Image description: A round swimming pool in a white motel courtyard.
Helman slept like a child, warm and sloppy in his white cotton boxer shorts. The comforter was pushed to the bottom of the bed, all rolled up like a crepe. I watched him sleep and wrote a note on a napkin: @ the pool, laying it gently across his face. I could see his skin through the thin paper.
Last night, on the way to his room Helman crossed three lanes to make an unplanned exit. He needed to make a stop for his favorite cheese, port salut. He roved through the aisle until he found it, orange and white. At the hotel he smeared it across dutch crutch with strawberry jam.
I never understood why anyone would choose to live at a hotel. The rooms are always carpeted. I hate carpet. Always muffled and dirty. At my studio, three neighborhoods away, I tore up all the carpet as soon as I moved in. Underneath was a garish green linoleum. The room is lined with tacks that used to hold the carpet down. I’m always stepping on tacks.
I watched a young woman swim laps in the pool. It was still early and we were the only two people there. Her bathing suit hugged her ass perfectly. Some people have bathing suits with saggy bottoms. Not here. I don’t think anyone in this neighborhood has a saggy bathing suit.
I ate an apple with my pocket knife. While slicing off a big chunk I nicked the tip of my finger–just cutting into the nail. I winced, sucked. There is an eroticism to something like this. Nicking your finger, catching your forearm on a hot cast iron skillet. Surprising yourself.
Helman approached me at work. I’m a file clerk at the LA County Commision for Fish and Wildlife. He was trying to get his hunting license, to shoot wild boar. He asked me to come to his hotel room that night. For years I sat at my desk imagining what I would say if someone asked me to dinner. In my mind, if they had a good face I always said yes, even if I didn’t want to. Helman didn’t have a good face and I didn’t especially want to eat dinner with him. He had flickering features that you could never describe accurately, and a body that looked strong with a perfect layer of fat that just hid the definition. I said yes right away.
Sleeping with Helman was a matter of pride. He offered me 600 dollars. It wasn’t an honest exchange, more a cowardly act of fetishism for both of us. He would never hire a real sex worker, I would only sleep with a man under the pretense of a transaction. I finished the apple, wiped my finger on the core. The woman with the airtight bathing suit left for the steam room, her green towel wrapped around her waist. Just me now.
Five years ago I wore orange creamsicle lipstick, my trademark. It was a sheer sparkly shade I saw an Italian actress wear, or the singer from the New York Dolls. I was going with a girl who wore a long leather coat. She lived in one of those creepy pre-furnished apartments. Like a hotel. All she had were her clothes, which she neatly folded onto shelves meant for books. I was always trying to ‘warm up the place,’ showing up with candles, crappy framed pictures of old Hollywood stars you find at the antique store, stuff like that. It only made her apartment creepier.
We broke up because she cheated on me. I remember she left me a voicemail. She said Hi and then nothing for a long time. I was putting glasses through the dishwasher. I was putting glasses through the dishwasher and one popped out the other end with your greasy orange lipstick still smeared on the rim.
Helman paid me with a check, handed it over with a very serious expression. I laughed, surprising myself. When it came down to it I didn’t think he was serious about the money. I didn’t cash it for months. When I finally went to deposit it I was sure it would bounce. It didn’t and I had a tender feeling for him.
I was hungry, sitting by the pool. There was something about how the water looked that was very appetizing to me. Glistening, like turquoise jello mold. The best part about fucking Helman was the eating. Once I had put the check in my wallet, I spread my hands as if to say, well. He kissed me, his mouth tasting of cheese and tangerine. Fucking Helman was an episodic event. We would mess around for a while, then stop, have a cigarette. He would make sandwiches and eat them sitting on the carpet, rock hard, totally patient and devoted to his cravings. I didn’t receive much sexual gratification but there was pleasure in all those stops and starts. Like going for a long walk and having a picnic, like having four or five little picnics on the long walk of fucking Helman. Finally he finished, pet my hair, pulled his underwear on and fell asleep. I stayed up and smoked his cigarettes.
Port salut rinds. Apple cores. A pair of white pants with an ink stain bloomed across the crotch. Crystal glasses with a shallow backwash of prosecco at the bottom. Ash from Camel lights dusted across the carpet. Mementos.
A woman with a teenage son pushed open the gate and settled onto the pool chairs across from mine. It was ten or eleven am, just starting to get hot. The mom read a book. The son looked at me. I put my knife and the apple core in my pocket and left for the bus stop.