The previous post, Sweet Spot, reveled in life before responsibility. Not to be read as a continuance or sequel, Phantom serves as aftermath.
Sixteen years after that hi-ho halcyon night, three of us bent elbows in Amsterdam. Kewpie, Warren and I converged in the Lowlands. On a late autumn evening, we treacherous three tippled somewhere near the Leidseplein.
Earlier in the shortened day, angry North Sea gusts twisted clouds deserving van Ruisdael’s brushstrokes. Although conditions failed compelling Amsterdam burghers to tighten their scarves or fully button coats, it certainly quickened our paces … right into a warm Brazilian themed bar.
Incongruous caprihinias diverted attention from each tippler’s encroaching fifth decade, bad and failing commitments, as well as formerly soaring careers that face-planted. Fortunately, none of our gray had started sprouting yet.
Warren organized our meeting. He framed it as our respite from real life. We’d convened in Brussels after flights from three Stateside cities, triangulating in Belgium. It was the same non-stop locus for us all.
Brussels only bookended our respite. A day there, several in Amsterdam, then a concluding pair in Belgium. A timely getaway stuffed with chocolate, beer, and Argentine parilla. All these elements momentarily banished obligation, restraint and accountability.
In fact, until sitting and imbibing shoehorned inside that Ipanema shoebox and absorbing what Kewpie related to us there, our excursion’s most regrettable moment had been carelessly leaving a bag of chocolates on the Brussels-Amsterdam train. Otherwise we hadn’t just summoned some of our old merriment. Why, we’d conjured some necessary relief!
The drinks’ aguardiente loosened my and Warren’s tongues. We tag-teamed in revealing a facet of that long-ago 1980 party night, one quite unbeknown to Kewpie. Aside from Penn Dutch’s well-meant mauling of Elmira’s hindquarters, Warren’s chivalry had cockblocked him from a sure piece of strange. Okay, maybe not chivalry so much as shorted and boozed-fused synapses.
In a loud crowded house epitomizing our time’s partying, he and I found ourselves alone in a quiet bedroom with an unknown woman. Maybe pretty under the right light, the right mood, she wasn’t a woman who’d ordinarily incite desire.
She asked Warren’s permission to undress.
So certain of his assent, she’d already started stripping down. Beneath a flannel shirt and white jeans, the sheerest foundation garments shamelessly displayed her charms. That night Warren was a different kind of wolf. Where another might’ve lunged at the opportunity and devoured her, he shied.
She dressed faster than she’d disrobed. On some level his rebuff must’ve mortified her. It sure as shit stunned me! I imagine few, if any, men had ever turned down her candy. Immense couldn’t have described her confusion.
The incident’s punchline isn’t Warren refusing her offer. No, it’s that after the girl rushed from the bedroom in which we ought have cavorted, he turned to me and deadpanned, “Guess I fucked that up.”
Our Arizona cohort has been howling at his massive understatement ever since. Despite knowing what sadness underpinned the offer, even Kewpie horselaughed at Warren’s boner. Once our 1996 laughter subsided, she one-upped us.
Kewpie had known her, and remembered her well.
The girl who offered herself never saw much longer past 22. Tragedy, not anything preventable, plucked her too soon. Despite her ephemeral prominence, much time had passed. We two men had forgotten her name. Kewpie revived her name that night but nearly a score of years has again consigned it our memory holes.
Since ours the shortest and most meaningless of interludes, there’s little I can describe about her. Thin and wan, her long russet hair fell lank. The pure plumb of her shimmering strands would’ve disappointed any comb seeking a snag.
Two other distinctions remain constant throughout the years. Red splotches daubed her pale cheeks. These defied her spectral complexion. After Warren dismissed her gift, I reflexively clutched her hand hoping hindrance and fast talk on my part might stay her departure and salvage some delight. Gone already, she’d become cold to the touch.
These fleeting impressions receded quickly. Or what transpired between Elmira and Penn Dutch, and later with her and Warren, shoved what seemed a minor event to the evening’s skinniest periphery.
Kewpie’s illumination sobered our merriment of the matter. Not the part where he refused swiping the girl’s candy off the table, but her circumstances.
According to Kewpie, the girl’s promiscuity had no basis from insatiability but sentiment. “She wanted to be remembered.”
Hearing that in one’s late 30s then further contemplating the same during life’s mid-50s naturally emboldens the picture. It sharpens the colors and deepens the black.
“She wanted to be remembered.” Now there’s an epitaph.
Our gray would never startle her one morning and she’d never earn our wrinkles. Nor would she ever compare mature life’s elations and letdowns against those of earliest adulthood. We walked on.
Today being forgotten seems unfathomable. Technology perpetuates us. Properly tended social media sites can keep the absent current. What had been a privilege limited to the famous – or notorious – is now available to enshrine and immortalize simple acquaintances who once walked alongside us.
Back then, though, memory alone prolonged our presence. So we treacherous three grasped the phantom’s intent.
She’d likely fade from all but her closest friends’ clearest recollections. It can’t be helped. Human beings aren’t the most dependable repositories, are we?
Therefore, her solution, the surest bane to feminists everywhere – she engaged in otherwise meaningless carnal congress with as many men as possible. If she thought as we Amsterdam visitors did, it was to leave notable markers behind.
In many male minds, yes, likely from the deepest recesses, I’ve no doubt she occasionally erupts to the frontal lobe. Some incident or face or mention will jolt long-ago tricks through uncanny similarity.
They will remember her, feeling somewhere between pleasant and odd. The engagement’s nature should spark smirking recall. After all, it was the loosest kind of no-strings sex.
Nonetheless if the years have been kind and bequeathed awareness, her partner might realize their commingling involved more than frenzied delight. Moreover, wouldn’t they have found her instigation unusual?
The couplings themselves ought have been furious, almost as if she were possessed. In a sense she was. With her time running out she needed to race.
While her instant companions wouldn’t have known she expended life to extend footprints, the pleasures derived with her through a random rendezvous should’ve distinguished themselves from any future hookups or committed contentment.
Ah. Nor she would she ever have chances to find that one lasting passion, a worthwhile man whose mutual ardor cooled into an abiding and enduring romance. Or that coin’s reverse – rejection. But then plenty of those surviving her haven’t either.
So she never knew fulfillment or emptiness, nor rejoiced or lamented. And while her satisfaction and gratification remain forever shallow, she’s been mercifully spared piercing disappointments and shattering disillusionments.
Such was the phantom who left two know-nothing young men. Sixteen years later each of we treacherous three knew of these moments. Who was ultimately better off? We the informed or the woman denied?
Anyway, if the stranger Warren dismissed, that same woman who made the freshest of fresh reappearances in Amsterdam, who can still compel interest nearly three and a half decades beyond, I suppose she remains capable of intriguing us until we all meet again. One hopes her estimation of us equals ours of her.