One night after work I asked her if she wanted to go for a drink. I hadn’t slept with her yet but it was looking pretty likely. But nothing had to happen, I liked her well enough just to hang out. While we were in the bar she recognized a waiter she used to work with. She went over to say hello, and came back with a couple of Qualuudes in her palm.
When we got back to the car, she said, “I want to kiss you.”
I leaned her against my car and we kissed.
“I knew this was going to happen,” she said. Like there was some force operating outside of our own volition.
We were going to go to my apartment, but first, she said, we had to stop by this guy’s place to put him to bed. She got paid through the State for helping him out. We pulled up to a sagging little house in a modest working class neighborhood. A ramp that had been built for his wheelchair zigzagged up from the sidewalk to the porch. The house was dark except for light jumping around in the living room from a TV.
He was a young guy, paralyzed from the waist down. Someone had shot him in front of his house one night in a drive-by. There was no explanation for it. He was going up the steps and heard two pops. The second pop had hit him in the back. He didn’t know anyone who hated him. He had a bit of history with drugs and booze and sex, but he couldn’t think of anyone who would want to shoot him. Maybe it was just for fun.
He was sitting in front of a muted TV when we went in. He’d probably turned the sound down when he heard us pulling up to the curb. The sound was muted but from the images it looked like a lot of pops and explosions and yelling going on.
She said hi, and introduced us. He didn’t seem surprised to see me.
She clearly had the run of the place, and straight away went into the kitchen without turning the light on and brought out three bottles of beer from the fridge, then announced that she was famished. She returned to the kitchen, this time switching the light on, but it was still dim in there. It was like light didn’t matter that much.
She rummaged through the cupboards, pulled out a jar of popcorn kernels and came to the doorway, presenting it to us like she was doing an ad.
“I’m going to make popcorn,” she said brightly, pleased with the idea.
He said he wasn’t hungry and was ready to turn in, but we should go ahead and make ourselves at home.
I heard her putting him to bed. There was metal clinking as she removed what must have been braces or something, as she got him out of the chair, then the crunch on the bed from his body weight. There was muffled talk between them, and silences in between.
She took her time. I was a little annoyed at just how long she was taking. I wondered if anything was going on between them. She had told me that he had no control down there, that he got erections, like in the morning, but there was no sensation. I wondered if she didn’t fiddle with him anyway. I would bet that she did, if only out of curiosity. She had plenty of curiosity and genuinely cared about him and he was young and she was young.
She came out from his room, said hi, and went back into the kitchen and proceeded to make popcorn. I listened to the kernels erupting, the shake of the pot on the stovetop. After all the talk, I was looking forward to it. She brought it into the living room on a big stainless steel bowl. With herbs and butter and lots of salt. Herbs, that was a new way of doing it then.
We sat on the sofa, the bowl between us, and mashed popcorn into our mouths with the sound of the TV still off. After a bit she turned to look at me, like she’d forgotten something.
She plucked a kernel from the bowl and tossed it at me, then another. I scooped up a handful and pelted her in return as she moved around the room, ducking. It was all breathless and on the edge of giggling. I gave her a shove onto the couch. The bowl slid to the floor, spilling, her skirt riding up her thighs. Light stuttered from the screen. I hesitated and she read my face.
“He likes to listen,” she whispered.
William Petersen has worked as a musician, a cook, and a video producer for multimedia. He has published in several literary magazines, The Washington Post, and the anthology Fathering Daughters, edited by DeWitt Henry and James Alan McPherson. He is an admirer of Forum and its staff.
I was born in San Francisco in 1943. Except for about 15 years I have lived here all my life. In 1965 I graduated from San Jose State with a B.A. in philosophy. Since my retirement in 2013, I have been attending classes in the Fort Mason CCSF OLAD art program.