“When she said yes, we could meet for lunch Saturday in Schuyler, I was . . . pleased. It was a date! I got my hair cut.
“After lunch, when I asked her if she’d show me around the city and she said sure, I felt lucky.
“But when I asked her, what do you do here at night? and she said, do you like to dance? I turned to milk. I was hers.”
Andrew is telling Warren, his psychiatrist, about his visit with Annie. He often talks to Warren in stories. They both know he’s distancing himself from his life that way, but the fact that he talks at all about his feelings is a breakthrough, and so they made a deal: he can tell stories as long as each word is absolutely true.
“After that,” says Andrew, “we lived a whole life in 24 hours. Everything but sex,” he adds quickly, looking Warren in the eye, for they sit facing each other in two slightly, but not completely, comfortable chairs, and he wants Warren to know that he has found a person, not a new receptacle.
“She dropped me off at the other hotel in town, the one that isn’t a welfare hotel, and went back to her house to take care of the dog. I got a room and then I walked around, bought a toothbrush, a razor.”
“You had your meds?” Warren’s voice is just audible, more an afterthought in the narrative than a question.
“I had my meds,” says Andrew. “I took each pill the second I was supposed to.” He pauses. “I had figured to keep things spontaneous by not bringing a toothbrush, but I was not going to have to go home because of those fucking pills.
“Anyway, then I sat in a little park across the street from the hotel and had a cigarette. It was cold, but I figured I could last long enough for a butt.
“During that time—the length of one cigarette—a black Isuzu Trooper, with Bronx plates, coupla dudes in the front seats, passed me twice, and another guy, in a gray hooded sweatshirt, found reason to walk through the park twice. No one made eye contact. We just knew we were there, me sitting, like someone who might be waiting for something, them casing me, trying to figure out if I were undercover, or, better, maybe needed something.
“A small rat popped out of his hole and ran across the street, and I thought, this place is OK. No way can you think you’re in East Hampton, or northwestern Connecticut. In fact, even though the light was wrong, and the temperature about 40 degrees too low, there was something about the place that reminded me of towns in Cuscutlan. I could have been sitting in the plaza in San Pedro, or Maria-Teza. The level of traffic, the guys who wanted to sell me something, even the hotel, which was nice enough but two years late in replacing its carpets.
“For dinner we drove east out of the city, then north to a roadhouse that had revamped its menu so I could get a steak while she got fish. She knew people there—an older guy, a doctor, and his wife stopped by our table, and later a couple of guys. She introduced me.”
“Everybody’s checking you out,” she said. Sly smile was like a wink.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“The Bennetts are part of our Amistad group; Tom and Bruce I know from church.”
“Church, I said.
"She nodded. I go to church. The Episcopal church, in Schuyler.
“I said, can we talk about church another time, and again she said sure, as if . . . it was easy.”
He pauses, decides he doesn’t need to tell Warren every single detail, like the sweet way her top lip draws over her teeth when she smiles.
“To go dancing," he says, "we drove south again and then east, over a mountain lit up for night skiing, to our second roadhouse of the evening. She said leave your jacket in the car, and we trotted up to the little red door through a snow shower.” He pauses again, watching them in his mind’s eye.
“Inside, the place was packed. There were tables along one wall, but they were filled, and everyone else was just milling, while the band set up. I got her a beer and me a ginger ale, but that was just a courtesy—the bartender would have never known we were there.
“Again she knew people, nodding, saying hi.
“Who are these people? I asked her.
“The guy over there is on the town board of a town I cover for the paper, she said. He’s a contractor. Probably most of the guys here are contractors. That woman—she nodded toward a babe in a tank top—used to be a friend. She’ll hit on you before the end of the first set.
“Did she hit on Ed? I asked and she started a little smile, like a wink, but at that second there was motion at the door, and everyone turned. The singer was there, she was going enter from the front door. She waited until everybody quieted down, and then she sang—"
For this part Andrew gets up—since he can’t smoke during the sessions, he is allowed to move around—
“O-per-a-tor”—he stands up straight and extends his arms, palms out. He has a good baritone, and he gives the word everything the singer did, figuring no one is in the waiting room yet. “She holds that for about a minute Warren, honest, then—
“Give me, in-for-ma-tion—
“and then the band starts up—she’s got this amazing blind piano player—and the two backup chicks start their thing behind her, and they all wiggle up to the stand, everybody making room for them. And there we are, in the middle of nowhere. Dancing our butts off, to music that rocks. To gospel words.
“Think white soul, Warren. She’s one of these little bullet-shaped women with a nose like a pug who can really belt it out.”
He sits again. Warren waits, quiet, as dark as Andrew is blond. In more than 200 sessions, Andrew has never told a story like this.
“Annie’s a good dancer, and I brought back my Cuscutlano dancing, but kept it clean. The babe did come over—peck on Annie’s cheek, then, to me, May I have this dance. Where’s Tony? says Annie, and the babe says, home with the kid. We never go out together.”
She tugged me so she could whisper in my ear. Don’t forget who’s takin’ you home.
Take me home, and I’ll never forget it.
“At the break we went outside so I could have a cigarette. It was snowing a little, but it didn’t look dangerous. People were lighting up and laughing and talking. I said to her, so is this what people do when they’re happy.
“She’d understood everything I had said until then. But now she looked at me with her eyes narrowed and said, What do you mean?
“I mean, I wouldn’t know unless you told me. I mean, this is the best thing that’s happened to me in five years. That’s all I mean.”
“What have you told her,” asks Warren, emphasizing the have.
“She knows about the meds. I told her Sunday. Whether she understands the total bionic nature of my new emotional state, I don’t know. But she may. And she read my book, Warren, remember? When. It. Came. Out. I should fall in love with her for that alone. But anyway, she knows that stuff, like what a dork I can be.
“So. Subjects still to be covered—” he looks Warren in the eye—“Molly. Jail. Hospital. Girls.”
Girls? Warren’s eyebrows go up microscopically. Andrew resists, unblinking, as firmly as if they were arm wrestling. “I’ll say prostitute when I tell her,” he says.
Warren nods slightly.
“I have to tell her everything?”
Warren is startled, gives a slight shrug.
“OK,” says Andrew. They have worked together long enough for him to expect an answer that’s a question. What do you want? It depends on what you want.
“You haven’t heard about the blizzard and the dead deer,” says Andrew.
“Or what happened to the babe in the tank top,” says Warren.
Copyright © Debby Mayer