Janet was dancing in my dream. It was her birthday, in my dream. And despite the occasion, she hadn’t changed a thing. No place to go but down, into the depths of Creole Nights, where she spent most every evening. Tuesday through Saturday. Stationed behind the bar, her own foxhole, pinned down by dueling requests for drinks, refills, and the roaming eyes of men who could benefit from a sly castration or two.
The last night of Voodoo Fete. What was once a weekly tradition of drums, music and rhythmic hips, all coming to a close. Combined complaints from the people two floors up, and a new city dictum forbidding six or more people from dancing in any bar, pub or watering hole that wasn’t a licensed nightclub.
The subterraneans cried out in kind.
I was seated at a table, for once. For some reason.
Popped a Marlboro. Had a bit of chilled Jack. Ice cubes fleeing.
Ayizan raised his arms. “God bless us all, the world has brought us all here. AYIBOBO!”
I kept drinking, in this dream.
This infuriating, superlative memory.
Ayizan pointed, the full length of his arm. “We’ve got Zephyr and Evan behind the bar!”
Cheers. The two brothers raised it up, applauding over their heads.
“Janet, so beautiful! It is her birthday tonight! Thank you, God, for such a wonderful woman!”
From her station at bar’s end, Janet lifted a bottle of sweet dynamite. Slender arms. Athletic build. Eyes an adopted flare of Korean madness.
Ayizan pointed in my direction. Eyes smiling through his dreadlocks. “We’ve got Lucky Saurelius, smoking on his cigarette, AYIBOBO!”
I raised my glass.
The drummers railed against the approaching city ordinance.
One last weekend.
Ayizan went from table to table. Swinging a censer of incense. Pungent smoke reinforcing the musty scent of underground sweat, tears and body heat. He went from table to table, from friends to perfect strangers. Slid on over my way. Hovering before my seat, the two of us, eye to eye. Shadows scuttling along the walls and ceiling.
I finished my cigarette.
Finished my Jack.
Held out my hand and met his. Let the eucalyptus oil slather its way from his palm and down my arm.
When I looked up, Wanda was standing above me.
Dirty blonde hair coming down in shoulder-length curls, where black bra straps wrapped over pale shoulders, beneath a white tank top. Hands on her hips. Their circumference encircled by a black belt; double notched, leather cracked and peeling. Bottle of Jack in her hand.
With my face inches from her belly, I raised my glass again with blind expectations.
She lifted, tilted. Sent a stream of sour mash swimming, right up to the rim.
I set my refill down, and then Wanda was straddling me.
Denim thighs wrapped around my waist.
She curled her fingers around my neck. Thumbs pressing up beneath my chin. Drumbeat coursing through her nails as they dug in. Lifted, tilted. Brought my eyelashes to meet hers. Crystal blue bearing into me. Mouth parted in a tiny, prepared invitation.
When I closed my eyes, Wanda was pressing her lips against mine.
And when I woke up, Wanda was standing above me.
“You were talking in your sleep,” she said.
I shifted against the grain of my open futon. Windows host to the flu-colored sunlight, typical of winter mornings. Jazz station playing Wynton Marsalis, “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” “You went to go sleep under the coffee table.”
She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“You fell asleep next to me.”
“Well…” I stood up. Bent low and reached beneath the wooden frame. Pulled that worn contraption back into its full, upright position. Room for none more. “There. That looks a little more honest.”
Wanda didn’t comment.
I was spoiling for a fight and she knew better. “You going to throw on a tie?” she asked.
“What are you going to wear?”
She gestured along her body. Feet planted, catwalk spiraling around bare feet. Worn jeans. Black, double notched belt. White tank top. Black bra strap visible over a single, pale shoulder.
“That’s it?” I asked, remembering my dream.
“Sweater, sure. Jacket, too, should do the trick.”
“It’s a casual affair,” she said.
“And yet, I should throw on a tie…”
“Because if you don’t, you’re going to wish you had.”
I opened the mini fridge. Helped myself to a tallboy. Swished a mouthful of watery suds. Offered it over. She took a few swallows. I followed up with my own rhythmic timing. Set it down.
Caught a flicker in her wild blues.
I traced the momentary blip, down past my body.
Faced with a discouragingly slight morning erection. More of a benign tumor, poking from the corner of chastened boxer shorts.
“Maybe some pants, too,” she suggested.
I rubbed my eyes. “A little privacy, please?”
“Sure.” Wanda stole the beer from my table and left me alone.
I struggled with my pants. Struggled with my tie.
Realized I needed a shirt to go with it.
Glanced at the futon.
Tore at the noose around my neck and hit reset.
The N train tossed us onto the steps of City Hall. A few wayward protestors were posted a few yards away. Placards raised, commemorating the slaying of Patrick Dorismond. It was almost one year later, March 2001, and public interest had waned.
And Wanda paid for our coffee.
We sat on a park bench and counted squirrels. Caught somewhere between frozen headaches and genuine appreciation for sunlight. The space between us was authentic and casually painful.
“What were you dreaming about?” Wanda asked.
“Mm…” I popped a Marlboro. Offered her one. Lit hers, then mine. “Janet’s birthday.”
Wanda smiled, only with her eyes. “That was a good night.”
She took a strong puff. I could hear her lips tugging. “What was the dream about?”
“What was it about, though?”
“More of a memory.”
“Just in a dream.”
I glanced over. Just slightly. “Why do you ask?”
She tapped her nails against the coffee cup. “You were talking in your sleep.”
Janet jumped out from behind a tree.
Did a little high kick, her thick boot-heel coming an inch from my face.
Came so close to ripping her silver strapless dress in half.
“What’s up Scooter-Pie?” she crooned. Hair pulled in a sloppy cinnamon roll. Pair of curls falling on either side of heavy eyeliner and rouge. Opened her arms and scooped me up.
Tossed me aside for Wanda.
Remy Love joined in. Smiling. Quiet. A foot shorter than his future wife. Dressed in a slick, burgundy suit. Matching tie and cufflinks. White pressed shirt popping nicely against his dark skin. We shook hands, went in for a half embrace.
“Glad I could make it, Remy.”
He laughed, rubbed a hand along his shaved head.
“What did you two kids get into last night?” Janet asked.
“It was Lucky’s belated birthday celebration,” Wanda said.
Remy gave me another hug. “Happy birthday.”
“Belated,” I told him. “They tricked me into celebrating.”
“What’d you give him?” Janet asked Wanda.
“Three rounds of truth or dare with me and my girlfriends.”
Janet snagged my cup. “Ooh. Nice n’ hot.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Coffee ain’t bad either.”
Janet took a sip. Frowned. “I expected a bit more of a kick…”
I reached over, patted Wanda’s green canvas satchel. “Slipped a fifth of Jack in here. We’re good.”
“We are good,” Janet said.
“Ready to do this?” Remy asked.
Janet bent low. Kissed him full on the lips.
They held it.
A blast of frigid wind found its way around them; lifted my tie, tossed ragtag curls against Wanda’s lips.
I dropped my cigarette on the ground. Crushed it. “Can we all go get married now? It’s cold out here for the rest of us.”
They broke apart.
Hands clasped, Janet and Remy began to walk towards City Hall.
Wanda and I watched them for a few seconds.
I gave her an elbow to the ribs. “Thought you said this was going to be a casual affair.”
“Good thing you wore a tie.”
She held out her hand, palm facing the treetops. Smiled in a southerly direction.
“Goddamn you, Wanda,” I said, and wrapped my fingers around hers.
We followed them up the steps and into the machinery of New York City.
Emptying my pockets was never a problem.
Took less than three seconds of crumpled bills and confused apartment keys.
Sent my bookbag through the x-ray.
Walked through the metal detector without a care in the world.
The security guard on the other end had taken the liberty of unzipping what was rightfully mine. Rifling through notebooks and worn Post-its.
Domingo was the nametag, embossed in brass.
His eyes were large, set against Dominican bronze. “What’s this?”
“Bad writing,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” he replied. Before I could praise his read on the situation, he lifted the fifth of Jack from my bag and gave it a shake. “I mean, what’s this?”
Wanda must have slipped it back into my bag sometime earlier.
“Fourth floor,” I told him.
“Shoot…” He shook his head, smiled sadly. “Go ahead, man.”
I collected my twelve or so Washingtons, keys to the kingdom.
Watched them run the wand up and down Wanda’s body.
They smiled while she remained rooted, arms held out.
So there was a six-foot blonde seated next to a man matching her in every last detail. Dress and all, matrimonial twins. There was a Jamaican with his arms wrapped expectantly around a diminutive brunette, hair cut so close that a red birthmark, fashioned after a tired armadillo, could be seen at the roots. There was a white teenaged punk with pink hair, nipples so clearly pierced, arm-in-arm with a Japanese man in a fresh pressed suit. There was a cancer patient in a wheelchair, her husband-to-be decorated in multi-colored tattoos of B-17s, P-40 Warhawks, F4U Corsairs. Two teenagers mixing it up between hopeful smiles, nervous glances towards the door and deep, wet kisses, tongues triangulating.
Waiting for their number to be called, like patrons at the local butcher shop.
Wanda stole my thunder with a quick whisper: “This may be the most honest place on the entire planet.”
I leaned close to her ear, unconcerned with proximity: “I thought of it first.”
“And I’ll beat you to it, someday.”
“Do your worst.”
“And I’m going to call it, If Found, Return to Wanda.”
She smiled with her eyes. “What makes you think they’ll ever find me?”
Janet hijacked our moment and dragged us into the hallway.
Surrounded by dull tiles and navy nameplates on endless doors.
Cracks in the ceiling. Splintering along the walls, paint job the color of mulch and worn Astroturf.
Janet dug greedily into Wanda’s satchel.
Extracted her Excalibur and unscrewed the cap. Took a double dose in two happy swallows.
Wanda threw me an eyebrow or two, wondering when I had planted it back in her bag.
Janet handed me the bottle. “There you go, Scooter-pie. Go deep.”
I did. Wiped my lips. “So are you going to be Janet Love?
“Yes, god, yes!” She took another belt. Sent the bottle back my way. “Janet Love!”
“Do I look like a goddamn fortune teller?” she asked. Pretended to hand me the bottle. Drew it back and sucked down some more as I fought to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
From somewhere off screen, Wanda smiled: “Snap.”
We both turned.
Caught her with a disposable camera.
Eyes peeking over the rectangular box.
We traded her. Bottle for camera. Took shots of her taking shots. Sent the merry-go-round from each one, to each other.
Janet drinking with Lucky.
Wanda drinking with Janet.
A still shot of Lucky drinking with Wanda, which I would never have the chance to throw away.
Both of us reaching with eager tongues towards the same end.
Remy poked his head out from the waiting room. “They’re ready for us.”
There was a quick scramble to see who would get the last belt.
Remy waited patiently as we drank through a tangle of arms and Tennessee-tipped lips.
The chaplain was dressed in a simple tweed suit.
Protruding lips, sad and moist, clashing with his pleased brown eyes.
An agent of happier days. Day in, day out.
Because we were gathered there today to witness the union of Janet Banks and Remy Love. No vows. No invocation of the Lord from his unfortunate bureaucracy. An exchange of rings. A request for the witnesses to sign there, and there. Light shining through a stained-glass, nondenominational window, into the strangely triangular, nondenominational room. Pronounced husband and wife. Janet and Remy coming in for a kiss. Wanda bringing her fingers to an otherwise cynical mouth.
Myself standing there with a drunken, stupid smile on my drunken, stupid face.
Stupid, unreliable present, and when Wanda hugged me, I had the presence of mind to keep it to myself.
We celebrated in an empty bar across the street.
Remy ordered us a round of Cognac.
Janet ordered loaded potato skins and mozzarella sticks.
Just a little past noon, and the brilliance of the day wormed its way along the floor and wobbling barstools.
We raised our glasses in a toast to the newlyweds.
“Lucky…” Janet dumped the contents down her throat. Raised her glass once more. “I’ll never forget the night of my birthday…”
In a rare moment of gratitude, God had the presence of mind to get Wanda choking on her drink.
Janet remained stalwart. “I sent Lucky out. Out onto the streets. Out on a mission to fetch me a chicken shawarma. From Yatagan’s, across the street. He left, and with my drink in hand, I had to wait. And I thought he was gone. Wouldn’t come back. But he did. And when he did, he had twenty chicken shawarmas. Came down into Creole Nights and just started slinging those shits everywhere. I don’t think I ever saw the losers so happy. Everyone eating and pounding their Red Stripes. Happy and dancing, end of the fucking world… Thank you, Lucky.”
We managed to bring our glasses together, drink.
Wanda stared at me over her glass, question directed at Janet: “And then what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
Wanda shook her head. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
“Me too,” Remy echoed.
I took an oversized bite from a rubber mozzarella stick.
Lit a cigarette.
“Good about her and Taylor,” she said.
“Getting back together?”
Without thinking, I put out my cigarette. Realized the mistake and lit another one.
The bartender was a blonde. Straight hair, typical grin. Tits meant to entice tips from lonely number-crunchers, paisley ties and early afternoon knock-offs. I motioned towards my glass. Got a nice dose of Hennessy for my troubles.
“I turned twenty-two again last night,” I told Janet.
“Good for you, Scooter-Pie.”
“What did those dirty girls make you do?”
“All kinds of things,” I murmured.
“Now I’m married.”
“Want to do a shot?”
We gave ourselves a round, chased it down with cognac, and the world got a little easier for the two of us.
Wanda and Remy showed up at precisely the right time.
“Should we go?” he asked.
“One more drink,” Janet said.
I turned to Wanda. “What do you think? One more?”
Wanda let her lids rest, then shot back to the now. “One more for the newlyweds.”
And that was what we toasted to.
Another meaningless bar in the middle of New York City…
Wanda and I stumbled into the apartment.
A rare moment where all the squatters, deadbeats, and so-called friends had found something to do with themselves beyond the walls of 30k.
I took a quick glance along the empty 40s, bottles of vodka, bourbon and scotch.
Reached down for the last fifth of a fifth.
Had a few draws and let exhaustion set the agenda.
Stretched myself out on the couch. Black vinyl sticking to my skin, forgetting that summer was several seasons away from a violent, cataclysmic ending.
“I hear you,” Wanda said. Stretched her arms high above her head. Gave her navel a quick lay of the land.
I motioned with my head. “Coffee table’s right over there.”
“Shut up.” Wanda brought the moxie along, into our bed.
Couch. Whatever the case may be.
Stretched out alongside me.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
“That was a good night,” Wanda said. I felt the Jack Daniel’s hot against my face. Knew her lips must have carried the same dangerous taste. “Janet’s birthday.”
“Was I there?”
“I mean, was I there? Was I in your dream?”
I was tired. And it was nice to have Wanda’s leg casually nesting my knees.
“It was different though, right? It was how it should have been?”
“And now that she’s gone off to wherever people go when they go to France –”
“ – yes, now that she’s gone –”
“You’re not on the rag, are you? That was just your excuse.”
“We’re getting back together.”
“It’s a mistake.”
“I like that you can say that without sounding desperate.”
“It’s still a rotten thing for me to say.”
Wanda smiled sadly. “I get tired of adoring you.”
“I know what you really meant, so don’t expect the joke.”
I put my arm around her.
Wanda sent those eyes through me one last time. Wider than I had ever seen them. She shifted. Turned. Nestled in close with her back to me. Clasped my hand in hers, against her breasts. Didn’t seem to mind the mid-afternoon erection digging into her back, because what I said was really the long and short of all things.
Whispered into her ear: “It’s never going to be our time, is it?”
“Never.” She kissed my hand. “After all, we’re perfect for each other.”
“Sleep well, Wanda.”
“You too, Lucky.”
’Til death do we part would have been a nice way to end this story.
“You’re talking in your sleep again, Lucky,” Wanda said.
I dropped out, drunk and in love with the way Wanda walked into a room.
or for fucking free in digital
so long and thanks for all the pish.