“What’s up, Doc?”
Wally stumbles through my doorway in his Bugs Bunny tee shirt, swinging a couple of six packs onto the table.
I pull out some weed, hit speed dial for pizza, and drop into my sagging couch for a classic “Boys’ Night In”. Susannah is the love of my life, but it’s sure easier hanging with Wally. A few swigs and tokes, and we’re off.
“Shit, man,” I exhale, eyeing his shirt, “life sure would be easier as a cartoon character.” I pass him the joint. “I could walk off a cliff and land, splat on the ground. No ER visit for me. I’d just see stars and poof!–magically reinflate.”
Wally jumps to his feet. “Cartoon Law of Phythics… number One,” he announces in spit-spraying Daffy Duck speak. “Any body thuthpended in thpayth will remain in thpayth until made aware of its thituathion.”
I should have known better than to share this with Susannah. Especially on one of the few occasions that she agreed to stay at my place. Back when she lived in the dorm, my place was cool. Since she graduated, she always wants to stay at her apartment, with its dinnerware service for six and Pottery Barn furniture.
I probably spend more time there than she does. Every weekday she tugs on pantyhose, squeezes her feet into pumps, and goes to work at a law firm. I stay cozy in a bed that’s part of a “Bedroom Collection”. At first I felt like I was playing house, but I got used to it. Pretty soon, I was singing “Yankee Lady” in her shower and drying myself with her fluffy matching towels, before heading down to the coffee shop. I always leave her a note with a little drawing to make her smile when she gets home.
I fell for Susannah the first time I saw her at college, wearing a long black velvet dress and purple hightops. Other than that, school sucked. It was like a foreign country, where everyone but me knew the language. My advisor suggested I take a year off; we both knew I’d never return.
I get enough odd jobs fixing people’s cars and boats to afford my attic apartment in a rickety hilltop tenement. The shower and refrigerator are in the corridor, and the ceiling in the bathroom slants so low I can’t stand up straight to take a whiz. But the bedroom–and I use the word loosely since my “bed” is a mattress on the floor–has three huge windows overlooking the slate roofs of half the houses in Brattleboro. When the afternoon light streams in, I feel like I’m sailing on a cloud.
The night Susannah agreed to stay over, we went out to eat. I picked her up in my customized 1968 Karmann Ghia. She picked up the tab. She had a few beers and was looking all sweet and soft and laughing at all my jokes. There was none of that firmness I’d started to notice settling in her mouth. No hint of disappointment hovering around her eyes. On the way home, she leaned over the gearshift and nibbled my ear, then got really sexy at the red light.
We climbed the three flights of stairs and she made a beeline to go pee. I was glad that I’d cleaned the bathroom and even put the toilet paper roll in the holder the way she liked it, not just sitting on the side of the sink. Of course, I’d tossed out the beer cans and desiccated pizza slices and any remains from Wally’s visit. She still hasn’t forgiven him for spiriting me away on a road trip a few months back. I’d had no time to tell her I was leaving, and then kind of spaced out on calling her for a few days. No need to remind her of that.
Sex was good. Really good. The kind that leaves you limp with love and slipping into slumberland. To keep myself from falling asleep, I started to talk. That’s when I made my mistake.
“I mean, think about it,” I said, softly stroking her hair. “If you were a cartoon character and didn’t have to worry about money or death. If you could squeeze a piece of coal into a diamond. Why did Superman even bother with the whole Clark Kent gig when all he needed was a few lumps of coal in his pocket?”
I felt her body stiffen, and she rolled off me, evicting my poor pecker into the cold world.
“Speaking of money…”
Why did I have to go and ruin it?
“…there’s an opening at my office for an assistant. Full-time with benefits.”
Even in the faint light I could see her fight to keep her face from tightening into that schoolmarm pose she always wore when Wally came around.
“Suzie, you know I’m no good at office work.” I thought about the men she works with every day. Men with wingtips and briefcases.
“It’s not as bad as you think. Mostly driving around town.” She sighed. “Just think about it.” She pushed herself up out of bed and walked naked out of the room.
I heard her in the bathroom. After the toilet flushed, the cabinet opened. I was sure she was searching for signs of maturity–looking to see if I had spare toilet paper, or clean towels folded and put away. Looking in the medicine chest. What for? Expired medicine? First aid supplies?
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember is opening the window and helping Susannah onto my magic carpet. She’s wearing a long black velvet dress and purple high tops. I’m barefoot and bare-chested, with a purple vest, pouffy pants, and a magic lantern in my lap. The inky sky sparkles with stars. Susannah leans against me and we fly over the slate roofs, singing. Just to be safe, I don’t look down.
Sarah Silvers is a pathetic old hippie who wishes she still lived in California or at least Vermont.