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Bateau Ivre by Joly Herman

11/22/2009

Rory Strauss repeated his name under his breath. It was a good name, he thought. It was a family name. Roderick. His mother’s father was named Roderick. The grooves on the underside of the steering wheel fluttered under his fingers as he turned into Waxman’s Grill. It wasn’t lunchtime, but he was a little dry.
     It was equally as dark inside of Waxman’s as it was light outside. Rory was not unaccustomed to this change, nor was he averse to it. It felt distinctly like stepping into a different frame of mind, which was exactly why he came. The barman named Chuck slid a Bushmills and a beer chaser across the bar when he took the stool. It was their little game, to not say a word but to agree on this small thing. This was what Rory considered a ritual, the true husk of faith. He drank quickly, though not without savoring the malt film on his lips. He put a five on the bar and stood to leave.
     Irene had agreed to meet him in front of the art museum, a place with undulating lawns and grand trees. Where one could lie in the grass, among the dignified trees and feel like the master of one’s lands. This was not a rendez vous on a park bench in the furtive city park. This was a pastoral setting for star crossed lovers to nuzzle in the shade of a chestnut tree.
     At times, Rory felt as though he sailed on some ancient ship. Lying on his back, he watched the sky, which he imagined to be as high and communicative as the skies over vast oceans. Land surrounded him, many hundreds of miles of land between Rory and the sea, yet he felt distinctly adrift. Once there were great seas of the Paleozoic period covering the earth on which he now lay. If there were ships… He never uttered a word about these ideas—reveries, as his mother would call them—rather, he held them close to himself. It separated him from other people.
     Irene was late and she did not apologize, instead, she approached him with an accusatory focus in her eyes. Dropping her keys in the grass, she shook her head at him. Then she slid next to him on the grass, fitting lithely into the space under his crooked arm. He kissed her forehead. He mumbled something about clover. She put her chin on his chest, looked into his glassy eyes and slumped, resigned, into his arms.
      “How much time?”
      “Until three,” she said.
      “Hunh.” He grunted. “Should we be going then?”
      “We can. I have the key.”
     He leaned to smell her hair. It was wiry and strong, like brass filament. She smelled vaguely of gasoline. “Yes, let’s go then. But I have to stop at Donnegan’s first.”
      “Why?”
      “Why? Because Donnegan has a letter for me.” He ran his fingers through his hair.
      “Okay then,” she sniffed. “We’ll take my car.”

Donnegan’s was not unlike Waxman’s Grill. The dark carpet, the dark windows, the wooden bar. Rory slumped against the cash register where Donnegan was counting cash. Irene watched them from the cigarette machine. She saw Donnegan give Rory a bill, which he slipped fluidly into his pocket. Rory then tossed back his head, setting the shot glass solidly, quietly, on the bar.
      “Let’s go,” she said, pushing the door open to the street. “See you Donny.”
      “Bye babe,” Donnegan said.
     Rory followed without fanfare.
     Her office was closed on Sunday, and still she was a little mean about his appearance. Even though they expected—you could say counted on—the office being deserted, Irene tucked his shirttail into his pants. Offices were a different animal as far as Rory was concerned. All surfaces of a place covered in grey: a single entrance and exit. It made him fidgety.
     She did not turn on the lights, which instinctively excited Rory. The door was hooked to a hinge that pulled the door closed behind them. He kissed her there, next to the doorway, and she did not resist. In fact, as Rory later recalled, she did not utter a word the entirety of their time behind the doorway. He kissed her and touched her throat. She stretched her neck so that the cartilage there protruded. He took her hands and guided them into his pockets. He pressed her hands against his upper thighs and bent to kiss her neck. She was standing very still, stretching her tanned toes against her sandals.
     Rory began to drift as she wrapped her hands around his neck like an unfurling sail. The fragrance of skin beneath her blouse rose as the temperature of her skin amplified. He wrapped his large hands around her waist. They began to undress, stopping to slide their bare chests against one other. Taking her fingers into his mouth, the sound of the rings on her finger reminded him distinctly of her. Suddenly the lights were switched on. Rory crouched behind the door where he scooped up his clothes. Irene pressed her blouse to her bosom.
      “Who—who’s there?” It was a man’s voice.
     They did not answer. Irene pulled her blouse over her head.
      “Miss Frey!” The man dropped his papers to the floor. “And you—you’re Padget Strauss’ son.”
      “Yes that’s right.”
      “What in God’s name are you doing here?’
      “Nothing sir,” he said. “We were just leaving.”
      “What in God’s name?”
      “Really sir, uh, Mr. Sikes, we were just leaving.” Rory pushed Irene into the hallway. “We’re just leaving.” He guided her with his sweating hand to the parking lot.

“You stupid fuck!” Irene barked, stepping on the gas.
      “What did I do?”
      “You know perfectly well, you fucking ass.”
      “Irene, watch out.” He yanked on the steering wheel. “Look, I didn’t do anything.”
      “What is T.J. going to say? Fuck, he's going to divorce me.”
      “Look, T.J. will never know.”
      “Rory, you are a fucking cunt. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to… fuck!”
      “Okay, Irene. Just pull over.”
      “I’m taking you to your car..”
      “Okay,” he said. “But you can pull over here.”
      “I’m driving you to your fucking car you stupid asshole!”
      “Irene…”
      “Just shut up, shut up,” she clenched her teeth. “Shut your stupid mouth.”

Rory pulled his car into his mother’s driveway. She wouldn’t be home, he knew. It was bridge day. The car ticked as it cooled. He sat inside with his head touching the headrest. Would Sikes have the balls to mention this to Padget? So what if he and Irene were having a fling? As if Sikes played it straight. He got some grab in his time, no doubt. Rory climbed out of the car. Opening the side door to his mother’s house, he savored the filmy darkness in the kitchen. The sink dripped intermittently, the plants in the window box needed to be trimmed.
     He sat at the shadowy table. He spread his hands out before him. He listened to the water drip into the porcelain basin. This soothed him immensely while he waited.

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Joly Herman has been writing professionally since 1998. She has been writing otherwise since she was seven years old. She has been published in various magazines, such as Poetry Motel, Folio, Word Riot (upcoming), and was a feature contributor to Media Magazine. She has been a guest on the Living Poet's Show on WCBN, Ann Arbor, and was featured on Smelling Salt Amusement's Hear Hear segment, recorded in Berlin, Germany. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry) from the University of Michigan in 1995 and attended the New York State Summer Writer's Institute in 1992. She currently works as a film reviewer for commonsensemedia.org.

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