Chapter 7 – Les Jardeen

March 5th, 2010 § 0 comments

As Felix unlocked his silver bike in a pool of blue street light filled with billows of mosquitoes and gnats he thought that he might as well go straight to Les Jardeen and call home from there. If Veronica wanted to join him for dinner (which he doubted) she could ride into town. Normally (whatever that meant) he preferred to shower and change before dinner but he was extremely tense and couldn’t face the scene at home. In public they would have to pretend nothing was wrong. A drink first would give him time to decompress. Anyway, the most likely outcome was that she wouldn’t join him at all. Lately she was going to bed early, another way of saying that she passed out by nine o’clock. So he mounted the bike and joined the others riding up the little hill, wooded on both sides, to Main Street, the village center.

The village of Rockland consisted of two commercial streets that served about 20,000 people spread out, mostly underground, over three k of constructed hills. It was one of five planned villages that made up the town of Hartland. Planned settlements had superior water drainage and protected utilities so that even in tornado and hurricane seasons life went on much as usual. Each village had a large 24-hour supermarket, retail mall, post office, gym, levee park with a small bandstand, plus assorted diners, restaurants, cafes and bars.

Felix locked his bike up at a titanium rack as close to Les Jardeen as he could get, about two blocks away, and strolled along, looking into restaurant and bar windows. They were all full and cheery, with rosy lights winking on and off, neon sculptures of various beloved characters, a figure skater spinning on glowing skates, a pink and powder blue ballerina leaping up, a cat dressed like a whore exposing her breasts, ruby nipples flashing and then emitting the words POW POW POW, a chef stir frying a colorful mess of vegetables in a wok.

Les Jardeen, his regular watering hole and dinner spot, was part of a quiet neighborhood spot chain. In the window was a neon monkey in a red beret drinking a glass of beer. The doorbells jingled as he entered the foyer and wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. The room was cozy, paneled in real wood, decorated with old parisian cafe posters, lit by brass sconces and chandeliers with faux gaslight. A fake fire burned in the dining room beneath a mantel with decorative crookneck gourds and a basket of apples, pale green and dark, almost black red.

Peter Nguyen, the bartender, greeted him with a napkin. “Good evening Mr. Clay. How are you sir?” Peter was a young man, an aspiring actor, handsome, light skinned with dark eyes and a smile seductive to both sexes. He wore a red bartender’s jacket and black T-shirt and moved efficiently in the narrow space between the zinc bar top and the mahogany liquor shelves.

Felix felt quite indebted to Peter since he had, over the years, unburdened himself to him over many vodka martinis. He said, “Couldn’t be better, Peter,” and watched him load a steel shaker with ice, rinse it with vermouth and glug three shots of Gulag Potato Vodka in.

“Where’s Mrs. Clay tonight?” Peter asked, alighting the drink on a coaster and placing before him a basket of bread and a dish of olives.

“I’m not sure if she’s meeting me or not. I’ll call in a bit and see how she’s doing.” He munched the bread and olives and rinsed them down with the martini, feeling the long week’s discipline unravel like mummy bandages. Maybe he’d better call now, she might be worried.

There was no way to tell. Although fear and sorrow were her dominant moods, she was also unpredictably hostile. He pushed his empty glass forward and called her. There was no answer and he hung up, annoyed.

As he worked on the second drink a pocket opened up in his stomach swallowing all of the light and leaving only dark feelings. Maybe she was with a man and they’d lost track of the time. His call had interrupted them. Even now he was in a panic to get his pants on while she lay in a trance, perhaps thinking the man was Felix come home in disguise. It made no sense. He saw her nude body, as it had been, when they were young, on all fours sucking a strange, faceless man’s cock, his lips planted on her upraised vulva. Veronica turned to look at Felix and smile. He practically knocked over his glass. He had to shake free of it. But the image of Veronica’s arched buttocks and the man’s puckered lips on her cunt would not fade, it raced about, now shaming, now exciting, till finally he downed the rest of the drink and doused the red hot poker in a bucket of cold water.

He called home again and again no answer. Maybe she was taking out the garbage, or was in the bath or on the toilet. But these seemed silly to him. As the veil of alcohol descended, the veil of optimism was rent aside. She wasn’t fucking a strange man and she wasn’t taking a long shit, she was passed out or semiconscious, the t.v. stuttering.

He drank his third drink with equanimity then. Peter spread the evening paper out on the bar and read the news. Gangs were shooting it out in midtown. A new drug fad had hit the cities of China. He munched on the bread and olives and reflected on the fact that food was good, nourishing, it brought the world into focus. The madness of midtown shootouts, of business deals faded before the reality that he could trust her, his jealousy was a sort of paranoia. Veronica loved him, they were faithful to each other. She couldn’t even stand the sight or smell of other people, much less get into bed with them.

It was nine o’clock and he’d had five drinks. She still didn’t answer the phone. She was definitely not going to come down to meet him then. When he stood up to go to the bathroom the room did a loop around him, then he was steady. Five drinks, he thought. Let’s make it six, then I’ll eat dinner and go home.

The sixth drink was the ticket. He no longer cared or noticed who was or wasn’t in the restaurant. Peter saved him the embarrassment of having to carry the drink to the table, sloshing it over fingertips and exaggerated attempts at maintaining balance. He sat down near the fireplace and felt the linen tablecloth. A beautiful young woman, two metres tall and flat chested, with disproportionately long naked legs and a disdainful, humorless expression, took his order. He got the half a duck with currants, lentils and parsnip latkes. With it he had a split of pinot noir. By the time he was done he had ceased to notice anything in the world, not the garbage or the bath or his sleeping wife or the faceless cunt kissing man, or even the build up of rage in his own heart. The waitress brought him his bill, which he signed without reading.

It was eleven o’clock when he left. The air felt like a stocking soaked in hot water had been pulled over his head. Above he heard the squeak of bats and the thwock of flying cockroaches striking the lamps. Rowdy crowds of people poured in and out of the bars in lurching groups of five to ten. He weaved up the center of the sidewalk, storefronts and streets on a tilted plane, like refractions of a vanished reality. Ahead a man approached, also weaving down the center of the sidewalk. Felix stepped to the left to allow him to pass. As he approached he could see the man’s face–it was hard, stupid, belligerent. He had prisoner eyes and walked with his hands balled into fists.

The man stepped onto the same side of the sidewalk as Felix. That was just ridiculous. Felix had yielded the center. If the man wanted a fight, he’d found one.

The two men were on a collision course now, neither slackening their pace, nor stepping aside. They didn’t collide; each stopped and stared at the other.

Finally Felix said, “I stepped aside, all right!”

“What are you, from Mars? You stepped to the left.”

“Maybe that’s how they step on Mars,” Felix snorted.

“You’re drunk.”

“What if I am.”

“Step aside.”

“No,” Felix said.

The man swung at Felix and the punch landed square on his jaw, knocking him back. The sky circled massively and he felt and saw himself fall. It was the cunt eater, he knew it now. Fueled by an accumulation of rage he stood and the man laughed. “Drunk motherfucker in a suit. Serves you right.”

Felix slugged him in the face. The man went down and Felix leapt on him but before he could smack him around the man kicked him in the balls and the two began to wrestle on the ground. They pulled hair, bit and screamed, finally standing up. Blood poured out of the man’s nose and out of a cut on Felix’s forehead. A small crowd gathered to cheer them on as they cautiously and murderously circled each other.

“Cunt eater,” Felix growled.

“Cocksucker,” the man growled back.

They sparred, striking at chest and stomach but neither man yielded to the other. Finally, Felix, darting in, hit the man in the stomach and then the face and he fell to the ground at his feet, vomiting blood and teeth.

Quiet now spread through the crowd, a palpable disappointment. The sky lit up with hovercraft; the county police were landing. Mobilized by panic and nerves Felix pushed through the crowd, some of whom shouted, go man, go. Somehow he made it to his bike and rode home. He was sure the police wouldn’t come after him, a man in a suit, if they had a criminal in hand.

The streets leading up to his house were lit only by green and red ground lights. The headlight wobbled uncertainly over the stone composite road. He weaved towards the edge and then out into the middle. Hovercraft passed overhead, blinking. Thunder rumbled in the distance and heat lightning flashed. Insects bounced off of his face and the air was full of the sound of nocturnal bugs. Toads hopped out of his way. He rode up the cul de sac, through thickets of bamboo, each house marked by a garage big enough to house a hovercraft, the peaked solar roof a foot or so off the ground, and the tall solar tower extending up above the tree line. Every house was separated by a hedge, or bamboo, or stand of RapidPines. He parked his bike next to Veronica’s and descended the spiral stairs leading to their living room. The ambient ceiling panels were on late dusk, cool, green and amber. Felix turned them up till his eyes ached and headed for the little kitchen off the living room, a straw colored cubicle large enough for a steel table for two, a two burner stove, black toaster, small convection oven in the wall, sink and fridge. His face was broken and crusty with blood, it was hard to breathe through his nose, which felt crooked. His eyes were swollen. His hands hurt; they were scraped up. He ran water in the sink and tried to wash his face a bit, soaped up his hands, and then he drank a glass of juice and took some aspirin. The taste of blood dissolved on his tongue.

As the alcohol wore off he felt a creeping sense of shame. He had inexplicably attacked another man and left him to his fate with the police. At least he was safe and not seriously injured, but he had no idea how he was going to explain any of this to Veronica. Hopefully she wouldn’t wake up when he crawled into bed and he wouldn’t have to. He opened a beer and went downstairs to their bedroom.

The bathroom light was on, the door was shut and all of the lights in their bedroom were off, even the baseboards. He went into the bedroom and sat down on a chair in the dark and took off his shoes as quietly as a drunk man who has just been in a fight can. They tumbled off of his feet and clunked to the floor. His eyes adjusted to the dark. He rolled off his socks and took off his pants and shirt and took a long slug of beer. Then he removed his underwear and sat a moment naked in the chair. He couldn’t possibly sleep. His heart thumped. The excitement kept at him, agitating his thoughts with alternating feelings of triumph and guilt. He’d won a fight, he’d crow; he’d beaten an innocent man, came the response. Finally he put the t.v. on and casually looked at the bed. It was empty. “Veronica?” he called. “I’m home. Is anything wrong?” No answer. “Are you sick?” That might explain why she didn’t answer the phone or come, she was sick. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? He smelled, faintly, vomit. “Babe,” he said, standing unsteadily, “can I come in? If you’re sick I can get you something.”

He knocked on the bathroom door. “Come to bed. I’m home now.” He knocked again and turned the handle. It was locked. “Babe?” He rattled the door. Everything slowed down. For what seemed like a long time he stood in a silent time bubble. His mind wouldn’t turn or work. Pressure built in the bubble. He pushed weakly at the door and then, all of a sudden, the bubble burst, reality whooshed in and he exploded. “Babe! Veronica!” He shouted and smashed at the door, running blindly at it from the bedroom, kicking until the wood splintered and it swung open.

Felix looked down at Veronica’s body in the tub. The water was murky, red and orange. The floor tile and sides of the tub were smeared and caked with half dried blood. Little bits of food and whole capsules floated around on the surface of the water and Veronica’s head lay tipped back, caught on the edge of the tub by a flap of skin. It was like she was watching the ceiling except that her eyes were shut. A puddle of blood had collected between her neck and the tub and had trickled down to the floor. Her lips were parted and her tongue protruded slightly.

“Oh, Oh!” he cried in confusion and panic even as his body went into action. Please please please not dead, he thought, don’t be dead, not dead, and yet he was sure, surveying the shambles, that she was. He dropped to his knees, afraid to move her, and took her scabbed, lacerated arm up in his hands. “Oh my god, my baby,” he sobbed quietly. He knew he couldn’t just squat naked in a puddle of his wife’s blood sobbing, he had to do something. Gently at first he put his hands into the cold water, one beneath her knees, spread haphazardly apart, bringing them together, and the other beneath her shoulders to gather her up as best he could and lift her. But she was slippery and heavy. He got her up a bit, enough for her head to tilt back and mouth to gape open hideously before he dropped her, sending slow sloshing waves over the edge of the tub.

Again he lifted, this time not gently but with all his strength and he carried her dripping body into their room and laid her on the bed. In a functional trance he called the Hudson County Emergency Medivac number and collapsed beside her on the floor, convulsed with tears, all thought shattered. Then he laid his head on her breast, took up her hand and prayed and waited. Sometimes he felt a heartbeat, but whether it was hers or his own he had no idea.

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