A belief one clings to as truth is continually tested and eventually exhausted. Beliefs often take one nowhere – motion without movement. This is where we find Henry, finally free of everything but his beliefs. One of them, “it’s better to be safe than sorry”, kept him safe. Henry could be no more sorry. Yet, his bold plans scared him. He decided to leave a note. Just in case. He searched for a pen. A pencil, stubby forgotten remnant miniature golf pencil, would do. What to say? How to begin? Address to whom? OK, let’s get this over with.
To whom it may concern.
If you are reading this, I have disappeared. Check 8D Pete St.
Aug. 3, 6 p.m.
He thought, as he drove, Henry Peck thought: a secret meeting, at an unknown to him location, with a mysterious stranger – a Princess from Pandora – now that’s excitement…but something is missing – good sense.
Getting laid was better than being screwed, even if this might include a pinch of humiliation. Manipulated sexually, if that is what is actually happening, has to be the best kind of manipulation. This guy has really thought this through. Wouldn’t a torrid one-night-stand avenge the decades of subservience and accommodation? A jumbo storage unit can always make room for one more foolhardy acquisition.
Henry Peck held the manila beer tab adventure map out the car’s window, tightly between his thumb and forefinger, under the dyeing yellow light and tried to make out the smeared numbers on the distorted paper that flopped in the wind.
8D Pete Street, got it. Never been there but I know about where it was, over in New Badsoden in the decaying end of nowhere. It was near the reservoir named after the swamp that fed the mills that once gave life to this town. The meandering drive seemed to take longer than anticipated. That’s the way with unfamiliar place – and he was taking the shortcut. We’re heeeeere…I guess.
The four-story walk-up loomed, among a legion of identical run down tenements and back lighted by a horizon, matching a broken down school bus and embroidered with the shapes of the small town’s still sunken warehouses and silent sulking machinery. Each of the devolving apartments in this urban evil forest faced front with no access, no expression and all entrances in the shadows behind. Each apartment displayed its number tacked under an identical porch light to the left of an identical door. One by one, each glowed respectable amber. Level four, 8D Pete, appeared indistinguishable. Not seeing a red light up above, Henry Peck descended. He began his ascent.
Henry noticed details as he moved. The muddy ground was heavily trafficked, both vehicle and other. A good thing? Animals, maybe cats and dogs, also good…and then some other beasts, bigger cats and dogs? He stopped and looked about.
I’m no authority on animal tracks, or feces, but…
Climbing the winding wooden steps, crossing the landings would be a workout for anyone other than a world-class stair climber, age adjusted. If a single word for anxiety and anticipation existed, it applied now. Ouch, what’s this stuff? The railing’s flaking yellow lead paint forbade Henry to hold on safe. The curled paint chips gnashed at his hand like neglected teeth. Each cluttered landing slouched identical. Each muddled porch distinguished only by a frost bitten plant or a moth eaten coach or a feeding Tomcat. 8D appeared as if from outer space, with none of the slum accessories.
Sheena stood in the darkened entryway, invisible in of its depth. She looked a 10 tonight. She left no feature unattended. Henry did not see her, just as she hoped. He double checked the address and stepped to the threshold. Stopping startled as she emerged. She stunned him with the flash of her smile.
“I wasn’t sure you would come” began Sheena.
“Neither, was I” replied Henry weakly.
“Oh, why is that?”
“You, first” countered Henry.
“I thought you would, pock, pock, pock, chicken-out” Sheena teased.
“I shouldn’t be here” came Henry’s obligatory explanation.
Sheena caught herself, furtively, and then replied, “We’ll see about that”.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
“Let’s go get a bite”.
“I don’t know the area. I was hoping I could take you to a place you’ve never been”.
She smiled that different smile.
“There is no ‘area’ here, but I have just the place for you…for us, I mean”.
Henry Peck knew he never dined here before. He knew he would never return, but that’s not all he knew. The menu had no prices listed. He can’t afford it. Maybe if he dined by himself, didn’t order dessert, left a meager tip, he could indulge himself once a week. Another thing he knew, Sheena strode this palace with a confident sway, the entire staff knew her… intimately. From the eager young hostess to the practiced mature waiter to the, what do you call them in a fine restaurant? The impassive old Maître d’ sensed my attention and turned his pointed beak.
Each employee with the same genuine fake smile directed toward me, not a Sheena smile. The hostess attended to my date with deference and to me with kindness, allowing me to pick my chair and pulling it away from the only round table. After deliberating with me on an appetizer, Sheena summoned the waiter without signal and pointed and the order taker complimented her on the choice but wrote nothing, seeming to have foreknowledge.
Escargot cooked with garlic butter and parsley in a shell, no doubt a popular request here, but rare to Henry’s palate, rarer than pate, and his rarest aperitif since jellied moose nose, but presumably the only thing Sheena found of interest. Once the appetizer was selected, she didn’t comment on the possible entrees, even when queried. The dish arrived and she put on a rapid display of her expertise, attacking the mollusks without the special tongs and fork. She, holding the shell in one napkin-ed hand, extracting the tiny carcass with minimal drip, splash or difficulty, plunging the morsel swiftly and fully into the simmering drawn butter, made it disappear.
Henry’s technique, clearly unfamiliar, unpracticed but patience, resembled that of a boy embarrassed at his first restaurant outing. He, semi-mastering the tongs and fork approach, on a third try, forgoing the napkin, self-consciously unsure of etiquette with the alien utensils, ate three snails. He liked the exotic taste but he made a note to avoid them in the future, all possible futures.
Arriving back at Sheena’s place, they stepped cautiously through the muddy parking lot, she adroit, a measured dance, Henry looking for fresh tracks, fresh animal tracks. He decided the unfamiliar large beast tracks from earlier were that of a wild predator, a big one too, and hungry! They mounted the steps, Henry avoiding the handrail pointedly, Sheena moving up the flights unconsciously, moving with anticipation or urgency.
Once inside her apartment, the two faced each other in the smart sparsely furnished living area. The short silence prompted Henry to say something stupid.
“What do you want to do?” asked Henry.
“What I want to do, what I’m going to do, is beat you,” replied Sheena.
Sheena cocked her head to the left. Henry looked into the shadows and saw a half opened closet with lengths of something. Looks like leather. These lengths hooked to the closet door by something metallic, like a buckle, he guessed. After his torture by tong, it would be beating by belt? Hold on now, she’s not that drunk…yet.
Sheena saw the error in Henry’s gaze and nodded again, this time with more emphasis. He followed her invisible nodded line past the belted closet, further past the innocuous glossy red door, to the entrance of the kitchen. That’s what she was referring to – he identified a jumbo climate controlled storage unit – a refrigerator.
Henry mauled her words. He looked at her and saw the “good” smile, with maybe a smirk of mischievousness. She told him she was going to beat him. She clarified to him with second nod the beating would occur in the kitchen or perhaps she would beat him with something from the kitchen. Who keeps a torture device in the kitchen? In the refrigerator? What could Sheena beat him with from the fridge?
“Sausage” Henry guessed excitedly.