She motioned to the bartender for another glass of wine, and looked right at Morrison. “It wasn’t so much what he’d said but that he’d said it in front of me, as if I didn’t count, as if I didn’t exist, as if I wasn’t a woman.” She mimicked the man: “‘She had some rack, I tell you, ka-pow!’ He was leering like the bottom-feeding salesman that he was, working the morning shift at the convention after a long night chasing ghosts and wannabe models and hair dressers.” She shook her head. “It wasn’t the low-grade vulgarity that bothered me. It hurt because the bastard had included me in on his male-bonding with his pals. He’d made me disappear.”
Then she laughed courageously like Sally Bowles and said to Morrison, “My place is the size of a postage stamp. Twenty-two twenty-two Boner Alley. Left at the jail, a block past the drunks, right at the church. I’m in the back.”
“Can’t miss it, right?”
“You can miss it. Better follow me,” she said, and sashayed out through the keyhole through which she’d arrived.
For six months they met regularly if not frequently at the postage stamp-sized one-room converted garage. Better to say they met on the postage stamp, rather than in it, because the two of them in there and the blind, senile Yorkie banging off of chair legs and getting stuck in corners because it couldn’t turn around, why the place was packed. They met late at night, always leaving first thing in the morning, either together with their jobs to go to, or Morrison, leaving by dawn, even on Sundays, passing the night but never failing to disappear at first light. “My sweet vampire,” she called him.
Later, after Sally and Morrison were considered an item – “This relationship’s got legs,” she liked to say – Walter Alterd, peripherally on the scene, took Morrison out for dim sum. It was a bleak Sunday morning after too much Powers whiskey the night before. Morrison watched as Alterd broke into a raving sweat as he whined and bitched about his last date, someone from work. “Worse than the blind date I had last month,” he sniffed. “I tell you, after fifteen minutes I was grinding my teeth. There was NOTHING to say! I almost gnawed my hand off for Christ’s sake. Look at it, will you,” he said, shoving his wounded hand at Morrison, “it’s practically raw. Hope it doesn’t get infected,” he muttered.
Morrison just shook his head. “Was the blind date actually blind?” he asked.
Alterd flashed his crooked Portuguese grin – his mother still wore black, as a widow is supposed to – and passed the sticky rice, then the boiled squid. He wanted the shrimp dumplings in return. “Not blind but certifiable. You have to have a strong liver to get out there and an even stronger one to stay out there,” he said. “They’re savages. No subtlety, no mystery, no allure. The thing is, Morrison, you got the shop. You’re a public figure. I’m cooped up in the same closet all day, in the fucking basement. I see people’s ankles scraping by the window for Christ’s sake!”
Alterd looked like he might lose it. His eyes were blood shot and his hands were shaking. He gave Morrison a strange, twisted kind of look, a mix of lechery, fear, aggression. Then in sudden contrast to the expression on his face, Alterd, trying to sound casual, said, “If you’re ever done, you know, with Sally, let me know. At least with her I wouldn’t want to cut my limbs off.”
Morrison squinted his eyes like he hadn’t heard right. You lousy little pervert, he thought. You’re so desperate you want me to pimp you my girl! But before he could say anything, his anger and disgust blew out on a loud fart that smelled of death and dumplings, and he saw Alterd shivering with some kind of awful need, so he just joked and said, “Sure, Walt. I’ll give you title when the time comes.”
But Morrison realized that Alterd’s strange request was serious. He really was petitioning for his main squeeze. He’d underestimated how desperate Alterd was. He did work in a basement repairing computers, and then went home to his TV, his bottle, and his nineteen year old cat, whose droopy tongue gave the impression that he was leering at you. Christ, he really was screwed. But none of us was particularly far from the same fate. We all swam in the same squalid waters, grabbing, as the current swept us along, at various bits of random debris that we collected and called “our story,” in a semi-conscious attempt to create some meaning in our lives. We all had to ward off the void.
“I could see you with Sally,” Morrison said. “She lives in something the size of a postage stamp, as she herself describes it. Your place isn’t much better. But with both of you working and combining resources, I see you in a four postage stamp house inside of six months, total value buck-sixty-nine.”
Alterd seemed cheered by the idea. He managed a half-grin and said, “Yeah, but we couldn’t have any pets bigger than a goldfish.”
“And imagine the kids,” Morrison said. “Pint-sized would be best.”
“Well, sure. You’d have kids and the kids would have to fit the place. They’d have to be small.”
Alterd nodded his head. “And they’d have to stay small too. Save on food and clothes.”
Morrison smiled. “Before long you could add another postage stamp. Probably move up to a toy house. Sell your motorcycle. Maybe do a trade-in for a lawnmower.”
“Sell my motorcycle! You’re killing me!”
“Listen, Alterd,” Morrison said suddenly. “You think it’s funny and I bet you’ve got a hard on, but I’m just getting Sally working again. She was pretty broken when I met her, just skin and bones. She wasn’t even bothering to eat. It took a while to put some flesh back on her, get her dreaming how to work up from a windowless room that floods in the rain to something decent she might share with someone. I’m not quite finished with my work, pal. For now, you better keep on being the one-eyed king in the land of the blind date.”
Alterd pretended to focus on picking up a slippery dumpling with his chopsticks. “You wouldn’t want to be in my shoes,” he mumbled.
“No, that I wouldn’t,” Morrison replied. “I’d look like a clown. I’ve been fortunate, especially since Tinker Bell climbed into my bed when I was least expecting it. Little red boots, bright, courageous smile. But I felt her vulnerability. She didn’t have much self-esteem left. She needed company. She’d make me late night snacks and eventually she started eating too. She put some weight back on. Filled out. Got juicy again. Full of passion. It was amazing to see how she came alive,” Morrison mused.
The waitress passed with the dim sum cart and they reloaded, hitting the shrimp dumplings particularly hard. They ordered two more big beers each. Morrison filled Alterd’s glass.
Alterd said, “That’s all fine, but you’re just passing through. You won’t last. She knows that.”
“Whaddya saying, Altered. Maybe she should tattoo WARNING in red flashing ink across my forehead? Warning by the Food & Heartbreak association?”
Altered said, “Could go either way. Could go anyway at all.”
Morrison glared at him. He jumped up and threw down his chopsticks. “You have the gutless balls to ask me to pass you my girl – pimp you my girl more like – and you want to play it safe?! We’re past playing it safe. Hell, when I followed her ass home that night, that’s the time I stepped off of safe ground.”
Alterd played nervously with his food. “Okay. Let’s back up.”
Morrison snorted. “Back up. Retract. Didn’t happen. You dump that shit on me and then try to slink away. No, we’re a long way past that.”
Morrison emptied his glass, then refilled it. He was filling Alterd’s glass when something clicked in his head. He stood up suddenly, and pointed an accusing finger at Alterd. “You’ve already bagged her, haven’t you? That’s what it is. You’re coming on with that stuff because you’ve already been banging around my stall!” he yelled.
Wong, the manager, came up quickly. “Everything okay, yes? Please, not too loud. More beer? Tea better maybe,” he said as he eased Morrison back into his chair.
“You bastard,” Morrison said.
Alterd looked straight at him. “Aww hell, Morrison, you always have me along. Were you blinded by my gleaming white teeth? You think Sally doesn’t talk to me, tell me stuff?”
Morrison’s mind was elsewhere, watching wiretap videos of his own invention, looking for the deep end. He forced himself to focus his eyes on Alterd.
“You give me too much credit,” Alterd was saying. “And too little.” Alterd grinned maliciously. “Did you think I was going to wait for your permission? She was more than willing. You’re right, you opened her up, and now she’s greedy for it. Might want us both. They say it takes ten roosters to satisfy one hen.”
Morrison looked hard at Alterd, trying to see if he was bluffing. ”You sick fool! You’re delusional from the stress and humiliation of your slavery.” He raised his glass. “Lucky for you I know you’re just jerking my chain. Ten roosters, haha.”
Alterd grinned ambiguously. “Got you up on your hind legs, I see.”
“You’re entitled to your fantasies, Walt. That you are. Dreams in amber.”
Alterd said, “I got my dreams, you got your illusions.”
“No,” Morrison replied. “You got your dreams, I got my girl. And it’s going to stay that way. This is my stamp collection.”
“Don’t worry, friend. I’m into postcards these days. Snatch shots.”
Morrison didn’t know if what Alterd had said about Sally was true or if he was just giving him shit. But on principle, he thought, I have to fuck him up. “Okay,” he said at last. “Let’s drink to that.” Morrison had hidden two little blue pills between his index finger and his middle finger. He picked up Alterd’s glass and started filling it with beer. When there was enough foam he separated his fingers slightly and the pills disappeared into the beer. “You had me going for a minute,” Morrison said. “Sally would be good for you. But there are other Sallys out there. Don’t give up,” he said.
Alterd grinned and downed his beer. He let out a loud belch. “Well, it was a pleasure doing business with you,” he said drunkenly. He threw some cash on the table and stood up, knocking his chair over. He pushed passed Morrison and stumbled down the steps to the garage.
“Alterd! Wait!” Morrison called, coming after him.
Alterd clambered onto his Norton Commando 750, the thing he loved most in the world. He was fishing awkwardly for his keys.
“What are you doing, Alterd!” Morrison yelled. “You’re shit-faced.”
Alterd fired the engine, let out the clutch, and roared out to the street, just missing the Mercedes Roadster that came around the blind curve.
Poor fucker, Morrison thought. Wait till the downers hit. Either go off the road into the ocean a hundred feet down or get picked up by the cops. He went back to his table.
“Sam! Bring me some kind of drink to digest this shit. Mei Kwei Loo maybe.”
He picked up his phone to call Sally but she didn’t answer. The phone just rang and rang. It felt like a dead number, like he’d dialled the grey line. Once the line was grey, she would never answer again.
Time passed and Alterd married Sally, and they had twin boys named after Portuguese gas station attendants, Gustavo and Ferdinand – Gus and Fred at the pumps. Alterd still works in the basement repair shop and rides his Norton 750 on weekends, but he was right about one crucial thing: Morrison was just passing through.
Michael Grotsky is rumored to come from a long line of international agents and globe-trotting magicians. Following the family tradition, he has lived in many places, and traveled extensively for both work and pleasure – though he has still not found the difference between the two. Michael Grotsky now lives in Montreal where he is completing his first collection of short stories, Spinning the Sensualist, which will appear in 2020. His has written fiction and non-fiction for various literary reviews.