The Amoralists — Part Two

    Fabio could’ve taken lessons in deviousness from Celia. He should’ve. Maybe pointers from her might’ve prevented his now and forever pronounced limp. Probably not. Indifferent a student in youth as he had been, Fabio was not an old dog to be taught new tricks.

    Maybe ascribing Celia as devious is unnecessarily harsh. Driven. She was driven. At least that lends her a trait Americans can admire. Otherwise it would be too easy to call her manipulative.

    Celia grew up in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Once I asked her town’s name, and she told me, but I forgot it. Or misheard it. Likely the last. Sometimes having drank too much vitamin whiskey her accent thickened into incomprehensibility. And she couldn’t be understood either.

     Beneath the Equator Celia became a North American pop culture creature. The aspiring Yankee seeking supremacy over the native preferred subtitled TV and movies to dubbed entertainments because the former improved her English. This southern hemisphere sponge also soaked up plenty of music. Her aural tastes helped our eventual merger.

     Music built our bridge. After years of being assaulted by Fabio’s headbanging beats, Celia’s juke box tastes clearly aligned with my own. Of course when the girls at Claggart’s stripped, standard rock ruled. (If its frequency in Claggart’s indicative, then AC/DC should’ve retired decades ago off royalties from You Shook Me All Night Long.)

     After the evening’s closing reduced the mob to us two, her playlist assumed a quiet storm tone. Celia’s selections would’ve melded smoothly on an inner-city Philadelphia radio station, say, during overnight. A moody, rainy one.

     Our 14 year age difference aside, her choices reflected much of the music influencing me growing up. Gearhead as he was, I gathered Fabio looked upon soul and R&B as the pox.

     Lights already low, mood music and able to converse normally, that’s how we truly began. Earlier in an evening a rail hog dispensed a distinct American colloquialism. His statement befuddled Celia. I tried explaining but ambient distortion smothered us. So I bummed paper and pen then printed it out. Although noise prevented me from parsing, my handwriting impressed her. Celia requested I stay beyond closing. To a certain extent I figured her afterhours soirees mimicked Fabio’s. (A few favored friends, free drinks, though no sex on the bar.)

    Hers were better.

    Celia banished everybody but me. She straightened the room and restocked the bar with less alacrity than Fabio. Her efforts resulted in a prettier picture. She refused my assistance. Always. As became habit, she fixed me a drink first. With care, not the usual hurry and serve the customers slosh. Before starting her chores she fed the juke box dollars and punched in our accompaniment.

    “Nice handwriting.” Amusing because by this time I’d fairly lost the ability to write cursive. I owe what came after to block letters.     

     She married at 16. I met her ex-man several times. A quality fellow. He never failed reminding me of men who’d been bewitched then disappointed by certain women only to be dazzled again by them in their presence; as if renewed awe erased previous despair. If that’s how she affected him after all which had transpired between them, one could only imagine her earlier allure over him.

     Not just the marrying part. But the cunning and calculating she needed to convince him to forsake Brazil for the United States. Oh, immigration was her idea. I bet until he met her, fell under her spell, he’d never considered leaving everything he knew behind. It’s no stretch believing he saw their lives falling into nearly the exact patterns as almost, if not all, his family members.

    He’d find himself trapped in the kind of subsistence job that crusts dirt under fingernails. She’d become a housewife out of necessity thanks to a steady procession of whelps, the next less affordable than the last. While he became banty and Celia grew stout, their daily existences grinding joy and vigor from them, both would develop coarse countenances.

    Unlike the slim, happy and bright, naturalized American divorced couple conducting themselves in the friendliest, airiest manner, the still shackled resentful Brazilian pair could never again have summoned their earlier lightness.

    So it seems her drive did them both a favor.

    Since litters hinder American upward mobility, Celia and her man only issued one child, a son. Those times when Celia had me in her thrall, oh, the sort probably akin to that swaying her former husband, I saw their boy finally reaching 18 and setting off on his own course. With him gone, Celia free of her child’s obligation, we might’ve …

    After Rousse and The One, Celia is the only woman I ever possibly bracketed inside an intimate “we.” Along with our, ours and us, we is a powerful pronoun. An absolute life-changer if taken far enough.

    Perhaps mine was one-sided contemplation. While we played plenty together, a lot of our discussions left much unsaid between the lines. No way now of knowing how Celia saw a potential “us.”

    Fabio never esteemed her in this manner. No need for conjecture or dispute. He didn’t. Case closed. The pique he manifested towards her at the end of our relay confirmed the above.

    Only after Celia and I closed the circle did she start exposing herself to me. Or maybe I’d just gotten sufficiently interested in her to inquire.

    The three stories housing Claggart’s were old. Given the structure’s heights and widths, the area’s first European settlers could’ve negotiated the stairwell leading up to the attic better than modern-day Americans like me. To them, dimensions would’ve been spacious, not narrow.

    On our first ascent and each subsequent one, Celia removed her shoes and carried them. Thinking she did so to limit detection, I crept behind her quietly as possible. As quietly as a horny bastard could clomping in brogues inside a tight dark space on rough-hewn wooden stairs somewhat bagged. Months later after Celia gave me the reasons for putting her bare feet through an unnecessary mill I happily quit sneaking.

    She called the climb portions “gestures of reminder.” What an intriguing referral. Appropriately enough, I asked post-coital. It must’ve been a morning because Celia reposed contentedly upon a white linen lily pad, our exertions again having blushed her skin a delightful shade of rosé.

    Blithe during our relay as she appeared, Celia occasionally struggled with an imposed moral doctrine. Seemed childhood Sunday sermons had seeped in. Though not dissuade. (While same-faith congregants, the identical admonitions failed scratching Fabio.)

    There was sin, which Celia acknowledged. Then there was guilt. She dismissed that. We both did. Nonetheless she recognized some part of herself as penitent. Therefore, barefoot, shoes in hand. Again, just a gesture, eh?

    Before aging into bartending, Celia stripped along a sweaty circuit of Metropolitan Area gentlemen’s clubs. Claggart’s was one of the cooler terminals. How remiss of me. I never considered that possibility. Even after she revealed it I still troubled visualizing those occasions. Not seeing her naked, which for an interminable stretch of Saturdays into Sundays I had. But seeing her in such undress before mobs of strangers.

    How many of Claggart’s then-regulars had seen her shimmy before she later poured them drinks? None if ears were to be believed. Otherwise it seemed the sort of thing they’d gas about on her absent evenings, no?

    Celia and stripping were no great shakes. A job is all it was. Nowhere as arduous as life and labor left behind in Brazil. Nor must she ever surmount body issues as would most American women in the same position. To my understanding, Celia detached herself from these exposures. Physically she titillated. Mentally outside herself, her disinterest matched her admirers’ attentions.

    When occupied, though, Celia contemplated life offstage, beyond the walls in whatever clubs she shook. Mundane matters. Her infant then toddler cared for by babysitters and nursery school placement. Remembering married life responsibilities she needed discussing with her husband. If she pulled a day shift, what she’d serve for dinner. Due bills didn’t furrow her smooth brow. Between her husband’s wages and the dollars she raked, wolves never howled at their door.

    Fabio saw most of her before they properly met. Thinner than he liked, her metrics and what he savored shouldn’t have jibed. Nonetheless seldom as Fabio saw her type appear at Claggart’s, and skew from his taste as she did, Celia attracted him.

    Most girls bee-lined into wresting dollars from beguiled on the way to banged-up patrons. These girls just didn’t feed the fantasy, the good ones stoked it. Crude operators like Fabio bought the initial sale then performed their own bait and switch. He could. For a time Fabio’s hard sell and the package he offered with it redirected the purposes of the most myopic, cash-only hungriest mercantile strippers around.

    From what she later inferred, Celia transacted with focus. She was stingy with samples and made sure she received fair value or greater for yield. Having watched Celia conduct bar business, she doubtlessly convinced men donating dollars into her G-string was their pleasure. Who knew her to have been a distaff Lamont Cranston?

    Celia “upsold” before the practice became a commonly reviled one.

    Fabio bought in a sellers’ market. Theirs became a mutually advantageous exchange. The early Celia seldom appeared at Claggart’s but she always alerted Fabio to when. Soon enough her schedules included frequent Fridays.

    By these early 90s evenings, Fabio was married to his first wife. We never met and he rarely spoke of her, but she filled his requirements. Especially the worshipping him unquestioningly part. In her eyes Fabio could do no wrong. And once he did, she still remained blind.

    They married the old-fashioned way. An unplanned pregnancy compelled a forced march down an aisle. Simple and cheap precautions could’ve saved Fabio buckets of money and aggravation. Would’ve spared his right knee, too.

    Fortunately for him, New York construction business boomed. Tech stocks suffused our local air with unreal money. In no time Fabio owned a house and all the immature toys an insecure man deemed vital. Fishing/party boat. Motorcycle. Two of our era’s muscle cars crowded the driveway beside his wife’s own flash set of wheels. A hunting/party cabin Upstate. Enough money remained to float his mistress and girlfriends.

    There would remain one constant in Fabio’s and Celia’s relationship. She’d always stay his mistress.

    I never cared how often or how much delight Celia exchanged with Fabio under that attic ceiling. Frankly, wasn’t I happy tight seals covered and kept any insulation from scarring our lungs? Although, yes, natural male curiosity made me wonder whether she used the same term with him or anyone else she led upstairs. “Negotiating the bed.”

    First time Celia said it so distracted me from her nakedness I needed to divine the phrase’s origin immediately. Was it Brazilian slang? If so, I wheedled for her to whisper it to me in lazy Spanish, a k a Portuguese!

    Nothing beats a good unintentional laugh. Celia proudly stated she invented that nomenclature. For those insomniac bouts when she wished a man there to exhaust her into sleep. Otherwise she’d expect to toss and turn unfulfilled.

    What? No sheep in Brazil?

    Not the drawer’s sharpest knife, Fabio’s Wife No. 1 finally realized how thin he spread himself. With sorrow backed by encyclopedic evidence, she won their children, got the house as well as an annual 17% of his gross salary. Fabio made do with the scow, his hog and shack, and mistress. He also got another girlfriend in the family way.

    Her I met. Faith and too-late worries also pressed Fabio’s second aisle stroll. With Wife No. 2 he definitely ought have used preventative measures. Brassy on the way to fulfilling an ethnic cartoon, No. 2 piled enough natural hair atop her head to produce several wigs. Ample tits and ass jutted between exaggerated contours. Loud under open skies, no doubt a warning siren inside their address.

    Give her this, though, she had truer appreciation of her husband than had his first spouse. Knowing how the game was played and having entered the lineup as she did, No. 2 maintained vigilance. But how eagle-eyed could she have been never knowing Celia’s culi the one Fabio’s left hand regularly patted?

    I never served in the armed forces but No. 2’s unannounced appearances at Claggart’s on Fridays were the closest this civilian may ever get to surprise inspections. Not only did she suddenly barge in to eyeball whether Fabio maintained some modicum of fidelity, No. 2 also dragged their two spawn along in order to further guilt trip daddy.

    Sure. That’s my idea of Friday nights: topless women and the boozers ogling them cringing while a justifiably suspicious wife’s harangues drown out loud guitar rock as pajama-wearing siblings gawk uncomprehendingly at the spectacle between their parents. Around No. 2 Fabio really should’ve trod carefully.

    Years in, their love gone and trust dust, I guess Fabio believed he and No. 2 had achieved some sort of détente. Nobody told her that. He ramped up his stepping out. No one needed telling her. She recognized the signs from having been a “before.” Now an “after,” she saw the coin’s reverse. That shine displeased her to pipe-swinging Samoan excess.

    No. 2 wasn’t Samoan. And she didn’t have a pipe. But she did possess a temper and access to Fabio’s rec league softball bats.

    What ignited her? It just wasn’t the “outside tramps!” and his mystery mistress. Maybe she had once concluded a tense peace between them. Or perhaps believing sundering their marriage would cost more than gained kept her beside him. If one listened to Fabio lipstick proved the fatal straw.

    Lipstick? Lipstick.

    The woman serving as Fabio’s pickup had smeared her rouge on thick. Through oral gratification she left traces. If he ever noticed, he thought nothing of it afterwards. Assuming he and No. 2 were square, uneasily square, though square nonetheless, Fabio crept home and slept.

    That night a restless No. 2 detected another woman in their bed. His wife probably whiffed strange perfume. After all if Fabio’s “friend” slathered lipstick she likely bathed herself in scent, too. No. 2 examined the peacefully asleep lug beside her.

    Thorough and invasive devil as she was, Fabio’s wife uncovered lipstick, all right. Along his wang. Who doubts it a particularly whorish shade? A circumstance hard to explain however it’s sliced.

    No. 2 spared him any inquisition. Instead, she waited. Seethed is also a good guess.

    Until I finally dump bachelorhood for marriage, I suppose the hours with Celia will be my closest to domestication. If we breakfasted, a nearby diner became our nook. For coffee, though, Claggart’s little used second floor kitchen sufficed. Celia called what she percolated coffee but I suspect a blend just before espresso. To my North American palate, she poured steaming, pungent, dense, strong jolts.

    A little thing, yet quite noted and very appreciated, Celia knew I lightened my coffee with milk not cream. Fresh half pints always awaited me on our Sunday mornings. Well, she could’ve bought quarts, and I could’ve dumped whole cartons into those cups, and none would ever have been enough to dilute the stiff stuff she served.

    Another glimpse: her changing sheets. As I informed in Part One, both Celia and Fabio were keen on these swaps. It was one thing to wrestle on the same mattress with different partners. It was another entirely to be enveloped with the previous couple’s detritus.

    After Celia’s brew revived me, I should’ve gone downstairs and showered. While away she would’ve changed linens. They were stored in the bedside stand drawer. One or the other then routinely bagged the soiled goods and sometime during the week washed away whatever incriminated. Then on Friday or Saturday before shift start, he or she placed renewed folds inside the drawer. While the box always held more than one set, their custom absolutely guaranteed no inadvertent shortages.

    Wouldn’t that have been embarrassing? Inconveniencing, too.

    Sometimes I lollygagged in the attic. Not in bed. Sat on a chair up there. Space constraints forced mild contortions. Mine. I also had to be mindful of my coffee cup. Scalding liquid splashing on one’s own uncovered lap and its nether region is hardly desired.

    There I sat because watching Celia labor gratified me. No. Not on any level of watching nearly naked women gyrate. No way a completely naked woman handling linen rouses any fantasy. At least none of mine.

    The first time I lingered she asked why. I would’ve thought the sole stitches between us crumpled in her hands satisfactory reason enough. But Celia was literal more often than not. My delay needed explaining.

    Seeing her trim body in motion, how her lean muscles bunched or stretched and tendons flexed.  Regard the fascination as my own personal Muybridge moments. Fortunately for us both and instead of confusing Celia, I simplified myself stating I saw her as active art. Sculpture in motion.

    This she bought. Truthful and flattering. Can it get any better for a suitor than that?  

    Whether what follows was her reciprocation or not I don’t know. I refrained from asking because an attractive woman focused on me. Hey. Sometimes I am unduly vain.

    When I forewent her exhibit and showered directly, now and then Celia stood at the second-floor bathroom door. There, she waited for me to sweep aside the shower curtain and step out onto the bathmat. At home or in an individual accommodation I indulge myself by wicking off with a washcloth before toweling dry. Locker room or clubhouse showers don’t rate the minor indulgence. Among other bathers toweling off efficiently suffices.

    Thankfully we carried on at the ages we did. I was still fit throughout them. Under Celia’s observations, I gained slight understanding how her younger self detached from her onstage moments and beheld what she presented others. On these occasions in front of her, rather than behave self-consciously, or, if preferred, artificially, I imagined myself alone and acted accordingly.

    Of course had Celia licked her lips, wolf-whistled, gone googly-eyed, or perhaps slipped me a buck …

    Fabio operated on a system. Weekend nights at home he faked being a husband. Monday through Thursday nights, well, if he could tear off a piece of strange, terrific! Fridays, the sure thing, Celia in Claggart’s attic.

    His last good weekdays leading up to Celia he shot blanks. By his final decent night with her he’d reached white out level. After putting her through mistress paces, Fabio slept what would be his last comfortable hours for a while.

    Early Saturday morning, a substantially relaxed Fabio possibly bounded from Claggart’s into his V-8.  Muscle memory drove him home. He expected the same kind of rote to carry him through the next two days.

    Only one hiccup throughout my time together with Celia. A winter’s coupling. It must’ve been this season because I only let my hair thicken then. She’d furrowed fingers through the pile. Unthinking, she complimented its suppleness, comparing mine to “good hair.” We both immediately caught her gaffe. Gamely and speaking deliberately, Celia retracted her slight, intoning, “I did not just say that.”

    For years afterwards when I felt puckish, I’d dredge up and repeat her non-denial denial. Just to watch her slow burn.

    At Fabio’s front door nothing unusual. Hell waited until the house’s master crossed his threshold.

    Gripping one of his bats, No. 2 swung hard. Life had lobbed a big fat slow one. Maybe she choked up too much. Or maybe she mistimed her swing. If she targeted his groin, her bat barrel whipped ahead too fast. Instead, she busted Fabio’s right knee. He crumpled – and couldn’t rise.

    Good thing he collapsed. Being prostrate extinguished her impulse to pulp him. Fabio barely dragged and lifted himself onto the nearest sofa. Sane again, No. 2 wanted to phone an ambulance. Despite his agony, Fabio occupied a clearer frame of mind. Workman’s comp.

    Instinctively he knew the damage inflicted against his knee severe. In his middle 40s, wink-wink supplements likely having sapped his body’s natural restorative knitting, rehab might prove twice as difficult. How would an extended period away affect his job seniority? Adversely was how. It was simple math. This bludgeoning would extend the years necessary before he started collecting his well within grasp pension.

    His was the sort of injury which had it occurred on a job guaranteed a lifetime of well-paid idleness. Ambivalent as she was, No. 2 saw his reasoning’s logic. No doubt at the same time she also saw her exit greased and own nest being constantly feathered.

    Yet these hazards: Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning’s commute. Then the circumstances and place of his “accident.” Before those hurdles the immediate problem. His pain. OTC remedies weren’t going to make this cut. Fabio needed industrial strength dope.

    Unsurprisingly, he knew a guy.

    The Schedule Ones worked fine and Monday morning’s ruse worked even sweeter.

    So Fabio got over. Justice failed trapping the guilty. No jail, though he did collect 200 dollars.

    Once his financial arrangements were secured, No. 2 left him rat off a sinking ship fast. She also got their kids, home, and a very dishonest 17% per annum. Fabio forfeited a bit more than his first disqualification, too. Gone were his scooter, boat and cabin. After all, if his maneuverability were limited how could he tool around on a motorcycle, sail or hunt?

    Being convincing pained him nearly as much as his bum knee. And his ache dulled him to what came later.

    His last unhindered night with Celia, any other woman afterwards really, she and I had already been entertaining ourselves for years of Saturdays. The deeper Fabio entered middle age, the more he diverted himself into new girlfriends, neglecting his wife and mistress. Strangely Celia respected the sanctity of marriage. (?) But despite accepting her role as “his mistress,” she nonetheless expected certain measures of consideration. (?)

    Had I ever told her such expectations were unreal, would we have found ourselves at loggerheads? I doubt Celia could’ve embraced any contrary honesty.

    Fabio’s infirmity recalibrated us. Didn’t he gradually draw Celia closer and closer? So incremental it was imperceptible. His injury and compensation hindered him on one hand yet freed him of able-bodied struggles on the other. Too bad he’d never been a philosopher. The extra idling would’ve come in handy.

    About a year or so after his incident, I visited Claggart’s on a Friday. Fabio greeted me like a long lost fellow conspirator. Still in the dark about Celia and me, I left him there. In case I’d missed newsflashes about his travails he provided redundant updates.

    As Fabio prattled, I measured the new man. Poor devil. He started out as Burt Lancaster and might wind up as Fred MacMurray. Once a caricature, now someone deserving pity. Though not just yet.

    He’d lost muscle. Facial character lines had deepened into wrinkles. His mane still flowed but now he plaited way more gray into a ponytail. He also praised Celia effusively. Adrift as he fairly was, she remained tethered to him.

    Nevertheless Fabio never changed his old habits. They just modified for his new reality. Friday nights behind Claggart’s bar remained his constant from “before.” Actually that was his second. Celia met him at his place now. No hikes upstairs. No more skulking nights. Naturally, though, if she visited the mountain on Fridays who else climbed on other evenings?

    Had outside eyes been privy to our circle, perhaps it would’ve seemed nothing had changed. A misperception. Too intricate and nuanced to divulge here. But the years until Celia’s boy became a man dropped to a manageable number of days. Our new arrangements, our greater openness augured crucial decisions. Gradually eagerness supplanted my anxieties. I started looking forward with acceptance.

    Until nature reordered everything.

    Our last Saturday inside Claggart’s attic, no, our last Sunday sipping the dregs of our last cups of coffee, Celia asked for a meet at her usual tanning spot one day during the week. A park situated on Long Island Sound. Her city offered residents easy access to beaches. Tanning was relative to Celia. Sun only dusted her, not browned.

    Nothing portended ominously. I’d bunked work plenty of sunny summer days and we’d met and picnicked on that sward. A bad day of playing hooky with Celia beat any good day of work, right?

    Not necessarily. Not always.

    On the appointed hour nothing unusual. Customary smoked shades blotted her eyes as she reclined on a lounger. The day’s modest two-piece costume dark blue. Nestled against her beach bag cork wedges.

    Ah, a difference. No wicker basket and no bucket in which something prohibited on park property chilled. Naughty us. Only way of beating that summons was a brimming glass and a hefty plate for the park ranger.

    Okay. Maybe she’d throw on one of her beach wraps and insist on late lunch at one of the nearby seafood restaurants. After all it was a ceviche kind of afternoon, wasn’t it? 

    No. It wasn’t.

    Celia skipped any preamble. She announced her pregnancy. Fabio its sire. At this moment he was angry. But Celia was convinced after his initial, uh, reluctance faded, he’d see the blessed arrival with joy equaling hers.

    She spoke confidently. Celia sounding convinced almost had me believing she’d convinced herself it could be true. Someday. Soon. 

    A quick learner, I responded succinctly. We were on the outs. Celia removed her glasses and green eyes hardening into hot jade seared me. She then reaffirmed what she considered a fact.

    No. We were still friends.

    At that moment I would’ve preferred the ceviche.

    So in the end Celia nabbed her prince. Unfortunately for her, he was an unwilling trophy.

    Fabio deviated from his previous careless impregnation follies. Third time lucky as he might’ve become, no hurried trip down the aisle beside Celia. If care and maintenance of a child and its mother can be business-like, that’s how he and his family resolved her.

    Doubtlessly another potential 17% deduction insisted on this caution.

    They covered expenses. They upgraded her living arrangements. Celia even got a boss car. But what she craved, well, what man knows what a woman craves? Truly. She didn’t get her American male. Instead she irrevocably hitched herself to an ass. Not that she’ll ever admit it.

    Four months before leaving New York for Nevada, I ended my voluntary exile from Claggart’s. Six years absence. The girls were different. Spanish speakers. By their look Mexicans or other Central Americans.

    Santa’s imp no longer grinned off the wall near the men’s room door.

    The bartender recognized me. Her green eyes bulged and her mouth gaped.

    Celia mouthed fulsome welcome. After she skittered around the bar, we kissed awkwardly. Our embrace covered from where we started to where we’d gone into who we became. She uttered my favorite worst platitude; how I hadn’t changed. Outwardly. I agreed.

    She had, though. Forty. She turned 40 this year. It showed. Celia’s face retained its heart shape and her lips still bowed, yes, but a matron’s aspect now padded her. Funny thing. Additional weight which added shapeliness to Celia’s legs also thickened her waist. I wondered if and when she’d resigned herself to less lissomness. I wondered whether Fabio had reconciled himself to her and their issue yet. I saw no telltale ring weighing her finger.

    My favorite cocktail cooled before me. It was as if our aughts heydays had clambered from the crypt. Wait. Isn’t Halcyon a brand of fire suppressant now?  So no further halcyon days (and nights) for us.

    Over several well-meant, well-mixed drinks I caught up Celia on my milk carton years. Joining the 100% agreement I’d elicited from everyone else, she saw absolute sense in my upcoming move to Nevada.

    Naturally. Celia empathized deepest about uprooting and resettling into the unknown. Whether across oceans, across country, or across town, that loaded word called home was being abandoned.

    Celia consoled me over demise and we commiserated about dissolution and avoided mention on how those blows might’ve been softened. I inquired about her son, meaning the elder. She boasted about the younger. I let it slide.

    During our intervening years she’d returned to Brazil. Each visit further proved all she’d done had been correct. She might’ve arched her eyebrows for emphasis. Who could tell in that light? If so, hers was an unnecessary gesture.   

    I’m neither surprised nor disappointed neither of us raised Fabio’s name. Celia’s dream came true. Through him maybe any of our future nightmares dispelled.

    At closing, our strategic reminiscences ended. Celia banished the paying customers from Claggart’s. Since ours was a new world, I joined them in a soft April night. Before shuffling away with my half of our memories, she repeated how pleasant the time had been. Left in the air had she meant the recent hour or our hundreds of earlier nights?

    Celia bade me good luck. It gladdened me she had any to spare.