(Page 3 of 3)
Jamie follows much the same routine as the previous following Friday minus only the eating of the burrito, but still the walking of Albert, the showering, the shaving, the tiny cut and the selecting of clothes from his closet are parallel actions. Jamie’s apartment is kept almost compulsively neat, largely from habit and the practice of living in a small, sometimes shared, space. In his kitchen, drinking his requisite glass of calming water, Jamie accidentally lets himself think that this neatness will pay off should this woman, Doreen, care to enter his home at some point this evening or in the future.
Again, Jamie offers Albert a milk bone prior to leaving his apartment and then makes the short drive to El Tractor Azul, the Mexican restaurant where he and Doreen have agreed to meet at 8:00 pm. Jamie, arriving at 7:50 pm is escorted by the host to the table, a booth, by the host and then waits for Doreen to arrive, drinking his water slowly and not yet eating any of the tortilla chips from the basket placed in front of him by the server.
At just past 8:00 pm, Doreen arrives at the restaurant, and Jamie, on seeing her, feels his heart flail just the tiniest fraction. He rises and they hug and then they’re seated again and Jamie feels a brief thump of panic in the moment before conversation begins, like what, again, if he has nothing to say except for his small piece of truth? But instead, the conversation flows smoothly.
“And so your week, how was it?”
“Good, you know, long. But thankfully, the boys are with their father tonight so I get a little bit of a breather.”
After the second margarita and during the guacamole stage, Jamie feels comfortable enough to tell Doreen that he likes the way she smells, her perfume, the lavender again.
“You smell good, you know that?”
“Do I know I smell good?”
“Yeah, I mean your perfume or whatever it is. You wore it last time, too. I remember it.”
“Well, thank you. You smell good, too I bet, but I can’t really smell you over all the food.”
“That’s not the food, that’s me. I dab myself with avocado every day.”
“You know I thought that, but then I didn’t want to be rude if it wasn’t the case.”
When the food arrives, steak fajitas for Jamie and spinach enchiladas for Doreen, they are laughing, grinning and Jamie has even reached across the table to touch her hand and she has let him, she held his gaze and then laughed and said something about how he was wooing her and it was all too much, too much.
For his third drink, Jamie orders a beer and Doreen gets a glass of sangria, and they concentrate on eating for a bit. Then, shaking her head, Doreen looks at him and says, “It’s a little strange dating at our age, isn’t it?”
Jamie pauses, swallows the bite of refried beans and rice and starts nodding, “Yeah, I see that, I think.”
“It’s like we’re playing or we’re getting to play at being young again.”
“Yeah. It is a certain feeling like that. Like adolescence maybe.” Jamie reaches for a chip and submerges it in the salsa before bringing it to his mouth.
“It’s just, I mean I did love my ex, but I also feel like so much of my life got all swallowed up in that and when it was bad it was bad and then kids and all. If it didn’t sound so cheesy, I’d want to say, where did my life go, ya know?” Doreen closes her eyes for a moment then reaches to take a long swallow of her sangria. “God, I’m sorry. It’s the drinking.”
Jamie shakes his head. “No, you’re fine. I mean, I know the feeling.”
“You never married, right? Why is that, can I ask?”
“I just, I don’t think I was ever ready for it. I wasn’t mature enough, I––.” Jamie reaches for his beer, swallows some. “I, I got to tell you––.”
“You ever sad you didn’t have kids? You don’t have kids, right?”
“No, and no, I don’t know, again it’s that––.”
“Maturity? God. If only more people thought they needed to be more mature to have kids. Maybe if I’d been more mature I wouldn’t be dealing with what I’m dealing with.”
“Aww, don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry, that’s just life, right?”
Jamie nods and again reaches forward to touch Doreen’s hand, to feel her fingers between his own and she looks back at him, her lips closed but her eyes, bright and wet and focused on him alone. And later, Jamie will know that this is the moment she decides to sleep with him that night, or so he thinks about it later, when they are leaving the restaurant and she says, hey wait, maybe I can come over and meet your puppy, see that ridge and he says, okay that would be okay. Okay, she says and no, he meant that would be great, he says and what he doesn’t say, he doesn’t say, but not for lack of trying at least a little, and before he knows it she’s following him back to his place and his heart is a big fat knot.
At his apartment, she comments on the neatness and the lack of decoration and he explains that he has recently moved, and she laughs and says, okay, as long as he’s not secretly a serial killer, and he lets himself laugh at this one with her.
In his bedroom, after meeting Albert and giving her a beer and briefly stepping outside to let Albert do his business, they sit on his bed and he wonders, briefly, if maybe she is too drunk and this is a mistake, so he asks her.
“Are you sure about this?”
And Doreen laughs, that ruby sound, and she kisses him, and it is an incredible feeling to be kissed by someone who wants to kiss you and to feel those lips pushed up against your own, and all that that means right there, felt in that pressure, in that softness and in that heat.
Jamie undresses her, slowly, carefully, sees the white flesh of her belly and the stretch marks on her arms and sides, and it is all so different from when he was young, but still beautiful, more beautiful, maybe, because of what it means, now in his age, and place in life. They make love, twice, slowly, carefully, using protection, and then Doreen yawns and presses her face into the soft pillow and closes her eyes and asks him to hold her, please, just hold her until she falls asleep.
An hour later, Doreen is asleep in his bed, her naked body covered by his red comforter, but Jamie is still awake, and so, gently, he pulls his arm from around Doreen, doing his best not to disturb her, and pulls on a pair of boxer shorts and walks to his kitchen to get a glass of water. Albert, who has been asleep by Jamie’s side of the bed on the carpeted floor, gets up to follow Jamie to the kitchen. Jamie drinks his water and looks out the window to the right of his refrigerator. The streetlight obscures any stars and the view is not unlike the view from his window in the prison, the last room he lived in before his release, a private cell, luckily, and one with a view of the exterior, a tree, some barb wire and a lamp pole with a light that burned all night long.
When he finishes the glass of water, Jamie walks to the bathroom, but before he does, he looks into his bedroom to see Doreen there, vulnerable and pale in his bed with the moonlight gently embalming her visible skin, the arm tucked around her head and the toes, painted a deep purple and poking out from beneath the bottom of the comforter.
Jamie continues to the bathroom and quietly closing the door behind him, sits down on the toilet to pee, something he does sometimes now, in his late fifties, something he did not do in his youth. The urine quietly hits the inside of the bowl and Jamie rests his head in his hands and closes his eyes and tries not to think about it, but does anyway because it is the thing that is always there.
He had not planned to kill his father. It was not premeditated, which ultimately helped with getting parole, but the act was done, with a shotgun, a burst of hatred and anger and violence that eclipsed all reason and led to two shots through his father’s chest in the living room on a Sunday afternoon in late February. His mother was not home, but his younger brother was outside practicing his lay-up on the hoop outside their suburban home. Later, his younger brother said he heard the shots, later his younger brother said he had always known Jamie was broken, was evil, was not a good person at his core.
He and his father had never gotten along, not even when he was a child, but there was no clear external abuse, there was only the below-the-surface tension, the spite and distaste his father had for him from birth, the jealousy or envy or whatever it was that everyone in the family silently acknowledged but never spoke about, and then there was Jamie’s own immaturity that wasn’t a lie to Doreen when he said it, that was the truth. He was not mature, maybe not even now.
So he had been hunting with friends that day, had come home with the shotgun, had seen his little brother out front with the basketball and gone upstairs to clean the gun and put it away, and his father had been there, said something, nothing important but something cruel as usual, and Jamie didn’t think, didn’t even know he did it till it was done, but the bullets sprayed the chest, the face screamed and turned white, and the mouth hung open as the man fell to his knees then to the ground and then the blood, so red and perfect, came out in beautiful rivers on the white, Berber carpet. And the thing they don’t say is that shame and fear and regret are instantaneous, are there even before the fugue state lifts and the sound of the gunshot hits your ears and Doreen, Doreen, this is what it was like, but tell me can you love me now, ever, tomorrow?
Jamie shakes the drops of urine from himself and stands up, flushing the toilet as quietly as he can. Outside the bathroom door, Albert whines quietly and so Jamie washes his hands, opens the door and then squats down to pet the animal and to feel the ridge along his beautiful, tawny red back. Then Jamie stands up again, straightening himself and enters his bedroom, where as gently as possible, he gets back into the bed, pulls the comforter over his body, and reaches out an arm to cradle the sleeping, innocent body beside him.