I don’t wonder where you are because I feel with certainty in my bones you are dead and gone. You probably dropped in distress to a gold-flecked San Francisco sidewalk, taken down by your two tacos a night at Jack in the Box habit. Whatever that fast food did favorably for your budget, it destroyed your arteries and compounded your girth.
We were an odd couple to begin with: A mid-fifties full-time ticket seller at a dying art house movie palace on Geary, and the new thirty-something part-time concession stand clerk. You had a side hustle painting vibrant pop art oil portraits of pets, and you dabbled in noir on the page. I was ostensibly writing screenplays for hire while working on my own spec masterpiece, a feminist heist flick. We got to talking philosophy and film and literature. You were easy to tease, to provoke into some sort of political rant with Socialist overtones; I was gullible, taking everything you told me as truth. We’d spend our meager wages at coffee houses swilling bitter brew clouded with souring cream and chewing on fist-sized muffins, arguing about storylines, narrative agency, and turns of phrase. It was fun until it was desperate.
When I got a real job, I quit selling stale popcorn and watered down soda PDQ. I felt bad for you, so I brought you into my apartment home and cooked you hearty meals—baked ziti, roast chicken, homemade turkey tacos—and served you Two Buck Chuck by the glassful. Later, once I’d paid off my debts and gotten a couple of promotions and raises, I’d spring for dinner and a bottle of house wine at a reasonable bistro in Cole Valley, the one named after a French film. And it was there, one night, you began to beg me to sleep with you. You scissored the invisible, unspoken thread that held our relationship together, that fastened our friendship to a palatable reality. I wanted to believe you saw me as more than a mere sexual being, that you saw me as an intellectual and creative equal. But you, apparently, perceived me as another someone you’d like to fuck.
I tried to steer the conversation away from the topic, but you kept veering back and sideswiping it. When we left, you insisted on walking me to my car, where you pressed me up against the door and kissed me. I sensed from your insistence that my best course of action was to let you have this. To let your lips lock any protests in my mouth, to let your tongue run roughshod over my own for a few moments. I felt then I must have done something to deserve this. But even so, I had hard limits: I refused to kiss you back. I refused to feel any spark of arousal. And when you took my cold, limp hands in your own, I refused to stand still any longer. I yanked my fingers from your slick, grabbing palms and said, simply, “No.”
You pleaded and cajoled for a minute, but by then I was in the driver’s seat, cranking the ignition, putting the car in gear. As I pulled away, you stood in the street, wobbling with all the wine you’d consumed, clutching your battered leather satchel, watching me go. Then you disappeared into the chill fog, and I never saw you again.
I suppose I don’t wonder where you are because you are perpetually frozen in that scene for me. So when I do think of you, it’s with the kind of disappointment that derails further exploration and explanation. I just don’t care to know more of your story beyond that night.
By Paul DeLong
On January 8, 2023
A vivid account by this narrator in taking care of herself/himself in a sticky situation. The verbs are vivid, too, as are the culinary details, and the snippets of homage offered to the great city.