M. Robert Fisher
She was on the cover of magazines. Painted, plastered on billboards, airbrushed, hiding all of her imperfections. I bought into that delusion, that fantasy, that romance. I read her interviews and she always had clever but never banal responses, pithy and lucid with a trace of humility and self-awareness. She was an idea, a vague analogy for everything a man could want. She sang her songs and they weren’t good or bad. They merely existed and she existed somewhere within them. She wasn’t too introspective but not too oblivious, either. She could have anything she wanted. In my mind, this was the only woman that could have me.
The words weren’t coming. They were somewhere on the tip of my fingers but with each key stroke came a backspace and later a pornographic website. My mind raced, unfurnished. A vacant lot for rats and internally pronounced drunken diatribes. So, I stopped drinking. Or I drank less. Which would be the equivalent to some people. I was alone but not lonely. I was uninspired, disentangled from a more natural, a more socially acceptable reality. This was where I resided in my head. No chair, no couch, no rug. Just bare wooden floor boards.
I started going for walks to clear my mind. Obviously, my mind was clear of cognitive thought but – in it’s place – between the walls of my brain was static. The kind of static that is bred from only the deepest and truest of silences. Too the point that the silence is all you can hear and it is deafening and distracting and all you want is for something, anything, maybe a tragedy to snap you out of it. That was the difference between haze and reverie. To me, anyway.
I walked down Melrose Boulevard. I’m not sure why I chose to go there seeing as how it was miles from my house but I wanted to exist amongst the living. Brush up against the filth passed off as glamour. After feeling irrelevant for so long I guess I want to experience my own personal paradox. I’d been on dates here in the past. Sometimes they went well, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes neither. I got a coffee at a coffee shop and sat. I didn’t even like coffee. And I watched. I watched couples, gay and straight, pile in with their smile and satisfied demeanors and exit the same. I would oscillate back and forth between envy and contempt. They were all more alive than me, more vibrant. Even their breaths looked as though they tasted better, were more gratifying.
I sipped at my coffee and pretended to read the newspaper. I never read in public because truth be told for a writer I didn’t read quickly. And not that I didn’t read well but I liked to digest words but at the same time was grotesque and pathetically self-conscious of coming off an idiot or slow. So, I would ceremoniously read quickly, completely unaware of the words I’d actually read just so I could flip to the next page. Like a manual or a contract. Affectation, really. I didn’t much care for what the newspapers had to say anyway.
I fixated on the conversation of a gay couple behind me. To men talking about their dog, Lady, and like generals they mapped out that entire dogs life in a matter of minutes. They were deft, opinionated , and in sync. It was admirable, really. And then I saw her. I’d seen her before but I couldn’t instantly place her. She walked with a tiny little dog on a leash that was gingerly wrapped around her wrist. She wore sunglasses and a smirk but not smug or condescending. A genuine contentment. And in what felt like an eternity I charted out our entire life together.
She would sing and I would write. She wanted me because of me and what I capable of being, not for what she expected me to be or thought I should be. We’d live together first, possibly get another dog, a more masculine dog for myself, and we’d name him Brutus after my childhood pet and eventually we’d get engaged. The world wouldn’t understand but she didn’t care and neither did I. Our parents wouldn’t get along but we were happy and didn’t require their approval. Two cohesive organisms, sharing their lives out of spite and determination and a genuine and mutual respect rooted in love. The only thing she ever asked of me was for me to be myself because she could have whatever else she wanted. I was unfeigned, untouched, the last semblance of a chance at sincerity in her entire life. And I fit there perfectly not because it made her happy but because it made me happy and that in itself made her happy. In what felt like an eternity only lasted a few mere seconds. She walked up the steps, gave a quick, indifferent glance, and glossed over me as quickly as she disappeared into the coffee shop. I finished my coffee and stood.
There were only two directions. One was to just walk away. The direction paved in regret and missed opportunities. The other direction: endless possibilities. Some with great rewards but some with devastating misfortunes. I got back on Melrose and started toward my car. I walked slowly and when I got to my car I sat on the hood and smoked a cigarette. I wasn’t sure what I thought would happen, maybe I was just hopeful. I’d not been hopeful in a long time. I thought as a writer I owed it to myself to put myself out there. A good writer experiences everything despite the outcome, I thought. And I reasoned that I was not a good writer. And it worked. I’d come here to clear my mind and now it was filled with regret and heartbreak based solely on my own inaction. I felt crazy and I couldn’t help but laugh at my own complete detachment to reality. I’m fucking insane, I thought. That stupid fucking girl and her stupid fucking pictures, everywhere. I did not want this to be the day that I would live to regret for the rest of my entire life. However, just before I could slip further into impenetrable self-loathing, I heard barking.
Her dog had gotten loose somehow and was running into the street. Melrose on a Thursday afternoon wasn’t usually this busy but today, a constant stream of shitty Californian drivers that were surely in too much of a hurry to stop for a little dog. If only they’d known it was hers’. Without much thought I ran out after it, through the traffic, fueled by brash, romantic idiocy. As I ran, the dog stopped in the middle of the road, and I saw in the short distance a car stampeding toward the dog showing little intention of slowing down. I ran harder, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I was going to be a hero or die trying. People would speak of this day and remember the young writer that saved that popstar’s young pup from annihilation. And as I inched closer, I could taste it, I could feel it, I was going to actually pull this off. Except for that stupid fucking crack in the road. I tripped, flying through the air for what felt like miles, and crashed into the concrete in the middle of Melrose. I slid on the pavement for a good five feet after landing. I laid there for a few moments, praying that if there was a God that car would run right through me. But the person driving that car saw me and screeched to a halt. I slowly got to my feet, picked up the little dog, and walked it over to her.
The woman driving the car got and yelled “Hey, are you okay?” And I gave her a small wave, as blood trickled down my hand, and finished with a short nod.
“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” She exclaimed as she looked up at me with those big blue eyes.
I didn’t say a word. I gave a slight smile and handed her the dog.
“You’re hurt,” she said with pointed concern.
“I’ll live,” I said.
“It looks pretty bad,” she said as she held the dog up to her lips and kissed it. “Are you sure?”
“Let me take you to the hospital,” she said.
I waived her off.
“You don’t say much,” she smiled.
“I guess not,” I said as I observed my wounds. There was a deep gash and a very decent amount of blood. “I’m actually not sure what just happened.”
She held up the broken end of the leash, complimented with an amused smile.
“I think I’m going to need stitches,” I said.
“Well, the least you could do is let me pay for it.”
“No, no,” I started, “What kind of man would I be?” I smiled as I unbuttoned my shirt to wrap it around my hand.
“I mean it, here, can you hold her again?” She handed me the dog as she fished through her purse for a pen. “This is my number. Let me know how much it costs. It’s the least I can do.”
“I have health insurance,” I lied. I was a writer. My health was the least of my concerns.
“Well, then, splurge. Make it an emergency visit,” she said with a short laugh as she handed me the card. “I’m Katy.”
“I know who you are,” I said not really sure why I’d said it. She smiled politely.
“What’s your name?”
“Ray. Ray Beaudry.”
“Well, thank you Ray. And Daphne thanks you, too.” She said as she lifted the paw of the pup and made it wave at me. Then in what I imagine was the voice she apparently felt the dog would sound like she said, “Thank you for saving my life Ray Beaudry.”
“My pleasure,” I smiled as I turned to walk back to my car.
“Hey!” She shouted.
I turned. “Yeah?”
“Call me about the bill, okay?”
I gave her one last nod and got in my car and drove away.
I didn’t tell my roommates what happened. I told them I went out for a jog and slipped. I didn’t get stitches, either. I soaked my hand in hot salt water and wrapped it in gauze. I had no intention of speaking to her, again. I didn’t know what to say. Until a few weeks later when my publisher called me and told she’d tried tracking me down. I didn’t know what I was going to say but I knew that I should at least call her. Still, I waited a few extra days. And over a glass of Jameson I called her back.
“Hola,” she said as she answered the phone.
“Katy?” I asked.
“No, who’s this?” The girl asked.
“Ray Beaudry,” I said followed by a short silence. “I’m returning her call.”
“Hmm, nope. I don’t recognize the name.”
“Alright,” I said slightly annoyed. “Is she available?”
“What do you want?”
“Look, I’m just returning her call,” I started abraded, “You know what? Forget it. Can you tell her I called?”
“Whoa, hold on,” she said before her muffled voice repeated my name and I thought I heard her say “The dog hero?” But it was muffled.
“Ray?” She said.
“Yes,” I said now already taken out of the conversation. It was hard enough talking myself into believing I could have a conversation with her without any obstacles.
“I’m so glad you called,” She said.
“Yeah, my publisher,” I started before she interrupted.
“I called your publisher. He wouldn’t give me your number. How are you?”
“Hanging in there,” I said.
“You never called,” she said with slight disappointment.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s wasn’t personal.”
“Playing it cool, then?”
“No, not at all. I just didn’t,” I started but realized there was no way to tell her why I didn’t call without sounding pathetic so I stopped myself. “I was just calling to let you know that I was fine. I didn’t end up needing stitches.”
“Have you eaten?”
“I’m sorry?” I asked confused.
“Food. Have you had any yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Would you like to get dinner?”
“Why? Are you busy?” She asked almost patronizingly.
“I’d love to get dinner,” I said abruptly and more eagerly than I would have liked.
We made a date to meet at STK, a restaurant in West Hollywood. She offered to pick me up but I declined and agreed to meet her later that night.
I stood in front of the full length mirror in my bedroom as a calm washed over me. Or maybe it was the whiskey. I loosely tied my skinny black tie around my neck in repose. I straightened it out and finished buttoning my pants. I found my belt, a belt I’d hardly used anymore because I never had a reason to wear a belt. Or a tie for that matter but I’d always had a great affection for ties so I kept them neatly in their own section of my closet. I buckled the belt and gave myself another look. The pleats in my slacks looked odd, off center but in the midst of my calm it didn’t seem to matter. Walker knocked on my door.
“Come in,” I said quietly. He didn’t hear me so he knocked again. “Come in I said!” Louder this time. He opened the door.
“Don’t you look fancy?” He said with a certain level of mockery in his tone.
“Do I?” I said readjusting my tie one last time.
“What’s the occasion?”
“I’ve got a date,” I said as I exited my bedroom past him. He followed me into the bathroom as I gargled mouth wash.
“Who?” He asked sternly and almost suspiciously.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said after spitting out the mouthwash and splashing water on my face. I exited passed him in the doorway of the bathroom back into my bedroom. I grabbed a sport coat. Black, simple, elegant. I put it on.
“Try me,” he said from my doorway again. I reached down, grabbed a magazine I’d recently purchased since my bloody heroism with her on the cover and handed it to him.
He laughed. “I don’t get it.”
“What is there to get?”
His eyes lit up but with rage and envy. “No fucking way!”
“You’re full of shit!”
He remained stunned, annoyed. What made me so fortunate? I was supposed to be in awe of him. His world was imploding. We’d slipped into an alternate universe and he didn’t like it here. He was homesick already. I reentered the bathroom without another word and closed the door behind me this time. I know he stood outside waiting for me for a while but I took my time and waited until he relented. I splashed on some cologne and set out with my peace intact.
I pulled up to the restaurant and before I got out I took a few swigs off of the pint of Jameson I’d brought along with me. I entered the restaurant. She was nowhere in sight. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a drink. She showed up shortly after me. She sat down next to me at the bar as though we’d known each other for years. Unashamed, unabashed. Same thing.
“What are you drinking?” She asked as she inched closer.
“Jameson on the rocks,” I said, “Would you like something?”
“I’ll get something at our table. Are you ready?”
“Yeah, just let me close out my tab,” I said reaching for my pocket.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said as put her hand on my wrist to stop me. She waved down the bartender. “Transfer this to our tab in the restaurant?”
The bartender nodded.
When we sat town she unfolded her napkin and placed it over her legs. She wore a tight, bright orange dressed that hugged every inch of her body in all of the right places, with thick straps and the faint outline of her bra imprint painting a clearer picture.
“So, I googled you,” she said.
“Yeah? Find anything good?” I asked as I took a sip.
“You’re a writer,” she said with a smirk.
“Did you read anything?”
“I did,” she said excitedly. “A column about a female DJ and a few short stories.”
“What’d you think?”
Sh paused for a moment. Pondered, considering her answer. “Good,” she said in a way that wasn’t terribly convincing. “Dark.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“You’re funny, though,” she said as some sort of penance. Maybe a favor.
“Thank you,” I said sipping at my drink.
“Like, I’d never have known based on when I’d met you,” she said. And I knew what she meant. I already knew where this was going to lead. She was going to ask if I hated women and I was going to follow up by asking if she thought I hated women why she came to dinner and she would tell me to find out for herself and I’d tell her she was just going to have to wait and see and there would a short awkward silence, followed by some awkward giggling and eventually she’d realize that I wasn’t the characters I wrote in my stories. But it never happened. She had no interest in discussing that aspect of me.
“I’m an onion,” I said after a short silence.
She giggled politely.
“Did you google me?” She asked what I thought was jokingly.
“Didn’t need to,” I smiled.
“So, how much do you know about me?”
“Not a lot,” I responded. Which was true. I knew what she said in interviews and in brief biographies on the internet but had never did any kind of fact checking.
“Right,” she said slyly with a hint of suspicion.
“I did buy a copy of the magazine you’re on the cover of after,” I lingered, “you know.”
“Ugh. Which one?” She asked in embarrassed.
“The one with you in the black corset,” I said.
“Oh my God! Really? You a pervert?”
“Nah, I got it for the interview,” I smiled devilishly.
I bet,” she laughed. “So, writing, huh?”
“Yup,” I said.
“Not a lot of money in that I imagine,” she said almost judgmentally. It caught me by surprise.
“Not in it for the money?” I said monotonously. Defensive, even.
“What’s the point then?”
“Not sure there is one,” I said.
“Do you write screenplays, too?”
“Why not? Don’t like movies?”
“I love movies,” I said growing slightly annoyed.
“Why not, then?” She asked without missing a beat.
“I tried,” I started, “But it’s too robotic, too many rules. It’s hard to be creative when hindered by that kind of shit.”
“I suppose,” she said dismissively.
“Well,” I started but then just left it at that.
“No, I get it. I write a lot of my own songs.”
“That’s cool,” I said completely uninterested.
The awkward tension was palpable. It was growing more and more clear that she thought I was possibly a fan or someone that might have some kind of adoration towards what she did. She didn’t seem very concerned with who I was or with me finding out who she was.
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Classic rock, mostly,” I said.
“I’m really into Kansas right now,” I said.
“Never heard of them,” she said as pulled out her cell phone and began texting.
“You should check them out,” I said as she nodded actively but not engrossed.
“Would you excuse me? I have to make a phone call.”
“No problem,” I said as she got up from the table.
I sat there and drank. Then I got another. Five minutes, then ten minutes passed. She never came back. I sent the waiter away three different times before I realized she wasn’t coming back. Her exercise in slumming it with peasants had lost it’s charm, the novelty had wore off, and she left me sitting there with a table cloth blanketed over my lap. I finished my drink and paid the tab.
I left the restaurant and never spoke to her again. I had fractured the fantasy. She had fractured the fantasy. I should have been angry but all I felt was sad and a little bit hollow. Like finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real all over again. An ennui and pointless heartache. Moments and feelings I’ll never get back. Back to the drowning and the pining over nothing. My life, I thought. A short, tortuous window into the life that could have been. Optimism getting the best of me, again.
I got home, made myself a drink, and sat at the computer. I took a sip and wrote my first story in months.
And you just read it.