Almost a Stranger

       Maria was on the bathroom floor, facing me, her knees
padded by a wad of dirty white towels she had pulled out of the
hamper. I was perched on the base of the tub, gritting my teeth as
she took it out and fondled the head ever so gently. Dangerous
chemicals had brought us this far. And Desire.

       Desire made you forget about boyfriends, about hurt feelings,
about the massive chasm that divides what a good person would
do in your situation, and what a shitty, low down bastard would do.
That’s me. The shitty low down bastard. I knew it, Marie knew it,
and her boyfriend, Troy, probably knew, because I could see him
through the bathroom window. He was standing around with three
other guys who worked at club LaSalle, sipping Red Stripe and
talking trash in his front yard.

       What the hell did Maria see in Troy anyway? He was so
normal, so plain white rice looking. He reminded me of a well
dressed Sears mannequin. Tall. Frozen. No personality. I could
take him in a fight. Easy. But that’s not why I was in the bathroom
with his girlfriend while he thought she was in the kitchen making
more pizza rolls for the guests.

       I had a vicious hard-on for Maria the first night I started
working the door at LaSalle. Fire engine red electric neon lips.
The kind of full and pouty porn star mouth that promised an
apocalyptic, near religious blowjob. And Maria liked coke. She liked
it so much, she forgot about the boyfriend from time to time. Only
problem was, everyone at LaSalle knew this. All the dudes Troy
was shooting the shit with in the front yard knew. Hell, the head
bartender, Frank, had scored the bag for me earlier and slapped me
on the ass for good luck. I let Maria do most of it, as I had a little
“problem” down there when I snorted too much honk.

       It’s strange how some nights unfold, every action merging
seamlessly into an equal and anticipated reaction. Almost like the
whole thing had been planned, like you were watching yourself from
a safe distance, putting words in your mouth, knowing what the
other person’s response would be. That’s how the night had been
for Maria and me so far. Smooth.

       Troy was a lucky son of a bitch to have this fine piece of ass
all to himself. He could get laid any time he wanted. Me, it had been
five long months, so I felt justified in taking advantage of the situation.

       I looked down at those amazing lips and almost came right
then. But I held back. I wanted to enjoy every precious second. I
wanted time to slow down to a lazy crawl so I could savor every fluid

       She was moaning. I moaned back, softly, and tried to reach
over and pull the window down. No dice. Too far away. Oh well,
we wouldn’t get too loud. Our little secret. She’d come to work
tomorrow night and give me a wink and I’d wink back and that would
be it. Maybe. Wasn’t like I was trying to steal her away from Troy or
anything. Maria was way out of my league. Stacked, brunette, with
this cute southern drawl. She could have been a stripper. But
strippers were mean with the tease. Maria was delivering. This was
a one-time thing. Sit back and enjoy it. One night out of a hundred
and fifty when the gods chose to smile on my sorry ass.

       Footsteps in the hall. Someone knocking on the door. Shit.

       “Yeah, almost done!” I yelled. Then I looked down and
whispered, “Hurry!”

       “You hurry!” she pulled away, frowning.

       “Sorry,” I pushed her head back into position.

       I promised myself five more minutes. Anything longer and
questions would start to pop up in the front yard. Jokes. Hints.
Unnecessary tension.

       Monogamy was such a ridiculous concept anyway. Even
when I was with my last girlfriend, I still looked. I still wanted.
Needed. Foreign flesh. Different scents, tastes. Men hunted. That
was our nature. Hunger. Desire. We laid down good money to
watch it on the big screen, two young and sexy Hollywood hot
bodies acting out a steamy cheating scene. Jealous husband in the
next room. His best friend supposedly in the bedroom toilet while
the wife went in to change her shoes. Trust was the wild card that
made the moment possible. I wondered how much Troy trusted
Maria. Enough for me to finish? Enough for a second or third time
when he wasn’t looking? I was already planning future encounters:
In LaSalle’s parking lot, against the building, behind the trash
dumpster out back. Hell I didn’t care. I had to have her again.
But then what would happen? Troy would start to ask
questions. Would she leave him for me? He had a better job,
newer car, more friends. How could I compete with the perfect
Sears mannequin?

       At that very second I pictured Troy’s head in a garbage bag,
his blood streaming down my arms in a glorious cascade, still warm
from a quiet heart that had just stopped pumping. There would be a
struggle at first, some nasty words, a few punches thrown. Then I’d
be all over his ass. He’d beg and plead and try to bullshit his way
out of it. Then maybe he would start to cry or piss himself. Giving
up is never easy, never simple. It would be our little secret game
until the end.

       Maria pulled back again. “That’s it, baby! It’s standing straight

       Her fire engine lipstick was smeared all down the shaft. That
was so sweet, so caring. If she swallowed I promised myself to
propose right there on the spot.

       Troy was so goddamned lucky. I hated his fucking guts. And
he knew people. A lot of people. That might be a problem. But
there was always a problem. I still owed two months rent to this
black bastard landlord back in Philly. He started watching me after I
let that first month slip. I scrounged and hid what I could, but pretty
soon I was locked out. The fucker had my record collection, some
clothes, shoes, books. He had my entire Henry Miller collection, that
hard cover first edition Artaud, that new Hunter S. Thompson
collected letters 1968-1976. I’d never see any of it again. He’d hock
it all on ebay and some no dick piece of garbage from Flint,
Michigan would have most of my treasures dropped off on his door
stop. UPS ground. Cheap motherfucker. And the black bastard
landlord would just throw the shit in a box. No peanuts, no bubble
wrap. Some of the records wouldn’t make it. Probably my Stiv
Bator signed Dead Boys on Pepto pink vinyl. Or one of the first
pressings of Raw Power before they started fucking with the original
mix. It was HARD to find that original mix these days…

       “Baby, you gotta work with me here,” Maria pleaded.

       I looked down. It was wilting in her fingers. How
embarrassing. How long had we been in there?

       “Jesus, I’m sorry.”

       And I was. And so was she. Her eyeliner was running down
her cheek in sloppy black streaks from the effort. Lipstick gone.
Curls of black hair had fallen down into her eyes. She was spent.
Finished. Even though I wasn’t.

       “Maybe we can try again later,” she said.

       “Yeah, let’s do that.”

       I zipped up, checked my reflection in the mirror, then reached
for the handle. I couldn’t look back at her, couldn’t say anything
else. The moment was over. I had let it slip away and we both
knew it.

       The air in the hall was cool and damp. I patted the front of my
jeans for what was left of my pitiful erection. Nothing showing. No
bulge. No clue for Troy or any of the other guys out front to ponder
when I walked back out there. I’d go home later, jack off, and try to
put myself back in the proper frame of mind. Maybe the lipstick
smears would do it. Maybe I’d see her tomorrow night and try to set
something else up. A second chance. I couldn’t let it end like this. I
had to redeem myself. I wasn’t some impotent fuck who didn’t enjoy
a hot piece of ass every now and then.

        Looser. Limp dick. I didn’t deserve a girl like Maria.

        As I made my way into the kitchen, there stood Troy. I froze.
Was he the one who had knocked on the door earlier? Did he
know? How the hell couldn’t he know?

       He had his back turned and was chopping up something on
the counter. Maybe he wouldn’t see me if I slipped out the front
door. I started tip-toeing. That’s when he turned around.

        “Hey man, come on over here,” he waved.

       This was it. I’d have to fight his ass or make up one hell of a
lie. I didn’t want to do either. Desire. Motherfuck Desire. She
didn’t play fair. Or maybe she did and I was just too stupid or too
greedy to realize it. I’d never have Maria again. She’d crack jokes
with the other waitresses at LaSalle now. Here comes limp dick.
They’d giggle every time they saw me.

       “Are you ready for this?” Troy asked, extending something
towards me with his hand. Something bright. Something metal.
I looked down. It was a carving knife. I didn’t see the bump of
coke on the end of it. I didn’t see his smile. I didn’t see the line he
had just chopped up there on the counter. But I did see Maria when
she came walking out of the bathroom and spotted me with the knife
against Troy’s throat. I had the edge pressed firmly against the
largest vein I could find. His heart was beating so goddamned fast.
So was mine.

       Maria screamed. She had put on new eyeliner, fresh lipstick,
brushed her hair. Sometimes for a girl that’s all it takes. That
fuckable cherry red hole open wide for me again.

       I told Troy not to move. If he moved, the knife would go deep.
Direct pressure wouldn’t help. A tourniquet wouldn’t help. He’d
bleed to death on the way to the emergency room. Black out. Go
into shock. He would have to trust me.

       Maria was still screaming. I told Troy I didn’t think he had that
kind of trust. He hardly knew me. I was almost a stranger. Then
again, maybe he did. I’ve been wrong before. Maybe the lucky
Sears mannequin would surprise me.

       Maria got down on her knees. No towels to cushion the hard
floor this time. Something stirred down below. Wanting. Needing.
I leaned back and caught my reflection in the blade. I wouldn’t have
any trouble finishing this time.

Keith Wood has successfully escaped from Philadelphia and is now living
and working in Austin, Texas. He sends most of his stories and poems
to Underground Voices and Cherry Bleeds, and hopes that his mom isn't
isn’t reading any of them.

© 2006 Underground Voices