April 22, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Jimmy, an excerpt

By Bonnie Altucher
Published: 2016-04-11

She followed him upstairs, Jimmy silent in sneakers. He wanted to use her bathroom once they got inside. Why couldn't he use his own bathroom? Maybe he lived in one of those tenements where four different families shared the same reeking water closet. After she pointed out her door, he continued upstairs to the bulkhead and less than thirty seconds later had entered from the fire escape and was unlocking her apartment from inside.

"Nice place," he said, inviting her in with a flourish. "Cozy. You could use more furniture, though. Let me know if you need to pick up some lamps or a cheap stereo."

He was sleazy, but weirdly ingratiating.

"Are you in the hi-fi business?"

"No, but you're close. I work in a record store. And I have a rock group."

"Really? Are you famous?"

She was flirting. It was easy with him. He seemed eager for the attention, frisky but sexually neutral. Except for the bristling sideburns and long ropy arms. There was a jittery charge to his body that made her think of some of the big sixth grade boys bouncing heedlessly through the clogged hallways of the building where she taught, both threatening and unthreatening.

"Not yet but we will be. The Love Addicts."

He had to be putting her on. "Very Jackie Susann."

"Yeah, Jackie steams me up. I'd love to get inside her caftan."

Helen smiled. "You are a fan."

"Well, she shows you where the world is really at. She's got a heavy theme."

"Such as?"

"Loneliness," he replied with apparent sincerity. "You can't hold onto true love. And all the tinsel and everything else is no substitute. That's what the dolls are for. She's even got a character named Helen! You read the book yet?"

"I can't say I have."

"Don't be lazy. I'll read it to you."

She laughed.

"So can I use your can, now?"

She nodded at her narrow bathroom door, careful not to show revulsion. She might not kick him out of bed, though he would have to shower first. His vivid tang stayed on the air like a just-nibbled scallion's.

For several minutes she puttered self-consciously, turning on her radio so she wouldn't hear him doing anything unpleasant. All summer her favorite DJ had been playing the entire "Sgt. Pepper" album, as if it would be a sacrilege to favor any single song. She peered quietly into a few drawers to make sure that nothing had been stolen in the seconds that Jimmy was inside unsupervised. She still had nineteen dollars in her jewelry box. What was he doing in there? She suddenly pictured him bursting out stark naked, to pounce on her. Instead, he opened the door and sidled out.

"Uh, so I'm coming back tomorrow evening for the money, right?"

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