When rehearsal ended, Dennis ran downstairs to the Halloween party. There were plenty of sexy nurses and sexy cats. One guy had shoved dirty clothes into a garbage bag, strapped the bag to his pelvis, and walked into the party dragging a misshapen black dick across the floor. Dennis had no costume, but he had a twenty and beer was two bucks a piece.
In front of him in the beer line-up was a girl dressed as a pirate wench. Long black hair, a red handkerchief on her head, puffy blouse unbuttoned halfway down her waist, and best of all, she'd used make-up to invent a bloody gash in her outstanding cleavage. She caught him looking and he didn't particularly care that she'd caught him.
He said, “Er... excuse me...”
“It's fake but they're real.”
“Oh. Who made that gaping wound?”
“A gay boyfriend.”
“Good,” he said, and smiled at her.
He could read girls. Sometimes he felt like he wasn't much good at anything, but he could read girls. This one had put a bloody wound on her cleavage like she was both proud and ashamed of her fabulous hooters. She was probably in general Arts, which meant she was a little aimless, unlike the girls in Sciences who had life planned down to each ovulation. She was alone and unprotected in the beer line – girls always went in bunches or sent male friends. She wasn't here to have fun. She was here because she wanted some guy – any guy who had figured this out – to tell her she was beautiful.
“They're spectacular,” he said.
“They're saggy,” she said, and pouted.
“I'm buying you a drink before every guy here jumps your bones.”
“No one's looked at me since we got here. You're just a perv.”
“Is that mole fake, too?”
“The one by your bloody wound. Mind if I check?”
He reached into her cleavage and stroked the mole cradled between the two walls of creamy flesh. And damn if she didn't smile a wiggle a bit.
“Yup,” he said. “It's real.”
“Only the wound is fake.”
They talked for more than an hour, and danced together a bit, but only slowly; he always leaned down and talked to her. The conversation seemed to flow easily, and the jokes he'd told a thousand times to others were new to her. He bought her two beers and she could handle her liquor. He knew the other vocal students were rolling their eyes. Look, he's at it again. His poor girlfriend.
He did have a girlfriend. Davina was studying away in Toronto. She liked it when Dennis said she was beautiful but she didn't need to hear it. She had plans for herself and Dennis. So what was he doing with the pirate wench? Girls had their magic, but he was casting a very male spell: If he were single, this girl would have had nothing to do with him. But he had a fine girlfriend. He intended to take Murphy's Law – that if something can go wrong it will – and make it work for him. If he came on to her, the worst thing that could happen for him and Davina would be if the pirate wench slept with him. If bad things always happened to you, they might as well be good bad things. Happily, he let this logic whirl around his head and suggested to the pirate wench (Amy was her name) that he walk her home.
That was when he learned she had a roommate, that her roommate was here, and that he knew her roommate. Sally was the fattest girl in the voice faculty, and she didn't have the tragically pretty face of many heavy girls. She had a weak chin, googly eyes, skin the color of old plates, and a raspy nasal voice that somehow became an astonishingly beautiful voice when she sang. He walked both of them home, and halfway there they went to Ben's for smoked meat and coffee. By now it was close to three in the morning, and Amy sat in her chair under the bright lights and adjusted her cleavage like it itched.
“Are you trying to flash the whole world?” croaked Sally. She had asthma, which made her sound worse.
“I can't wait to get home and take this off.”
“Your wound bothering you?” said Dennis.
“She gets like this sometimes and she likes to show off her wares,” said Sally.
“I should have brought a camera,” said Dennis.
“She gets like this when we're in restaurants and she wants to give the waiter a show,” said Sally.
“A girl can do what she wants with her body,” said Amy righteously. Dennis knew that wasn't true, not really, and from the way Sally was glaring, she agreed. You can do what you want with your body if you have a body you want. Sally didn't want to show anyone her body and she probably hated it when other girls flaunted it. Dennis felt for her, despite everything.
“Amy, have a heart. You're offending your roommate.”
“Oh,” said Amy. “Sorry,” and she buttoned up her pirate shirt.
Dennis was heartbroken, and he shot Sally a look. He'd done this a few times to friends of a girl he wanted. I've been nice to you – pay me back and please go to bed early.
He walked them back to their building, and Sally thundered upstairs while Dennis and Amy sat down on the steps. Four o'clock and the silence was general, along with a yellow, used smell of student buildings.
“Sally told me you have a girlfriend,” she said. Somehow her shirt had opened by a few buttons.
“I do,” he said carelessly, as if he had no responsibility for where he was and how he'd come to be here. I just drifted up here because you were smoking hot, so sorry. “She's in Toronto. You attached as well?”
“He's back home in Seattle. How long's it been for you? Since... you know... you got some.”
“She was down two and a half weeks ago.”
“You're lucky. It's been all summer for me. I'm too long distance.”
“I know how you feel,” he said.
She never asked him exactly what he was doing there, sitting beside her in the large, silent building, and as they talked he sidled over and brushed aside the hair from over her neck and began to kiss the exposed skin. Her voice changed and got a little higher, and she gasped a little bit but she never pulled away. He kissed her neck for several minutes, marveling at her hair, which was a dark shiny brown. Finally he pulled away, a little dizzy. She still had said nothing about what just happened.
“I'd better go,” he said. “You need some sleep.” he walked her upstairs to her door. Just as she turned he leaned down and kissed her quick on the lips. “Goodbye,” she said, and closed the door.
Subject: Ouch my head..
Slept til three this afternoon and I am completely disgusted with my lazy-ass self! Then shopped and bought instant noodles, fake parmesan, and frozen OJ – student starvation fare. Are you going out again tonight, you mad woman?
Subject: Re: ouch my head...
I was in no pain. The sickest I've been was when I drank some off punch at a party last year. Now that was excruciating pain. BTW, did you have fun last night?
Subject: Re: Re : Ouch my head...
I guess I got a little touchy-feely just as I was leaving. Sorry about that. Sometimes I have little self-control and that's a common theme with a scoundrel such as myself. Maybe I should not have revealed that little tidbit. Sorry again if I shared too much. My, what is wrong with me?
Things continued in that vein for a few days until she invited him over. She had cable, and he only had a black and white TV that was easily a few decades old. She was a huge fan of The X-files and she hated to watch TV alone. So he came over on a Thursday and nothing happened. Sally was there too, and they sat on a futon coach that was half on the floor and watched Lost. Her apartment was warm and quite messy but nowhere near as bad as his.
Sally seemed to know that she should go to bed, and Dennis and Amy stayed up, talked, sat beside each other on the futon that sat like a sort of cushion on the floor. Dennis flipped through a few channels and the pay-porn came on, green and purple because it was scrambled. It was still entirely clear, and for a few minutes they both watched porn. He grabbed her once or twice, kissed her again and gathered great hunks of her hair in his hands. Then he excused himself and left. She suggested they go to a movie over the weekend, and that she owed her boyfriend a call.
Over the weekend they went out to dinner, without Sally, and took in a World's Best Commercials movie. He thought he saw someone he knew a few rows ahead, and stopped worrying about it when the lights went down. Amy poked him in the ear with a tuft of her dark hair during the show. He slapped her hand away and tickled her ribs with his finger right where her tit began. “You are so going to get it,” she told him, and then settled into her seat. When the movie ended he walked out quickly and let her catch up to him. He felt like he was falling a thousand feet a second and it was just fine.
He walked her home and followed her inside without asking. Sally was out, and Amy turned to him and tickled him. He leapt on her, knocked her down. Her breasts sprang up in his face and they rolled around the floor. Her legs spread, and all of him was pressed into her, and he breathed into her ear. He got up in case he might have frightened her, and she tickled him again and fell back when he pushed her down and tickled her back. They kissed a bit and he thought he had her figured out. Again he said he had to go. As he walked home he thought: Any second she'll come to her senses and tell me to fuck off.
“Just what are you doing in the music building?” she asked him the next night when he was over. Sally wasn't in bed yet.
“The Coronation of Poppea. It's an opera.”
“What's it about?”
“It opens as Love, Virtue and Fortune argue over who's best. Love insists that he is best, and that he will prove it with the story of Poppea, who was the mistress of the Roman emperor Nero. Poppea seduces Nero until he kills his mentor, and exiles his wife, so he can crown his mistress the new Empress. Nero and Poppea sing a lovely duet at the coronation, and Love appears at the end, triumphant over Virtue and Fortune.”
“It sounds very romantic,” she said.
“It's not romantic at all,” said Dennis. “It's violent and weird as hell.”
“Do tell,” said Amy.
“A woman plays Nero, and men sing many women's roles. Nero orders his teacher's suicide because his teacher didn't approve of Nero marrying his mistress. So his teacher pours a bath, slits his wrists on stage, and after his funeral Nero and his male lover dance and sing a naughty duet on his grave.”
“It doesn't sound like any opera I've ever heard of,” said Amy.
“It isn't like anything you've ever heard of. Of course, as lovey-dovey as Nero and Poppea are in the opera, history tells us that he kicked her to death when she was pregnant. And after the composer has had his go at the story, and the director has had his go at interpreting the composer's and librettist's story, you've got something entirely new.”
“Do you play a lead role?”
“He carries a spear,” said Sally. “He's just a member of Nero's death squad.”
“I'm onstage all the time,” he said. But Sally was already getting up and thumping off to her bedroom, like she knew what was going to happen. Dennis knew it too. You can only roll around the floor for so many nights.
They got into a tickle-fight again within five minutes of Sally leaving, and this time they began kissing and didn't stop. He ripped off her shirt, unhooked her bra. He took off his own shirt, and she grabbed him down below without him asking. Soon they were both wearing nothing but underwear, and kissing, and when he sucked on her nipples her eyes rolled up in her head.
“What are you thinking?” she said.
“I was thinking I wish I had a condom,” he said. Last chance. She wouldn't have one, or she would finally come to her senses.
“I have a jar of them over there,” she said. She pointed, and by the TV was a jar full to the brim with rubbers. Why would anyone have a jar of condoms? What's the point? Why hadn't he seen it before? It had been there all this time.
She gave him one, and he took off her panties, rolled on the condom (he'd been hoping to have performance anxiety but no), and had a quickie with her on floor. She was tight but she worked just fine. She had the same face as when he was sucking her tits. The floor hurt his knees and he became dimly aware that the building was old, and he could hear a rhythmic booming bouncing under the floor and walls that he soon realized was the sound of them fucking. He came after a few minutes, and left after giving her a quick peck. Awkward.
Subject: So how about those Expos?
Sorry for getting back to you so soon after you-know-what. But I want you to know you don't have to feel guilty. You didn't force me into anything and I won't try to take you away from Davina. I just wanted you to know that. And we can still be friends if last night freaked you out. Really, just give me a call so I know you're not freaked out.
Subject: Re: So how about those expos?
I'm not freaked out. Well, a little. I don't think that should happen again. It's nothing against you personally. I still want to hang out with you. I like seeing movies with you, and I like having dinner with you. I'm with someone else and I don't to jeopardize that. But I get horny sometimes. A lot of times, actually. All the damn time, actually. So if we're to hang out can we not wrestle and talk about your amazing tits, please? That would be a start. We can talk about wholesome things, like the virtues of our incredible partners.
Subject: Re: Re: So how about those expos?
That would be great. I like spending time with you as well. You make me feel safe. I'm just a girl who does way too much for people. I look back at that sentence and it sounds dirty, but that's how I am. I don't think you're a bad person for what happened. Shit happens. Shit just happens and don't worry about it. Someone important is happening in the X-files mythos tonight. I could record it but I would prefer you to come over and we can make it an event.
He did come over and they did nothing. He couldn't stop thinking about how they did nothing, and kept on stealing glances down her shirt and she probably knew it. She switched through a few channels and there was the porn – all green and purple, and a tongue licking up and down some porn guy's dick. He looked over to the side of the TV and saw the jar bursting with rubbers, like it was a conversation piece. But if he mentioned them it was all over. He left before midnight, but not before they endured a rather swollen silence at the door.
Davina called the next day. She wanted him to come up to Toronto and he bought a train ticket that afternoon. That night he went to a party held by the opera's assistant conductor, and the man served him two glasses of expensive scotch. He left before midnight, breathing fire from the peat swamp of heaven, and decided to walk the short distance to Amy's apartment so he could tell her where he was going tomorrow. He thought that, after all he'd put Amy through, she had a right to know.
She was home, and Sally was out of town visiting family. Amy wore old jeans and a T-shirt that would have fit a small child. From where he stood he could smell her bodywash, faint and mingling with skin and the heat of her apartment. Her body jutted out from her old clothes and she smiled at him warmly. God, that hair, washing down over her shoulders and her shirt’s old cotton.
“I've come to tell you something.”
“Well, you'd better come in. There's a rerun of the X-files. Watch it with me.”
She turned down the TV volume and turned to her. He said everything quickly to get it out of the way.
“I'm visiting going out of town tomorrow to visit my girlfriend and we're going to have a lot of sex because that what you do when you're long-distance. I was hoping you wouldn't be too upset about this.”
“I'm not upset at all,” she said.
“You're not?” he said.
“Of course not. I'm not like that.”
“What are you doing?”
“I'm going over my inventory.”
“Inventory of what?”
“I sell knives.”
On the floor in a long leather pouch was a row of knives held secure by rough thongs. Some were small enough to pare potatoes and cut garlic, other were long enough to clean and dress a cow. They gleamed and glittered on the floor like narrow little mirrors.
“Wow,” he said. “I totally don't understand.”
“I sell knives. I'm a saleswoman. You want to buy a complete set of kitchen knives? I won't lie; they ain't cheap. But you'll have them for the rest of your life. Just look what they can do.” She took one from its sheath and shaved the down off her arm. She help up a piece of paper and moved it down upon the knife's edge; the knife cut it quietly in half like it might carry out an execution. When she brought a can from the kitchen the knife easily sliced through the tin and kidney beans dripped on the floor in a red mess.
She put the knives back in the pouch and tickled him. He tickled her back and they went through the formalities. It was now one in the morning, and she soon grabbed the condom jar, and rubbed some lube on herself. She bent over to put away the lube bottle and he grabbed her hips, stuck it into her and began to pound away. She was short and curvy and he tossed her around the futon at all the angles he could think of, the walls shaking away. Afterwards they lay together. “What are you thinking of?” she said, and with great affection he told her to just shut up. She pressed her cheek against his chest, and then her head went lower and lower. Slowly she took the head of his dick into her mouth. Four o'clock in the morning now and she licked him up and down while he was still sticky. He grabbed the bottomless condom jar, and when he left it was six. “You going to miss me when you’re with your girlfriend?” she said. “Hell yes.” Naked, she walked him to the door and they kissed a long time, and his hands wandered down. Her ass fit neatly in his hand with a taut curve of fat and muscle.
He went home and slept for most of the day. The first thing he did when he woke up was to rub his hands all over his dick and then smelled his hands. They smelt of latex and he ran to the bathroom and soaked in the tub for an hour.
After his bath the smell of latex was still there. He packed quickly and went to the train station. When he arrived in Toronto, Davina, blue-eyed and auburn-haired and dressed in a beautiful coat, met him on the platform and kissed him, told him she missed him. He hugged her and felt terribly alien, as if something he'd always believed in was suddenly gone. They went home to her apartment and she was all over him: no wrestling, no hidden messages. Mindful of how he might have smelled down there, he pulled her back up when she tried to get down on her knees. She didn't mind when he dispensed with foreplay almost entirely and threw her on the bed.
After a performance of which he wasn't particularly proud, she said: “I've missed you so much,” she said. “Sometimes I wish you could just quit music and come live with me.”
“What the heck would I do?” he said, looking at the ceiling. He felt a quick urge to go walking in the dark.
“You could get a job here. Anything, and do your music in your spare time. Dennis, you stick with me and you'll never go wrong.”
“We'll live together?”
“I've got plans for us. I've got a schedule to follow. That's how the regular world works. Goodness, Dennis, all you talk about is how lucky your friends are when they get a little concert that pays a few hundred dollars. When I'm out of law school I'll have a secure job, and if you take my advive you will too. A lot of law schools would love a guy with a music degree. You could do copyright law, you could be a talent manager. You're a smart guy and we could do amazing things together. We could have an amazing life together.”
“I don't want to be one of those suits who dabbles in music a half an hour a week just to say he hasn't completely sold out.”
“You're a handsome guy with a great bod, Dennis. You're so charming that I'm not even insulted by what you just said. But when you're in forties, and you're gray and you got a paunch, and mister happy down there isn't quite so extraordinary, I wonder how you'll feel when you're still barely breaking even. It's romantic to be a starving student when you're so sexy at it, Dennis, but it won't always be like that.”
He was quiet for a while, resentful but impressed that she could pin him down so easily. Imagine the kids they might have together. Her brains and his... well, his height, his good skin. She wanted three, and he had always thought of himself as wanting what she wanted.
They passed the weekend together, visited both sets of parent. He was an only child and his family was small. She came from a huge family and she had a gay drama queen younger brother and a sensible sister. He and Davina had a wonderful time together and when he came back to Montreal he called Amy and went straight to her place and that was pretty much how it went for several months.
He visited several times a week. He always took a roundabout way to her building so no one saw him, but Sally must have talked because a lot of singers began dropping polite hints. Are you and Davina still together? Are you in an open relationship? I saw you with this girl the other day, is she Sally's roommate? Yes? Okay...
The sex became very good, or at least is seemed good to him because she was available any evening he needed her. He came over and watched TV until Sally went off to bed. Sally never got up late to go to the bathroom, bless her heart. Then it was off to the races and he pounded her as hard as he wanted and she never complained.
Back home she had a circle of friends she always talked about. Damien was the hottest guy on the planet. Joel had AIDS and lived under the radar with several false identities. Aaron was older, rich and idle, who for fun once poked a stranger with a dirty hypodermic needle. Doug, now a single dad in his thirties, who had once been engaged to Amy when she was fifteen and he was twenty-five. The story about Doug really threw him, and he angrily told Amy the man was a loser and a pedophile, and why the hell did she keep talking to him?
As they got closer, they went out in public. She always paid, and used the pretence that she was buying him dinner to pay him for giving her advice when she shopped for clothes. A girl who bought him dinner, who was availible any time he wanted, who had tongue like a butterfly with Parkinson's disease. She had that ridiculous tight, plump body like a peasant girl in her prime, and he began to think of her as his own private genie that gave him anything he wanted and never asked for anything in return. He lost a lot of sleep which he had to make up during the day, and he missed a lot of classes, a lot of voice lessons.
After she told him about her friends, he started to think that he didn't like her all that much. He wasn't sure how that happened. He called Doug and Aaron and Joel her Superfriends, and hinted that they lived on a space station and made plans to keep the world safe.
“You're just jealous I've got friends like that,” she said.
“My friends are real,” he responded.
“Are you saying I'm lying?”
“Why is it each friend seems to be from a movie? Your bad guy is out of Bond movie, your tragic friend is out of People magazine, and your good-looking friend looks like Brad friggin Pitt. Why can't they just be people? Then I'd believe you.”
She got huffy and started to cry, and he had to hold her, and that usually led to them banging on the floor. For some reason she never let him into her room. It was always in the living room, in front of the TV, the condom jar never too far away.
The big fight finally came as Christmas neared. He was going out with his friends. They all knew about Amy, and had even tried to warn him away. The most understanding was Leo, who was a bit of a lech himself. He didn't mind at all that Dennis had a piece on the side, but when Dennis suddenly left in the middle of a game of pool, he got angry and followed him outside.
“You're not going to see her, are you?” he said. It was freezing cold and Leo wasn't wearing his coat.
“Well,” said Dennis because he couldn't think of anything to say.
“It's a Friday night and you're out with your buddies.”
“I promised I'd drop by.”
“You look like a fucking ghost, my friend. You're wearing yourself out and people are beginning to talk. I've tried to quiet it bit there's only so much I can do. And really – doesn't she have any friends?”
Dennis thought for a moment. He knew Amy was waiting at home because Sally was going out with her friends. What did he really think of a girl who relied on Mustang Sally for a social life?
“I promised her,” he said lamely.
Leo threw up his hands. “Fine. Whatever. Have fun. Nice seeing you.”
Dennis prepared to take his secret route to her apartment. He got three blocks and then he turned around and headed back to the bar. He wasn't committed to Amy, was he? It's not like he owed her anything. And what did she expect from someone like him? Honesty?
Leo gave Dennis a hug and passed him a stick. They played until three.
Dennis stumbled home, more than a little drunk. The moment he opened the door he noticed his phone was ringing. He stared at it. How long had it been ringing? He picked it up.
“I was under the understanding that you would be coming over tonight. Of course, I could have been mistaken. Was I?” Her voice was breathy and she spoke quickly, as if she were holding in tears, or really wanted him to know she was holding back tears.
“Look,” he began. Look was always a good start. “I never said for sure I was going to come over and see you.”
“I told Doug you would be stopping by and he predicted you wouldn't. I didn't believe him, I told him I had more faith in you than that. Do know how much you've embarrassed me?”
“You're concerned about the opinion of a guy who was engaged to you when you were fifteen? Jeez Louis, Amy.”
“Will you please come over? I don't think I could stand it to think you've stood me up like this.”
When he said no she began to cry. He hadn't even taken off his coat and boots, so he left, trudged along his secret route at a time when he'd usually be coming home, and went to see her.
He was hoping she'd just let it go, and let him sack out on the couch with her until they woke up and he could bang her senseless, which she'd let him do no matter what. But she was in no mood to sleep.
When he arrived she was sitting on the floor of the living room. Her knife set was scattered across the floor like tiny glittering ghosts. She sat among pieces of her clothes that she had cut into pieces with the knives. Her bedroom door was open for the first time, but the lights were off and he could see only the light of a computer monitor, still and blue like a staring eye.
“What the hell have you done?”
“I've been going through your Emails.” She spoke with a few small hitches but otherwise her voice was level and calm. “They're in my archives. They're pretty revealing, you know. Especially the most recent ones. I've been trying to gather them up but the system won't let me. I was thinking what Davina would say if I sent her a little present.”
“You can't even find her. You don't know her last name or anything about her.”
“You've told me where she goes to school, Dennis. You've told me all sorts of things but I think you've forgotten.”
“I think this is it,” he said. “You've been driving me crazy the past few weeks. I thought we were cool about this. I had my girlfriend and you had your boyfriend. Then you break up with him and all you have is me.”
“Don't you dare walk away from me, Dennis. You've availed yourself of my services for no charge.”
“I've had it,” he said again. “I'm through with you.”
“Why?” she yelled. Her voice became hoarse and ugly.
“Because,” he shouted, “I'm becoming an asshole. I don't like they way I am ever since I've been with you.”
“People treat their dogs better that you treat me. You already are an asshole and you've always been an asshole ”
“You let me become one. You told me I've availed myself of your services for no charge. Well, you had to charge something. Don't look at me that way, sweetheart; I'm not calling you a whore. Everyone should set a price for their company and never budge. But you never asked for anything; you never demanded I treat you better. You seemed to think that it was your right to be treated nicely. Well, I have news for you: I'm legally impelled to treat a my dog properly – I have to feed it and clean it, and since it doesn't have the fucking brains to ask me to be nice, I'm nice to my dog. But you can feed yourself, and get yourself out the door without a leash so you can meet a guy who might treat you better than I do. You have to make demands; that's how it works!”
She was silent and he had a feeling he might have said something really terrible. Taken out of context, and put in, for instance, the student paper, what he had just said might get him lynched. Where the hell had he gone wrong? he asked himself. Was it because sometimes she reminded him of a primitive fertility statue: all curves, with slits for eyes and a mouth so she couldn't make demands or see him for what he really was? And short little legs so she couldn't stand up for herself.
“This isn't the first time you've been with a guy who's treated you like shit,” he muttered, as she sat in her little circle of rags and blades and stared at him. “Why the hell don't you just break up with me already. Oh, wait – I forgot. You can't because since I've with someone else already, I wouldn't be hurt. What a predicament. God forbid you just leave me. That would break all the rules.”
“I can't believe you just said that. Is that what you think of women?”
“You don't think too highly of women either, honey. You sleep with their boyfriends.”
Her eyes went flat, and she said, “Don't ever speak to me like that again. You'll regret it for the rest of your life.”
“There's nothing to salvage here, Amy. Why can't we just call it quits?”
“You don't understand the feelings I have for you. You're too dense to notice.”
“I sneak over several times a week and we have sex on your living room floor after we watch a new X-files and then the rerun. Sometimes we go out for dinner some place far off campus and I don't let you hold my hand. That's us in a nutshell. That's how we roll.”
“Just let us stay together until Valentine's day,” she said. “Then I'll go. I'll tell you: 'If there's ever anything I can do for you...' That's when you'll know it's over for us.”
It was the end of November and he could see himself going on like this until February, sneaking about. Tell me what you really like and I'll do it. Anything. She'd just get worse and people would talk more, and some girl in the music department would give his girlfriend a call because she was 'concerned' for Davina's feeling. No, this couldn't go on.
“No,” he said finally. “This is over. I'm sorry. God, I'm so tired and I just want to go home, Amy. How is it you can stay up and talk about such exhausting things?”
She said nothing for a moment, and then she said: “Goodbye, Dennis.”
If he had felt like an asshole before, he felt like a war criminal now. She had whispered it with the voice of a starving child. He almost gathered her in his arms right then, only he knew he would feel the solidity of her breasts against his chest, and of course she'd let him do whatever he wanted. So he left, and hoped that he'd never talk to her again. He hoped, really hoped, that she would meet someone new tomorrow, and later on tell him she'd met the love of her live and he was in every way so much better than Dennis. And he planned on saying, “Congratulations.”
Two days later he was in rehearsal for the newest production. The opera department had decided to go in the direction of musical theater, and they were doing West Side Story.Dennis, a little too squarely built and adult to be a teen gang member, had been cast as Schrank the detective. He had one great monologue, but other than that the role was a bust. They've given him an officer's cap and a baton, and he was in the midst of all the younger, more slender singers, demanding they tell him where you gonna rumble? He was really getting into it when he looked into the empty theatre and saw Amy sitting in one of the middle rows. She appeared to be studying for her exams, and her attitude, even from what he could see from where he stood, was a little too casual, as if she'd come here on a coin-toss.
When he had a spare moment he walked through the green room, through the lobby, and into the theatre. He sneaked up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.
“And what are we doing here?” he said, doing his best to sound friendly. Since all their interactions had taken place between midnight and five in the morning, she didn't seem threatening now.
“Sally's in this rehearsal. I can be here if I want to.”
Sally was here. She was in the chorus, and when she was in good voice all you could hear was her Wagnerian soprano soaring over all the others.
Amy probably didn't have much to keep her busy, so it made sense that she was here. Except she had that forced but casual look. Except that he knew she was here because of him. After that knock-down fight they'd had, of course she'd be here. He'd always thought he knew women, but now he wondered if he knew women when they were angry. Men were more simple: either they fought and someone won, or they forgave each other. What do women do when they are truly angry and they don't have an out? Why hadn't he given her an out? Maybe he could have bought a cheap plastic ring, got down on one knee, and demand they be married next week so he could start trying to knock her up. That would have given her an out. A long shot, a gamble, but that might have freed him. But now she was here, sitting there in full view of the whole West Side Story cast, who of course knew who she was.
“Okay,” he said..
She brought out a huge bag of winegums, which she knew he liked. “Would you like some?” she said. He reached in and grabbed a few, shoved them in his mouth. He had trouble resisting sweet things. That sort of attitude might have gotten him in his current predicament, he thought as he chewed. She watched him, and then grabbed several more and fed them to him. He ate them without thinking before he realized what was happening.
“I have to watch the Godfather trilogy as part of my film course,” she said. “Would you like to come over and help me watch them? I just need to bounce my ideas of someone.”
“Look,” he tried to say again.
“I know you don't want to sleep with me anymore,” she said. But I do, I do. “But I miss having you come over. There was a time before you started having sex with me when we just hung out and did things. Played pool. Watched movies and went out for drinks. I like having friends. I'm a good friend and I could be a good friend to you.”
“Jesus wept, Amy,” he said, and got up to go back onstage. Now she'll start screaming at me, he thought. I can't believe I'm walking away from someone with so much power over me. But I've got to do it. I'll never be free if I can't make a clean break.
But she said nothing.
When he got back up onstage he looked out into the dark. She was gathering up her books and bags so roughly he could hear them slamming together. He remembered reading someplace that angry people sometimes liked to make a grand, trampling exit. She made enough noise to make rehearsal slow down as the students watched her leave.
That night there was a message on his phone. Amy's voice came on. By they both had an ugly knowledge: she knew he didn't want to hear from him, and he knew she knew and yet she was calling him. She sounded almost jolly.
“Hi there,” she said, “I called to ask you a question. But you know what? That's okay, because you already answered it for me. You should probably get in touch with me to see what's going to happen next.”
He ran out the door.
“Your emails,” she said. “I've freed them – I've got all the good ones wrapped up in a nice little package and I'm going to send them off to Davina.”
“Go ahead,” he said. “You know nothing about her. You can‘t find her.”
“I know her first name and I know what's she's studying. I've already looked up the names of ten different Davina's who go to school in Toronto and I'll just send it to them all. I'll mention your name and apologize, either for wasting their time or because of you. It's going to happen.”
“You promised you would never do this, Amy. I'm the bad guy here, I'll admit that. But you're going to hurt someone who had nothing to do with this.”
“You gave me no choice. You owe me so much and I gave you every chance to make amends.” She began to sob. “All those promises you made to me...”
“We were naked and it was four o'clock in the fucking morning! I'd recite the cure for cancer and forget about it the next day. You can't hold me to that! You can't be keeping score every single second you're with someone!”
“You just don't get it. I'm not responsible for what happens next. You made all this happen. If only you met me halfway. If you had just agreed and showed that you were willing to try I would have let you off scot free. But no, you had to leave. You'd had enough. Well, I'm not done with you yet. Like you said, I have to state what my value is. If you're not willing to pay, then maybe she is.” She turned and walked into her room. The blue eye of the screen flickered and he knew she had everything set up so that all it would take was the press of a button.
“Are you doing what I think you're -,” he said.
“What?” she said, and stopped. “You have no right to stop me. You've brought this on yourself. Maybe she'll forgive you but I doubt it. I think everyone will be better off once I do this. Me, her. Perhaps even you, Dennis.” She turned again and went into her room.
He wasn't really thinking when he leapt on her and brought her down where her head met the floor. It made a terrible sound and she never screamed. She only gagged and went limp, and he laced his fingers around the front of her neck and began to throttle her. He cried and talked to her, repeating as he squeezed and squeezed.
“You made me like this, you made me like this, you made me like this...”
Her bladder let go and a pool spread around her abdomen, soaking his knees. This was where it had all started: him on top of her, late at night.
The next hour was a blur: him thinking clenched thoughts as he wondered what to do. He didn't have a car to take her anywhere, and he didn't know how to hide a body. For half an hour he thought up and incredibly elaborate scheme where he put her body in the tub, slit her wrists, pumped her legs up and down to get out the blood, and then composed her suicide note. He thought he knew her well enough to think of a reason that he couldn't quite think of right now now. He grabbed her, and the dead weight of her body, its cooling mass, the horrible way her head hung backwards with her hair dragging along the floor, sickened him and he gently lowered her to the ground and cried until dawn. Then he got up and left her on the floor. When he got home he showered and changed into comfortable clothes.
He went to rehearsal and sat silent and ashen as the director ranted at Tony and Maria because they weren't committed enough. Dennis found that he could get up on stage and peform his role as well as he ever could. He kept looking to the back of the hall, where the police were to come any minute and take him away. His life over; Davina visiting him in jail one last time before she left him forever. Reporters coming to see him so they could get the details only he could provide. His mother and father arguing over which one was to blame for their only son who had gone so wrong. Should he just plead guilty and avoid bankrupting his mom, who would mortgage her home just to help him? Would that get him a sentence in a prison that was a little more peaceful, where he could get time off for good behaviour and re-integrate into society with no tattoos and all his teeth?
He went onstage to face the Jets and the Sharks, and did his speech. Where you gonna rumble? He turned, looked back into the house to see if the police had finally arrived. Instead, sitting in her usual seat, was Amy.
Dennis forgot his lines, bent over, and retched bile all over Riff's shoes. The stage manager rushed up and pushed him off stage. He made Dennis sit down, took his place, and performed Schrank's lines. Dennis looked back and Amy was still there.
He staggered to his feet and slowly made his way towards her. He hadn't eaten breakfast and he was faint and weak. She looked at him blankly until he reached her.
“What...,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
She kept looking at him, and for a moment he thought he might have gone mad, and that he might be looking at an empty seat as the cast watched him.
“You were very rough with me this morning,” she said. “You were very mean and I'm sore all over. Don't do that again.”
“What did I do, Amy? I'm not sure I remember.”
“Don't use that excuse. You were sober and you were very angry. You know what you did. Most guys will do it if pushed far enough.”
“I'm sorry,” he said. “I don't know...”
“You don't know what got into you. I know that.” She leaned towards him at him and said, "And I've brought you winegums and I took out all the black ones. Be nicer to me.”
She held out the bag and he reached in his hand. When he chewed he looked at her face, and she was looking at him with dark, empty eyes, waiting for him to speak.
He wasn't sure what had happened, and the more he thought of how little sleep he'd had, and how much she'd pushed him, the more he thought he might have imagined the whole thing. One thing was certain: They were together again. She never mentioned that she'd been a hair away from telling Davina, and he never mentioned what might, or might not, have happened that night during the fight.
They started the usual routine again. He came over to see her, and banged her sometimes until dawn, and mutely she let him do pretty much anything. They watched a lot of TV, and when he was home he made sure to call Davina and let her know he still thought of her. People stopped talking about them, and his friends stopped talking to him. In his free time, he went through his memories of that night again and again. His hands around her neck, she making that gagging sound and then not moving any more. Him crying as he sat on the floor by her body and she never breathed.
He still treated her terribly, but he knew that as long as he stayed with her she would never complain too much. All he was left with was his time with her, school (which he'd been avoiding), and those meaningless calls and emails to Davina. And Davina never noticed that he seemed distant, or that he didn't have much to say. Davina talked and talked, and he listened and said Hm-hm.
The next fight came. Opening night for West Side Story was approaching, and Sally made her move. Right when he was putting on his make-up she walked towards his table and began yelling.
“I didn't want to have to say this but Amy is the most wonderful person in the world and even though she let you fuck her that's no reason to treat her as terrible as you do and it's a crying shame that she lets you treat her like that and - "
“Will you get the hell out of my face?” he said. “We have a show to put on.”
“Not until I've had my say and it's not right that you - ”
“Someone help me get her out of here, please.”
He got up and with the help of the two of the Sharks pushed her out into the hall. She thundered off to the women's changing room where he was sure she'd continue until she was blue in the face.
“How dare you treat my friend like that?” said Amy later. “She never did anything to you? She's a wonderful person.”
“That cow ambushed me in front of the whole cast. How can you say she's never done anything to me?”
“She had no choice. She didn't feel like she could do anything. Her back was against the wall. Can't you see the part you play in this?”
“How the hell is this my fault?” he yelled, and he went straight to the kitchen where she kept her knives. He found the largest, dragged her into the bathroom, held her face under the tap to stop her screaming, and cut her throat. The blood gushed straight down the drain. She made a whistling sound as the air rushed from her, and soon she stopped moving. He left her in the tub, went to the kitchen and put the knife in the sink. Sally was not home and he wasn't all surprised at what happened. He left the door unlocked when he left.
West Side Story opened two days later. The audience gave a standing ovation, and when he came on stage to take his solo bow Amy was in the second row, clapping, her face blank when the time came when the applause was only for him. He nodded at her, just once, and when he came back to the wings the rest of the cast was staring at him like he was damned.
She came to the cast party. She sat with Sally and Sally's friends in the chorus, except for when she came up to him and whispered in his ear: You left the door to my apartment unlocked. That's not very safe or respectful.
As everyone was going home, he saw her looking at him. He ignored her, and as he left she began to cry and bury her face into Sally's shoulder. Sally turned to glare at him but he was done.
Later that week he killed her. This time he took her out to shore of the St. Lawrence and pushed her into the current. She fell backwards, looking at him on the way down. She hit the water amid chunks of ice, newspaper and sticks, and he swiftly walked away.
The next night he walked by her apartment. She was there, letting herself in the lobby door. She looked half-starved, and her hair hung about her in frozen blocks, but upon turning she only looked at him with beseeching eyes. He followed her in and found her a towel while she slowly sat on the couch.
A terrible time passed. Christmas came and went. He went through the motions at home, going to dinners, hugging the right people. His own broken family seemed to think he was going through a difficult time, and didn't ask him very much. His dad tried to interrogate him, but since his dad was mostly asking for his own sake Dennis shut him down. He went back in January and picked up where he left off. But Christmas had given him some time to think.
In the the middle of second term Davina came up for the Easter break and Amy stayed away as he had requested. He kept Davina away from school, where everyone would be staring at her with pity.
He realized that Davina made him feel happy and normal. They walked down the street holding hands, slept in and made love all morning, took breakfast at the café and splurged on fresh-squeezed juice. He got used to living during the day and gradually lost the pallor Davina had noticed when she arrived. Soon, one morning after they had woken up and finally gotten dressed, he sat her down at the table.
“I'm getting a little sick of music,” he said. “Well, not music. The business. The hours. How would you like it if I moved back home so we could be in same city?”
“What would you do there?” she said, but already her eyes had brightened.
“Sell out,” she said. “It doesn't sound so bad now.”
She threw her arms around him and whispered, “This is the best news I've heard in months. Let's go celebrate.”
They had breakfast at Saintropol and she ordered mimosas for both of them. “And what inspired you to suddenly make me so happy?” she said playfully.
“I don't like living the way I'd been living. I didn't want to become a cliché.”
“You're right,” she said. “It took you long enough. But sometimes a girl has to wait for a guy to come around. Sometimes she has to wait for her guy to see the truth. I'm glad you came around.” She reached across the table and took his hand. “How soon can you come? Will you wait for the term to end and come back this summer?”
“Earlier than that. All the shows I'm in are over. I just need to talk to a few people and say my goodbyes.”
He made his plans, for what they were worth. He paid his roommate two extra months to get out of the lease. He snuck into the school and did as much as much paperwork as possible to leave. Then he walked back home. Over a period of six hours he rented a van, moved his meagre furniture into storage someplace on the edge of the island, packed essentials into hockey bags and suitcases, hauled everything onto the train, and bought a one-way ticket home. He kept expecting to see Amy, standing there in her green cloth coat, looking at him in that numb way that always made him want to stop and ask what the hell was the matter. But he never saw her. She'd given him a few days to be alone with Davina, and now she was patiently waiting by her phone. Waiting for him to call and come over, and they could settle in to their pattern.
He dropped off the van, went back to the train station and got on board. Slowly, the train moved, got faster, picking up speed. All he could think of was Amy, and her rage, as she waited, all night, before she decided to call him at him to discover he wasn't there and he wasn't ever coming back. Maybe, just maybe, she might get it and find someone else. What ever happened afterwards would not be his godamn responsibility.
Davina was there at the platform in her usual place. The moment he saw her he knew he had made the right decision.
“Look at you! Someone might think you lost your dog the way you're looking about.. And you're pale and you've got these horrible circles under your eyes. You need a rest.”
“I can rest later, when I've got a job and starting a new life, my dear.”
“What's lit a fire under you?” she said. “I like the new Dennis, I do. I do.”
They went home and from that night he lived with her and she had no complaints. She always had had a wonderful apartment but now she talked of buying a condo to get into the market early. He heartily agreed with whatever she said. Two weeks later she'd borrowed enough money from her parents for a down payment and they began condo-shopping on the weekends. He began a part-time job in a music store and began thinking of getting into teaching, or going back to school for some Science credits so maybe, just maybe, he could apply to medical school. It was as if something had given him permission to want more, and he loved it.
But each day the ringing phone made him nervous. It was more likely she'd call at three in the morning. He checked the mail; he had trouble relaxing at their favorite restaurants becsue he half-expected Amy to walk in and start screaming at him. You made me feel beautiful and I'll never forgive you for that.
But she never came and gradually he began to relax. Once he could hear Davina answer the phone without desperately listening, and without wondering just how quickly he could get his shoes and coat, he knew he had it beat. He'd gotten away with it, which according to movies and countless episodes of Oprah, was not supposed to happen.
The weekend after he accepted his freedom, Davina insisted they make an offer on a fifth-floor condo in the east end. It was in a dodgy area, but it was large and the neighberhood was the setting for the Degrassi show, so that was a plus for them both. He made his first assertive move and insisted on lowballing, which nearly sent their realtor into crocodile tears. The condo was a converted factory loft, and Davina told him he was gambling with their future and didn't speak to him for a day. He was left wondering if he'd gotten away with it as he'd thought. Perhaps a belayed punishment was coming.
But the owners accepted their offer, and Davina jumped into his arms and they both went out to dinner that night. Later that night they didn't use protection; it was very obvious they did not use protection, but Davina did not talk about it at all the next day. She just stared at him happily, not speaking, and rather than feeling suspicious, he welcomed it.
Her parents heard about their “real-estate windfall,” as they put it, and invited them both over for dinner. When he arrived he noticed the old china out, as well as the bottles of wine in sentry position down the middle of the table, which had on its leaves for at least eight extra settings. The collapsible chairs had been brought up from the basement, and a small kids' table had been hastily made and placed in the hall with equally small chairs. This was a major family event, and Dennis had the feeling it was his and Davina's honour.
He fought the urge to run back out. He heard a storm of voices in the kitchen: Davina's father bellowing with laughter, and the sound of more older men laughing back. He put his shoes by a row of other shoes that stretched along the foyer, and walked into the kitchen. Davina had beaten him there and was talking with her brother and sister.
Her father saw him and immediately gave him a beer. He took it and began a count of how many he would drink, because he knew Davina's father would be counting. He took one sip and felt a headache start.
He looked for Davina, and then went upstairs to look for some aspirin in the bathroom. After he'd taken two, he went back downstairs, wishing the pills to work quickly.
“Hey there, stranger,” said her dad. Davina's dad was Irish, and he talked a lot but sometimes pressed a little too firmly on certain subjects. Now that Dennis's music was gone and he and Davina were all but married, her father was far more friendly and even hugged him in front of her uncles.
“Not workin too hard, are ye?” he said, his brogue thicker than usual.
“I'm hardly working; gimme another beer,” said Dennis, and the kitchen shook with laughter.
A director had once told him that in comedy, a good joke means you can leave a hero, so he left the kitchen abruptly and no one took offence. He went to the living room, where Davina was talking intensely with her sister. Her brother had commandeered the phone and was staring at anyone who came near, as if his conversations with whatever boy he was screwing were state secrets. Dennis sighed, and went back upstairs to see if anyone he knew was up there and willing to talk to him.
That was his reasoning, anyway. That was why he thought he went up there. But he liked the peace and quiet.
Half an hour later, during which he sat on Davina's childhood bed and leafed through old English assignments, he heard a tribal roar. Davina's whole family. He thought he heard her grandmother's deep and raspy voice down there too.
“Oh my goodness,” he heard a voice say. “You are? Really? He has to make an honest woman out of you.” This time the roar was of laughter.
He ran down to the living room to see Davina's father tearfully embracing her.
“You rascal,” her father said to Dennis. “You don't waste much time when you put your mind to something, do you? She said you were serious, and that's how it looks.” He choked back a tear. “My mother-in-law is here, but my mother is buried in Dublin, and how I wish she was here, so she could hear this news and know the family will continue. Thanks for adding a little brawn to this family, Dennis. I know you'll make a great dad, and I hope you'd do me the honor of...,” and here he paused and looked like he was about to run upstairs, “...becoming my son-in-law.”
The applause from the family was deafening, and Dennis barely had time to think. He was amazed that he had caused so much happiness because of something he hadn't known he'd done. Then Davina's father lurched forward and swept him up in an embrace surprisingly powerful for a small man, and Dennis was hugging him back. Some instinct made him smile and hold out his arm for Davina to join them, and her family applauded more. He never had said 'yes', but he supposed an answer wasn't required. They led him past the landing, past all the pictures of Davina and her siblings, and to the dinner table where a bottle of champagne sat in an ice-bucket. He reached for it, but Davina's father beat him to it and popped the cork to more applause. Dennis's hands were getting numb. He wasn't at all sure how Davina could possibly know she was pregnant so soon. As he drank a toast he told himself a great many things that just occurred to him, and he knew they must be true.
If you tell yourself you are happy, then you are happy. If you go to church, and consider yourself happy and blessed because you did what the robed man told you to do, then you will answer on a survey that you are happy in life, and the statistics will say happiness is general. If you commit to a honest life and renounce your past, then you will think yourself saved and you will be. The first step is belief.
Davina's family knew Dennis and Davina would be happy and they knew better than him. He ate through the mashed potatoes to the plate that had belonged to her grandmother's grandmother, and knew that for her family to evolve into something beautiful that had room for him they must have spent generations insisting on their own happiness. And maybe, just maybe, he could toss everything he hated about himself aside and just be one of them. That was why he was here, wasn't it?
The doorknocker clacked.
Only Dennis heard it. He looked at the table: all seats taken, and the children were seated at their minature table in the foyer. Her father had never looked out the window for latecomers; all guests were present and accounted for. The sound came again, and the voice of Davina's father rose above the clacking forks as he spoke around his food.
“Someone get the door and say we're not buying anything.”
Dennis rose before one of the uncles got the idea to answer the door. “I'll get it,” he said calmly.
“You tell whoever it is we're having an important family dinner. I can't believe these people sometimes.”
“Neither can I,” said Dennis. He felt no fear whatsoever.
He opened the door to a figure that stood just beyond the light. All he saw was the green coat and the dark sweep of hair that erased her neck and made her into a dark chess figurine.
He took a breath to say something, anything that might solve it and turn back time. He felt that he was a flimsy and unreliable barrier in front Davina's family as they ate turkey inside.
She stepped forward and her coat fell away. She was naked underneath, glistening and covered all in red. Her hair fell upon her shoulders like sticky fingers, and in her hand she held the two blades. He recognized one. Her eyes were rolled up in her head and all he could see were vast pools of white staring out of ruby field of her face. His mind sputtered like a vat of drowning fish as she held the blade out and moaned tunelessly. He backed away, all words gone as she advanced into the light of the house and Davina was standing up and rubbing her belly.
He shut the door and locked it with numb fingers. His lips tingled.
“Dennis,” said Davina. “What's the matter? Who's there?”
“I'm sorry,” Dennis heard himself say. “I'm so very sorry.”
“What's going on?” she said.
The rest of her family continued to eat and happily chat to one another.
“I think I have to go,” he said. “I don't think I can be here anymore.”
“What?” she said.
He stumbled past the table, not looking back. He knelt down and rammed his feet into his shoes. He could hear the droning buzz from the front porch grow deafening as Davina's father rose and craned his head to look out the window.
He walked throught the kitchen, past the stacks of dirty dishes her mother was trying to cram into the dishwasher, out the back door.
In the back yard he sank to his knees on the cool grass. A moment later he heard the voices inside rise in volume, and there came the deafening crack of glass and rent wood as the front door came down. He heard Davina's mother rush the children upstairs.
He tried to shut his ears to the noise but it was too loud. The screaming began and with it the clink of flying metal, and above everything he could hear Davina, screaming until her voice began to crack.
He lay down on the ground until the noise died down, until only moans and little pained hiccups were left, and upstairs Davina's nieces and nephews cried and wailed.
The curving crunch of broken glass in the kitchen, and then the soft pad of bare feet down the porch steps into the yard where he lay.
A toe poked him in the chest.
He opened his eyes and looked up into its seared and bloody face, at its mouth forced into a pinched red crescent. It dropped the two bent and dented blades before him and took him by the hand. A terrible strength drew him closer. Its breath was cold and spoilt.
“You made me do this,” it said. “You.” It spoke with an unbearable sorrow.
It let him go, stood upright, and walked out into the back lane.
He could hear sirens, growing ever louder.
When the police arrived, they found him in the back yard with the knives, slicing at his forearms and insisting that it had been his fault all along.