From nothing I found myself ascending a flight of well-worn wooden stairs towards what looked to be a long, narrow and dimly lit hallway. It was pretty much your movie of the week representation of shabby and decrepit. One expected grimy corners and bare light bulbs dangling precariously and one got them.
I hadn’t a clue what I was doing there, but like a scared and inquisitive child I walked on. I thought rooming house. I thought hotel. I thought the old west and cut rate bordello, and wondered if I’d hear the squeaks and groans of commercial coupling.
I was drawn to the second door on my left. Suddenly self-conscious about my robotic progress I stood in front of the door and deliberated. Surely the exercise of brain power would deliver me from the mystery of these unfocussed urges. But no, I was left to deliver an automatic rap on the old wood and wait.
A voice that can only be described as gruff told me to come on in. I opened the door carefully and stepped inside. A sad creature of the female persuasion sat at a table reading a magazine and smoking. Pasty faced and hollow eyed, she looked up at my arrival with an indifference that failed to mask the sneering disdain below it. Fifty years ago she would have been a slattern in ratty slip, I thought, but her blue jeans and tight black sweater shook me: she could have been any one of half a dozen women drinking beer and playing pool back in the taverns of my home town.
A beer bellied tough in a teeshirt and leather waistcoat came at me from the other side of the room, and sizing me up, asked if I had some stuff. The woman snarled, You fucken jerk, he don’t have nothin’, cain’t ya tell? He took a couple of quick steps and gave her an almighty slap that knocked her straight to the floor, where she lay whimpering. He gave her a swift kick in the ass for good measure. Then he looked at me and said, It’s outside, right? Terrified, I nodded.
He followed me downstairs and out a back door. Despite an unassuming gruffness, there was no mistaking the gun stuffed into the waistband of his jeans. I walked two steps ahead, maintaining a confident stride. The trashed out alleyway was made to order: iron bars on grimy windows, oily puddles and rotting…stuff. Yuck. I prayed for some unforeseen luck: in seconds my prayer was answered. A car pulled up at the end of the alley, and a window rolled down. I knew what to do. I took the package from the extended hand and leant down to make some generic conversation. The face behind the wheel looked oddly familiar: I thanked him for showing up. He insisted with a smile that it was not the first time he’d saved my butt, and that he’d meet me out front in a few minutes. I nodded uncomprehendingly and turned to complete the transaction.
My customer waited in the shadows. He opened up the tinfoil wrapping and sniffed. Looking up with a wry grin he said he only had seventy-five, but that I could fuck the broad all night for nothing if I wanted. I took the cash and passed on the sex, telling him that I’d had enough for the night and just wanted to go home and sleep. He nodded and turned away, swaying slowly down the alley. I watched him for a second and was overcome by sadness.
What a bloody awful life, I thought as I walked in what I thought was the right direction for my ride, and what the hell was I doing in it? The sidewalks were dark and empty, the storefronts were boarded up, and that movie sense of menace hung in the air. I turned the corner to see the idling car, and hopped in the passenger side without a second thought. That stranger with the oddly familiar face squealed a u-turn and sped us off.
I hadn’t a clue what to say to him. He looked over and me and chuckled; did I wanna see the bright lights then? Maybe that was more to my taste. Like an idiot I said Sure, why not? After a couple of deserted blocks we pulled up at some kind of down at heels night club, the kind of place that had been trendy ten years ago and now got by on the tatters of reputation.
Inside some stainless steel doors we were confronted with a hulking bouncer’s leer, which my colleague dispensed with a quick bribe. A couple of teenage waifs were waiting behind the next stainless steel doors. The one closest to me, in purple hair, purple crushed velvet dress and black lipstick, all of which draped the palest of faces, asked me what my pleasure would be tonight. I looked into eyes sparkling with sadness, and before I could formulate a desire, my driver tugged my forearm and we were moving on, in the noisy darkness, towards some crowded gaming tables.
The ventilation system must’ve broken down because the place was like a smoky swamp filled with chatter, laughter and loud music of the thumping and shrieking variety. We stood in a crowd watching a roulette wheel. The usual casino vibe, I guess, but…I dunno…worse. Or maybe I was being oversensitive and a mite too shockable, who was I to judge other people’s pleasures?
A crowd of hard eyed vultures leaned towards a gaming table. Dress seemed to be tatty up-scale casual. Sweat shop seconds and thirds. Very little of the horizontal surface was in view but playing cards was definitely in use. Perfume, sweat, tobacco, and I could have sworn pee, mingled mightily in my nostrils.
Lust for quick profit was pulling the cart. A tugging at my sleeve the pale purple girl with a pleading look in her eye. My driver moved aside and let her squeeze between us. She felt cold and somehow sad. I say somehow because the sensation of cold was skin on skin apparent, but the sadness was a silent clue that I couldn’t fathom. My driver leaned over and whispered in her ear. I glanced at the two of them: something was afoot. He nodded and we moved off, me tailing their sense of purpose. Squirming and squeezing through the crowd, and having more than one woman eye me over as I heaved by her haunches, we arrived at yet another set of stainless steel doors, where a bony dyed blonde in black leather scanned us for attitude and took what looked to me like two or three hundred from my driver to let us pass.
We were climbing a long set of stairs, the Purple Girl clinging to my arm as she tottered in tight skirts and high heels, when I finally realized we were in some kind of brothel. Frankly I didn’t feel the least bit inclined to indulge in grunty gyrations with this soon to be shivering child of junk, but I thought maybe my driver had a plan. Events had moved far too quickly for me to get a moment’s footing, and I had yet to progress one inch from performing flea ignorance.
This hallway was at least classier than the last: carpets and wallpaper converged into somebody’s notion of ambience. The lightbulbs inside their glass nests were a dull crimson. Purple girl opened a door on my left and we moved into a tacky motel bedroom like dog tired travelers too weary to return to the desk and complain. Purple girl looked at me, head cocked and cute with deft submission. I’d seen friends’ daughters look exactly like this, two hours past their deadline. I smiled, hoping my driver would turn into a dad. He did seem to know what was going on, and proved my intuition by stepping up and whispering in her ear. She grinned and said she’d be back real soon.
I sat on a bed as soft as I’d feared and looked to my driver for assurance. He spoke to my thought. No, dreams are not like this usually. He moved to an armchair that looked like a first down payment on a pricey back massage. Some kind of light did go on in my head; bits of a puzzle fell into place. I knew for a fact I wasn’t watching t.v. It was way too real.
I thought of Eric’s insistence on this thing he kept talking about, he called it ‘continuity of consciousness’. He’d said how important it would be to my ‘project’. But at that point I hadn’t been able to make the leap to anything as organized as a ‘project’. I’d just wanted my sanity reinstated.
It’s okay, you’re sane, said the driver, But I do need your help here. I’ve been watching these two girls for a while, and I think they’re ready to move on, you know?
I didn’t but I smiled as if I did.
It’s okay, it’ll all make sense later. I just need you to act friendly and, you know, keen.
I nodded sagely.
Purple Girl burst into the room, laughing, followed by what used to be called a brassy blonde, who made a beeline for me. She sat on my lap and wrapped herself about me, kissing my ear and whispering, Take me for a ride daddy. The art of seductive foreplay was second nature to my little Lucy, as she called herself. I looked to my driver for help. He was edging Purple Girl towards the window.
She called C’mon Lucy, we’re goin’ the quick way. Lucy unwrapped herself and pulled me up, giggling. Yeah! she called, “Let’s do it!”
I knew I had a role to play, but doing what I was told seemed to be the extent of it so far. Lucy and I watched as Purple Girl and Driver wiggled their way through the small space left by the opened window. Without warning, they held hands and jumped. Much to my shock, they sort of drifted down semi-weightlessly, and landed on their feet, laughing. Lucy was making herself comfortable on the narrow and rotten looking window sill. I did my best to squish through without pushing her off. In the middle of my careful grunts and puffs, she somehow managed to squeeze my balls, and the shock very nearly sent me flying headfirst, but she grabbed and pulled down just in time, giggling into my collar. Ooo, Lucy’s such a bad girl, ain’t she? You gonna make her pay big time huh?
Later, I said, authoritatively as I dared. Now, do we do what they did?
Driver called up, Just imagine you’re floating slowly down like a leaf in the breeze.
And that’s just what we did, strange as it may seem. The sensation was remarkable, and made me want to giggle, and I am not the giggling sort, let me tell you. Purple Girl and Driver welcomed us like escapee lifers. The joy of adventure was upon us. We beat it to the car in no time, Lucy and I falling into the back seat in a heap. I won’t deny it, I was beginning to find her desirable in a sluttish kind of way that I knew I was ashamed of. Although her face was pasty and pale and made me think of a regimen of hot dinners carefully monitored and early to bed for a month, the body so blatant beneath the skimpy outfit beckoned to my own starvation diet.
Where Driver produced the champagne from I don’t know, but the pop was unmistakable, and the froth on purple girl’s dress a cause for shrieking. We sped along, drinking merrily from the bottle. For a while it looked like the lower east end, somewhere north of the old docks, and then it was some kind of old fashioned suburbs, dingy bungalows from the fifties, with scrappy yards and peeling paint, and then it was fields and trees, but still no traffic. Driver was definitely up to something, but exactly what I couldn’t tell. Kidnapping seemed a possibility. Drunken good times have never precluded crime. Perhaps I was some kind of patsy about to be put out to pasture. My ignorance addled brain bubbled over with half-baked ideas, all of them doused in tacky paranoia. Lucy was all over me, licking my neck, nibbling at me earlobes, rubbing my nipples. I could no longer tell if I was pretending to be drunk and horny, as I thought Driver wanted me to, or if I’d fallen completely for my part. I gave myself to Lucy’s advances and folded into the lust of the moment. In no time at all she had mounted my lap and was riding me with gusto, my hands gripping her ass cheeks with fierce delight. Purple girl cheered on from the front. Go for it girl! seemed to be a favourite.
It was the lustiest sex I’d had in years and my climax seemed to go on for ever, as they always do in dreams, I was later to think. Lucy nestled into my chest and moaned contentedly. I peered over her warm and soft shoulder to Purple Girl’s porn worthy performance in front. Driver groaned appropriately. I thought, Been here before that boy.
With oral gratification suitable rendered and shoved aside, Driver replenished the supply of champagne, from where I could not tell it was flourished with such a thin air flavour. We drank our merry way onward. The girls seemed to think we’d paid for more, and set about slithering over each other, with a familiarity that seemed to belie the gay abandon projected. I wondered if they’d done the same on the internet from some cloud kissing condo downtown. I’d been reading about such enterprises in the Globe just the previous week. Here in our fair god-fearing town no less.
I watched and waited. Driver grinned and helped out with the odd finger and nudge. A predictable and no doubt personally crafted shame hovered behind my shoulders, looking for a place to land. Defiant, I refused control tower the go ahead. Later I remembered Kyra from the old neighbourhood. She was the kind of girl who would do the stuff your other girlfriends sniffed at and I always thanked her for it and refused to join the slut gossip that swirled around her. One night, months after we’d dated and parted, she’d shown up at my bedroom window, tossed out for breaking curfew. I smuggled her in and let her sleep. She left at dawn, believing what I’d said about my mother, and gave me a scribbled note. Don’t ever let them make you ashamed, it said. She died a few months later in Brian Christie’s father’s Olds, suddenly much lamented by all. I didn’t go to the funeral; couldn’t take the bullshit. This was next morning taking notes of course; at the time I merely felt the shame and refused it.
The girls emerged from each other glistening and seeking approval. We did our best dad acts. No doubt about it, Driver was better. He suggested a nifty bed and breakfast nearby, run by friends of his. In that classic girlish reserve that even the wild ones can switch on in a moment, the girls thought they should be getting back, but driver said they’d enjoy the change of pace and started up the car. There was a weird kind of dawn going on, one that never seemed to get any brighter, and we motored past desolate damp looking fields with scraggy trees and hedgerows. We turned up a long driveway that lead to an old farmhouse badly in need of repairs. We stumbled in, bleary and ready for bed, with driver picking up a key from a series of wallhooks and leading the way upstairs. Tiptoeing and twittering, we arrived at two bedrooms in the same hallway. Purple girl and I fell into one and I assume driver and Lucy the other. I say assume, because I never did get a chance to check. Purple girl and I, after a quick gander about a fairly average B&B bedroom, removed our sweaty things and fell asleep in each other arms in moments.
I woke up in my own bed still stinky with lust some time later, looked at the clock and then my erection, which showed no signs of flagging. I felt like a man half my age and flung myself into the shower before I got into any more trouble.
Sunday mornings are usually a kind of dead zone for me, where even staring out the window from the kitchen rocker, coffee in mit, onto a frosty back garden is a perfection of pleasure. The silent emptiness seems to be just what I need. And with no wife to waltz through whining, I was all set up. Hell, there was even coffee cream in the fridge. When the phone rang I had no idea it would be Eric. Breakfast conferences were not his style. He said he just knew I’d been up to no good last night and wanted to hear all the details. I laughed and told him his timing was immaculate.
An hour later I hung up, with promises to take notes right away, and to keep him abreast of any interesting developments. I did what I was told and spent the next hour scribbling. The initial ghetto vibe had been the giveaway according to Eric. The lower astral was often like that he’d read: a trashbucket of junkies, sex, drugs and gambling. Dead people that just don’t know any better. Don’t know they’re dead and even if they did, wouldn’t care. It’s the next hit or the next fuck that counts there, a kind of eternally present quaffing of burning desires. You mean hell, don’t you? I was in hell. One of them, Eric said, he’d heard there were several, maybe dozens. There was this website I should see.
Well, there always is these days, isn’t there? No hang up or perversion too weird for a website. The ultimate democratization of dingbattiness was my take on it all. Dogs peeing on dead babies? Just give me a minute, sir. Eric said no, this was serious. A website devoted to astral plane research. Sure there were people crying over their missing kittens, but mostly it was intelligent and instructive. I said I’d check it out.
After some scandal scribbling I started to work up a sweat. That dream sex was still pretty fresh in my mind. A long walk would cool me off, or so I thought. The neighbourhood: Sunday morning quiet; I glided about gratified at the lack of gardeners and car washers. Most would have been happy with a nod or an hello but the two or three I’d helped with a bit of friendly trade tips might’ve beached me with a friendly sos, the kind of call I can rarely resist when off-duty and decidedly human, and just the kind of leisurely slouch where I’d be tempted to rattle off the seamy details of my secret life for a smile and a folksy laugh.
I walked past the residential home, and stopped to gaze at its beautifully landscaped grounds. None of the sad looking inmates seemed to be about and I was glad to avoid, for once, the inevitable shouldering of their gloomy fates. This time I’d be guilty about something other than my particular brand of bourgeois respectability. Well, at least it was a slight shift of focus. My dream life faded into the autumn glow gardens of my neighbours.
Heels suitably cooled, I collapsed into a corner and completed the notes Eric had demanded. He was sure it would all turn out to be important. One day, I’d added sardonically. Or should that be somewhat sardonically? Then I noticed the message light on the phone. It had to be Gerry: the blink had her brash signature all over it.
My dear Geraldine had decided to move out and move in …with drill sergeant Sandra, the only woman I’d ever met more uptight and driven than my very own partner in the nuptial knot. They got along like a house on fire, and more than a few post eruption weekends had been spent at the lakeside shanty encoding old fashioned girl-talk with the jargonized gripes of post-feminist feminism. Shit, women should be free to do what they want, and in the big brave democracies they certainly can, with a minimum of fuss. But if they don’t like cock, especially of the gesticulatingly erect variety, why don’t they say so before you marry them? Maybe they just want half of everything, except of course, the half of the heart you wanted to give them in the first place.
I took a valium and a shot of scotch, listened to some murmuring Mozart, and fell asleep in the middle. Woke up around one, completely dreamless thank god, and went out for lunch. And I was a brave little boy, I didn’t phone Eric for company. Let’s face it some things in life you gotta do yourself.
I went to the Chinese buffet place at the mall. It’s nothing special, but you can take a table in the back, spread out the Sunday paper and be left alone until well after three, when they start rearranging for dinner.
The Star was full of good news: teenage girls murdering each other, fathers drowning their babies, shoot-outs in hospitals, small breasted women with brassieres full of heroin, almost everyone in Africa with Aids, except of course, those charged with formulating the reports, who were faking it to the max to get more aid money. Our own government, having dramatically reduced the number of textbooks in the schools, was now proposing to limit hospital stays to a day or less, depending on the severity of their condition of course. A wag on page twelve suggested the use of parking meters at the end of beds, if only to make it easier for the families to stay out of debt. I laughed right into my second bowl of hot and sour soup, spraying a small helping directly into my left eye. My inanity seemed to match that of good old Stockwell Doofus, always around when you need some comic relief, who by that point had matched and exceeded the Guinness Book of Records for the number of feet firmly planted in one mouth.
I returned home in a chipper mood, feeling enough bravado to beaver away at some boring paperwork. Weeding flower beds has never been one of my priorities in life, but with Gerry gone somebody had to get down on their knees and tug. A little sweat, a little dirt, and Ginger, the neighbour’s tabby, rolling gleefully in the grass: what better way to while away a Sunday afternoon?
Thankfully, my other life snoozed contentedly in the empty hammock. I moved around the trees carefully, having no wish to disrobe her dreams and have them wander, willy-nilly, into my above ground existence. The thought of being caught in the act of conversing with Purple Girl or Driver gave me the respectability shudders. Well, at least Eric wouldn’t blab.
And if he did, it wouldn’t be to anyone important, just some of his newage woosie companions, some of whom I’d glimpsed at the Starbucks nestled in back of the Camelot mall, usually late on a Monday night when various aggregates of them were wont to convene on the armchairs by the rock garden, sipping on decaf lattes and chuckling. Over the course of several months the motley crew had included a bespeckled rotundity in black and green named Sharon, a shockingly healthy eighty-two year old called Doug, a clutch of housewife wanna-bees, variously named Shirley, Anne, Coma (I thought surely not), Destiny and Gay (who was apparently), and a rotating crew of college age mystics, who appeared not to have the necessary cojones to be anti-globalist eco-warriors that the zeitgeist demanded, and had fallen into Eric’s crowd to keep their temerity sacred. When spied at the counter, craving my post work dark roast, they’d always invite me to join the festivities, which seemed jolly enough, but I’d always beg off citing the usual excuses of the career crazed.
That Chinese Buffet’s always good for skipping supper. By eight-thirty or nine I was just a bit peckish, and a quick reconnoitre through that big maroon cold box in the corner of the kitchen, revealed just enough variety to stave off those bachelor blues, but if I wished to continue my sojourn in the wards of the nutritionally sanctioned, I’d definitely have to brave the tides at Longos tomorrow, because that was the very last of the seed bread, yogurt and thinly sliced and msg free roast beef. I munched away merrily, rerunning one of my favourite videos, Tim Robbins’ brilliant directorial debut, Bob Roberts. Sleaze and stupidity Yankee style: I love it.
Then I ventured bedwards, taking care to brush my teeth and don fresh jammies, just in case I was to meet someone important over the next few hours. Anxiety and excitement vied for control of my psyche. I determined to be entertained by their amorous struggle and drifted off in a cocoon of smugness.