I forgot where the napkins went. Fuck. Where was Aling Mira when I needed her?
The issue with Monica was obvious, but I wouldn’t allow myself to utter certain words, even in my mind. Certain commitments and feelings were simply inaccessible and needed to stay that way. I’d rejected my ex-wife, but the passions she’d thrown away were dead. I regretted that, grieved their loss, because if anyone deserved true, deep feelings, Monica did.
An honorable man would have given her up before she fell in love, choosing a small hurt over a bigger one later. But I wasn’t that honorable. I wanted her more than I’d wanted anything in a long time, and I would have her until she couldn’t bear it any longer.
I felt like an animal.
I heard her clopping down the hall in those cheap, sexy shoes. When she came into the kitchen, I sighed. Her hair was down, except for a thin braid at the side of her head. She was well put together, yet she looked like someone had just f**ked the shit out of her. I held out my hand and she took it.
“I’m starving,” she said.
I pulled out the chair for her. She glanced at the setting and said nothing. Instead, she tilted her head to see what was inside the tureen. What made me think she even cared where soup spoons went? She made me unsure about the simplest things.
She sat. “That looks good.”
I ladled her stew, and then mine. She put her napkin on her lap and waited for me to sit before she took a scoop and blew on it.
“I’m sorry. I think it’s pretty cold,” I said.
“Ooh, good, she used banana blossoms.” She pointed her spoon at a smaller dish. “Is that pinakbet?”
“Yes.” I speared a piece of okra and held it to her lips. She parted them, allowed the fork in her mouth, and slid it out, her teeth barely scraping the silver tines.
“That’s nice,” she said, chewing.
“Have you been to the Philippines?” I asked.
She smirked. “I’ve been to Mexico.”
“No farther?” I placed another forkful of pinkabet before her.
“No.” She took the food I offered.
I poured wine for us. “I’m surprised. You seem more… worldly than that.”
She shrugged. I noticed a little redness around her ears. “I’m not sheltered. There’re plenty of ways to get into trouble in a thirty-mile radius.”
“Do tell.” She shrugged and took a spoonful of stew. “Come on,” I said. “We’ll make a trade. I’ll tell you something that will make you run away if you tell me how to get into trouble in Los Angeles.” The way she glanced at me made me think she had something more than a harmless exchange of stories on her mind. She obviously didn’t realize the depth and breadth of the stories I could tell without touching the things I didn’t want her to know.
“Deal,” she said.
She took a sip of wine and straightened her shoulders, as if daring me to think less of her. Then she swallowed a little too hard, and I knew that down deep, she was afraid I might. I tried to remain impassive, but I was jumping out of my skin.
“One time…” she said, then paused.
“I shot up heroin.”
I tried not to choke on my wine. “How was it?”
“Really? And just the once? I don’t get a whole story? Just six words and an adjective?”
“I’m gauging your reaction.”
“I went to private schools. My friends financed dealers and producers to ensure their own product flow. So,” I poured more wine, “how does a beautiful Catholic girl end up with a needle in her arm?”
“I’ve been tested since, you know. I’m clean.”
I didn’t say another word. I held out another bit of pinkabet, which she took. I was going to feed her until she told me about this tiny crevice of her life.
“Ok, well.” She swallowed. “It was, like, the core of a laugh. You know that wavy good feeling you have inside before the laugh comes out? But the laugh is a release from that feeling, and when you’re done laughing, it goes away. So without the laugh, and the release, it got huge. It kind of started in my heart and worked outward like a supernova and stayed there. Imagine that feeling, that happy feeling before you laugh, being big and staying. I was lying down, but I was flying, and at the same time. Well, at first it was just the good pre-laugh feeling, but then the tension came and I wanted it released, because it was painful. Emotionally painful. Like, if the tension got too much, and it broke, so much sorrow would come out.”
She paused and took a sip of wine, not looking at me. “When I came down, I puked and I felt like crap. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? But I knew the first time is the only really great time, and I didn’t want to end up some sick addict. Not even to be Janis Joplin.”
“But why do it in the first place?”
“Kevin… I know you’re his biggest fan. He and I used to do things just to experience them. Just to see, you know, if there was something to it, or if we could translate it into our work. So we did some stupid things.”
“But he never tied you to a bedpost?”
“He’s a sad man.”
She laughed. “We ran with our eyes closed. We walked through downtown barefoot. We slept on Skid Row a whole weekend.”
I think I let the silence go a little too long. I was thinking about her huddled in filth under an overpass, broken glass underneath her, and strange, unstable people within arms’ reach.
“What?” she asked, sipping her wine.
“Did he sleep? When you were on Skid Row?”
I took her hand. “I couldn’t sleep knowing you weren’t a hundred percent safe. I couldn’t walk you into danger or watch someone put a needle full of drugs in your arm. I couldn’t rest.”
“Well, good, because the piss smell kept me up and I was hungry. Speaking of, I’m going to eat more oxtail stew, and you’re going to tell me something that makes me want to walk out. Except I won’t.”
She took a spoonful of stew and glanced at me, so sure her feelings could survive any revelation. I had so many wonderfully juicy stories that wouldn’t even half nudge her out the door. So many others would require a discussion that would ruin the evening.
I asked, “Are sexual escapades on the table?”
“Sure.” She looked into her bowl. Maybe that was a bad idea. I didn’t want her to get bent out of shape. If she told me a story like the one I intended to tell her, I’d get bent out of shape.