Friday, December 4, 2009
“Jo? Jo? What is it?
“I thought you were gone,” she said.
“When you didn't come home I lay here all night thinking. And I couldn't... I couldn't even remember the last time we even touched each other. And I thought how big is this bed? How many miles between your side and mine?
“ And I start thinking who is going to hate who first?””
“I don't hate you,” Fisher said.
“Then why,” she said, starting to shake, “won't you touch me?”
Fisher reached across the bed and wrapped his arms around her. She felt so small and frail, as if he could snap her in two. He held her tightly, waiting for the shaking to stop.
“Fish,” she said finally. “If you could have half the money, would you go?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Is the money the only thing keeping you here?”
“No. No. Is that what you think? I brought back over seven thousand dollars. If I was going to run....”
She wriggled free from his arms. “If I tell you something?”
She took a Kleenex from the box and blew her nose. “I've been going to meetings.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because I'm afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Losing the restaurant.”
“Nobody is losing the... how are you losing the restaurant?”
“I don't want to go to the track. O.K.? I don't want to go there and lose everything I have because that's the way I always do it. That's my pattern.”
“Pattern? Oh Christ, Jo. That's the mumbo-jumbo phony-baloney they give you at those God damn... It's not a pattern.”
“Go damn it, Jo! If that's the bull shit they're force feeding you...”
“They're not force feeding me anything.”
“You God damn bet they are. Your 'pattern'? That's the kind of idiotic, totally useless...
“I don't want to do it anymore. Don't you understand? I don't want to go to the track. Not them. Me. I don't want to go. And... I wish you'd stop trying to make me go.”
“What? You think I'm what? That I'm forcing you to go to the track?”
“Yes,” she said.
He raised his hands in the air as if pleading to a higher authority. “I'm not. I'm not forcing you to do anything. Never have, never would. Why would I? Why would you even think...
“Because,” she said, “that's the only place you love me.”
“You think our... what we have is based only on the track?” Jo nodded her head. “Not true. Complete absolute bullshit. Is that ... is that what they're telling you in there?
“Fish. They're not telling me. I'm telling you."
“Can't you see? They're turning you against me Jo. That's what they do. That's their whole... They feed you this bullshit, they, they brainwash you. It's totally a sham. Come on. You know it is. Then they expect you to stand up like a robot and spill your guts. That's what they want. Tell me you didn't stand up and spill your guts like all those losers?”
“Thank fucking God, for that.”
“But... I wanted to.”
“You wanted to?”
“And what would you say? Jo? What would you say?”
“That I...” she made a face like she had a toothache. “That I'm a compulsive gambler. That I've lost so much money, that I want to never have to go again. That I feel I should be punished.”
“Punished? Jesus, Jo. Punished for what?”
“For my miserable life.”
“And... for killing my husband,” she said.
Fisher head snapped back as if he'd been clocked. “What! You're going to stand up and say that?” He was screaming, she put a pillow over her head to mute the onslaught. “You can not be serious! Jo! Afraid you'll lose the restaurant? You can count on that. Jesus Christ, Jo. Should be punished? Jesus, Jesus Christ.” Jo heard something, but she wasn't sure. What was he doing? She lowered the pillow and saw Fisher doubled over laughing. He was laughing so hard tears were falling to the floor. “Punished. Yeah, you'll be punished. We'll all be punished.” And then the laughter stopped. “You don't tell them a thing,” he roared.
“You don't tell them a God damn thing!”
The cab tailed Jo's car from a block behind. As the trafffic light on the drawbridge changed, Fisher urged the driver on from the back seat.
“Sit down, man. I've got her. No problem,” the driver said.
“No problem,” the driver said as he cruised through the yellow warning lights keeping the blue sedan in sight. Behind them the bridge was going up to let a tall sail boat pass. Ten seconds later and they would have been stuck on the other side and lost her.
Yeah, thought Fisher sitting back. No problem. All my life didn't I always get away? Rise, fell, did O.K.; O.K., yeah, I've been broke, sure. Been so broke I hocked my watch, sold my blood...
He remembered the nurse in the blood bank had red hair, wore an eye-patch and hummed “Hey Jude” as she watched the tube fill slowly with his blood. She filled three test tubes before pulling out the needle and slapping a band-aid over the tiny scarlet hole. Her good eye crinkled as she smiled and handed Fisher a donut. He still recalled how sweet it tasted. So sweet he smacked his lips.
The cab followed Jo's car to the recreation center and Fisher watched Jo park and enter through the breezeway. Making sure Jo wouldn't see him, he told the cabbie to let him out on the corner.
"Want me to wait?"
"No. Thanks." Fisher tipped the driver ten dollars and walked through the breezeway.
A man in a bright green shirt holding the sign-up sheet greeted Fisher at the community room door. “Do you have a sponsor?” the man asked.
“In New York,” Fisher said.
“Yeah, I'm just checking out this meeting. I heard some good things.”
“Well, sign the sheet, and we'll find someone for you. First name only.”
Fisher signed and alias and looked around the room. The meeting was packed. He had to climb over people to reach the one open seat in the back row. He stretched his neck looking for Jo and saw her sitting back straight like an obedient school girl in the front next to some guy with a pony tail.
If she was sitting any closer, Fisher thought to himself, she could be running the meeting.
A woman, Frances, was called up by the Trusted Servant. Frances had reached her five years and everyone stood up, stomped their feet, applauded, and whistled. Frances's voice croaked with emotion. She sounded like the dying Babe Ruth bidding farewell at Yankee Stadium.
“This is such a wonderful community and I am so lucky to be part of it. I have to give credit to all my friends, my family, everyone who stuck with me no matter how bad it got, all the money I borrowed and lost, all the times I slipped. My sponsor Jill, such a wonderful person. All of you here. All of you. So this isn't just my day. It's all of ours. Yes, yes. And I want everybody to speak today, to really let it all hang out.”
Applause filled the room Fisher shuddered as he peered through the rows and saw Jo's head nodding in agreement. What will I do, he thought, if Jo followed France's exhortation and “let it all hang out”? What will I do if she stands up and really spilled her guts?
What could he do? Pick up chairs, pull the fire alarm?
All these months they had stayed safe because they had been of one mind. Neither of them had gone off. They both knew that if one of them went off, then they'd both be fucked. There was no choice, they had to be one, had to be of one mind. She knew that. She had to know it, didn't she? Something caught his eye, a plate of sweet rolls and donuts next to a coffee maker. He smacked his lips thinking of going down on Jo, how sweet she tasted, how wet she went as he circled the tip of his tongue inside her.
So sweet, he thought, becomes in your mind like dope. He wasn't addicted to anything, not like these fools, so what was going on? He had never, never let a bet tear him up like this, and now here he was feeling as if he'd been gutted with a fish knife. The pain scorched in his stomach.
Please Jo, don't make me think, he thought. Don't make me think... what, that she would get hit by a car, or fall down the stairs, or with his bare fucking hands? Don't make me think, he thought.
Loser after loser stood up, prattling on about themselves and their battles with betting, and about Frances and her five years. Fisher didn't think he could take another minute, but he couldn't leave. Not until he knew she wasn't going to speak. And then...
“Hi, my name is Jo, and I'm a compulsive gambler.”
“Hello Jo,” everyone said.
It was all Fisher could do to keep in his seat. He looked around at the smiling faces. It was like a cult. He gripped, and squeezed the sides of his chair until the metal started to bend.
“I'd like to congratulate Francis on her five years,” Jo continued. “That's long. That's great.”
She paused, collecting her thoughts. When she spoke again her voice was soft. Fisher had to lean forward to hear her.
“I lost... I lost someone because of gambling. My gambling. So I know. I know how it is, what it can do to your life...”
She wasn't gonna say it! She couldn't. God damn it, Jo! Please, Jo, no.
“What I really want to say is...” for a moment she choked on her words and someone said something and someone else “shh-ed” them. “What I want to say is... how glad I am to come to these meetings. How important they've been to me. Thank you.”
Fisher's chair slid from under him and he fell on his face. The room went silent.
Humiliated, Jo ran from the meeting and into the streets. Fisher pushed his way out and chased after her.
He caught up to her as she was fumbling for her keys trying to open the car.
"Damn you, Fish!" She was angry as he'd ever seen her. "What are you doing here?"
“Spying on me? Stalking me?”
“Of course you were. Why else were you here? You suddenly, what, thought you desperately needed a meeting?"
"Do you know how you embarrassed me in there? Do you even have a clue?”
“Jo, I'm sorry.”
“I can't go on like this, Fish. I can't.”
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry. What do you want me to say?”
“Jo, are you all right?” Stan called from the breezeway.
“She's fine,” said Fisher, disliking the long-haired interloper on sight.
“Jo...” said Stan, ignoring Fisher.
“I'm all right,” said Jo. “I'm fine. I'm fine. Honestly, I'm fine.”
Stan, unconvinced, continued lurking at the breezeway.
“She said she's fine. Are you deaf?” Fisher took cash out of his pocket and threw a twenty dollar bill in Stan's direction. “Go place a bet.”
“You're a jerk, man. You know that?” Stan yelled at Fisher.
“That right? And God made ponytails to cover up a horse's ass.”
Mortified beyond words, Jo climbed into the car. Fisher jumped in after her.
They drove in silence. Fisher could see the veins in Jo's neck pulsating. It would not have surprised him if she stopped the car on the drawbridge and shoved him out the door.
They made it back to the Sloop without bloodshed. Jo parked the car in the marina and sat with her hands over her head.
Finally, she spoke.
“What did you think I was going to say? Did you think I was going to tell them about Jack?”
“I don't... I don't know.”
Jo lifted her head. “You thought I was going to give you in, didn't you? Didn't you.”
“All that stuff you were saying. All that stuff about wanting to be punished.”
“I... Jo. I didn't know. ”
“Oh, Fish. Fish, I'd never give you in. Don't you know that?”
“Never. Look at me. Look at me."
Fisher looked. He saw the deep green eyes that lead him into a walk-in freezer on Thanksgiving night.
"Never. Never. Never in a thousand years. Do you hear me?”
"Do you believe me?"
“Oh Fish. What are we going to do We can't go on like this.”
“What do you want?”
“What do I want? I want you to give me some time. Let me run the restaurant, go to meetings without being followed...”
“I...,” Jo held up her hand and he stopped.
“You give me that time, give me the space... then we can look for a buyer, split the money... split up.”
“I don't want to split up.”
“Fish, we can't live the way we're living.”
“I already said... You don't want to go to the track? Fine. All right. I mean... Christ. Don't go to the track. Whatever you want. We don't go to the track. ”
“I don't want to split up,” he said. “I don't, I don't. I don't.”
Jo smiled. It was a smile he hadn't seen in weeks. “You don't think I know you,” she said. “You like to tell yourself nobody does, nobody ever will. But I do. I've known you since I saw you beat that man up in the parking lot. I'd seen him laugh at you when he didn't let you get your bet in, and that was wrong, and the world's not going to do a thing about it to make it right. Long string of people getting away and nobody does a damn thing. Presidents, big wigs, writing the world off on the back of napkins.
But people like us... we're on our own. So I understood why you needed to make it right. I thought, that's what I wanted.”
“Someone who needed to make it right.”
She kissed him. It was a soft kiss, a butterfly landing on a flower petal, but it cleaved Fisher in two. One side wanted to kiss her hand, her neck, her face, and the other side wanted to get his hands wrapped around her windpipe and press them together until her head flopped like a dead doll. He looked into her eyes and saw the reflection of his eyes looking into her eyes. He kissed her and then he kissed her again, harder. And again, and again. And their mouths were open and their tongues twirled and probed. And they were in their condo, he was carrying her across the bedroom by her naked ass, her legs wrapped around him while his cock angled up inside her. When they hit the bed, they were covered in sweat, still fucking, still fucking. Fisher's arms were free, Jo's eyes were closed, her head turned away as she moaned in pleasure. The thought lit in his head that he could do it now, she was helpless, he could do it now. No one would know, he could do it now.