bertrand-courtRIPE

Phil Scott, January 20, 2005

 

I’m hungry. But that’s not why I’m standing in front of the McDonald’s on Columbia Road at 4:37 on a freezing cold Tuesday afternoon. I’m waiting for Amy Solonsky.

A week ago, I watched her fall on her heart-shaped ass trying to get off the #42. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, but I recognized her hair — miles of black curls — and her glasses with the tiny purple rectangular frames. Graphic artists sport hip eyewear as a rule.

I was standing across the street, so I couldn’t help her up. She put her hand on her swollen belly right away and smiled with her eyes closed, as if she’d just heard some good news. She didn’t notice me until she brushed off the tumble and was about to cross the street. I let her decide whether or not to come to me, and I was so glad that she did. “Phil,” she said, and hearing my name coming out of her mouth moved me. Ever since I saw her, I’ve wanted something, but I don’t know what it is, as if I’m kicking back on my couch after a grueling shoot, my bones aching, an ice cold beer in one hand, remote in the other, clicking and clicking, searching for a ball game, an old movie, a Law and Order rerun, anything that will unlatch me from myself.

It’s 4:44. The bus is late. No surprise, it’s D.C. I never had to wait for Amy before. She would always find me after one of her breakups, until she married a widower with an architecture firm in the ’burbs. Leroy or Leonard or something. She met him on the plane going to her father’s funeral. I know this because my soundman Eric is Amy’s brother.

At 4:48, a noticeably larger Amy treads carefully down the steps of the #42. Her coat won’t button over her belly. She spots me and gives me her little amused smile as she waits for the Do Not Walk sign to turn.

When she’s almost across the street, I say, “You need some company.” I don’t even know where she’s going.

“And that would be you?” She adjusts her glasses.

“Why not?”

“I can think of a few reasons.” She laughs.

We start walking down Columbia Road together like we’ve been in step our whole lives. She tells me that carrying the baby has given her sciatica, so she’s been going to a prenatal acupuncturist on Belmont Road. She’s a little short of breath, the way my sisters were when they were pregnant.

I follow her into an old brownstone, where she accepts a Dixie cup of peppermint tea from a receptionist with three diamond studs in her nose. The nurse calls her right away. Before she disappears through a door marked Patients Only, she turns around and smirks at me, and we swallow a laugh at the absurdity of us together right now, as if we’re the only two people at a dinner party who just heard the hostess fart. The receptionist smiles at me, no doubt assuming I’m Amy’s husband. I suppose I look like I might be somebody’s husband; I’m a thirty-five-year-old guy with thinning hair and a niece soon to graduate from high school.

I read an article about the lies mothers tell their children in Brain Child: The Thinking Mother’s Magazine and listen to my stomach howl, which reminds me of the long, hungry stake-outs I endured when I was cutting my teeth shooting local news. Thank God those days are over.

An hour later, Amy emerges. Her hair is messy and her eyes are glassy, like she’s just had some killer weed or gotten her brains fucked out. Amy loves to fuck. She walks toward me, her belly sticking out of a red jersey with black buttons, each one a different shape. Her tits are swollen up to twice their normal size.

“Look, Phil,” she says, “I can move again.” She raises her hands over her head and wiggles her hips. “I could even merengue if I wanted to.”

The receptionist winks at her. “Let’s not get too carried away, Britney Spears.”

Amy slings her coat over her arm, and we walk out into the cold.

“Aren’t you freezing?” I ask, my breath coming out of my mouth like smoke.

She shakes her head no. I don’t want to kill her buzz, so I just follow her to the Spaghetti Garden.

She nods her head toward the restaurant. “I forgot my wallet.”

I reply by opening the door for her. She leads me to a small table at the back.

“You’re supposed to drink lots of water,” I instruct her. I’d only heard the receptionist say this about nine times. “And speaking of which, I’ll be back in a second.”

“I’ll order an appetizer,” Amy says.

I piss, thinking about what we might talk about when I return to the table. We could reminisce about the day we met, at Eric’s son’s bris, and how we were so freaked out by the ceremony that afterwards we split a pitcher of sangria at El Tamarindo, and how easy it was to fall into bed six months later when we ran into each other shooting pool at Chief Ike’s. We could gossip about Eric and Maggie or producers we hate. We could lament the fucked-up war in Iraq. We’ll talk of none of these things, I predict.

Amy’s putting her cell phone back into her purse when I approach the table. I don’t ask who was on the phone, and she doesn’t tell me. A few minutes later, the waiter brings her a steaming plate of fried calamari, and she digs in. I take a bite of garlic bread. The butter is still cold, but I’m so hungry that I wolf down three slabs anyway.

Amy and I eat in perfect time. Bite. Chew. Gulp. She’s licking her fingers when our skinny, androgynous waiter, who must live in Adams Morgan because I recognize him from Tryst, comes to take our dinner order.

“That was fantastic. I’d like a bowl of pasta puttanesca and a ginger ale,” she says. “Oh, and some more bread please.”

He raises a pierced eyebrow.

I’m full but not satisfied, so I order a bowl of pasta. It’s tastier than the garlic bread, but now I’m too stuffed to eat much of it. Amy and I never had much to say to one another when we weren’t shooting pool or in bed, so we eat in near silence like an old married couple. I pay the bill.

 

Amy’s nose is red from the cold, but she still doesn’t put on her coat. She pops a mint into her mouth. I’m dying for a cigarette, but out of respect for Amy’s condition, I hold off.

“I really want an ice cream cone, but that would be obscene.” She laughs. I laugh at her laugh, which sounds like Horshack’s in those Welcome Back, Kotter reruns I watch when I can’t sleep. Not what you’d expect from someone so cool, and it’s not just the eyewear. She’s Amy, and she apologizes for nothing, not her ass, which some women might find too big, and not her eyes, which are a little too close together. Somehow you put it all together — the hair, the smile, the spunk — and it works.

I take her elbow and guide her into Ben and Jerry’s. It’s the first time we’ve touched since I saw her. A charge runs through my fingers, but not a horny charge. Strange. I watch her polish off a strawberry ice cream waffle cone with gusto.

“I miss my old ’hood,” she admits wistfully. “I feel so free here.” She takes a big breath and then sticks her hands on her belly, which ripples slightly under her shirt. I don’t ask to feel the baby kick even though I want to.

 

It doesn’t seem that strange to follow her down the steps to my basement apartment. I catch her scent, kind of citrusy, different from what she used to smell like. Usually when I’m bringing a woman home, I’m mapping out the night — do I have wine? pot? rubbers? Now I’m only thinking that I’m not thinking about that at all.

“Where’s Mandu?” Amy asks.

I don’t want to go there. I flew up to Ontario once to enjoy the foliage with a co-ed I’d met while shooting a marketing tape for a summer camp. When I came home, Georgia, the cat sitter and a woman I’d been seeing, told me she’d left a window open by accident.

“Gone,” I say. I try not to think about how much I miss that cat.

She looks at me with sympathy, plops down on my couch, and sticks her feet on my coffee table while I rifle through my CDs. She giggles. “No Joni tonight.”

“Was it that obvious?” I’ve always thought I should write Joni Mitchell a big thank-you note for getting me laid so often. For some reason, the kind of chick who digs Joni Mitchell digs me.

“Sort of,” she replies in a “No shit, Sherlock” tone.

“What do you want to hear?”

“The street. I want to hear sirens and drunken laughter and Spanish.” She brushes her hair off her face. “My neighborhood is so quiet it’s creepy.”

I open my window a crack, and lo and behold a police car rages by. “For you.” I nod toward the street.

She points to a photo I took of a scruffy little boy holding a balloon. “You shooting stills these days?”

I like that she doesn’t ask if I’m shooting weddings. People in the film biz are so fucking snobby about that. I started doing weddings for the extra cash, to help my oldest sister out of a bad marriage, but now I do it because I love shooting by myself, without any producer getting in my shit.

I pull out a stack of photos I shot a few weeks ago. Amy examines an image of the loneliest-looking woman I’ve ever seen: a barefoot waif wearing pearls and a bad bridesmaid’s dress, looping her sandal straps around her pinkie, smiling at the bride who’s wiping frosting from the groom’s mustache.

“You’re a savant, you know that? I can feel the woman’s hollowness.”

Amy’s a good graphic artist, and I respect her eye. “Yeah, call me Rain Man.” I try not to smile too hard.

She points to the thin woman in pearls. “Naked emotion.”

“I smoked a clove with her after I shot that photo. She had this way of looking at you, aloof, yet like you could be the answer to her next prayer.”

“What was her name?”

“Molly Flanders,” I say wistfully.

“Send Molly Flanders this photo.” Amy taps the picture with her fingers, so swollen that little folds of flesh bulge around her wedding ring, a thick silver band. She’s not the type to sport the big rock.

And then what? I can’t see fucking someone I’ve shot like that; it would be like mixing files. No. Definitely no. I don’t reply.

“Really, Phil, send it.”

Amy gets up and walks toward my bedroom, saying over her shoulder, “Come on, take my picture.” I grab my camera bag and follow her. I’ll go natural with this, just the moon and the street light.

She sits on my bed with her elbows resting on her knees and her face in her hands, and looks up at me unsmiling. After I snap the first picture, I’m home again. I anticipate what she’s going to do, and I’m there before she does it. It’s as natural to me as breathing or shitting.

I’m not surprised when she takes off her blouse and unhooks her bra. Blue veins zigzag up and down her breasts, which are so ripe I want to squeeze them as I would a grapefruit at the market. Her nipples look larger and browner than I remember, and her belly is round and taut. She slips out of her skirt and pulls off these black tights that come up to her knees. Her pink panties have lost their elasticity, and she tugs them down over her ass. I’d forgotten how beautiful she is.

She turns her back to me, raises her hands over her head, and moves her hips the way she did in the doctor’s office. I shoot her from the side, hands on belly, head back, hair swimming down her spine. I shoot her front on, staring down my lens. I shoot and shoot until I run out of film.

When I finish, we collapse on my bed, spent. I lie as still as I ever have and listen to her breathe. She moves, accidentally grazing my bicep with her breast. I don’t budge; I want us to stay precisely as we are. She sits up and dresses and kisses me on the cheek. We’re done.

 

Outside, as I hail her a cab, she leans over to me so close that I can smell strawberry ice cream and calamari on her breath. I think she’s going to kiss me again, but instead she says, “Do you have any cash?” I give her my last bill, a fifty, more than enough to return her to the ’burbs.

The wind tears through my jacket right to my bones. I finally light up that clove, drawing the sweet smoke into my body, and watch Amy’s cab until it rounds the corner. Across the street, a bottle breaks and a young woman laughs. If I listen hard, I can hear a siren off in the distance. I wonder if Amy hears it too.

______________________

michellecroppedMICHELLE BRAFMAN is the author of Bertrand Court and Washing the Dead. Her work has also appeared in Lilith Magazine, the minnesota review, The Washington Post, Tablet, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, and the new anthology Crush. She teaches fiction writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program.

From Bertrand Court by Michelle Brafman, published by Prospect Park Books.

 

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