April 23, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Jimmy, an excerpt

By Bonnie Altucher
Published: 2016-04-11

"No, I won't be here then — hey wait a minute," she corrected herself. "You told me you didn't want any money."

"That's right. My mistake." His leg was twanging with hyperactivity. "But I could come by anyway, would that be cool with you? Or I'm going to be playing at the bandshell in Tompkins Square. Want to come? Around nine?"

"Sorry, I'm busy tomorrow. I'll be seeing a movie."

"With your boyfriend? He better looking than me?"

Her eyes lingered on his chest and shoulders before returning to his face.

"Not particularly."

"So how about you let me take you out? Like, to some movie you like, foreign movies?" His patter was accelerating. Nervousness? He wasn't a dolt, though he sounded like one. "What kind of movies he takes you to? You think I'm too young for you?"

"I don't know." She held his gaze. "Do you?"

The predatory charge of this position — his eyes blazing but wary, each one daring the other -- overwhelmed the negatives. The plusses were all on display. High cheekbones agleam, the taut tee shirt. When she moved he spread his arms as if to catch her. Then they were all over each other. Tongue sweeping around like a... minesweeper? They descended to her bed, clutching, the scent of him swamping her nostrils, but appealingly now: Mother's goulash, chopped onion, raw lamb and tomato. She held onto his tensed back and grab-able ass in its cladding of slithery denim.

His tongue, teasing and darting, traced the image of a stylized keyhole in her mind. She was being watched, featureless, outlined in flame, with her fingertips, genitals, ends of her long hair on fire. Then she envisioned an actual peephole from memory. A long-ago date who was dressed for a party in fussy Victorian clothes, top hat, even a stiletto cane, black with a smooth frog's head knob. When their hostess had come to the peephole, he poked the stiletto in. Ouch! Helen had never learned what his motive had been.

For several minutes they grappled, until they heard male voices, a pounding of feet in the hallway. They parted, as if to avoid getting caught. Helen had already had one orgasm, a promising imbalance. She could just call it quits; tell him that he had to get out. Then would she feel icky and dumped, even though she'd used him, kicked him out? Of course. She didn’t want to be alone.

"Be back in a second," she promised. His arm shielded his eyes from the overhead light.

"I'm just going to go put in my diaphragm," she reassured him.

Jimmy sat up, running both hands though his hair, eyes darting around her small bedroom in a way that suggested she better not take too long. Who knew what he'd be up to, like the overgrown boys in her classroom who wreaked havoc the moment her back was turned.

Her cheeks in the mirror were vivid, eyes anxious. She squeezed out a dollop of gel and was inserting the slippery diaphragm with one foot on the toilet seat, always a bit of a pain, when she heard her apartment door slam.

What had just happened? From her small kitchen, she leaned into the hallway in time to hear the street door banging three flights down. Her purse! No, it still hung looped over a chair at the table. Well, why would he have snatched it, since he already knew she'd been robbed? She spent the next few minutes making sure that nothing else was stolen. Was he mentally ill? Was there something repulsive about her?

She went back into her bathroom to look around for clues — what had he been doing in there for a good five or six minutes? No smell, though the window was shut. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except, now she noticed her bath towel: sopping! The walls were damp.

Well, speed freaks were known to be very fastidious, cleaning obsessively. Had he shot himself up in her bathroom? And then tidied up? Or taken a sponge bath? He'd seemed wired coming out.

She felt thrown over, bereft. Of his energy, manic, a flickering warmth, though she'd found him absurd and repellant. He had hurled himself out to the street before she'd had a chance to find out what the slippery layer of panic he barely concealed might reveal underneath.

She could head right back out and pick up someone else. Since she had her damn diaphragm in! She went to look in her dresser mirror. There was nothing visibly wrong with her. There were plenty of men. She'd find somebody normal. She could try considering herself lucky that, after having been pick-pocketed, she hadn't also been held up at knifepoint in her own apartment. Would anyone answer their phone in this whole city, anyone? Who didn't work for a religious hotline? The lights went off next door and half the fire escape went black.

"Jimmy" is an excerpt from “Autonomy,” an unpublished novel about a psychotherapy cult in New York in the 1960s and 1980s. Bonnie Altucher grew up in New York City and has an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College.

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