I savored the coffee after a full breakfast in a Cuban version of a diner. Spanglish out of the mouths of bottled blondes with large rears and sour faces clad in a cheap replica of a Denny’s uniform. I was on the page before the horoscopes debating whether to skip them while I spread jelly on my last piece of toast. Once on the horoscope page I dodged them, finally reading Aries but not looking at Gemini.
I was afraid of the horoscopes. If it was bad and something went wrong early in the day I would become paranoid, driving badly and generally being a wreck. I had no choice. I was too close to it to leave it.
Gemini (May 22 - June 21)
Health problems could be on the horizon. Watch out at work.
An old flame could reappear, igniting a dormant passion.
I knew I shouldn’t have read it. I paid silently, “Thank you.” being a little too much for the recent immigrant to get out of her frown. The uncontrolled steaming sprawl of Miami overcame me and the car drove itself north. There was only one old flame and she returned, a pleasant and constant memory back after a long respite. She arrived sweet and I felt her in my forehead and in my arms, for a moment I imagined I could think of her forever. The strip malls became palm trees and the highway suddenly lifted up into the sky. I rose with little traffic on the interstate above the squalor towards the high-rises of downtown.
I saw the eyes when I thought of her, the pronounced puffiness under them left a cloud of sadness over what was otherwise a sweet face. She had the arrogance of a beautiful woman, which matured to season the inherent soft ways. The exit was approaching rapidly, less than ten seconds to decide. A quick look right and the car swerved across two lanes to the exit . Once descended to the street I was full of doubt.
I had been interested in many women, interests that could last months and even occupy most of my thoughts, but I knew they had no magic potion to make me happy; it was sex and company and maybe a few laughs. There was a time I believed that a woman could give me bliss, pure, palpable happiness, and this was the woman who was going to give it to me. María Begoña Eguren, Begoña. I hadn’t seen her in over three years and only knew where she worked through a friend. I parked in the building and walked across a large patio, the doors intimidating me into having another coffee in a café next door.
It had begun in high school, my last year. I can still feel the energy, the intensity of the most minor encounter, it never became more, but she grew in me instead of fading. Two summers later I called her out of the blue. We met the next day and there began a summer in which the joy was real. She gave me pleasure, her small firm body was pliable in my hands and the eyes looked straight through me, the sadness only making me kinder.
I finished the coffee and walked through the doors and up an escalator, in front of me leaned a large glass case with the names of the law firms and banks in the building. I could see my reflection and I realized I should go the bathroom to spruce up. The gray was evident above the ears. My father said it was one of the few Irish traits I had inherited from him, apart from the drinking. One day, three years after that summer she looked into my eyes and I knew she was gone, the melancholy which always comforted me was now for me.
The fast elevator raced through the floors of the building pulling at my stomach. I moved my shoe on the clean carpet and could see my reflection distorted between the stainless steel panels of the elevator door. I felt her in my shoulders, waking in the early afternoon, French Chardonnays with smoked salmon on toast for breakfast. All out afternoons, the dusk on the bay, her smell. The door opened. I took three steps and stopped, looked right and saw the alluring receptionist guarding the entrance to the lush firm, the ocean wide and blue behind her. I thought about turning around, but her face carried me to her.
At a wedding she introduced me to her family and I felt as if I had arrived. One of those days when everyone wants to talk to you; all the women want you and the men want to be your friends, so they don’t have to be your enemies. I was twenty- two, a few months away from finishing college, feeling unstoppable.
The receptionist had a sharp face and dark thin arms that fell lightly out of a yellow short-sleeve shirt tight on her small biceps. The short dark hair full of mousse. I looked hard into her eyes, to see if I was on. She held it.
“Could I see Begoña, Begoña Eguren please.” Her short smile comforted my tentative voice, she hit a button and we waited. The beginning of a word from her voice before it was cruelly funneled into a quickly lifted phone.
“Your name, please.” The eyes bigger and stronger now.
“Johnny, Johnny Lynch.” I noted the faint accent as she repeated my name. I braced myself for a bad answer, used to them from receptionists.
“Please sit down, she’ll be out in a moment.” The chair was soft and I wondered how long she would take, no matter. I had called her a few times in the last years, usually after too many drinks, but always pleasantly. Since the look I never tried to be more than her friend and I had succeeded, without her and my pride I would have been finished. They were difficult years, long years fighting with my job, with drinking, fighting the look and not getting anywhere. All important things have to eventually be overcome if they are ever to mean anything and I had been able to overcome almost everything else.
I felt the sweat on my palms and tried to discreetly wipe them on my trousers, the seat was low and I arched my head up to look at a painting, an abstraction that somehow managed to look like something your grandmother would have in her parlor. The years after her now seemed almost ideal, strange and lonely years full of new and peculiar habits; it was a time when I learned to enjoy being alone.
An invisible hand grabbed my head and flung it right, she seemed taller, the eyes more pronounced, a counterpoint to the affectionate smile. A kiss and a hug, her chin then sunk into my shoulder and she pushed her hand into my back.
Protected behind dark glasses we walked along the dock toward a popular nightclub that also served lunch, the movement of her body coming back to me like an old forgotten song. She had all the accouterments of her class, the filthy rich class, and they bounced and hung as only quality does. I felt like I had taken a drop of acid, the bright light above us, the unspoken desire and easiness moving through the silence. Her small hand took mine, the thumb into my palm. “Johnny, you’re getting old.” I laughed hard and well.
The place was little too hip for me, she looked at me from behind a menu with a grin that said, “I know, but it’s where everyone goes.” A large gay waiter arrived. “Can I bring you a cocktail before lunch?” Her dark eyes danced from above the bags, with the caste came vice and she was going to indulge. He quickly returned, a vodka martini for her. I went for a gin and tonic. She watched me look at her lips, red staining the glass.
“Johnny, I’m getting married.” A long, violent, sad and sentimental laugh that we shared for a long time, the waiter arrived only to send us off into another fit, unable to speak. And then a tear from the laughter became something else, only for a moment, disguised in a swift wipe of the eye, a blessed tear that will surely fill my final thoughts. “Where have you been?”
“I called you when I got back from Spain, right, sure, since then I’m working as a salesman. I’ve got a big territory, Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico and they let me do some buying in Spain.”
“We’re getting old, Johnny, I don’t like it.”
“It hit me at twenty-nine, like a two-by-four, for the first time there was no going back. I had to live with what was done. Who is he?”
“A Peruvian banker, very handsome.”
“You look great, congratulations; I hope you have many sons.” The cheeseburger went down in a few deep breaths, more drinks to round off the meal. We returned as we had come, a long empty space, the bright white sea wall beside us. The silence was now weighing. A sidewalk split from the one we were on, leading to the garage. I put my hand on her shoulder. She lifted the glasses putting them into her hair.
“Do you think I’ll be happy Johnny?”
“I hope so.” I wrapped her head in my arm and kissed her forehead.
Someone wrote that our lives seem random while we live them but when we look back with perspective there appears to have been an order and a reason. If this is a story it probably begins here and as I look back on that day it was a beginning, an end, and the beginning of an end.
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