Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued
“Oh, my dear, Sweet Marlee, you see, drugs again? It’s a plague. My deepest sympathies. San Francisco will be good for what ails you. It’s a place for new beginnings.”
“Is that what it’s been for you, Dennis?”
“It really has. I was born and raised near Boston, West Peabody, actually. Mother, Father, 2.3 children and a dog named Tippy. Eventually I got a degree in chemistry from Harvard and joined the corporate army.”
“You’re a Harvard grad and you’re working as a ‘Manly Maid’?”
“Well, yes. I was never very good in a lab coat with a logo on it. When I saw something wrong, I tried to fix it and the bosses, the empty suits in the corner offices, didn’t like that. They said that I wasn’t a ‘Team Player’ and that I didn’t see the ‘Big Picture’. After a few years of that the American Dream and I parted ways. I came west and they can go to hell. Is there any more champagne?”
“No, I’m sorry. That’s it.”
“What about the rest of the wine I brought with the Tuna Noodle?”
“I drank it.”
“Well, damn it, Marlee. When you have guests over you have to have enough wine.”
“I’m sorry, Dennis. I thought the one bottle would be enough.”
“But it’s not enough, is it?” He turned his empty glass upside down.
Marlee felt the beginnings of a knot in her stomach.
“How am I supposed to get through this damned Sunday, Girl? You have no more champagne. I just have some cooking saki and I don’t get paid until Wednesday.” He pointed his index finger at her. “This is all your fault, Marlee.” She was beginning to be afraid that he was going to – she didn’t know what.
“Dennis, I want you to leave.”
“Leave? you want me to leave? Leave?” He swung his arm across the table and sweeping his plate and empty glass off the table. They hit the floor and smashed. He looked at her, unblinking.
She jumped when the dishes shattered, but she looked him straight in the eye and after a second saw his anger crumble, replaced with a trembling, childlike remorse. Tears began to well to overflowing in his eyes.
“Oh, Miss Marlee. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Don’t throw me out.” His hands reached out across the table to her in pleading. “I’m so sorry.”
She looked at him – this puzzling mix of Man and Boy.
“Dennis, did you take anything – medication – before you came down here this morning?”
His eyes flashed with anger again.
“Drugs? You think I’m on drugs? I hate drugs.”
“No, not drugs, Dennis, but medicine, maybe, from your doctor?” The fire in his eyes banked.
“Medicine? Of course I take medicine. It’s for my back. I stoop and bend a lot doing the housecleaning. That’s hard on the back.”
“Did you take any medicine this morning?”
“Yes, I took my pain medication, like every morning and every night. My back is so bad I can’t sleep at night without it. It hurts all the time.”
“OK, Dennis, I understand. It’s the pain medication and the champagne. They don’t mix very well and it’s making you…nervous.”
“Do you still want me to go home?” He was like a boy again.
“It’s not that. I just think that you need to get some rest until the champagne wears off.”
“I said I was sorry. I’ll get you another plate. Just don’t be mad at me. Don’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you. I like you, Dennis, but right now I need you to be somewhere else. Won’t you help me by doing that?”
“For you, anything.”
Marlee helped Dennis to his feet and, with his arm draped over her shoulder they started slowly toward the door.
“I love you, Marlee.” His speech was a bit slurred.
“C’mon. Let’s get you upstairs.”
One step at a time they got up to the third floor and to Dennis’ front door. He carried his keys on a retractable chain clipped on his belt. Marlee opened his door and they stumbled inside. It was dark, even though the sun was bright outside.
Both of their apartments shared the same floor plan. Marlee reached out for the light switch.
When the two 100-watt bulbs in the hallway fixture lit up, she could see that the heavy shades were drawn on all of the windows and that there was very little in the way of furniture in the apartment.
The living room was empty except for a loveseat that looked like two bright red lips – A masterpiece of 1980’s kitsch. Several large plants, a large hibiscus and a pair of philodendron sat in the bay window straining for any bit of sunlight. The dining room held only three aluminum pipe garment racks filled with clothes and dozens of empty hangers.
The walls were bare, no pictures, photos or artwork of any kind.
“OK, Dennis. I’m going to put you on your bed and then I’m going home. You need to sleep this off. You’ll be fine.”
”Yes, Sir, Ma’am. I am putty in your hands.”
Marlee pushed open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. They illuminated a large, bare mattress on the floor against the wall. No pillows, sheets or blankets covered the blue flower-print fabric.
Unlike the rest of the apartment, the walls in the bedroom were decorated with hundreds of pictures. There were reprints of old Rock and Roll concert posters, a picture of Einstein sticking out his tongue at the world and hundreds of photographs of Haight Street.
Some of the photos were taken at the annual Haight St. Street Fair showing thousands of people filling the street, all of them intent on music, beer and revelry.
There were snapshots of both groups and individuals. Storefronts on Haight Street were shown in 8 x 10 glossy prints.
Marlee noticed that mixed in with the pastiche of photographs were several pictures showing Luco Reyes. She also saw one showing Luco sitting at a table inside the People’s Cafe…talking with her.
Rather than question him now about the pictures and maybe get him antagonized again, Marlee just wanted to get him onto his mattress and then get out of there.
They moved across the room, the glossy paper sending flares of light across the ceiling. Marlee staggered under her load and they both fell against the closet door.
“I love you, Marlee.”
“I know. I know. Let’s get you to sleep.” She tried to push him toward the mattress, but he pushed back, pinning her to the door.
“I love you, Marlee,” he said again, only this time there was an insistent edge to it as he pressed his body against hers and clamped his hand tightly on her breast.
“No! Dennis, stop!”
He squeezed harder. A mixture of pain and panic washed over her. He lowered his head, trying to kiss her lips.
Over the years since she had reached puberty, Marlee had had to contend with the unwanted attention and the crude gropings of both men and boys. In college she had taken a self-defense class sponsored by the local Rape Crisis Center. She knew how to stop an attacker.
Dennis didn’t react to her first knee to his groin. Credit that to the painkillers. The second attempt was a direct connection between kneecap and testicles.
A half-swallowed scream came from Dennis as his grip loosened and he stumbled back, tripped on the corner of the mattress and fell on his side. He immediately curled into a fetal position and vomited.
Marlee was surprised by the reaction to her defensive move. This was the first time she had ever had to use it. She watched him writhe in pain. She also saw her Eggs Benedict and champagne brunch staining his shirt and the blue mattress cover.
She knew that he was no immediate danger and that when he finally realized what he had done, he would be mortified. But right now she didn’t care about that. He was in agony and on the floor, she had put him there and that was alright with her. He earned it.
She took a quick look around the room. There were a half a dozen single-use cameras on the floor in the corner. She picked one up and took picture after picture of Dennis puking his brains out. When the film ran out she tossed the camera on the mattress, walked over to the wall and tore down the photo of her and Luco.
With one last look at Dennis, she walked out of his apartment, leaving his front door wide open.
“Better check your locks, Dennis.”