Hunting for Duck (6)
I got up and went over to the kitchen door and looked across. The bathroom door was almost wide open and I could see her in there, her body fuzzed by the shower glass and the steam. She turned around, fingering shampoo into her hair. She knew damn well I was there. She knew I could see. She ran her hands over her breasts and down her body as the shampoo foamed. She fingered between her legs. Then came that sigh again.
I stepped over to the bathroom door. I was quiet, but she moved as if she'd heard me - then carried on with her show. I wiped my hand across my mouth. My face was wet. I couldn't stop looking. It was like I was in a trance. I just stood there.
What the hell was I doing? How could I even think of this? But that was the thing. I had been thinking about it. Right the way through. After that phone call, when Sal told me she'd asked Marlene to come and stay, and I'd said I wasn't sure it was a good idea... I was thinking about it. It had made something jump in me. Back even further than that. The look in Marlene's eye that day, as she got out of Nate's car. Nate's face. The whispered promise of it all. It was there in that story - the one I hadn't yet finished. And once it was there, there was no taking it away. Partly, that's why I'd told Sal it wasn't a good idea. I knew where it might lead. But I hoped, too. I can't deny it. That's how it was.
And here was the opportunity, made real. She was handing it to me on a silver plate. She didn't have to say a word. In a few days, I knew, she'd be moving on - and that chance would go with her. Wouldn't it? Maybe... who knew? Anything might happen. Anything at all.
That was the other thing. I was excited by it, damn right I was. Was that so wrong? It was most exciting thing I'd ever felt - after that story acceptance. Sal had given me a chance to realise part of a dream. And Marlene was offering me a chance to realise part of another dream. And maybe the one would lead to the other. Maybe that's how it was meant to be, all along. Christ knows. With what was going through my head then, I couldn't figure a thing.
I stepped back to the kitchen door and looked in. I saw everything in there in perfect clarity – the coffee mugs, the typewriter, the ashtray, the fridge with a photo of Sal and me stuck on the door, my almost-done story waiting for me. Another hour and I'd have it finished. The best thing I'd ever written. I just had to shut the door, sit down and get on with it. Why would I risk all this? Why do we risk anything? What’s life about?
A sudden breeze through the window ruffled my papers. A couple of sheets fell to the floor. I stepped forward to pick them up. And then there was that sound again. Louder. Like she was calling out to me.
That was it. I was in there. Not thinking any more – to hell with that. I pulled open the shower door, and the heat and steam hit my face. She had her back to me, but she turned and showed me what she was offering. I caught that look on her face again. I reached in to take hold of her.
And then it happened. Snap - like that. Her face changed. Her eyes shifted past me, like she'd seen something else. She covered herself with her hands and moved back into the corner.
“What the fuck? ”
I took hold of her arm and pulled her towards me. She swiped out.
“What the fuck?" She shouted it this time. "Get the fuck off me!”
The water caught me full in the face.
The next thing I felt was the shower head. It hit me twice above my right eye and I saw sparks. I fell back and she kicked past me out of the shower. I turned to grab her, but slipped on the floor and went over hard, banging my head against the shower tap. I pulled myself up, but slipped again, out of the shower and across the floor. Looking up, I just caught the last glimpse of her ass as she ran into her room and slammed the door behind her.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ! ”
I pulled myself up. There were blood stains the size of dimes on the floor. I could feel it running down the side of my face. I grabbed a towel from the rail and held it against my eye.
And then I saw Sal. She was standing by the kitchen door, where I'd been standing a minute earlier. She still had her coat on and her bag slung over her shoulder. In her hand, she was holding a carrier from the liquor store. I saw the top of a bottle of my favourite whiskey poking out. She looked at me as if she’d never seen me before. As if I was a stranger in there.
“Ed?” she said. “What…?
Then Marlene sang out from behind the door.
“Sal. Thank Christ you arrived. That fuckin' asshole. He tried to rape me.”
The carrier fell from her hand. The bottle shattered as it hit the floor.
“What did I tell you about him? He tried to fuckin’ rape me.”
So, there it is. You can probably work out most of the rest.
No complaints were made and no charges pressed – the condition being that I disappeared and never tried to make contact again.
So that's what I did. I disappeared. I got on an early bus and stayed on it all day. Then another one. I pitched up at last in some no-place town. I found myself a cheap furnished room. I got a job on a production line. It's where I am now. I do the job, then I go home alone in the evenings - just like I used to. I sit and listen to the night sounds down in the street.
For a long time, I drank myself to sleep. I had enough fuel on regrets alone. What I'd done to Sal. What I'd sacrificed. What might have happened. What might have been.
Which would have been the end of the whole sorry mess. But there was one more thing. One more piece to the puzzle...
A few nights ago I was waiting at the bus station. A bus pulled in and the driver got off for a shift change. I couldn't believe it. It was Nate. He recognised me straight away. That smile lit up his face again and he came over, his hand out ready.
"Hey, my man! How's it been?" he said.
I took his hand. "It's been, Nate. It's definitely been."
He could see the look on my face. He worked something out of it.
"You look like you could use a beer," he said. "I know damn well I could."
We found a bar around the corner and Nate ordered a pitcher. He asked me about things. I gave him the short version. I said it hadn't worked out. I didn't think he needed to know the rest. He wanted to spill the beans from his side, though.
"That woman... Jeez!" He stared down into his beer, and that internal light of his went down a notch. "I mean... all I'd ever had was bad luck. And then she came along and turned it around, you know? She made life..." He dug for the word. Then it came to him and he looked straight at me. "Exciting. That's what it was. She made life exciting again. She had everything I'd looked for. You know what I'm saying?"
I nodded. Yeah. I'd felt that way once. About Sal. I told him that. No more than that.
He shook his head sadly. "Thing is... she had everything a few other guys looked for, too. And she knew it." He banged his fist down on the bar. "Fuckin' bitch."
He took a long swallow of his beer. That seemed to loosen him up again.
"I was feeling rough one day. Too many suds the night before - plus I'd eaten some Korean take-out that hadn't agreed with me. So, I cried off my shift and went home early. And there she was. And there he was, too. My best fuckin' buddy. Could you believe that?"
I looked at him.
"Fuck me... I'd been feeling rough until then. Not as rough as he felt when I'd finished, though. Her, too."
I didn't know what to say. So I didn't say anything. Nate shook his head again.
"The woman who'd made life exciting for me... there across my kitchen table with my best fuckin' buddy on top. Shit... we'd known each other since kids. We used to go hunting together, for Christ sakes."
We were silent a moment. Could I believe that? Could I? The stuff that was going through my head then. But all I could say was
"What did you used to hunt, Nate?"
He gave me a strange look.
"The fuck's it matter what we used to hunt?"
I put my hand on his arm.
"Sorry, man. I didn't mean..."
"Forget it," he said. "It's okay." Then a glimmer of that smile came back. "We hunted just whatever we could fuckin' well find."
I picked up the pitcher and filled our glasses. Then I raised mine and touched it to his.
"Here's to women," I said.
Then I ordered another pitcher.
As for that story of mine. I hadn't looked at it since that day in Sal's kitchen. I hadn't done any writing at all. It had just gone out of me. But after that night in the bar with Nate - after we'd staggered home drunk as skunks - something clicked in my head.
The next day was a Sunday. A day off. I stayed in bed late. At lunch-time, I got up and showered. I cooked up some eggs. I made a big pot of coffee. I got my typewriter out and set it up on the kitchen table. I sat down at it and rolled in a sheet of paper. I poured some coffee. I lit a cigarette.
And I started again.
I started to finish it.