I walk down the three steps, step out onto the sidewalk outside her house and lean my head back to the sky. Raindrops land on my face, neither warm nor cold. No breezes, but I hear the wind in the leaves on the trees along the avenue. Few people are up, light from maybe one or two windows. The street lamps light my way down the avenue. The asphalt is wet, which gives the city a fresh smell of concrete and cars. I like the smell of both; cars and concrete. It must have rained harder an hour ago. Streams run along the sidewalk picking up dirt in a slow pace and pouring it down the sewer.
I stop at a display window to see if I look alright. A suit for a thousand bucks, a pair of brown shoes for two hundred. The shirt is a bit wrinkled, not a lot, no problem. And cuff-links. Nobody notices cuff-links except the guy who has them. Never was there such a fool as I — I keep buying new ones. Frizzy hair. I run a comb through the hair and walk on. A cab slows down and the driver rolls down his window.
“Yea slightly. Maybe more of a drizzle.”
“You’re walking home?”
“Yup. I need uhm… I need to do some thinking.”
“Don’t we all…”
He claps the side of his car door and drives on. I can’t make sense of it; of her and why…
…She sat to the right. The first I saw of her was her back. She curved it, leaning forward to whisper something to the bartender while wearing a dark backless dress. Her brown hair came down to her shoulder blades. I was the only one there her age. Except for the bartender, but she was also a girl. Of course. Only female bartenders and only male visitors. It’s funny how the same trick works on every man, no matter the level of sophistication. I walked up to the bar and stood beside her. Her scent made me smile. It was the same scent women, or girls, used at regular nightclubs. The few wives of the men visiting this bar usually had more reserved perfumes. They didn’t want to take up too much space in this world. But she, she wanted to be noticed. No point in delaying it, I thought.
“Let me buy you a drink.”
She gave me a half-smile, half-smirk and turned to the bartender. “I’ll have the week’s special.”
“I’ll have the same.”
“What will it cost me?”
I unbuttoned the suit and sat down. “Oh just some company.”
“A modest price.”
“I promise I’ll never be modest again.”
She smiled with her mouth opened but looked away. Her eyes were bright green and she made eye contact with the bartender who shook her head. Then she returned to me. “You know, mirrors are never as misleading to you men as when you meet a new girl.”
Our drinks came.
“Your real name?”
“Ha-ha! Yes. You think I go by an alias?”
She sipped her drink. I tasted mine too. A slow-tempo jazz song played in the background. Five men had an animated discussion in the corner. Mr. Johnson, a loner, drank scotch, no ice, to my right. Two ladies had the attention of four middle-aged men who all looked younger except for the widow’s peaks and the receding hairlines. One of them worked out at my gym. We even had the same PT. If he had looked my way, I would have nodded. Maybe even shared a few words. But his attention was focused elsewhere.
Yasmin and I sat down at a table by the fake brick wall. 1950s posters hung opposite us. She told me it was her first time at the bar and played with a napkin. I enjoyed the silence. She didn’t.
“I should warn you though”, she said, “I’m seeing another man.”
“Then he’s not giving you his full attention, sounds like a bad guy to my ears.”
“Sounds like a great guy to mine.”
“Is it serious?”
I leaned back against the sofa. “I once met a woman at this very bar-“
“Hasn’t anyone told you we women don’t want to be reminded of other women? We want to believe in ‘The One’, the true love and the soul mate.”
“Of course! We want to be captivated, swept off the ground and up to the realm of dreams. When you mention another woman you stick needles in whatever illusion had me off the ground.”
She laughed and I chuckled. “I was about to say, the woman I met told me she had a husband, but it turned out she was single.”
“Do you make a habit of talking women out of relationships?”
“Yes. And sometimes men. I’m a marriage counselor.”
“Ha-ha! No way!”
“You think I go by an alias-occupation? And if I did, you think I would have chosen marriage counselor?”
She stared at me with that half-smile, half-smirk way. She was much more at ease, as most women were when I told them my job. The little candle on our table burnt out. I alerted the bartender who changed it. All this in silence, until she spoke.
“Marriage counselor huh? I never would have guessed.”
“I’m not a very smart one.”
“Is that so? How does it manifest itself? High divorce rates?”
“The very opposite. And there’s the problem. Just as with illnesses, you make more money out of palliative care than out of curing. I cure ailments when I should palliate them. I don’t believe in marriage, Yasmin, and that’s what makes me a phenomenal counselor. My colleagues, just like you, believe in love. But Love with a capital L is a symptom of an ailing marriage. In the very term lie expectations.”
“Low expectations are the key to a happy marriage?”
“That and sex. Preferably in a combination.”
“What happened to not being modest? You promised.”
“Ah but Yasmin, by saying I wasn’t going to be modest, didn’t I just achieve that? Didn’t I just lower your expectations? A strange man approaches and tells you he won’t be modest. Aren’t your expectations floored?”
A client of mine walked in when I paid for us. He was actually the one who told me about the bar. I walked up to him and shook hands. She correctly guessed who he was.
“Do you often meet clients out?”
“No. No I don’t.”
“Good. I would think it could be very awkward. Don’t they share their sexual relations with you; fetishes and everything?”
“Yes they do. But listen to a few hundred and they all blend together. We’re just animals having fun together. It’s the way it should be. With a harmless fetish thrown in like the last pinch of spice in a stew.”
She lived just a few blocks away. It hadn’t started raining yet, so I gave her my coat and we walked. The side street was quiet; we could hear the sound of her heels against the sidewalk. Occasionally a car drove by. The parking made the street narrow and cars couldn’t just speed through. We stepped inside her elevator. The hand rail beneath the mirror was in dark brown wood. I held on to it and neared her. She didn’t flinch. She tilted her head up towards me and smiled. Her lips parted, showing her teeth and it looked like she wanted to say something. I ran my hand along the side of her dress, fingertips on her bare back, and I pulled her closer. She flinched. I chuckled to myself. She started laughing and pulled away. The doors opened and we walked in to her apartment.
We drank the first bottle at her kitchen table. White and purple orchids covered the window sill. The curtains were see-through. We sat next to each other. I wasn’t going to make the next move, but she did. She turned my hand around and drew circles with her thumb. I tried to make eye contact with her to see what it meant, but she focused on my hand. A clock in her living room ticked. It made me look at the clock at the microwave, but I can’t remember what time it was. Just how the colon blinked at that moment. “Now”, it seemed to say. I grabbed on to her hand and leaned in. She kissed me back. I carried her to the sofa and laid her down, placed one knee on the side of the leather seat and started undressing. She came right back up again to keep kissing me while I undid my tie and unbuttoned my shirt. In between kisses she asked me if we could move it in to the bedroom.
“Yea of course.”
Afterwards, she ran her finger in different motions on my chest. At first I thought she was writing something. S’s and O’s, but it was just finger movements… just finger movements. I’m usually comfortable in silence. In fact I make money out of it. Never talk over your client, they taught me. But I knew something was on her mind.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I had a plan today.”
“Yea? To get yourself a wealthy man.”
“Ha-ha! You’re kidding.”
She bit her lip and stopped running her fingertip on my chest. She turned around and grabbed the blanket.
“You better leave.”
“Alright I’ll leave. I meant it as a joke. I hope you don’t—“
“No it’s not that. I’m… “ She turned around. “I’m seventeen.”
“I… Uhm… What did you say? You’re seventeen? How can that be? You sat at the bar!”
“I filmed us while we slept together and I—“
“You filmed us!?”
“Yea but I didn’t know I was going to—“
“Where? Where’s the camera? You actually filmed us? Me and you? When I had sex with an under-age girl? No! You’re not seventeen. That’s impossible.”
“Please just go! I won’t do anything. Just leave.”
“Yasmin. For the love of god. I hope you realize that if I knew… this never would have happened. I mean, what was your plan? That you would blackmail whoever… Don’t you realize how dangerous that is?”
“I’m sorry I did… I mean if I did anything… Yasmin if it ever came out that we slept together, my license—“
“I know. It won’t come out. I’ll destroy the tape. I promise.“
“Give me the tape! Give it!”
“The camera’s on the TV… but it’s… it’s the laptop on the desk.”
I deleted the file. “I need to go.” I grabbed my jacket and put on my shoes. She came out of the bedroom with the blanket around her. “Why the hell would you chose me? I told you I wasn’t rich.”
“My last name is Rowe.”
“Yasmin! You’ve… This is a nightmare. Rowe!? Really? Like my clients Beth and Peter Rowe!? Oh my… If you tell your parents about this—”
I shook my head and walked out. I took the stairs and she ran after me.
“David, I love you!”
I turned around. Her green, green eyes were hurt like only teenage-pain can hurt. My life was in that crying girl’s hands. She adjusted the blanket under her arms and walked out on the stone floor. I couldn’t look at her face. I focused on her bare feet. Her toenails were painted orange and on the side of her right foot was a hello kitty patch. Consent doesn’t matter, I thought. I walked out in the last silence we shared.
I close my eyes. I never quite know how dizzy I feel until I close my eyes. Maybe I had four or possibly even five drinks at the bar and another bottle at her place. I keep my eyes closed and the neon lights from the Asian supermarket bounce around inside my eyelids. After a breath of air I keep walking. There’s no wind, like I said, a puddle lies still by the stairs a few houses away from her.
The puddle gives away nothing. Sometimes it’s easy to seek guidance in objects, to look for symbols and to trust in a higher power and call it fate. I’ll have no guidance; no winds, only a slight drizzle and a wet sidewalk. I have only myself. I place my shoe on the puddle and balance it on the surface before letting the water enclose it. The puddle was deeper than I thought. Water seeps into my shoe. I take out my phone, press 9-1-1 and turn myself in.
Header photograph: By Oskar Bakké (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons