's - jockstrap coffee. The aroma alone could kick in a mule's teeth.
Christ, dude! You're turning 30 soon. Big Three, Big Zero. And she's HOW old? FUCK FUCK FUCK! What a shitty way to blow your New Year's resolution, man...
She'd dosed off again while I'd been getting ready for work, while I was in that kitchen alone with my thoughts, choking down that first cup of java and eating my bowl of oatmeal. I stood by the side of the bed for a good ten minutes, staring in silence, a million fragmented thoughts racing through my mind. I'm sure I looked like some predator, some lurking menace, some skulking creep of a goon...
She doesn't even look like her. She does sorta look like PJ Harvey, though... and...
Christ. Nine-fucking-teen. I felt like a kiddie raper. I still, weeks later, feel that way, to some extent. Just because it's legal doesn't make it necessarily right – if two people have nothing in common, haven't been through some of the same shit, then they probably shouldn't fuck.
Age, really, is just a number; our experiences make us who we are, build our lives up towards our eventual fates. But for some folks, well, when the younger person's experience doesn't even come close to making up for what time cannot...
I finally slid back into my own bed. I'd decided to not tell her the whole truth, to not tell her that Carlo Rossi and her hair and the rain outside had lied to me, in perfect harmony, had turned her into some almost-forgotten Cajun girl from my past.
She rolled into me, awakened by the sudden shift of the springs. There would be no avoiding a discussion.
She kissed me to shut me up (women do that often, too, dammit), morning breath be damned. At least I'd brushed my teeth.
“Jason, look, let's just call it good. We're not each other's, like, type, ya know? And, jeez, you're so--”
She kissed me again, longer this time. Her mouth was beginning to taste like mine, all minty fresh, with just a hint of black-as-death French Roast. I didn't notice any morning breath.
“Um, no. You're not old. But you're kinda straight-edge. Cute, kinda, but hella boring, dude.”
“So why don't we just NOT talk about it, okay? We had fun, right?”
And with that, she went back to sleep. She wasn't the ghost of Mrs. Kitty anymore. And I fell back asleep, fully clothed. It was seven fucking thirty in the morning. And the birds were chirping outside my window, the neighbors were arguing, and the world kept right on spinning.
I ended up late for work. On a Monday morning, no less. I'm, like, so, like, straight edge that it almost bothered me.
Straight edge? Me?
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