Her name rolls off my tongue like a sweet puff of smoke. She is a potent mix of innocence and caution with vibrant black hair, smooth alabaster skin and a slender willowy frame. She seems completely unaware of her own beauty.
And she is here, in my apartment.
She was reluctant, at first, to stop by. She had heard far too much about me from a misguided co-worker who had raised the red flag. She wouldn’t say his name, but I knew who did the trash-talking. When time permits, I’ll have a little chat with him, make sure he knows not to stick his nose in my business. She stood there, yesterday afternoon, in the drab grey-carpeted hallway of our stuffy downtown Syracuse office building, her body swaying, reluctance in her soft voice as she told me I was “too wild” for her. All I could do was laugh. “You and me,” I told her, “we are the same. I’m no more wild than you are.” She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. After an uncomfortable stretch of silence, she whispered: “Sure, I’ll stop by.” I smiled, placed two fingertips to my lips and sent a kiss through the air between us. “Tomorrow, after work,” I suggested. She bit at her lip and nodded in agreement.
And now, she is here. We knock around in my sprawling second-floor apartment, bouncing from room to room. In my bedroom, she sits on the waterbed, for a moment only, just to see how it feels. She is amused by the framed Three Stooges poster in my weight room and is surprised that I have a vegetable steamer on the kitchen countertop.
She is impressed by the books in my living room. A few classics, The Call of the Wild, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, are shelved alongside more contemporary works from Lawrence Block, Raymond Carver and Stephen King.
“The two Steinbecks and the Jack London are holdovers from my school days,” I say. “But the others, I have read of my own free will.” She laughs knowingly and says: “I still have Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from high school.”
She is none too impressed with my small collection of Wolverine graphic novels which she refers to as comic books several times over, until I politely correct her.
“Kafka too,” she says abruptly. “I still have Kafka from school.”
“Ahhh, The Metamorphosis,” I say. “Now there’s a disturbing story.” She nods in agreement and glides her way over to the far end of the room. She is intrigued by the lizards in my 20-gallon terrarium, but refuses to take one in her hand.
I make microwave popcorn and we watch a DVR’d episode of The Middle. I play some songs I had recently downloaded. We listen, dance, talk and laugh. The hours fly by. We climb out the bathroom window, onto the flat roof; I first, to show her the way, careful not to rip her red dress. We stand together in the moonlight. Our clothes snap in the wind. Her hair, long, silky and fragrant; flies wildly about, tickling my face. She takes quiet steps and talks softly, not wanting to wake the people in the apartment underneath. I slip my hand around her slender waist. We dance on the rooftop. At first she seems self-conscious. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” she whispers close to my lobe.
“You’re the only one that matters,” I say. A neighbor lady peeks out from her upstairs bedroom window. We pretend not to notice and hug a little tighter. I start humming that old Van Morrison song. She joins in by singing the lyrics. I’m surprised she knows the words. Her breasts press cautiously against my proud chest. Her delicate smile brushes against my coarse, chapped lips. We kiss. We kiss some more. Her red-painted nails caress and squeeze at my shoulders, my waist and lower. Without breaking our embrace, I glide her over to my favorite blanket, strategically sprawled across a choice spot on the roof. A few of my tools are already in place to prevent the wind from carrying the blanket away. The Boy Scout in me, all grown up, is still always prepared. We stroll to the center of the blanket. Our clothes rustle in the wind, as does the blanket beneath us.
She looks down at the rustling blanket, then up into my eyes, gives me that look, her left eyebrow slightly raised. I can read her mind; she is wondering what my plans are. But I do not divulge my intentions. Instead I tell her to sit tight as I climb my way back inside. She waits, seated on the blanket, her arms wrapped around her legs and the wind toying with her hair. Within minutes, I come back through with the goods and come clean with my intentions. She presses her hands together, charmed by what she sees.
I join her on the blanket and lay out the goods: authentic Tiramisu and freshly-brewed coffee, which we will drink out of cups. Not my everyday mugs, but authentic coffee cups, complete with saucers; this being the single man’s equivalent of setting out the good china.
She takes a spoonful of the delicate Italian dessert, savoring its intoxicating flavor. “A piece of heaven,” she whispers. The coffee is appropriately strong for the midnight hour. She takes a sip and flinches; then takes a second sip, knowing now, what to expect.
We can see the blur of downtown Syracuse in the distance, dank and decaying, yet glorious. The wind begins to pick up speed, egging us on in its fury. Our coffee bounces in our saucered cups. But this is no cause for concern. We own this night. She licks at her lips; my nostrils flare. We sip at our steamy brew and howl at the moon, like the refined, civilized animals that we are.
* * *
Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, NY; with his dog April, a strong, muscular and lovable Pit Bull mix. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 30 print and online magazines including The Aroostook Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Journal of Microliterature, Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette, Vestal Review and VIA: Voices in Italian Americana. In his non-fiction adventures, Germano has worked as an editor and writer for Syracuse University, Le Moyne College, Stars Magazine, The Catholic Sun and the Syracuse New Times.
* * *