oasis

arts


Conscience Decisions

By Sandra, Xanii@aol.com

Suits. Dark colors and baggy pants and just enough girl to keep the questions in their heads and out of my ears. Work and deadlines and people and places to be and the small whispers as to why I wouldn’t join in after work, you know just a little fun and laughs and dancing. And when I couldn’t answer, there was always the nods, yes, I understand and no, don’t worry, maybe next time. So I’d drive my car and make my way to the apartment above the sky and maybe I would be paying too much for it, but it ensures my privacy, my secrets, my self.

I close the door.

Your hair is so pretty and maybe you should do something with it and it is a shame you don’t have a boyfriend and I hope soon before I die you would and please, be careful in the streets, honey, be careful.

And I think I can still hear them, like they were still in my face or on my phone or in my eyes like when I go visit them. My family, always worried that maybe I am losing something. Twenty-four and you have no one interested in you? Yes, this is a problem for them. Not for me, not like they think.

It’s this peach, this woman I have run into, at the news stand and the bookstore and sometimes I think she may be stalking me but I catch those few moments when she is not aware and she just spellbinds me in this way that makes my stomach hit the tops of my shoes and makes my breathing want to stop. So I invited her over to the coffee place and she joined me and I made no obvious advances and she said she would return and I’ve yet to see or hear from her again and these are the things I worry about. Not how it will be for me in his bed or do I trust that he is telling me the truth about his activities. No, just her and where she could be and when will I get to meet with her again.

Tonight it is still hot downstairs, as I go and check my mail box in my tank top undershirt and my carpenter shorts. My flip flops pat against the marble by the door. I maybe a millionaire the yellow envelope screams, again and my credit cards are over due and there is another offer from Simon & Glendale and Jyll… Jyll is writing from… a small town, village, place, on the outskirts, in Bolivia, where TV is rare and women are scarce but she manages, as she puts it, which means I may need to send her batteries and some lube and maybe some new porn.

She won’t mention things like soon or home. She’ll say she misses me and that she cannot wait to see me but there is never a date and there is never a time I can expect her on my front door. In my shower, in my bed. Love, Jyll. Someone from work sees me at the corner store and double takes as I throw the PlayBoy and Astroglide on the counter. They decide to investigate, just to make sure and I buy my batteries and head out the door. Here the smell of fried plantains and arroz con pollo is mixed with the sea salt air. Some salsa music blares from a restaurant door as a man dirty dances with his leg between some womans’ thighs. Maricon is what they would call a man that loves other men. I have to write Jyll and ask her is there a name in Spanish for women like me.

"Samson…" is what they call me cause my arms look so muscular and I never do anything else with my hair except to put it in these longish braids.

"Samson… Where have you been?"

"Freddy… I should be asking you that question."

He tells me he found this gig in New York and he just wound up staying longer than he expected.

"I was swimming in hundred dollar bills Sammie!"

I smile and nod, letting him know I’m listening.

He is the only man I have been able to full body hug and he lets me, cause he knows I wouldn’t if I didn’t need to. He knows. He’s seen me and Jyll, by accident he says and I have to trust that, one night when he threw a party. He was ‘happy’ something was going on for me.

"What’s in the bag?"

"Stuff for Jyll."

He gives me this look and then this lecture," Sammie, move on, she’s not coming back, I’m sorry to tell you."

I shake my head slowly up and down and sit in a near by plastic dinette, I throw the bag on the third chair. We order from the eager waiter.

"I cannot find her."

"Jyll? Of course, she’s in Bolivia."

"No, the woman I had coffee with at Lazare’s."

He can only roll his eyes and lean back and get angry.

"Look, there is this chic I know and I invited her to this party I’m throwing for a friend, come over and meet her, okay? Get this woman, Jyll, whoever out of your mind, okay?"

Freddy walks me home and waits for me to get dressed. We walk to his loft and I meet these people I will never see again and there is this woman that he wanted me to meet and I look her over and I know I will bring her home and I know I will fuck her as if she were Jyll and I know I will leave things in such a way that I will never see her again. And I don’t.

The vegetables always seem to be best in fall. Greens and reds and yellows so bright, so inviting. I buy one of a few things and head back to my apartment in the sky.

And there she is, waiting, I assume for someone, other than me.

"Oh my god! Where have you been?"

She looks up at me from the front steps like she would be expecting me not to come home.

"I had to be away for a few days." And she pecks my cheek. She takes my packages and heads into the lobby. I stop to check my mailbox and she waits, like she would like nothing better. We ride the elevator in silence.

"I’ll get dinner started." She bustles to the kitchen and starts pouring through my cabinets. I stand at the island and shake my head.

"How can you just have coffee with me a few weeks ago and then I think you’re gone forever and now you’re standing in my kitchen making me dinner. This doesn’t seem strange to you?"

She twists her red curly hair in a hasty updo and buries her hands in the pockets of her overalls.

"Would you have me leave?"

Dinner was chicken and some small rice like pastas she ran to the corner store to get. Carlyn-she works for this interior designer and lived a few complexes from here. She’s only been in the city for a few years and yes, her family worries about her too.

"Besides that…" she trails off and lets me fill in the gaps. I stare over her shoulder comparing her to the mental picture I have of Jyll.

"Something is wrong… like you’re here and not here."

"Maybe you should go home." Dryly, like I was just beginning to hate myself for ever thinking I could get over Jyll and her games and her not being here.

"Sulking won’t help anything."

"Carlyn, I’m just sorry I thought I could do this again. I’m sorry for leading you on, for making there seem like there was something when there is really nothing."

She looks at me and strokes my cheek and backs out of the apartment.

The bridge is windy this time of year. I have to stop and turn away a few times as I look at the water beneath. The rail is thin and icy, I wonder if this will be the time that I will fall. Blood, in my chest and nose and throat, like it’s drying and getting wet and healing and tearing, thick, in me, a scab. And that’s how I feel when I think about Jyll, like she is this scab I keep on picking. I managed to send the care package I filled with all my hate of how she has left me and how am I supposed to live now? How am I supposed to plan our future, when she is no longer a part of it? I try to figure it out as I head home, shivering.

Carlyn finds me, in my bed, slumped on my side, lightly holding on to my blankets. My eyes can’t quiet focus, my voice is hoarse.

"How did you get in… I didn’t give you a key."

She touches my forehead and notices how hot I am.

"The manager let me in… I told him you hadn’t come out in a few days, thought there might have been something wrong."

"You shouldn’t be here…"

"Then who should?"

She makes me chicken soup with croutons and gives me Tylenol from the cabinet. She came during her lunch break and rubbed my back with her rose oil, making sure I was adequately dressed, appropriately entertained. She leaves with a peck on my cheek as she thinks I snooze.

When she comes on the fourth night she finds me dressed and sitting at my desk, working. She is wearing this spaghetti strap tank and capri pants, even though it is still windy and cold outside.. Her luscious curly red hair sweeps the top of her shoulders. I want to kiss her then, to thank her for looking after me, to let her know how grateful I am.

"You must be well." She smiles awkwardly, wondering if she should be here still.

"…I guess I should return this to the manager…" She palms my keys in her hands.

"You can keep it." and her face lights up the room. I smile.

We sit on the rug in the middle of my apartment. The lights are low and the door is locked and dinner is done and over. We talk and mumble and giggle and laugh. My thumb finds the round part of her cheek and her hand finds my side, then my back. I am paying homage to her temple as I kiss her eyelids and the tip of her nose. I am giving my sacrifice as I let her snake her hands where she pleases. She begins to undress me.

"Who is she?" I hear a whisper through the rush in my ears.

"… the one, in the picture, by the TV… who is she?"

I stop and sit back, letting out my disappointment in a small sigh.

"Someone I thought I knew."

"Why do you still keep it up?"

I give her this look.

"Because I’m afraid to take it down."

She frowns.

I’m sorry, I say and help her up and give her one of my jackets and walk her out. She looks down and maybe wishes She had never mentioned that picture. But my mind is already in Bolivia, with Jyll and who she might be with and how long they might have known each other before Jyll put her moves on and converted the native.

* * * *

It was by accident, one of those cases of wandering. People like him didn’t go to the post office or send letters or packages to anyone, that’s what his assistants were for. People like him didn’t go to the grocery store or the other mundane places people like me frequented. But I found him at both places, some times buying things he couldn’t possibly use or trying not to look like he was waiting to find me.

Older, definitely. Not something that would catch me other wise but he did, maybe I spent too much time looking, maybe it was his sad eyes. Maybe I was trying to run from Jyll… and Carlyn. Maybe. People like him, American stock, didn’t look at people like me, Neo American, second generation daughters of immigrants or lesbians.

"10 fertilizer is better for flowers this time of year, if that’s what you’re planting." I mention casually. I wanted to ask if his gardener shouldn’t be doing this instead.

"You know something about gardening?"

"No, just that."

I extend my hand and his engulfs mine in a power shake: light meeting dark.

"Maybe you should try it."

I shake my head and grin a ‘No’.

"Then how about dinner?"

I back away and look at the ground.

"Just dinner…"

And I say ‘Yes’.

"Are we going on a date and you forgot to tell me?" Carlyn enters the bathroom, smoothes the shoulders of my black jacket and fingers the open collar of my midnight blue blouse.

"I’m just meeting someone for dinner." I look to the floor. All of a sudden I feel guilty for not letting her know who, even though I wasn’t really sure why.

"Oh…" I know she wants to ask more but I smooth the thick black belt against my belly and head for the door.

She nods, looking at me from the side of her eye, wondering who it was that I wouldn’t introduce her to, wondering what she has really walked into. I reach for her neck on my way out and brush my lips against hers. She gives in… wanting me to stay and I almost do.

"I’ll be home late, you don’t have to wait up."

I feel the anger on her lips like bile: hot, sour. I kiss her cheek and leave.

The cold rain pelts the top of the umbrella like cat paws on cardboard.

"What a night for it to be doing this!" He makes sure the rain is missing me as much as possible. I turn the collar of my jacket up around my neck and dig my hands deeper into my pockets.

"At least they have an indoor section to this place." I smile rigidly.

He gets this look that reminds me of someone knowing that they have lost before the fight has even begun-a saddened resignation.

We are inside, ordering something I am not sure I have eaten before, thinking about Carlyn, wanting Jyll.

"I didn’t have a chance did I?" He smiles.

"A slight one, dinner is dinner though."

"Ah…" He throws his head back slightly and laces his fingers together on the stiff linen tablecloth.

"Men in general don’t usually have a chance. My girlfriend was a bit upset that I left without her. She would have an attack if she knew who I was having dinner with."

He gives this apologetic sigh and waves his hand in the air in annoyance.

"You can go home if you’d like…"

"We can still have dinner and have a go at some nice conversation. How’s that?"

We closed the restaurant that night and once a week for the next two months. Carlyn was not speaking to me by then and neither was he to the person who kept paging him.

He liked that I was around, to hear about his day and how he had to cinch the deal of the hour for his company. No accusations, no demands, no pressure, was what he said once. He spoke about his nephews and nieces and how he loved to have children around.

"So why are there no children of your own to spoil?"

He gives this broad grin where I can see the moisture collect at the corners of his eyes.

"Sometimes the things you want aren’t what you end up with."

I nod because I understand and because I am afraid to ask further. This time, since I suggested we have breakfast instead of dinner, I pay, even though I could scarcely afford it and he kisses the middle of my forehead, rubbing the middle of my back and we leave, to meet again.

"What does your girlfriend say?" He asks at our next meeting, lunch, in some obscure place, talking, like we always did, since the first dinner.

It manages to be two years and the break up of his marriage later. He won’t hear of me telling him it feels like my fault that he and his wife are no longer together. But he knows I carry this unearned guilt like a scar. He feels something like embarrassed that our dinners have come somewhat between me and Carlyn.

"Well, this month she has been cleaning like a mad woman." And he knows that I have been tolerating Carlyns’ moods because of the hurt I do not want to cause her but that he knows she will feel anyway.

"You’ve never really been in love with her you know." And he has heard the story of Jyll and how she got killed in Bolivia by Guerrillas for being an American, they speculate. But I know it was for who she was loving. He sips his coffee and stretches his longish legs beneath the table.

Thick, on the table between us, there is this thing that has been growing, unsaid for two years, of secrets and pain and midnight confessions. Talk and that was all either of us had the courage to do, talk. Mostly out of respect for his wife, partly because I was seeing Carlyn. And now… this wedge came between me and Carlyn and him and the love of his life.

"It’s not your fault. Jyll was your everything. You didn’t even get to see her when she was alive, much less when she died." And he gives me this look. I can only close my eyes and shut down everything that brought me to these mid day meetings and late night conversations, these unsaid ties. He touches the backs of my hands, in this way that makes my stomach lurch. I pull away.

"You know, things weren’t so complicated in the beginning."

"The beginnings are never complicated."

I follow him home, knowing she isn’t there, any more. Feeling more guilt for being in her house with the things that were hers.

The tears sting the sides of my eyes for Carlyn, but there is this solace that I seek, as I knead the muscles in his shoulders and he rubs the backs of my smallish hands, on his bed. A solace that I know Jyll could have given me and that Carlyn tried to duplicate. I feel that I am privileged, in some way, to be able to be here with him at this time, for us and me and things. And I cannot explain in words but he acknowledges in the way he puts his age softened lips on mine. The way he draws me in silently, insistent, patient. Carlyn is the first thing in my mind but I kiss harder to push the thought of her feeling hurt out. I know I am breaking some cardinal rule. I can only think to repent later, when things aren’t so in the now. When I am not trying to erase it all.

Strange hands find places only Carlyn has known, since Jyll. Different and I move and glide and show. He is different, waiting until I am ready, making sure I am okay, I am dwarfed by his smell and taste and feel and strength. I tell him I feel like I am drowning and he pulls me closer, holds me softer and kisses me deeply.

My pager vibrates, I pull it from the band of my trousers and throw it against the wall. His hair is strange against my chin as he kisses the middle of my chest. I sigh, it is the only device left to me. His shirt is off his broad shoulders and I am shuddering, closing the fears of my mind.

"You always this prepared?" And I hear the crinkle of the condom wrapper being pulled from my back pocket.

"Strange things always seem to happen to me."

And I am beneath him, feeling his unfamiliar weight, his strange body.

The skin on his back and sides are sticky with sweat. I close my eyes and start to pull into myself, back, away. The fringes of my betrayal to Carlyn, my loss of Jyll, come flooding around my face like spiders on a web and before the guilt comes and the pain takes over, He realizes my reluctance and changes I to ‘We’.

She doesn’t understand why I did it… Carlyn, my peach.

"I mean, you wanted to?" I sense her agony as we sit on the park bench, watching children chase after ducks, as the sun dapples the air around us. I wish at this time that I smoked or drank or anything to make the torment I caused go away.

I nod my head, not wanting to let her really know I wanted to, that I needed to. All of a sudden there was someone else, someone who gave me things that she could not, someone who knew me, like she wanted to. I was sorry for her, for what I was telling her.

The tears came as she rubbed my back, placing her other hand over her lips to stop the sobs from escaping. Some how she felt she had to protect me, that she had to be strong because I wasn’t or couldn’t be. I rubbed her knee and sighed.

"Were you at least protected?" She pushes the hand that has been holding her sobs, through her hair and keeps the other hand rubbing my back.

"Yes."

I cannot begin to justify to her, even though I know she has the right to be whatever she feels towards me.

"I showered as soon as I got home." She only gives a nervous laugh and closes her eyes.

"You were with someone else, a man no doubt! Were things that horrible between us?"

"No, they weren’t. I’m not sure why I did it, I don’t have any excuses. I’ve never given you any, I don’t plan on it now."

"Have you been with him… since?"

"No. Just that once, when we were separated. I only answered one of his pages since." I look at her as She looks at the muddled water of the pond.

"The sick thing is… I believe you. You’re that honest about things."

She shakes her head and gathers her knees to her chest. I want to kiss her teared cheeks and keep her inside me, where She will know I love Her, I always have and that this was not meant to hurt Her.

She grabs my hand and we make our way home. She fixes dinner and I make dessert. We do the dishes together, this quasi-normalcy we try to make work." I need you to be angry with me Carlyn!"

Her red rimmed eyes turn to me in disbelief.

"You never gave me all of you, since the beginning, I’ve always had to share you. First with the thought of Jyll, then her ghost and then that ‘person’ you were always meeting. Now I find out that you’ve slept with him… him!! I am too shocked to be anything right now."

She ran to the room and slammed the door.

I leave her a note and most of the money I’ve managed to save for the last few years. She will be very upset with how I’ve left things but I will not continue to be a reminder of her misery. I cut myself loose for all the reasons that she couldn’t. I pray she will be better without me.

He finds me on his door step and he knows not to ask me anything, that I have a right to be here, now, however and he will give me anything that I am seeking. Passage into another world, rights to another life.

He pours the coffee in these smallish mugs and I wrap my fingers around the short body, letting the heat scald my palms. He pulls my palms from the sides of the mug and puts them together then places them in my lap. Sobs start escaping from deep within my gut and I shake as they come out from my chest into my throat and out of my lips. I push the table away and push him away and stand in the middle of his living room screaming till blood replaces the screams and tears blur what little I manage to see. My tender palms cover my ears as I sink to the carpet and rock slowing lowering my wails.

And there he is, catching the blood from my lips with a napkin and keeping me close to him, safe.

He manages to stay home and feed me Jell-O and broth and ice cream for the next few days. He’ll rub my back and watch inane day time shows while I weave in and out of my depressive sleep. He manages to do his work from his home office, telling his staff and assistant that he is ill and has been advised to take it easy.

But he goes back to work by the end of the week and manages to find Carlyn and has her come by, maybe to bring me home but when I see her face it shows that she understands why he wanted her to come.

She kneels by the bed.

"Don’t you do this to me, don’t you do this Samson!!" She gets this moan in the back of her throat and looks for the phone.

My host, takes refuge in an apartment in the city as streams of people come for weeks. I can only blink my eyes and keep watching the TV and on occasion sip something, never tasting, from a near by cup. They say they want to tube me, move me to a hospital anything to save me but they don’t understand. I keep thinking back to the bridge and how Jyll felt like a scab to me, in me and how I kept picking at her idea her lost love for me, for our future and all I want to do is die. And they see this and they are willing me back but their voices get softer and their faces more blurred and all I can do is smile as I watch them from the sky.


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