An Appetizer

Using the most chance of coincidental encounters, Trevor wends towards certain confessions with his long-ago lover Lesley serving as his confessor.

Beryl must’ve known.

Thankfully or teasingly, she never confirmed Trevor’s suspicion. No need to, he supposed, for the unknowing preyed upon him harder than any naked accusation. His own anxieties about the matter created a greater imposition than Beryl’s confronting and exposing him.

Smugly, a little too smugly, almost throwing back at Trevor the same level of superiority he’d use, Lesley further aggravated his lingering apprehension by agreeing with him – then doubling down.

“Oh, Beryl knew. But instead of out-loud drama, she played on your guilt. You know, that feeling you say you’ve never bothered having. She plucked that tight string. And plucked it good, too, huh?”

Barely clothed now, a languid Trevor and Lesley reposed in his hotel room drinking. Thirst resulted from their exertions. They considered ordering cocktails through room service, but then she upped that by suggesting Champagne instead.

Liking her idea so much Trevor insisted on two bottles.

In any case, it meant throwing on enough garments to appear decent. Or at least inoffensive. Lesley draped herself in his robe; Trevor back in trousers ought have sufficed but for complete decorum’s sake he also slid into his shirt. A concession he thought his mid-50s physique demanded.

She slouched in one of two the uncomfortable chairs beside room’s the too small round table. They’d brightened the room’s lighting, from murky to illicit. Waiting for their request, barefoot, hands filling pockets, Trevor slowly traced a meandering pattern on the room’s short nap carpet.

His loaned robe alluded to long-ago lost Delores. Ah, Delores. How she resided in memory. Perhaps more formative towards his makeup than Beryl, Trevor recognized and accepted Delores as a stepping stone. Hers, unlike Beryl’s, became a necessary departure.

While a much younger and still impressionable professional man about Manhattan, Trevor roamed through nighttime Chinatown warrens. In these nestled innumerable curio and notions shops.

His four years at Arizona had somewhat dulled Trevor’s city senses. What better way of re-honing them than by re-immersing himself in New York’s alien communities? And in the early 80s, before new ethnicities overran the city’s traditional subsets, Chinatown environs wavered upon his suburban mindset between exotic and menacing. Thus the perfect jolt from his now scholarly complacency.

Among the blackest shadows and neon, yellowing into orange desiccating ducks hanging in open air stalls, shelves of packaged animal offal believed to contain revitalizing properties, pungent odors, and his ears assailed by an incomprehensible language and music, Trevor found his interest fully engaged by a clothing store. This being Chinatown, a cheap clothing store.

In its display windows, on its racks, Chinese kitsch Occidentals should imagine as “authentically Asian.” Of course the establishment catered to tourists. What any one of Chinese heritage would’ve been caught dead actually shopping there?

Drawn inside and immediately attended to by the wary/solicitous proprietor/clerk, Trevor’s eye fixed on a batch of robes. He riffled through the selection. Several bearing red and gold dragons against different colored backgrounds snagged his fancy. He favored those whose symbol swirled upon black yet none suited his heft. The one fitting him which he bought the most garish possible: a serpent twisting upon lime green.

Just for shits and giggles he checked the collar label. Hecho en Dominicana Republica. Naturally.

Inelegantly seated as she was, now wearing the disheveled garment she did, Lesley reminded Trevor of a Bettina Rheims composition. He daren’t mention the photographer otherwise she might likely occasion another explanation of one more generally less known artist. Nonetheless wouldn’t Lesley among his female acquaintances most enjoy Rheims’ oeuvre? But how did one express “louche” in a complimentary sense?

Therefore, his Rheims appreciation he kept to himself.

Neither knew why but hadn’t Lesley and Trevor expected a bellman to make the delivery? Instead a distaff version tapped at their door. Rather than some grizzled functionary or sharp-eyed cheesing ferret looking around for any sort of impropriety with which he could regale his fellow below-floor denizens, a young woman. One who could’ve conceivably confessed she worked her way through college.

The woman remained young enough, or still retained vestiges of naivety, to express slight discomfort at their state of dishabille and the bed’s obvious use. She looked as if she’d walked in on “something.”

No. She’d been permitted entry during a break between what had happened and what would likely resume later. So despite the bellhop’s minor discomfort nothing existed to see. Only imagine. And imagination, as Trevor and Lesley well understood, often left far deeper imprints than actual living, breathing, tangible events.

Nonetheless the bellhop’s uneasiness charmed the pair. Not from being so jaded they found her inexperience amusing, but recalling their own less burdened times before knowledge weighed and colored them.

While ignorance should never be confused with bliss, the delights of simpler life couldn’t have been wholly dismissed either.

Distress aside, the bellhop quickly and efficiently set up the stand and arranged the bottles inside the bucket for maximum chill. Both stems she sat on the table close to Lesley’s forearm. After eyeballing Lesley’s robe, the two snatched brief eye contact and exchanged fleeting grins.

Trevor’s tip made worthwhile whatever awkwardness the bellhop felt.

Her errand finished, and the third’s departure leaving the pair alone again, Trevor lifted a bottle from the bucket and peeled foil. Projecting away from Lesley, he thumbed the cork until a satisfying pop created a sharp two-bank shot off ceiling and wall. Unlike the movies where wine always spumed from such openings, only vapor haze escaped the bottle. He poured for them both.

While white fizz settled into bubbly gold-tinted liquid, Trevor sat across from Lesley. A toast unnecessary he presented one anyway. Lesley reflexively raised her flute to his.

“As Sam told Rick and Ilsa, ‘This ought to take the sting out of being occupied.’”

She grinned at his movie quote. They touched glasses and sipped.

“There aren’t many things I regret,” Trevor stated, “but not drinking enough Champagne is one of them.”

“Ah,” Lesley said. “So much for the examined life.”

“No, I believe in the examined life,” he responded. “Just isn’t much I regret about it.”

“But Beryl is one?”

“Cut to the quick, why don’t you?”

Lesley smirked. “I’m less inhibited now. And maybe you’re more introspective.”

“We’re both less inhibited,” he said, “and I’m just as clear-eyed as ever. But yeah, she’s that kind of mistake made you instantly regret making and instead of walking it back, you continue deepening the lie.”

“Eh,” Lesley said. “Let’s call yours an error. Less inhibition means we can be more generous. If you’d been older, you would’ve seen it and fixed it.”

“If I’d been older then, I would’ve known enough to avoid the mistake,” he said.

Lesley shrugged. “That’s why it’s always best to fuck up when we’re young. We learn then we recover. Can’t do that now. Not enough time to heal.”

“Who said anything about ‘healing’?” Trevor said. “What’s this ‘healing’ nonsense? Anyway let me tell you about the crazy parts. Or the two craziest parts.”

“The two that had you thinking the most?” she asked.

“The two that had me confused and sweating bullets the most,” he said.

In anticipation, no, more like whetting her appetite for a meal promised as scrumptious, Lesley asked, “Is this a long story?”

“No,” he answered. “It’s an involved one.”

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