In life, everyone knows a version of Dave. Dave is the sort of man who is never any good with the ladies. Sure—he can joke with them at arm’s length, the innocuous touch on the shoulder, the forearm. And because a sprig of humor always plays on his lips, he smiles most of the time. He also suffers from a continuous string of good manners and never fails to hold doors open for the ladies, and flatters them on new sweaters and haircuts. Without crossing into hashtag territory, he comforts them when they confide in him.
That’s my version of Dave too. Although he knows me as well as I know him, I keep to the sidelines without intruding because he doesn’t need any more stress. Besides, the word virgin is too delicate to speak aloud. On some level, Dave thinks of me as his confidant, but it’s deeper. I’m that pesky thing called conscience and move him through life, and I make sure he keeps to all things proper. Or what I deem is proper. Of course, I have some help in this regard, his Mama still insists on manners not often replicated in modern men. But Dave is no saint.
“So where you off to?” Mr. Smith asks when Dave submits his request for his vacation pay.
“Fishing. Somewhere up north.” He smiles broadly while the lie sets his ears on fire.
I step into the shadows; he knows that I know. I don’t want to embarrass him.
“I envy ya.” His boss smacks him on the shoulder.
“We’ll miss you.” Bev, the secretary, says.
We—meaning the ten women who work with Dave on the line, packaging car parts into plastic sacks for union wages. Dave’s in charge of the equipment.
Ten faces of various ages grin up at Dave from the lunchroom table, each eating their sandwich, their leftovers, and sipping weak coffee before heading out for a smoke. Dave waves, they say bye in unison, but we’re still within earshot and overhear what is said.
“You think he’ll ever find someone?” An elbow pokes an elbow.
“Such a nice guy.”
“Oh, he’s that. A pussy cat among toms.”
Someone groans with exaggerated laughter.
“If I was ten years younger, I’d make a run for him.”
Soup comes flying out of someone’s mouth. Giggles echo in the room.
“It’s true. He’s so nice. But his mother, she’s a …. Well, I’m sure she’d scare anyone younger.”
We’re used to their gossip, their lunchroom chatter, and could script it down to which one of them farts and denies it or burps into the back of her hand. We also know which one of the ladies tells the crudest jokes.
Despite the teasing, Dave knows he’s well-liked—admired. But I know him better and keep his deepest secrets. Recently, one of the women, the one eating her tuna fish sandwich, broke his heart. Stella chews quietly on her mistake. She’s not the first, and Dave’s heart has bled often enough you’d think he’d get better at being rejected. When he offered her his heart, she didn’t take his overtures seriously and believed someone better would come along. Although Dave made his sentiments clear, she smiled and brushed him off. A week later, she handed her heart to someone not fit to be trusted with such a fragile organ and in turn bruised Dave’s ego.
“He used to have a thing for you, didn’t he, Stel?” Another elbow spoke.
“No. Dave was just nice. You know how he is.”
Through the lunchroom window, they watch the top of his truck pull from the parking lot; their silhouettes framed in the glass as they wave. They’d miss him, but their lives go on. Someone might mention him when they notice the vacant chair or if there’s a snag in the assembly line.
And so, at age forty-two, though mildly handsome, Dave’s finger and bed remain bare. Which, I’m hoping, the week away will remedy. Voted best eligible bachelor by his friends, everyone assumes he enjoys the title and his solitary life. Others are envious of his presumed freedom. His biggest flaw stems from a chink in his personality; he is simply, always—too nice.
Dave whistles while he drives to the airport. A smirk from ear to ear catches in the rearview mirror. He glances at his rear-seat passenger from time to time: a piece of carry-on luggage. When he booked the flight to Schiphol airport, he’d been uncertain on how far he’d carry on with the plans he rehearsed nightly. Of course, he read up on the subject, as I suggested he should. And because he has no one to splurge on, he has thousands of dollars to indulge his fantasy. During the flight, he’s too nervous to eat. Once the plane touches the tarmac, uncertainty slips into the seat next to him. He drums his fingers in an in-a-gadda-da-vida drum solo that annoys everyone on the plane. But uncertainty taunts him, as if he had packed it in his suitcase next to his best clothes and tries to unravel the plans that took a year to concoct.
It is a miracle to get him here. I knew he’d need some time to build up his nerve, so I am gentle. Mesmerized by the city, Dave invites me to explore the streets of Amsterdam for three days. Enchanted by the leaning houses sinking into the bog and propped up in the most ingenious ways, Dave is entertained, and his stray thoughts are reeled in. For fun, I watch as he skips stones into the murky canals that float barges, he has already chewed his nails to the quick. Mostly, and as do I, he spends his time jumping out of his skin; his heart frantically pounds while bicycles dart at him from every direction. Even in his dreams, bicycles haunt him.
At night, we wander the narrow streets. Brazen, I lead him down the streets where the windows advertise fresh wares. Besides, we’re sick of the waffles and pancakes. But the nubile beauties posing in the windows awaken his deeper carnal hunger. In the privacy of his hotel room, he tries to remember the color of their hair. Shades of blonde, brunette, and raven tempt him, but their sultry pouts when he denies himself leave him sleepless. If flopping on a mattress were an Olympic event, Dave would have won the gold medal.
I know. I know. It’s true. I am hinting at an immorality most find offensive. But before you crucify us, we haven’t done anything beyond walking, and yes, gawking into the windows. And it is the oldest profession because there are always clients. Still, Dave hasn’t done anything.
Dave is aroused by the cut of their exquisite lace cut lingerie, and the incessant quagmire of lust he wanders in eludes just how the fabric would feel to his touch. If his brain were inside out, you’d see sentences forming in a cauldron of desire, but try as he might, Dave can’t get them to formulate into anything cohesive. He’s not ready to ring their bell.
He asks himself a thousand questions. Would they speak English? Was it an international language that signals the needs which bring men to the window? Uncertainty and vulnerability jumble the neatly sorted boxes within his mind, which I from time to mess up just to keep it interesting. And his week is running out of days. His needs pester him into deciding and argue that the solution to his aches is simple.
Back home, he told no one of his vacation plans. The lie, “maybe fishing up north,” had been a smug one. To appease Mother, he had even drawn her a map of his pretend fishing hole. He promised to text her. To bring her back a trout, a mackerel.
His friends oozed with envy, and they pictured Dave in waders in a lake up north. The hum of a Mercury outboard and a rod casting into fish full water. “Ah! The solitude.” They said. Swatting stinging insects was ultimately better than being at work: anyplace. And the lie made Dave feel like a man. He had never, ever, done anything so risqué.
Finally, on this auspicious afternoon, the sun shines brighter, and the temperature rises. I keep whispering to him that today is the day. I am his cheering squad and mirror. He combed his hair, brushed his teeth, checked his breath, and even unbuttoned an extra button. To appear casual, he hooked his windbreaker over his arm and walked with purpose.
Tourists stream in. As is customary, by late Thursday afternoon, groups of middle-aged men bordering on boyish, boosting one another for what they are about to do, clog the narrow streets. Dave dislikes their cocksuredness, although deep down, he envies them.
I resign myself to failure when he veers into an alleyway, shaded by lofty trees and bordered by green water. The sound of foot and bicycle traffic falls off, and Dave strides along, sometimes whistling, which is so annoying, from one side street into another alley. He follows the sloshing water bumping against the aquatic vessels moored to their giant bollards. He stops; his mind ensnares him into a long-forgotten memory of an old sailing uncle who had taught us how to tie knots. Bowline, cleat hitch, chain splice, anchor hitch, slipknot, figure 8, and midshipman’s hitch, and invisibly he ties them as he remembers. It makes him laugh a little; his hands move involuntarily.
Without paying attention to our whereabouts, we find ourselves on a shady avenue. Fresh coats of paint: pink, mint, blue, and black distinguish a row of houses on the other side of the waterway. They’re decorated with the icing of gingerbread brittle. White trim on a chocolate box mix tempts Dave into slowing his pace. He’s desperate to escape the pressure.
Big windows stare with squarish eyes into the world and beckon. Determined, Dave crosses the humped bridge spanning the water. On either side, chained bicycles swell the bridge. On the path itself, we are alone. He finds a bench and takes a seat to enjoy the picturesque scenery; Dave isn’t a seasoned traveler and assumes he’s facing a plumbing supply store. A vintage iron tub rests on ornate brass feet in the showcase while water gushes into the bubbling foam, rising at an alarming rate. Intrigued, Dave stares until a woman appears in the window.
In that quaint town where Dave lives, the hardware store has a showcase window too. They often decorate for the season and display chainsaws among the fake foliage or snow-blowers amidst billowing snow from a can. But this, this was different. Even I was intrigued.
She had reddish hair tumbling down her back. She was becoming part of a living window display. Her red lips rose into a smile when she sent a kiss across to us. From the perch on a stool, she’s the act we’re here to watch. Leaving little to the imagination, the virginal lace fabric fails to conceal the hills of her full breasts, the valley of her round buttocks, and the mound of a womanly belly. Dave longs to mount an expedition as she tames her hair with long exaggerated strokes. Gracefully, she tilts the long curve of her neck exposing the smooth skin along her decolletage. Watching, Dave can taste it: the perfume in her hair, flesh cupped within his palm.
A rush of guilt assaults Dave. I struggle to convince him that still, he hasn’t done anything indecent. The woman, I argue, is fully dressed, albeit her milky skin is exposed to the sunlight. I remind him of the necessity of Vitamin D and that the amount of skin on display is no worse than what he sees on a Friday night at the local bar. His heartbeat rushes out his ears.
She sets the antique brush onto the vanity. Without any qualms, she swirls on her stool and squeezes her breasts into an exploding bulge. She winks. She crosses her legs with the grace of a dancer and flicks the feather-tufted slipper, and wiggles her pointed toes.
Dave’s feet are planted firmly, tapping to the nerves tingling in uncharted regions. He has no alternative but to wait until the curtain drops. He can’t possibly leave in his condition, even if he drapes his folded jacket, just so, as he walks. He is only human, and looking—what’s the harm?
His eyes grow wider, and the sun momentarily blinds him, impeding his vision. The shock, when the second airborne slipper crashes into the pane of glass, makes him gasp. She rises to reveal her shapely legs when she adjusts the valve.
Dave’s eyes are by definition normal size, a nice deep blue, but not outstanding. But during the performance, his eyes shapeshift into saucers. With her fire-engine red nails, she tugs seductively on the peekaboo lace sleeves. Afraid to miss something, Dave stops breathing; he seldom blinks. Unaware of everything, he is still the only one watching. The show is put on to entertain him.
Dave knows about love. He’s been in love, unfortunately only with women who think of him as a friend. But, that afternoon in Amsterdam, nothing stands in his way from falling for the woman in the window. As her robe cascades over her generous curves, Dave is marooned to desire.
If this display were happening in his hometown, there’d be hell to pay, and there’d be a whole lot of stringing up. He can’t believe what his eyes can’t deny. Her nude body is wonderfully mature. Years have crept up on her and shaped her into the figure of Venus. Though her flesh is no longer firm, like the girls (correction: young women) displayed in the red-light windows, she’s enticing and seductive. Lovely in her pose and unashamed of her nakedness, she beckons him with the crook of her finger. Dave thinks his heart is about to burst through his chest. He folds his jacket over his lap and combats a bigger worry. He is completely smitten.
The lovely woman lowers herself into the tub and sinks into the steaming water. Her sensuous toes kick the bubbling mountain into the air. Dave feels himself come undone, and it has cost him nothing. And no one, those pedestrians who wandered past him, noticed.
To continue the charade, the woman trails a foaming sponge over her body, toying with Dave. Without fanfare, the curtains drape closed. The show is over.
Dumbfounded, Dave sits on the bench and is held hostage by desire. Bewildered, although not ashamed. When the red door next to the window opens, a young man walks with a determined stride across the street. He smiles, waves a brochure, and hands it to Dave. Pictured on the brochure’s cover is the lovely lady looking coyly at the camera lens and blowing a kiss.
A typed list explains the offer, starting with the least expensive by the hour.
Back massage him/her……….75
Foot massage him/her……….75
Private bath for two…………..100
Dinner for two………………..140
Special day packages available. For companionship, call Giselle. It says so in bold letters.
There’s no obstacle that can persuade Dave but courage itself. Dave deserves pampering, even if he has to pay for it. He’s desperate for love, for human touch, and companionship. The brochure, marked by an asterisk, explains that it isn’t “that” sort of service.
Dave musters his courage and after two deep breaths, he strides across the street. With a manly rap, he knocks on the red door. I hear him stammer, “I’ll have the works.”
This is where I check out. Dave needs some privacy, and I drift to meet up with him in the coffee house near our hotel; I really don’t need to see and hear that.