Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One
With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.
Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.
“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”
He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”
A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”
Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.
She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.
The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.
Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.
He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?
Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.
She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.
When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.
“Luco, I want to thank you.”
“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”
“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”
“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”
“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”
She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”
“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”
This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.
Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.
It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.
Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.
Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”
“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”
“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.
There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.
Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”
They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.
They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.
“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”
“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”
“Marlee, how do you do it?”
“How do you go on, survive?”
“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”
She looked into his pain-filled eyes.
“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”
“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?
“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”
“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.
“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.
“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”
“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”
“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”
“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”
“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”
“I know you are. Thank you.”
He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.
I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.
“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”
She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.
“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”
There were still too many ghosts.
Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.
She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.
Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?
Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?
Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.
Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.
“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”
“Yes, I know, Luco.”
He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.
“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.
Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.
“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”
“Are you really here Alicia?”
“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”
“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”
“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”
“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”
“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”
“How can I go on without you?”
“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”
Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.
“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”
A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.
“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”
He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.
“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.
“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”
“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”
“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.
“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”
Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.
“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”
This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.
“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”
“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.
“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”
Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.