Daylight pries at my eyes. In a heartbeat, my focus shifts from a pleasant dream, instantly forgotten, to the red-pink glow that the sun sets off under my eyelids from behind the closed shades. I am aware of morning, of a bed sheet draped in bunches over me, of the warmth of late May – and of another warmth. A soft, warm weight on my right arm. The weight shifts, expands as she breathes in – she breathes in – and it all rushes back, like that fleeting dream, reassembled and re-crystallized into reality.
I hold my eyes closed to take stock. Yes. She’s here. A girl – a woman, my woman, my… Colleen! Colleen who kissed me last night, Colleen who came home with me, Colleen who – Colleen Harper. Colleen Harper. Colleen Cohen – no, don’t. Colleen Harper.
I breathe deep. Perfume – jasmine? Lavender? How should I know? Perfume is woman, woman near to me; that’s all that matters. Woman near to me, her naked skin lying across my arm. Perfume and – oh, cigarettes. She smoked last night. Just one, outside the club before I snagged the cab. Oh, well. One in one night. Not such a tough habit to break. She can do it.
Eyes still closed, savoring one last moment in the pure ether of feeling, I turn my head toward her. Her. Woman near to me. Colleen Harper, her naked skin lying across my arm. The daylight hits my lids head-on, the smells of perfume and a single cigarette burst again in my nostrils, her breath comes out in a light sigh – her voice, oh yes, sweet and reedy and high – and here comes the will to open my eyes.
A buzz of electricity has been coursing between my solar plexus and my groin since I woke up. Now it doubles in voltage.”
Hair, dirty blonde, light streaks over ash, cascading in scattered sheaves across the white pillow. Jutting out from beneath them, a bare-naked shoulder, light pink, with a tiny mole at its peak. The rest of her body covered by my same bed sheet, the sheet bunched as it is over me, but not so bunched up that you can’t trace her curves: the downward slope from her torso to her waist, the abrupt rise to her hip and the accompanying bulge of her behind, below those a shallow tapering of her thighs, then her calves, and finally the very bottom of her, where her toes peek out from under the sheet.
Colleen Harper takes in another slow, deep breath. My arm begins to ache – not so much from her lying on it (she’s a tiny girl, my Colleen, and light as a rag doll), but from being pinned in the same place for so long. I leave it, though, savoring the dull pain of being pinned under warm, soft, naked female skin. She stirs – she – lifts an inch off her pillow. I slide my arm out from under her. She rolls toward me, onto her back. Her left arm falls to her side, pulling the top of the sheet down so that her left breast, her bare-naked left breast, is exposed.
A buzz of electricity has been coursing between my solar plexus and my groin since I woke up. Now it doubles in voltage. Her breast. Boob, tit – no, breast. I touched that, grabbed it, kissed it last night. The other one, too – the one still pinned under the sheet. The weight of her right arm pulls that patch of sheet taut, so that the circle of her nipple is embossed on the fabric, and I think, yes, I touched that one, too. She lies still, on her back, her boobies titties breasts rising and falling with her breathing. Gravity presses them against her ribcage. A memory flashes in my mind: last night, her bra falling away, my first reaction, just the instant half-thought that oh, they’re a bit smaller than I’d thought, but no, no, they are beautiful even flattened down they are gorgeous big beautiful breasts. Each time the word forms in my brain, I feel a twitch of growth down below.
She lifts up her arm, stretches, starts to wriggle. She’s waking up. We’re waking up together, we slept together, and now we’re waking up together. Twenty-three – a little old, maybe, to be so in awe of having slept with spent the night with a girl, a woman. Uncle Dave’s words: “Still a loner? Pumping your own gas? Lemme take you to a place I know downtown, in the city. My treat.” They play in my ears. Another thrill – I’ll never have to make another excuse, never have to find something to be caught up with when it would sound too corny just to say, “Sorry, Uncle Dave, I want to make it count.” Don’t have to think about that. Can’t. No time. She’s waking up.
Before opening her eyes, she clamps them tighter, maybe trying to ward off the sunlight for a few more seconds of sleep. Maybe I should coax her out of herself. I could throw myself on top of her, let her open her eyes to her lover her lover making love making love to her. Maybe caress her breast kiss her naked breast and let her find her bearings and warm to the idea. Her face twitches for an instant into a scowl. My confidence sags. I have to do something, though. She’ll open her eyes any second, and I’ll lose my chance. I lean in close, hover over her breast, then lose my nerve. Opting for the safe route, I move up the bed and plant my lips against hers. My eyes shut.
Lips. Dry and rough, dead-limp at first but soft, warm and full just the same. Lips and cigarettes and jasmine-or-lavender perfume. And after a nerve-racking heartbeat they come to life and kiss me back. She is kissing me back. They go dead again, though, another second later, before I can work my tongue into the act. I open my eyes. Hers are bulging at me, big and green, ringed with a dark liner that’s smudged against her lids. Huge green eyes, looking deer-in-headlights startled, so that when she gently draws away I let our moment end.
She smiles at me. Little explosions set off in my heart, my gut, my groin. I want to lunge at her and kiss her again. But her smile dies as her eyes dart around the room. Her hand tugs absently at the edge of the bed sheet, then pulls it slowly up to cover her breast.
I prop myself up on my elbow, waiting for her eyes to come back to me. After a few seconds, I find myself pulling up into a sitting position, several inches farther from her. My legs slide out a bit from under the sheet. I can feel the air of the room hit my genitals, but I make no move to cover them. If I do, the sheet might pull away from her chest before she’s ready, and besides, I shouldn’t feel inhibited. I have nothing to hide.
A few beats go by. Her eyes stay on my face. I follow her lead; I will not look at her body until she looks at mine. Eventually she turns her head and peers over the edge of the bed. She breaks into an awkward giggle. That giggle.”
Her eyes come to rest on me again. The alarm goes out of them. “Good morning Colleen!” I blurt. I want to kiss her again, to touch her, touch her body. I stay sitting, though, and wait for some sign that my timing is right.
She clears her throat. “Morning.” Her voice is flinty with the sediment of several hours’ sleep, but under the crud I can still hear the reedy sweetness. She puts a finger to her chin. “Uh,” she says. Oh, geez.
“Josh,” I offer, in case she needs it.
Apparently she does. “Josh.” She crosses her eyes for a second. How sweet. She crosses her eyes.
A few beats go by. Her eyes stay on my face. I follow her lead; I will not look at her body until she looks at mine. Eventually she turns her head and peers over the edge of the bed. She breaks into an awkward giggle. That giggle. Last night. I came. She giggled. No meanness, no cruelty. Just that little, muted laugh. “Whew,” she says, pointing at the floor. “My dress.” She puts a hand to her temple. “I guess I had quite a bit last night.”
At this I laugh – not too heartily, just enough to let her know I don’t judge her for overindulging. When her face relaxes a little, I lose myself for a moment and lean in to kiss her again. An inch from her lips, I catch myself, but it’s too late to abort, so after a second-long pause I dive ahead. Her lips are slightly puckered to receive mine. On contact I feel a pulse down below. Lips, still dry but tensed against mine. A gorgeous woman’s lips on mine.
They relax a moment later. I let her break contact. Does she see me, in that second, standing at attention above the upper reach of the bed sheet? You’d think she’d steal a glance – she shouldn’t feel funny about looking, after what we’ve shared. What we’ve shared. But she must. Poor, timid girl. Her hand stays clamped around the sheet, which she holds steadfastly to her chest. I sense a strange stalemate.
An idea hits me. “Tell you what. Lemme give you my bathrobe.” I jump out of the bed and stride naked to the bathroom door. As I do I wonder, is she looking at me? I hold my head a bit higher. Nothing to hide. I have nothing to hide. “It may be a bit big.” I grab the white terrycloth robe from the hook on the other side of the door. “But it oughta suit you for breakfast.” I bring it back to the bed, hold it out to her. “Wouldn’t want you to get egg yolk down your dress.”
She looks intently at my face. She has a clear view of me, my whole body, but she stares stubbornly at my face. A second stretches, expands into a moment, the moment expands, gains weight. My arm starts to ache from holding out the robe. Her hand stays on the sheet. I’m about to lay the robe on the bed beside her when she breaks our stare and glances at the floor again. “No. Josh. It’s okay.” Her voice is already smoothing itself out, regaining its pure sweetness. “You can wear it.” Such a shy, polite girl!
She starts to sit up. The sheet follows her closely. Her eyes start darting around the room again. “What time is it?”
With my free hand I grab my watch off the bedside table. “It’s nine-oh-six.” I give her my best impish grin. “Guess we haven’t slept all that long.” The robe still hovers over the bed. It feels like a cement block. I set it down within easy reach of her.
“Oh, I just remembered.” She turns, drops her feet to the floor. Her full bare back faces me, a lovely peach expanse of skin that disappears, just below her waist, behind the rumpled sheet. A new burst of maybe-lavender, maybe-jasmine, tainted with the cigarette, wafts to my nostrils. “I have to be at work today.”
“On a Sunday?”
She bends over, lets go of the sheet. Both arms reach down to the floor. She sits back, still angled away from me, and pulls up her panties. She lifts off the bed, for a millisecond showing her rear end her naked ass her beautiful bare-naked ass before it vanishes behind black lace. “I work at the Beatbox Superstore. They’re, like, never closed.” Funny. I thought they went under last year. Maybe not.
She bends over again, returning to sitting with her bra in hand. Slinky lace thing, frilly-rimmed cups. On it goes. She reaches back, closes the hook. Tiny hands behind her back, deftly clasping black lace to peach skin. Another rush. Still she doesn’t turn. She reaches out, tugs the shade away from the small bedroom window, looks outside. “What street is this?”
She gives me an impressed glance. Suddenly I wish it were the Bowery. Now she spots Uncle Dave’s painting, the one at the foot of the bed. Red flowers, green stems, yellow vase, blue background, gold frame. It’s repulsive. Crazy Uncle Dave. I ought to explain. “It’s my uncle’s apartment.”
“He’s away on business. Four months. He doesn’t trust his landlord, so I’m sorta guarding the place.”
Her dress is over her head, the skirt part billowing, fluttering down to rest at her waist. Her arms stretch up into the top half and pull it down over her upper body. “Where do you normally live?”
Great Neck. “Brooklyn.” With my parents. “In a building full of college students.” Geez, why the hell did I just tell her that? How am I going to explain that lie before Uncle Dave comes back? “It’s good to get out.” Mom nagging me to do the dishes, Dad on my back about the job search. “Loud parties, late at night, you know?” Oh God, shut up, Josh.
She smiles. Lovely, straight white teeth. “I was wondering.” She points at the room’s other eyesore, Uncle Dave’s prized photo. The man himself, powder-blue polo shirt, beer glass raised at the camera. Arm around a red-swimsuited Pamela Anderson. Smiling. Crooked, yellow teeth. His fingers curled around Pam’s breast. I meant to take it down. Meant to. Shit.
“That’s a cardboard cut-out,” I feel compelled to explain.
“I assumed.” Her arched eyebrow seems to plant the sin on Uncle Dave. Still, one glance back at me, and I can feel my cheeks go crimson. Her eyes shoot down for an instant at her own chest. I feel a pang of queasiness.
She stands up. There, for a tantalizing second, stand her bare thighs before she shifts her skirt down to cover them. “I need to freshen up,” she says.
“Sure! Bathroom’s right here!” I step across to the door and push it open. I realize at this second that I need to go, urgently. I push the thought as far back in my mind as my bulging bladder will allow. “Tell you what. You take your time. I’ll get cracking on the eggs.” Oh, geez, get cracking?
She glides past me into the doorway, running her fingers through her hair. “Oh, don’t worry about making me anything. I have to hurry to get to work on time.” I hear her, but instantly the words float away from my memory. That scent. Jasmine-or-lavender-plus-one-cigarette, and… something else. What is it? Not on her breath. Not her sweat. Not foul, no, almost sweet. A pleasant smell, but what? “You can make your own. I wish I could stay.” And look. She doesn’t even come up to my shoulders. I could sweep her right off her feet without much effort. I battle the urge to try it this very second.
She passes through the doorway. Cute little dirty-blonde girl, dolled up, in that sexy – sexy – black dress. And me. Still naked, and I can taste last night’s sleep in the back of my throat. I bolt over to the foot of the bed and jump into my briefs. Geez, briefs. I may as well be sporting my old Buzz Lightyear Underoos. I pull on my jeans in the next motion. Shirt? No shirt. It’s warm in here, and besides, I probably look better shirtless than clad in last night’s outfit.
Now let’s see if I can’t whip something up for her. I have a minute or two, right? She’ll appreciate it. I bolt out the bedroom doorway, through the living room, into the tiny kitchenette, and throw open the fridge.
Let’s see. Eggs. Can’t boil ’em. Takes too long. Fried? So boring. I’m wasting time, though. Just do it. I dive into the cupboard and throw the small frying pan onto the range. Ten seconds later, a shrinking cube of butter is skating across its surface. Through the wall the toilet flushes. My bladder reasserts itself. Trying to dispel the feeling as I crack an egg on the side of the pan, I turn the act into a little jig. Now what? The bathroom door clicks open. Toast! Buttered toast! And maybe Uncle Dave has some jam stashed in the fridge.
The floorboards creak in the living room. No chance this’ll be done now. She passes the doorway, doesn’t look in, heads for the front door. For a second I panic. She’s leaving? She’s leaving! But no, the front door never opens. She reappears a moment later, pauses in the doorway, holding her handbag. Her hair is still disheveled. Last night’s makeup is mostly erased from her face. She glances at the egg turning white in the pan, then at the limp slice of bread dangling from my hand. Her only communication is an awkward smile before toting her handbag back toward the bedroom. Makeup! In her bag, I’ll bet! And it’ll take her some time to do up her face. More time to get this ready. Now, where could that jam be?
Colleen Harper. A lovely name. Mom’ll like it. They’ll like her, Mom and Dad both. But you’ve got to be good to her if you want to get to that point.
And the first step is to get her this breakfast. Toast is in, egg’s bubbling nicely. My mouth is watering. And now? A plate! Up in the cupboard. My abdomen presses against the edge of the counter as I reach up. That little nudge redoubles the pressure in my bladder. I set a plate on the counter and pause to reorient my brain from my body’s plea to the task at hand. A knife! A fork! To the cutlery drawer!
Geez, Uncle Dave, did you ever have two utensils that matched? A knife with a black handle, a fork that may be real silver, another black with tarnish, a plastic spoon. Where the heck did he get these? Did he steal them, one by one, from restaurants? All right, here we are: a knife and fork, both plain metal, almost matching in size.
In the wall ahead of me, the water pipe starts to flow. I have to clench to keep my bladder sealed. All right, Josh. Focus. In the still-open drawer, a spatula. I grab it and swing around to the stove. As I slide it under the egg, the toast pops up. In the wall, the water pipe shuts off. Hold up, Colleen! Egg goes on plate, here’s the toast, and on goes the butter. Not too much, now. Shit – the jam!
I throw the fridge open and plunge my hand into the middle shelf. As if God has willed it to be so, my fingers curl around cold glass. I pull out the object – hah! Smucker’s! Expiration date? May. Whew! Cutting it close! I cut the toast in two, then slather the jam on one half.
I’m arranging the plate when the bathroom door clicks. Shit. A napkin! No napkins! God, Uncle Dave! She’s gonna think I’m a damn low-life. To hell with it. I yank a paper towel from the roll by the microwave and grab the plate off the counter. I’m through the doorway, round the corner and leaping across the living room floor to deposit Colleen Harper’s surprise breakfast on the coffee table when she appears in the bedroom doorway. Her hair is tamed around her head, her face brightened, I assume by some rouge or foundation that I can’t quite see. That’s all I take in, though, because from my first glance at pretty little Colleen Harper, I remember a glaring omission: orange juice!
With a winning smile, I hold both hands out in a ‘ta-da!’ motion at my gift. It’s all I have time to do; if I want this to be just right, she needs orange juice. I fly out the doorway, back around the corner to the kitchenette and into the fridge. She’s probably sitting down right now, digging in. She’ll want the O.J. in a moment. Here’s the carton, and up here in the cupboard is a glass. I’d do coffee, but she has no time. This’ll have to do. I will gravity to pull the juice into the glass faster as I pour.
As I close the cupboard, there’s a click. The front door lock! Uncle Dave? Can’t be. A dollop of O.J. splashes over the rim of the glass, so hard do I yank the thing from the counter on my way out into the hallway.
Her hand is on the knob. She’s turned, and seems to be looking for me when I burst through the doorway, but her shoes are on, and her handbag hangs from her shoulder. There can be no doubt as to what she’s doing. “Thanks for last night,” she says.
I sputter a bit. “But –you…” In desperation I laugh. She looks confused again, and doesn’t join in, but the act buys me a few seconds to compose myself, to find the cool articulation that earned me Colleen Harper in the first place. I peer down the hall into the living room. A thin jet of steam is rising out of the intact egg yolk. I wave an O.J.-drenched hand at it. “Thank me for breakfast.” Though I have no idea when her shift starts, I add, “You’ve got time,” to make sure the quip comes off as hopeful rather than bitter.
Now she does laugh, a little nervously to my ears. “Oh, that was for me.” I nod. “Well, that’s nice, but,” she shakes her head, “I really have to go now. I live in Astoria. My work clothes are there.” She waves her hand in the air, in what I take to be a casual flourish. “I can grab something at the corner deli over there.” She turns the knob. “You have it.”
“No!” I catch my voice rising, swallow hard and rein it in. “No. You’ve got a minute, I’m sure.”
She lets the knob rotate back closed. Her eyes get to darting again. This hallway. This stupid front hallway. The Swiss cuckoo clock. The long, framed print, an abstract wash of pinks and beiges, which may or may not represent a nude female figure. The smaller, gilt-framed print beside it, which most certainly does represent dogs playing pool. At this very moment I want to murder Uncle Dave. A few seconds elapse. I stand still, able only to implore her with my eyes, dumbly clutching the orange juice.
The orange juice! I thrust it out at her. “At least have something to drink.”
The act leaves her looking a little stunned. “Thanks,” she says, in a tone that rings like a question. She takes half the glass in one swig, holding some of the liquid in her mouth. She’s probably trying to swish it around a bit, without being obvious about it, to wash away the overnight funk. She hands the glass, still half-full, back to me. “Thank you,” she reiterates. Her hand tightens around the doorknob.
A panicked thought enters my mind, leaving my lips at the same instant. “Hey! You forgot to give me your number!”
She allows a pause, maybe half a second, torturing me with that deer-in-headlights stare before exclaiming, “Oh! Right! My number. It’s, uh…” She breaks her stare, glancing at the ceiling and biting her lip. “Oh, my!” And she laughs at something. “It’s, uh, my cell-phone, you know? I never memorized it.” She looks at me again, her face full of hope. “But you gave me your number, right?”
“Yeah, I just…” A familiar unease creeps into my gut. Last night. Last night I came I came inside of her and she laughed. That discomfort, it lasted for a heartbeat. I forgot it an instant later when on impulse I kissed her and she let me. I remember it now. “I thought I might call you later, or…” She’s frozen, looking benignly but blankly back at me, and the feeling surges – a sickly feeling that I’m asking for a favor.
No! It’s not like that! Colleen Harper gave herself to me, surrendered herself. Surely I mean something to her. If she says she doesn’t know her cell number, and if she’s going to stand there staring, it means she really doesn’t know her cell number, and she’s not sure what to do.
And even as I start to latch onto that idea, she confirms it. “Oh! Here! I’ll give you another number.” She fishes into her bag and pulls out a brown leather wallet. After rifling through some business cards tucked into it, she lights up. “You want to take this down?”
I whip my cell-phone out of my pocket. “Shoot.” Funny. She put my number into her cell last night.
She could just look up her own number on the phone itself.
Or if she doesn’t know how to do that, she could just call my cell number, and hers would pop up on my screen.
Well, we’re doing things this way now. “Got it.” I look up from the keypad. Her hand is slowly turning the knob. “Is this your–”
“Home,” she blurts. “Home number.” She looks up as she stashes her wallet back in the bag. “New landline,” she adds, a hint of apology in her voice.
“All right.” A vague heat creeps up the back of my neck. “I’ll call you later.” I don’t bother to ask when her shift ends.
“Great!” She’s suddenly perky, smiling from ear to ear. The doorknob squeaks a little as she turns it the rest of the way. The door squeaks more as she pulls it open. “Sorry I couldn’t stay for your eggs.”
“That’s all right.” The heat spreads to my face, while a ball of sick tension grows between my shoulder blades. “There’ll be other breakfasts.” Geez, how pathetic. Even as she backs toward me to get the door open all the way, her words of just a minute ago reverberate in my skull. Astoria. I live in Astoria.
She’s not entirely gone. Around me hangs her tantalizing scent, lavender-or-jasmine-plus-one-cigarette. Plus that almost-sweet something I couldn’t place.”
She turns, the doorknob still in her hand. “Well,” she says. “See ya.” Astoria. Queens.
“Yeah.” She’s waiting for something. “See ya.” A kiss? I lean close, plant my lips on hers. It feels like going to kiss Aunt Sylvia’s cheek, missing, hitting her mouth.
Queens. Why are you letting me kiss you? Why, when you live in Queens? Not Manhattan, not two-one-two. Queens.
She swings the door all the way open. In its breeze her perfume floods my senses again. And with a final smile she glides out into the hall. Colleen Harper, her sweet high reedy voice, her dirty-blonde hair, the mole on her shoulder, her dry full lips and huge green eyes, her gorgeous breasts and lovely ass, they all sweep across the hall to the stairs. Colleen Harper takes her sexy black dress, her black lace panties and frilly bra, takes them right down the stairs and out of sight.
She’s not entirely gone, though. Around me hangs her tantalizing scent, lavender-or-jasmine-plus-one-cigarette. Plus that almost-sweet something I couldn’t place. It follows me to the living room, and even though I want to bat it away from my nose, its mystery is too powerful. Even as I pull my cell phone out of my pocket again, I take a breath and it reignites something in my brain. My inner gears turn as I dial up the number she just gave me. I can’t stop them. Two-one-two. That scent. Three-two-seven. Trying so hard to hide under perfume and tobacco. Zero-one-two-four. I need to pin it down.
I put the phone to my ear. Last night comes back to me for the space of an eye-blink. I had it then, I realize. Or I think I did. Had it wrapped around me, I’m pretty sure.
Here’s one ring.
And if I hadn’t gotten so caught up in things I might have figured it out then.
But I didn’t.
And I won’t.
A man’s voice, brassy and obnoxious, full of schmaltz like a game-show announcer: “Sorry, this isn’t the person who gave you this number.” Oh, geez, I knew it.
More words, they don’t quite stick together. “Didn’t want.”
Goodbye, Colleen Harper.
Thank you for a wonderful night. You made me quite a memory, even if for you it was just another evening to forget.
“No hard feelings.”
No, Colleen, not at you, at least. Just a soft, sad pang in my chest, the opening void of my missing you already.
“Have a good life, and better luck next time!” Click.
You too, Colleen. I’ll try.
Her smell, thank God, starts to dissipate, replaced by the aroma of melted butter and congealing egg. I lean over the plate. Standing at my full height over the low coffee table, I feel like I’m looking miles down at it. The sight makes me dizzy.
And in this state, I’m in no mood for eggs or toast. The plate rises off the table, out of the living room, through the bathroom doorway. Its contents make splashes, one, two, three, in the toilet water. It takes me two flushes to get them down.
I unzip my fly and chase the breakfast with the contents of my bladder. The relief is enough to make me shudder, and I think how funny it is, that I’m back to this. No Colleen Harper to bring me release with her body, and in her wake a sort of seasick feeling which I’m sure will only get stronger if I try to bring that kind of release on myself. For all the tectonic shifting I underwent last night, I’m still left with only this. What God gave me from babyhood, that feeling that has been mine since I was a little boy, that’s the closest thing I can compare to last night’s fireworks. It’s the pinnacle again.