Unwrestles the silk scarf from around her neck and plops the car keys into the ash tray. Her house is clean, and she sprawls herself across the couch and the silence and the loneliness that sit in every white room in her apartment. She furrows her brow before turning the TV on and scouring her fridge for something simple to eat. She sticks a spoon in a carton of bean salad and uncorks a bottle of wine with her teeth before returning to the refuge of her couch.
She’s pretty with soft touches here and there. A slight twinkle of frailty and tired in her eyes when she glances up. Maybe that’s what the director liked about her when he barked out a few curt demands while the cameras had stopped. That look in her eyes - some centuries preserved hope that flickered on and off with a heart wrenching quickness.
“We need to see your tits form a better angle, deary. Make them bounce!”
She had nodded her head sheepishly. When the red light went bright again, she twisted and jumped and expelled from her mouth demonic moans, and in a voice that didn’t seem like her own came the twisted words as hair and spit and flesh collided and rattled through the air. There was a tension in her red lips, a false tension, and an uneasy look of faked pleasure cascading down her face.
“Fuck me harder, baby!”
She could see the director smiling form his golden perch as he slightly stroked his dick on the other side of the camera. They were watching. They were all fucking watching as the writhing boy beneath her reached up and turned her nipples like nobs, and she still felt nothing.
“Yes, like that! Your big dick feels so good in my tight little pussy!”
But that was all over for now as she drank her wine alone. The be din the other room beckoned with its predictable emptiness. Cradling her in there alone. No one else to bother her.
How many had there been? Hundreds? Thousands? Did it matter?
The boy on the other side of the counter was looking at her funny. She had decided at 11pm that she wanted more chocolate, and the wine had made her woozy, and the clonopin from earlier was wearing off in an uncomfortable way.
She couldn’t tell what the boy behind the counter was trying to convey with that quizzical look on his face. A spat of anxiety rushed up and down between her ears as she imagined hearing him say, “For someone as done up as you are, you sure don’t buy a lot of condoms.”
In her mind, she was constructing a scenario wherein she lied about having a boyfriend - no, that would be too transparent. Or she could lie and say she’s into unprotected sex, but that, too, would be improbable. If he’s going to say that, she’d just have to admit defeat and confess to the fact that she hasn’t had sex with anyone in about eight months, if you exclude everything that’s on film and the two or three times she fucked the director and the gaffer and whoever just to secure her roll in the movie.
But, no, he didn’t say that. Instead, he casually blurted, “No catfood tonight, eh?”
She laughed nervously and replied, “Hah, no, not tonight. There’s - um, I was on the other side of town the other day and wandered into a store that was having a cat food sale, so, um, not today.”
That was half way true. Of course there were about two cans of cat food stacked next to the half eaten box of saltines and unopened Vitamin B bottles, but the rest of the truth was that she hadn’t seen her cat in 4 days. So maybe it’s time to just give up. The possibility of another living creature remaining loyal and true had proven to be an impossibility, and she accepted it with the aplomb of a seasoned seeker of disappointment.
The store with the cat food sale was across from the studio where she had been shooting, and she had rushed in at one point for ginger ale and air freshener after a deep throating scene went unseasonably awry.
She swallowed and smiled at the boy behind the counter while she waited for him to parse out judgment on her misdeeds.
He was new here, and she had been coming to the bodega ever since she moved in upstairs eight months ago. She had never seen him here before last week. He was somewhat dashing, or at least some corner of him was coated with charisma. Definitely not all of him, though his eyes were like the deep end of the swimming pool. Dark, and for some reason she wanted to jump in recklessly and ogle whatever dead bodies might be drifting around the water.
He rang up her chocolate and tossed the lone bar in a gaping black plastic bag. She clutched it carefully as she doled out $2.72 in exact change.
“Thank you.” She shuffled quickly out the front door.
“Enjoy your movies tonight, lady.”
Her eyes widened with realization, but she didn’t turn around before retreating back into her velvety solitude.
“You look familiar.”
She was buying more chocolate, and some wine, and some rubber gloves, and a can of cat food - just to save face, even though she still hadn’t seen her cat. It had been eight days.
She laughed nervously and replied, Well, I’ve been in her before, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah - yeah but no. You look familiar in, like, a way that isn’t just from here.”
Her heart started racing, and her mouth chapped up as she begged whatever gods to save her form the humiliation of being recognized as the lead actress in “Bangers and Mash” and “Game of Thongs” and 17 other adult films. Ugh. He’s already seen her naked and seen her fuck and she can smell the precipitous decline in respect for her in the room.
“Oh, well, you know, I’m just a girl.” The line came out choppy and robotic. She felt red.
He looked at her with an amount of inquisitiveness in his eyes. Scrutinizing. He was scrutinizing her face. She could feel tears threatening to pierce through the hot redness of her face. She looked away.
“Meh, yeah, sure, something like that. Maybe I’ll figure it out. Or not, actually I’m terrible with faces. It’s probably just that you’re pretty.”
She smiled wordlessly and bustled back to her catless apartment. She bummed a cigarette from the man hovering outside the bodega before ascending her stairs. She smoked a cigarette on her balcony and looked out at the stars - two habits she had never been inclined to engage in before, but for tonight it felt right.
“How’s the cat?”
Dead, probably, but she was still buying cat food as a way to paste over the shame of being unable to care for and maintain the affection of another living creature.
“Oh, fine, she’s great.”
The boy behind the counter smiled and nodded.
“What’s your name by the way?”
“Chrysanthemum,” she replied.
“Oh, wow, you have a beautiful name.”
“Oh, who? Oh, me? Oh, I though you were asking me my cat’s name. No, that’s not my name. My name is Lupita. Um, yeah, Chrysanthemum is the cat.”
He laughed as she bagged the cat food. To her it was a growing symbol of her own chicanery and the lie of a life she was living. She hated it. She hated the cat food, but her compulsive decision to continue buying it had become a force of habit she couldn’t give up.
“Nice to meet you, Lupita.” He paused. “I’m Frank.”
She smiled for the first time in a long time, a flush not fuelled by fear but rather by desire washed over her. It felt warm, not hot and speckled with energy.
“Hi, Frank.” She couldn’t look in those eyes. Those watery, turbulent eyes. They looked like what she imagined the sea and s torm looked like together, but she wasn’t quite sure because she had never seen the sea and a storm, choppy together and roiling in the wind.
“Maybe one day I’ll meet Chrysanthemum, too, eh?”
Her stomach knotted in anger as the warmness cut away sharply.
“Huh, ya, maybe.”
That cat. That stupid fucking cat. Somehow that soft lie had sputtered into an uneven story that somehow was threatening her credibility and honor within the seven minute liquor store interactions she had started having with Frank. She tried not to be obvious about it as she catapulted herself into awkward silence and waited for him to drop forty two cents in change into her outstretched palm.
“Or not. Maybe I’ll never meet Chrysanthemum. Either way, always a pleasure to see you, Lupita.”
She smiled at the floor and rushed away without saying anything else.
It had been a long day at work. It was late, and certain parts of her ached more than others, those certain parts namely lying between her legs and along her back. Ice. She needed ice and some aspirin and maybe some ice cream.
She hadn’t been to the bodega in a few days. The pain of the Chrysanthemum debacle was still fresh in her mind, but the need for some aspirin trumped her fear and embarrassment, although it did take about twenty minutes of wallowing on the couch before mustering the courage to suck it up and waddle her busted ass down there.
Frank was standing outside. The open sign was off.
“Oh, hey, Lupita.” Frank was leaning against the wall, lighting a cigarette and talking through chomped teeth as he sucked in the smoke. “I just closed like five minutes ago.”
“Oh…oh. Really? What time do you guys close?”
“Midnight. You’re coming in late - it’s already 12:04.”
“What were you gonna get? Wait - let me guess. Some wine and some cat food?” Frank was smirking, and she couldn’t think of anything else to say other than, “Yes, how did you know?” She smiled. She was trying to be charming.
“Well, I can’t help you with the cat food aspect. Chrysanthemum might have to go to bed hungry tonight. But - ” and with a swift motion, he twirled his backpack to the front and unzipped the pocket, “I do have this wine.”
Lupita smiled again. “Oh, how convenient,” she muttered. She was suddenly struck by the urgency of the situation. What is he doing? What does he want? Is that an unopened bottle of wine? What is she supposed to do? Offer to buy it from him? She only had $8 in her pocket.
“Well…do you want some?”
She looked at him. What happens next?
“Well…are you going to invite me up? Or do you just want to sit in the dumpster and hope it doesn’t get colder while we drink this?”
“Oh! Oh. Yeah, um, let’s go upstairs.” She tried not to waddle as she hopped gingerly into the elevator.
Frank turned to her and smiled as she punched the number seven.
“I’m so glad you came tonight,” he whispered softly. “Thanks for inviting me up.”
She fumbled with the keys a bit as she busted the door open.
Oh, no. Oh my god. Oh, fuck.
There’s no cat. God damn it.
Frank jetted to the kitchen and found a corkscrew and two coffee cups, into which he poured a generous helping of wine. Lupita turned on the television. Seinfeld. Ugh, Seinfeld. Lupita hated Seinfeld, but it seemed like an adequate thing to watch as she waited for the alcohol to unfurl a level of comfort in her veins.
“I love Seinfeld.” Frank sat down so close to her. She tensed up, and then hoped he didn’t feel her tense up, and she tried to ease into the light physical contact. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. It had been so long - how long, eight months? She didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t shaking, was she? No, no, it was fine, she was doing okay. Frank laughed and dripped wine down his face. He was drunk. He was drunk.
“How long have you lived here?”
“A few months.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it’s a clean building.”
“Yeah, seems super nice. I live on East 30th, you know, a couple miles away. It’s not nearly as nice as this, though. This place is nice.”
The unpleasant stabs of conversation as she tried to quell her fear into perhaps some twisted brand of lust. Is this lust? Does she want him? Or is this just more touch and go, except this time it’s not for money.
Conversation came and went in spurts. She eased back into the wine haze as he pulled her in closer. Then, with a quick motion, he grabbed her face. He kissed her.
“Lupita, you’re so beautiful,” he moaned into her ear.
She fell in. She fell into him. Recklessly and with expert ease, because, finally, here’s something she knows how to do. As she took his face back into hers and he eased himself on top of her.
“Lupita, you torment my dreams!”
She shoved her hand into his pants and thought about how to get this over with. Stroking his dick gently as he pulled off her various garments. He kissed her, licked her cheek, with the exuberance and expertise of a 12 year old boy. His mouth was too sweet and sticky, open and cavernous and soft and unpleasant. His dick was average, and already she knew it would be ineffectual.
“Oh, oh god!” he moaned as she took his dick in her mouth.
“Oh, Lupita, that feels so good!” as he stroked her hair and her face.
“Wait, come here,” as he tore his dick out of her mouth and yanked her panties down halfway. She was lying with her back on the carpet and the wine cups almost tipping over as he shoved his dick into her red raw pussy and flopped down on top of her, wiggling around with these strange noises coming out of his mouth. She didn’t make a peep. She felt nothing.
Quickly, so quickly, he came inside her and rolled over, spilling wine across the carpet as she eased her underwear back on. Most of clothes were still on, yet somehow he was naked to the world as grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back in.
“Oh my god, that was amazing.”
Her pussy still ached, but not because of that.
“I’m going to wash,” she said as she went to stand beneath the hot water. When she came out several minutes later, he had put on half his clothes and was laughing at Seinfeld while holding a mostly empty wine bottle. He swigged it back and looked at her as she stumbled out.
“Can I stay here tonight?”
“Sure,” she said.
In the morning, he left quickly with a kiss on the forehead and no breakfast.
“Tell Chrysanthemum I say hi,” he said while lingering in the threshold.
“Frank - um. Actually…well, there is not Chrysanthemum.”
A sudden lightness washed into his eyes. “No Chrysanthemum, eh? Huh. Well it was a great excuse for you to come down and see me, right?”
Lupita smiled. The end of the lie didn’t make anything feel better. In fact, she had only said that just now as a means to make him leave faster. But, no. Instead, that sheepish grin.
“Yup, you’re right,” she said snappily as she waved him away.
Later that day, she called her landlord and put in notice. Again. Maybe the next place she moves she’ll put down a pet deposit, though.