He noticed his right hand, abandoned, hovering mid air, still holding the lighter. He returned it to the pocket of his sweatshirt, alongside a three-pack of Trojans, yet unopened, and then he placed the hand tentatively on her crown, the long blonde strands clingy with static, griping as one might grip a basketball, fingertips spread, wishing he could slow the pace, not sure of the protocol, wishing she knew better the kind of thing he liked, more of a slow pushing-down motion, as opposed to the frenetic pulling up. Her head felt lumpy in spots where the hair extensions had been attached with hot glue, cheaper than hand sewn, though less permanent.
They were parked in a residential alley off Seventh Street, deep in heroin country, behind what appeared to be an abandoned house. The alley was strewn with trash and tires and old appliances. Around a charred steel drum was a circle of broken chairs and upended milk crates. Two abandoned vehicles seemed to be serving as residences. The place had the feel of a homeless encampment; in his haste to find a spot to park, Seede hadn’t paid it much mind. A weed tree grew tall overhead. Its branches hung down like those of a weeping willow, dappling the amber light from the remaining streetlamp. The other, to the east, appeared to have been shot out.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to concentrate, to give himself over, to experience fully what he’d heretofore denied himself, a monumental feat of will given the proximity of the Strip and all of its offerings. Sometimes, when he was at a bar, or out to dinner, or playing coed touch football, or standing in line at the post office, or walking around the newsroom (well, maybe not walking around the newsroom), he felt like he must be the only man on the planet who wasn’t getting laid. What was wrong with him, anyway? Why didn’t his wife love him? Why couldn’t she just break down once in a while and throw him a bone? He’d been a good husband—up until recently, that is. Didn’t he deserve better? In six years of marriage he had never strayed—not even during this long drought of physical affection that had slowly eaten away at his happiness and self-confidence, eaten away at the fabric of his being like a wasting disease, killing the very cells of himself, leaving instead this malignant need.
His pulse thumped behind his temples. His jaw was clenched; he forced it open. He took a deep breath through his nose: wood smoke and leaf rot, must and mold, auto exhaust, the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, the medicinal smell of crack, her powdery-sweet perfume, his body odor—sixty-some hours at this point without a shower or sleep. He leaned his head back against the cold surface of the window, his left shoulder wedged against the door, an awkward position that afforded this woman— street name Savannah, a friend of Jamal’s he had interviewed once for a story— a better angle on her business, given the obstacles of stick shift and emergency brake that lived between the bucket seats of his four-door Dodge Colt.
After seeing Sojii safely down the steps to his basement apartment—desperate though he might be, Seede was not about to feed crack to a minor, no matter how beautiful and willing– he’d found the car parked in its usual place in the garage, a brick suffix to the house, complete with remote-controlled door, an architecturally grandfathered set-up much coveted in the neighborhood. The car was an ’85 model, a zippy little econobox made for Dodge by Mitsubishi, painted an effervescent pinky yellow color called champagne, emblematic of the era of its manufacture, a time of junk bonds, expense account caviar, and powder cocaine. That Dulcy did not take the car had led Seede to conclude that she and Jake left by taxi. Surely they hadn’t walked to the subway at Dupont Circle, six blocks west across the frozen landscape. Maybe they’d been given a ride— he couldn’t imagine where or by whom. Dulcy had no relatives in town, no friends: she always said, somewhat lamentably, that her closest girlfriend in D.C. was Jim Freeman. She was always a man’s woman, Seede told himself. At which point another thought occurred: Could she be having an affair?
Reaching with his left hand into his other sweatshirt pocket, he pinched out a menthol cigarette, placed it between his lips, searched the confines of the driver’s door pocket for his lighter, remembered the right sweatshirt pocket, located the lighter beside the condoms, lit the cigarette, careful to avoid Savannah’s hair, no doubt flammable. The smoke loitered along the cheaply upholstered ceiling of the car, danced around the dome light. Seede tried to recall the last time he’d felt a woman’s mouth on his penis. He thought of his wedding night and felt a twinge of guilt, followed by a flash of anger. She’s the one who fuckin left, he told himself. He thought about all the times over the last year that he’d considered leaving. Did I fuckin leave? He thought about all the blow jobs he’d had over the course of his lifetime. The brunette with braces at the rifle range at Camp Green Mountain. The redhead on the Spanish Club trip to Barcelona. The blonde in the front seat of the car at 70 mph on the George Washington Parkway. Dulcy on their wedding night, looking up at him so lovingly, her lips full and slick, a gleam of contentment in her honey-brown eyes, a goddam sparkle. This is what happens when you give them what they want. Sadness rained down upon him, a cloudburst, a sudden squall. He felt lonely and misunderstood. He took another hit off his cigarette.
The head bobbed more slowly now; Seede’s hips rose contrapuntally, a moist smacking sound, like someone chewing food with their mouth open. His breathing was shallow and effortful, like someone lifting weights. Seconds passed… one minute… two. His mind began to settle. The running internal commentary, the slideshow of images, the dancing fountain of grandiose ideas– all of it began to subside, as if a hand somewhere was turning a series of dials, lowering the volume, dimming the lights…until a stillness began to descend upon him, warm and syrupy, like the first faint tuggings of oncoming sleep, only instead of sleep it was pleasure. He gave himself over to her strong lips and muscular, swirling tongue, the excruciatingly luxuriant stretch of dermis, the electric tingle of nerve endings, her left hand squeezing, her right now cupping his balls.
Just then, outside the car, a fat orange alley cat– spotting a rat or a rival or a maybe a female in heat– jumped from a nearby garage roof… to a rickety fence rail… to a rusty metal trash can, landing a tad off-balance, causing the lid to slip and slide and fall, taking with it the fat orange cat, which shrieked, Yeoooooooooow!, the lid clattering on the cobblestones like thunder.
Seede sat bolt upright. He swiveled his head around, bird-like, herky-jerky, checking his perimeter. With the sleeve of his sweatshirt, he wiped away the condensation from the window.
And there she was. Standing in the dappled shadows beneath the weed tree.
Her face was arranged into a hideous mask of hurt and anger and betrayal. Her toe was tapping, like Flo in Andy Capp. She held the boy on her hip, bundled in his snowsuit. The hood came to an elfin point at the top of his head. They had argued bitterly about purchasing the thing, which was stuffed with goose down and rated to negative ten degrees, another entry on a seemingly endless list of critical aftermarket add-ons: the safety locks on all the kitchen drawers and toilet seats; the rubber plugs in the electric sockets; the security gates on every landing of the carefully restored stairwell, the hinges of which needed to be secured to the antique hardwood with maiming metal screws. How much time had been devoted, over the last twenty-seven months, to researching and discussing and arguing and procuring and installing these and other must-have accessories? To schlepping them from place to place around the neighborhood, around the globe: strollers and car seats (different models for different age-ranges); a portable high-chair (the gay-owned restaurants in their neighborhood declined to keep them on hand); a portable playpen; the bulging backpack full of ointments and salves and diapers and bottles and emergency supplies; and, on one memorable trip into Heathrow Airport, a gallon-size zip-lock freezer bag full of a crystalline white powder which happened to be infant formula. Lucky for Seede, the customs detectives assigned to strip search and interrogate him were themselves beleaguered fathers of young children—were there any other kind?
Savannah looked up quizzically at Seede. She consulted the watch on her left wrist, in which hand she held his soft penis. “You think you can finish, baby?” There was a dubious tone in her voice.
Seede’s chest vibrated as it heaved and fell. His eyes were twitchy. His pulse was racing, a timpani inside his skull. He ventured another glance out the window. Dulcy and the boy had dematerialized.
“You want another hit?” he croaked.
“Ten mo minutes,” Savannah said, workmanlike, a bit annoyed. She took a drag off her cigarette, returned to her ministrations.