The Cathouse on the Sea
Image description: An orange cat and a grey coyote sit on either side of an upside down silver tray of cocktails. They are on a red background.
It’s deliriously hot. Everything in the house has swelled and softened. Soap falls out of the bottle, having lost all its constitution. Water boils in seconds. The cat’s a frenzied mess. Any hotter and my records would curl into bowls we could use to toss our keys in.
I throw ice in the bed for a sliver of sanity. The cubes slip around on the sheets, wet kisses on my back. Janie doesn’t squeal like I wish she would. Sometimes I wish I had married a beautiful woman. Does this make me a scumbag? I was close once.
We met at the dog park. If she donated her hair to Locks of Love they could make five wigs. It was a mane of dark shiny waves, almost greasy. Her hair was strong and dangerous, and I could imagine it smelling like a cat stretched in the sun.
I was sitting on a bench watching dogs chase things and smelling their stench. She stood against the fence, shifting from foot to foot. She was eating a scone and kept letting it crumble all over her jacket. When she finished she took it off and shook all the bits off. Is it really staring if you’re only doing it so someone will catch you? Looking back at me as she slid her jacket back on I couldn’t tell if she was hostile or curious.
She came and sat next to me. Imagine that! I will say I have a certain magnetism. I think it’s my wolfishness. It turns girls on. She sat all the way on the other side, legs spread in a way I’m sure she thought was very androgynous and cool.
She raised her eyebrows, which were thick – shiny and appraising.
“Which one’s yours?” I asked.
She pointed to a neurotic looking dalmatian. It was pacing along the fence, every once in a while chewing furiously on its tail–a phantom itch or fleas.
“Which one’s yours?” she asked in a rumbly deadpan.
“I don’t have a dog.”
I smirked at her, gave her a good look. She had a knowing and rakish face. Her eyes were dark and droopy, rimmed by thick lashes, cheekbones that stood high and regal. Her lips turned downward, plush above a small mole on her chin. She didn’t say anything, just hummed.
“I shouldn’t even be here actually. I got booked on a bestiality charge and now I can’t live within a mile of a dog park,” I said.
She didn’t even blink. Not unimpressed but totally unphased. I could’ve fucked her right there on that scuzzy park bench. This bored, long faced woman like a rider in the night. A rogue bride I would have to drag and handcuff to the altar.
“Did you have to knock on all your neighbor’s doors and warn them you might molest their shih tzu?”
“Eh. I’m not into shih tzus.”
I caught her give a real, almost girlish smile and then with a clap she summoned her nervous wreck of a dog.
“I hang out at the Golden West on Fridays,” she said without looking at me.
With that she gave me a nod and walked away, self-assured in her dark jeans and old-school sneakers. I watched her lead the dog out of the park and down the hill until the last of her hair turned the corner.
We met for the second time at the Golden West. She sat at the end of the bar in a backless top and the same jeans she wore a few days before. Perched on the rung in front of her were her feet in a big pair of knockemdown boots. Her hair tumbled down her bare back, which was speckled with moles and maybe acne scars.
It was a typical dive. Exposed wood, dingy floor, pool table, one of those ugly touch screen jukeboxes they also have at bowling alleys. It almost seemed too on the nose that she would spend her evenings here. I wanted her to surprise me. I wanted her to be shamelessly bad at pool. I wanted her to drink a silly ornamental drink and slurp it down. I watched her from across the bar. Of course she sipped bourbon like she had a chip on her shoulder. How apt, how sexy, how totally inaccessible.
I sat on the stool next to hers.
“Ah, the dog molester,” she said.
The bartender, a big tatted lady with a wan smile, asked what I wanted.
“Can I get a vodka cranberry?”
The dog-park-girl gave me a look, eyebrows high and judgemental on her forehead.
“Oh don’t act so superior, it doesn’t suit you.”
She gave a big, clear, unexpected laugh. She was going to sleep with me. It’s a reliable trick, saying something rude and specific enough that they feel seen–that they’re talking to someone familiar.
“Vodka cranberries are refreshing and good for the urinary tract.”
“You’re fucking with me now.”
“I’m always fucking with you.”
I could hear her hair shift across her shoulders, which were boyish and strong.
“What do you like about this place?” I asked.
“It’s cheap, I know the bartender. I like the music on the jukebox.”
“What do they have?”
“Go play something and find out.”
Janie always plays Patsy Cline on a jukebox. She sings her when we go to karaoke. Her voice is thin and reedy, but she always captures the feeling–the yearning. She’s kind of an absent person, but when she sings her sweet and nervous version of “Walkin’ After Midnight” she looks straight at me. I do love her. I do. Even if I hate her sometimes. Even if I lie awake in the heat and think of the girl from the dog park.
At the bar I put on Bobby Womack’s “Woman’s Gotta Have It.” The bass line hits a heavy low place. There was no dance floor but I stood in the middle of the bar waiting for her. She slid off her stool.
“What would you have picked?”
“Oh I dunno, Barry White.”
It was exactly like you might expect. She shook her hair around like women do, I put one hand on her belly and one on the small of her back. We were silent. We were on the same page. Dance is the best pre-sex ritual, second only to certain drugs.
“You want to take me home?” she asked like it was anything.
There was a sourness at the back of her mouth like warm beer. Her neck smelled like mesquite and copper. She had dark damp hair in her armpits that smelled like bergamot and swamp. Sex is like acupuncture. I’ve never been to acupuncture. Maybe it’s like petting a cat. There are certain spots that make a woman rise and fall. Like the fur above a cat’s tail will rankle if you touch it right. The cartilage of her ear, the dip between her ribcage below her breasts, the knobby bone of her ankle. Better than words.
She sat up and bracketed her knees over mine, her face and body long and naked. This is the moment I think about most. One moment of stillness. One moment without the wit or the games. She took her big lovely hand and brought it to the back of my neck and pushed. I rose and fell.
In the morning I closed my eyes and waited for her to slip out, knowing she would. After we both came she turned away from me. We lay in silence for a while before she spoke.
“Sorry, I always feel empty after.”
“I dunno. I just do.”
We met for the third time at the dog park. This time she wore big, dark sunglasses. She looked bitter and cold. It felt like an intrusion to ask if anything had happened. Maybe someone had died and her glasses were like the veil of a grieving woman. This time I sat at her bench.
“Hi again,” she said in that deadpan.
“Are you stalking me?”
“What? Of course not!”
“Well this is the second time I’ve seen you here and you don’t even own a dog, so!”
She gave a gotcha gesture, a spread of her hands.
“Of course I have a dog. It’s the fat little frenchie over there,” I lied.
She sank on the bench, maybe embarrassed. But it was impossible to tell.
We sat in an oddly tender silence. It was like she had forgotten that we’d had sex. Was it a different woman entirely that night? Had I dreamt it? I wanted her to laugh big and clear like she had at the bar.
“Have you ever heard the story of the cathouse on the sea?”
“Well in the boom-town days in northern California, the prostitutes would shack up in these houses built on little islands–more like boulders really–off the shore. There would be a rope bridge connecting the island to the mainland,”
She listened silently, hard to read behind her dark shades. I wished she would take her sunglasses off. Who did she think she was, a rockstar or something?
“A lot of the townspeople were very religious, so one night they snuck out to the shore and cut down the bridge, marooning everyone on the island…”
She shot up, yelled her dog’s name. Peanut or Pickle or something stupid like that. Someone left the gate open and he made his break, and there they both went—hurtling away. Funny how some dogs will run away from the one person that loves them as if by instinct. She was never a cat. Only a dog pretending.
I never got to tell the end of the story. It goes like this: the next morning all the townspeople woke up, and on their way to work they crossed paths, asking each other, “Where’s the sheriff?” “Where’s the deputy?” “Where’s the priest?” Meanwhile the rope bridge dangled, ladies of the night marooned with men of the morning. I finished the story on Janie and I’s first date. She said, “That’s a good story” and we got married.
I look at her back now, how it spills on itself like pudding, an elegant dimpled line down the middle. I dig an ice cube from under my knee and trace it along her spine. She doesn’t squeal, just squirms. I gently pull the waistband of her pajama bottoms away from the divot above her plump ass and drop it in. She lets out a perfect ugly noise. I push my erection against her back as if to say I love you. I love you.