North Beach Blues

05/02/2017 at 9:33 pm (Exercises, Publishing News)

Very excited, and a little nervous, that my very first novel will be officially released in just 3 months from now – Tuesday, August 1, 2017! I have my Book Reading/Signing lined up at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue for Monday, Aug. 7th, and I couldn’t be happier to launch my novel from a place that holds so many great memories for me.

While I was working on Bear, trying to figure out who my characters were and why they behaved they way they did, made the choices they made, I started writing short pieces about them. I have earlier posts about Rose, Stephen, and Ken here on the site.

The piece below is my take on Stephen’s abandoned-them-for-New-York dad, Thomas O’Neill. Here his name is David, and the locale is San Francisco.

 

North Beach Blues

Lily stood at David’s apartment door, still in her hungry i waitress uniform less than half an hour from when her lunch shift had ended. She listened to the strains of an acoustic guitar escaping from his living room, imagining his slender, forceful fingers making love to the strings. A Rolling Stones song, it sounded to her like “Prodigal Son,” accompanied David inside. Keith Richards finished his solo and when a break in the music ushered silence into the hall, Lily timidly knocked.

Another song, “Stray Cat Blues” started up with more of Richards’ guitar licks, and she knew this was the Beggars Banquet album she’d bought for him down on Embarcadero the week before. She was happy that he was wearing the grooves down and practicing his guitar along with it, but she wanted him to hear her, excited for him to let her into the apartment. Still wired from work, Lily needed to come down a bit, have her boyfriend of five months make love to her like he did to that six-string instrument.

After almost a full minute of her knocking, the music lowered to a mumble and she heard his bare footfalls as he moved over the hardwood floors and toward the door.

“Hey, babe!” David, bare-chested, stood before her with only a pair of ripped blue jean shorts on his skinny frame and the neck of his cherry-wood guitar in his hand.

Lily pushed her body into him, her tongue taking command and wrestling around his mouth. She wasn’t normally the aggressor, but today her hormones compelled her to action and her mind floated upward and out of her head with elated thoughts. He tasted like cigarettes and hummus, with a hint of Chablis as well. That’s good, he’s eaten, she thought.  He’ll have plenty of strength for me.

David pulled her into the apartment, kicked the door closed with a hairy big toe and placed his guitar down on the dining room table. He collapsed with her on top of him into a rabbit-white bean bag. Pieces of mail fluttered out of her hand and onto the floor.

Lily whipped her head back and broke the kiss, her ponytail swishing behind her. “Oh, shoot, sorry.” She picked up the mail, then moved back into a straddling position over David.

“That mine?” David asked, his hands unbuttoning her uniform at the base of her spine.

“Your mailman was kind enough to let me deliver these to you myself.”

“Hey, Mr. Postman,” he said in a falsetto, his voice scratchy and deep.

Lily unfurled her ponytail and brushed out her leopard spot-black mane with her unpainted fingernails. “You really are a great father.”

“What makes you say that?” David finished unbuttoning her food-speckled uniform, peeled it off her arms to expose a white t-shirt of his that she’d borrowed the last time she’d spent the night in his North Beach apartment.

“Because it’s true.” She held up an envelope from the small batch of mail. “This is from your kids, isn’t it? Your birthday’s next week, this looks like a card or something.”

“Could be,” he lay back, leaving Lily half-undressed.

She leaned into him, grabbed his arms and helped him pull the shirt over her head. He threw it across the room, where it landed on a pile of books that she’d bought him when they’d first started dating. Books from City Lights, where David sometimes read his own poetry or played his guitar. She was thinking of a few other books she wanted to buy him, but they wouldn’t carry them there. She’d have to go to one of the bigger book stores, where the bestsellers by Harold Robbins, Erica Jong and Dr. Spock’s parenting manuals were plentiful.

“It’s so great how much they adore you, in spite of what a witch your ex-wife is.”

David unfastened his shorts and slid them down his legs, effortlessly lifting Lily’s body off his lap and then back down again. “She’s not so bad. Do we need to talk about her right now, Lil? Or anything, for that matter?”

She sprouted a mock-pout, then wriggled the rest of the way out of her uniform. “I just … it gets me excited when you talk about being a dad. I mean, your girls, they’re gorgeous.” She whipped her hair toward a framed picture on the mantle behind her. “And they love all the time you spend with them, whenever you can get back there to see them.”

“It’s been a while, though.”

She noticed he’d stopped playing with her nipples. She touched his face, caressed his full beard. “I thought you were in Oregon last week. You didn’t see them?”

David laughed, but Lily thought it sounded grim, mirthless. “Look, babe, I don’t … Jesus, let’s go down this road right now. I don’t want to lose it, you know.” He pointed down at his johnson, but she kept her eyes on his face. It was full of lies, she now saw. But which lies, about what?

She peeled herself off him, draped her uniform over her breasts and belly. David sighed, too loudly, and Lily picked up the envelope with an Oregon return address hand-written at the upper left-hand corner. She looked at the name. “This is from her, from their mom, but I thought it was from them …” She breathed in a large breath. It came out in chunks, confused and choppy, with a sob lurking somewhere in her diaphragm.

“You’re so goddamn curious, Lily, why don’t you just open it.” David lifted himself out of the bean bag chair and slipped his shorts back on, his penis flaccid and uninterested now.

She looked up at him, unsure. He waved an arm at it, like what the fuck, and then took his guitar over to the window. He turned the ear-like metal lock, lifted the heavy wooden frame, and allowed the traffic sounds off Columbus into the studio apartment. A pack of cigarettes lay by the windowsill and she watched him tap one out before slipping it between his lips.

Lily sliced open the back of the envelope with her thumb and removed a letter. It looked formal, and she noticed it was a law firm’s stationary, like the kind her uncle in Newark had. He was a partner in a big lawyer’s office back east, and he had sent her letters from time to time, always using their letterhead. Lily didn’t think David’s ex-wife worked for a law firm, she thought he’d told her she was a beautician.

“So what does it say?” David asked when she sat with the unread letter for more than three full minutes.

She touched the embossed lettering at the top, pressing down hard on it with her forefinger in hopes of rubbing it off and making the letter itself just disappear. Her eyes met the first line of the second paragraph, the word “divorce” jumping out at her. She read on, her mouth suddenly dry bedrock, hard and filled with silt.

“You’re not … divorced.” She heard the meekness in her voice, the hurt and fear and confusion all rolled up into a Persian rug, the dead body of their relationship stuffed inside.

“Those must be the divorce papers,” David said, sucking in a mouthful of smoke.  He exhaled and shrugged his bony shoulders. “Well, don’t that fuck all. Her timing was always pretty great that way.”

“What else, David? What else have you lied to me about? Where have you been going the past few months, if not to see your kids?”

“Listen, we never said we were a solid item, right? No exclusivity or anything? At least, I never said it.” A large truck’s horn bellowed on the street below them, as if to emphasize David’s words.

Lily sat on the floor, staring up at her boyfriend, sick to her stomach. Nausea came in on a wave, but she forced it away. There would be time for that later. Now, she needed him to tell her a few truths.

“So what about your girls? Do you ever see them?”

“When’s the last time …” David stared out the window, his back to her. She hoped he was feeling shame, but assumed he probably felt nothing but caught. Lily hated herself right now for misjudging him, for trusting the word of a failed musician who worked nights as a barker for Carol Doda at the Condor Club. For trusting in his word that he was a good and loving father, a dependable man for his girls. And maybe a dependable father for her … child.

David took a drag off his cigarette, blew a set of rings out the window, the late afternoon sunlight illuminating them like angelic halos. “Probably been at least a year and a half. I stopped calling them a while before that. Too much hassle, trying to deal with Susan and her garbage. I guess she finally got fed up, saw herself a lawyer. No blaming her, I guess.”

On her feet, Lily lifted the T-shirt from the pile of books, then dropped it back down. She fed her legs into the waitress outfit, cinched it up her waist, and buttoned herself up. Found her shoes and when she was all dressed looked up at David, his head still turned away from her and staring out the window. He flicked his cigarette out the window and she turned toward the door without a word.

As she exited his apartment, she held the tears in, determined not to lose it, not within hearing distance of David. She would cry later, back in her own room, where she would make plans about the baby, who would definitely have a great mother, if not a great father.

 

North Beach 1973

 

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