Jerome Turken

For the past ten minutes Lou had been waiting at the curb in front of the Midway theater, nervous as a squirrel.  Since eight o’clock he had already watched passengers emerge from two 4Q buses with no sign of her.  Did she get second thoughts?

Out of the blue a phone call from Helen Waterman.   That voice, it hasn’t changed at all.  Her highs and lows.  The same animation, the same modulations.  The first thing he did when he hung up was to pull down the shoe box from the top shelf of his clothes closet to take another look at those 25 cent sepia photos they took together in that Coney Island picture booth.  Jesus, almost ten years ago.  What a beauty.  That one of a kind smile, girling up my brains.  That shy, oblique smile that sparkled in her eyes, does she still have that?  And me with that head of hair, a pomaded pomp combed back in a duck’s ass topping off my own dopey smile.  Hours—days!—spent lying in my bed staring at those pictures in the dimness of my small table lamp while listening to romantic ballads on WNEW, lost somewhere in my blue mood when she dumped me for that guy from East Flatbush.  Thinking I couldn’t live without her, my mind doing all kinds of tricks devising loony schemes to get her back.  The sun didn’t rise again for a whole year.

Three more buses came and still no sign of her.  She was now twenty minutes late.  Am I waiting in front of the wrong movie?  She said The Midway, I’m sure she said The Midway.  Did I get the time wrong?  The day?  Is this her idea of a prank?  Maybe she already passed by and laughed at me waiting here like a fool.  No, that was a dumb thought.  Not her.  She was always so direct, that’s another thing he liked about her.  And her intention was certainly made clear enough.  He couldn’t get over it.  Oh, you have your own apartment?  Where?  I’d like to see it.  No, she was serious.  A marriage and two kids later she’d like to see his apartment.  He could hardly digest that idea.  Helen Waterman and his apartment seemed mutually exclusive.  Mona Lisa in a junk shop.  When his mind did get her in there he couldn’t picture her the way he wanted to see her, as if her parts were loose and reluctant to come together right.  She’d like to see my apartment.  And where was her husband?  She wasn’t whispering.  Already sleeping?  How far was his pillow from the telephone?  She gained some weight.  Well, a little more in the right places …. That photo in the papers of some fleshy soprano doing The Dance of the Seven Veils.  Evocative.

A crowd had packed the lobby and the street outside waiting for the picture to end and two ushers with stanchions and rope had come out to make some order.

“Form a line please!  Form a line please!”

And there was a rush to get to the front.  One of the ushers, a tall skinny teen, put his hand on Lou’s back and gave him a slight nudge.  “Behind the rope, please.”

“I’m not waiting to go in,” Lou said.  “I’m meeting someone here.”

“Then please step aside,” the usher said.  “You’re blocking traffic.”

Lou moved from under the marquis.

Another bus pulled up.  Among the passengers getting off was a well

dressed, rather plump woman, who waited for the light to change to cross Continental Avenue.  As soon as she started walking he knew it was her.  She had the bounce of a heavier woman, but the same straight-toed walk and that same sway of her body.  She was looking directly at him as she approached, smiling broadly, not with the quality of shy welcome that he remembered, but with aggressive enthusiasm, as if she were greeting a loved one after a long absence.  Her face.  How large and round.  And fleshy.  When she reached him she didn’t pause, and he felt the bulk of her body as she put a hand on his shoulder and leaned into him and kissed him lightly on the lips, leaving him with the taste of her lipstick and the heady scent of her perfume.  She took his hands and stepped back to look at him.  She could have been one of those overweight housewives with hair died the color of honey who get dolled up for their theater club matinees.  My God, where did my Helen Waterman go?

“It’s been such a long time,” she said.  “I never stopped thinking of you, you know.”

He tried not to show his disappointment.  “And I’ve been thinking of you too, Helen.”

“Yes, we—”  She paused and smiled, head tilted, eyes narrowed and lips compressed, a gesture so characteristic that for a moment he saw the young Helen Waterman in front of him just as if a correcting lens were suddenly put in front of his eyes.  I’d know what to do now.  There’d be no knocking my head against a wall now with should haves in daydreams afterwards.

Standing in the middle of the sidewalk they were an obstacle to people

passing or making for the ticket booth.  He put his hand on her back and guided her to a store front out of the way of the crowd.

She took his arm.  “Where’s your car?”

Her intention had been made clear enough in their phone conversation; still, hearing her launch into its fulfillment in person and so directly took him aback.

“Wouldn’t you like to have a snack or something first?” he said.  “A cocktail maybe?”

“We don’t have much time,” she said.  “I should get home before twelve.  Let’s just go to your apartment.”  Her teeth.  She had them done over.  She used to Ah hah! She places the card she had just picked up and discards one from her hand and fans her cards on the table.  Rummy! her staccato sham-triumphant whinny ha-ha-ha, open-mouthed and breathy, her front teeth a bit buck, one just slightly behind the other.  Ha-ha-ha-ha.  So pretty in mirth.   

“I’m parked just around the corner,” he said.

She took his arm and leaned into him as they started walking.  A gleaming new sedan was parked in front of his old Plymouth.  He felt a flutter of embarrassment.  No, that heap of junk behind it is mine.

He unlocked the passenger door and helped her in.  Seating herself her dress crept half way up her hefty thigh and she made no effort to adjust it.  As he pulled from the curb she moved close to him and looped an arm through his. In profile the swell of flesh under her chin was prominent and she throws her head back and breaks into that full-throated laughter, oh to put my lips under her raised chin and graze them  down that delicate arc, along the smoothness of neck to her developing breast.

“I’m so glad we got together,” she said.  “You’ve been so in my

thoughts.  I want to hear all about you.”

“There’s not much more to say about me than I already told you,” he said.

“But I want to see you tell it,” she said.  “You always had a way of … I

don’t know … acting out what you were saying that I always got a kick out of.”

Me acting out what I was saying,” he said.  “You were the champ at that.  The way your hands would fly through air, your eyes widen and sparkle, your cheeks puff out.  That’s one of the things I loved about you.  I used to lose track of what you were saying and go into a trance just watching you.”

Sitting under the tree in Prospect Park, she leaning against the trunk talking, me lying on my side beside her.  What was she saying?  Something about the grading system one of her teachers used, and me all absorbed in her face, getting a kick out of how her expressions change as she’s talking, like a kaleidoscope, using her hands like she’s shaping in air the feel of what she’s saying.  Wearing a pleated white dress of some soft, fine material that fell loose and soft and clinging around her thighs.  She takes off her tennis shoes and she has no socks on, and then I’m looking at her toes, ten little parts of her.  They wiggle and I realize she’s not talking anymore, and when I glance up she’s looking at me with this girlish mock‑quizzical smile as if to say, What are  you doing, examining my toes?  I laugh.  You know?  You have beautiful toes.  That sun‑drenched smile of hers bursts into her face and then we’re both laughing. You’re a little crazy if you ask me, she says.

“I know,” she said.  “I used to watch you watch me.”

She smiled and rendered a few expressions, as if posing for a photographer.  She was wearing large, gaudy earrings, three linked gold rings increasing in size from the lobe with three pearls dangling on chains from the lowest one seeing her with earrings for the first time.  A sixteen year old cutie with ankle socks and tennis shoes and a plain green cotton dress, sitting there on that step preening for me, and me gazing at her, hypnotized by still another facet of her beauty revealed by those little rubies dangling from her ears on gold chains, until she shakes her head, swinging the rubies to snap me out of my trance.  You mean they go right through your ears?  Let’s see.  She tilts her head and I get close to see and the smell of her hair, and her light cotton sweater, and then when I move back, the girlish arc of her calf.

She moved still closer and shifted her body and raised and bent her legs

to rest them on the seat.  The sheen of nylons on heavy thighs.  But ankle still nicely formed.  Dark brown pumps with heels a little too high.  Why are you laughing!  Floundering along on her first pair of heels.  Come on, don’t laugh. I’m not laughing.  I just think you ought to wait a couple of more years, that’s all.  You’re torturing yourself.  Mock anger.  Stop that!  Why don’t you go back upstairs and put your tennis shoes back on.  A slap on my shoulder.  Will you stop making fun of me!  Mock weeping and grabbing my arm to stabilize herself.  Those expressions on her face, lying awake at night retrieving those beautiful expressions, those gestures, those motions.

“You’re looking at my legs,” she said.  “I’ve gotten a little heavier but I still have nice legs.”

“Yes, you do,” he said.  He hit the break.  He almost rear-ended the car stopped for a light in front of him.

“You’d better concentrate on the road,” she said.

“Yes, I’d better,” he said.

The door to the vestibule was blocked by the super on a ladder changing the light bulb.  “Just a minute,” he said.  When he got down he moved the ladder and opened the door in a manner of awkward solicitude and a hint of a leer, giving Helen a significant glance as she passed.  A new one?  What must go on with them in there.  Going up the stairs a neighbor, a housewife of about fifty, stepped aside at a landing to let them pass, looking Helen over with a quizzical eye.  Helen gave her a smile.

Inside the apartment he lit a few lamps.  “Would you like something?” he said.  “Coffee?  Tea?  Seltzer?  I make a pretty good grilled cheese sandwich.”

“Do you have gin?” Helen said.

“I’m sorry, no.”



“With a little water and ice.”

An alien version of Helen Waterman in my living room.  Preparing the drinks he glanced in at her.  She had taken off her shoes and was lying on the couch with legs bent up on the seat.  He tried to convert her to his young love again, but his mind wouldn’t cooperate now.  Her features were too unmanageable.  A distorted Mona Lisa.  He began to feel a sense of unreality, lightness, as if his body were made of cork.  As he approached her with the drinks she wantonly swung her legs to a sitting position, giving him a view high up her dress.  Who is this woman?

“Thank you,” she said.  She took her drink and held it out.  “To us.”

“To us,” Lou said.  Us.  Who are we?  He felt altogether disembodied now.  Like me in a dream.  That woman is Helen Waterman, but Helen Waterman puffed up, like in one of those trick mirrors in the fun house.  She lifted the glass to her mouth and took a few good sips, then held it in front of her eyes.

“I used to know a guy who called it medicine,” she said.  “Ever hear that expression?  My friend’s boyfriend calls it the glahs tha cheer.  Jiru.  He’s Japanese.  He picked it up from someone in his office.  You drink glahs tha cheer?  He’s so cute.”  She took another large swallow.  “Yes, I’m a bored married woman with two beautiful little girls.  Dierdre is six and Cynthia is four, two darlings.  Deirdre looks like Nathan but Cynthia is the image of me.  Not easy bringing up kids, but I enjoy them.”

She held her glass out to him.  He went to the kitchen to refill it.  When he came back she was not in the living room.  She was in the bedroom—my God! she’s getting undressed!  He was reluctant to walk in.  He stood at the threshold with her drink in his hand watching her flesh appear as she as she uncovered herself.  A full-sized brassiere came off revealing large, sagging breasts.  Her garter belt, which she wore on top of her panties, came off.  Then her panties and her stockings and she was lying in his bed with paunchy belly, heavy thighs, her body full of folds, those oversized breasts lolling across her chest, looking at him, waiting.  Her pubic hair was honey colored to match her head hair, her toes compressed and contorted, its nails painted bright red.  What do I do now?  He feel obliged to get undressed but he couldn’t get himself started.  She got off the bed and took her drink out of his hand and put it on the night table.   She removed his tie, then started to unbutton his shirt.  His hands started to move, and she got back into bed.

He undressed and got a condom from a drawer.

“You don’t need that,” she said.  “I’m pregnant.”

“You’re pregnant?”

“Yes, I’m in my fourth month.”

He got into the bed beside her.  She pulled him close, sensed his reluctance and looked at him, questioning.

“I can’t do this,” he said.

She released him and a strange smile appeared on her face.  “Do you

have a girl friend?”


“Is she good in bed?”

He hesitated a moment then said, “Yes.”

She reached for her drink, lied back again and took a few sips.  “You still have eyes that talk,” she said.  “Your eye questions.  Do you want to hear all about me?  Let’s start with marriages.  There are those who get stuck in a lousy marriage and fall asleep in it.  I found alternatives.  Does that make me a bad girl?  Nathan, oh I don’t know, he was handsome, he was funny, he was in the Navy.  He had big plans, he was going to be a big corporation lawyer, private practice, money, house, three cars.  Big plans.  He went a year to law school, flunked out and switched to accounting.  He failed the CPA exam three times.  He got a job in the accounts department with some dress house in the garment center, and he’s still there, same job.  He gets home from work, eats, sits down and gets bleary-eyed watching TV.  He only wears white socks.  Do I enjoy sex with him?  Oh yes! I’m ready any time.  We go to bed, I wait, I touch him, he’s snoring.  When he gets an erection it’s a cause for celebration. So I masturbate and go to sleep, what can I do?  What can I do.  I got tired of asking myself that question, what can I do.”

She held up her glass to see its contents.  Only the ice cubes were left.  “No, don’t get up.”

She went to the kitchen and came back with her glass replenished.  “What can I do.  My friend Evelyn told me what I can to do, the one

with the Japanese boy friend.  She introduced me to Carmine, Il mio nomo

appassionato Italiano.  You know what that means?  My passionate Italian

man.  He taught me that.  At first I called him il mio amante, my lover, I looked it up in an Italian dictionary.  But he didn’t like that, it went against his Italian grain.  He’s very sensitive about his exact relationship with women.  He’d rather I call him Il mio nomo appassionato Italiano, please don’t question him.  We get together every other Wednesday.  He’s very well-off.  He owns a trucking company in Brooklyn and he drives a Lincoln Continental. We meet at an Italian restaurant in Little Italy, where he has a table reserved in a special room and we have an incredible six or eight or something course dinner.  Afterward he takes me to this out-of-the-way motel on Woodhaven Boulevard. I enjoy him.  He’s courteous, he’s tender, he’s always aware of my concerns.  He buys me things.  He bought me these earrings.  I don’t know if he’s married, he probably is, probably has grown children.  It doesn’t matter.  The child I’m carrying could also be his.  That doesn’t matter either.”

What matters?  In the old days everything mattered.  No casual hugs.  Don’t take her hand in a flirtatious way.  Don’t dare even breathe an off-color remark in her presence, much less come out with a dirty word.  Face turned to ice and walked away, no apologies accepted.  Like the time my friend, Morty asked one of the other girls what color panties she was wearing in her presence.  My God!  What an abomination!  Didn’t talk to me for three weeks because he was my friend.  Could hardly endure it.  Coming down after supper and looking toward her stoop every thirty seconds, savoring her girlish presence, longing for a welcoming glance.  Then and now.  Her bloated body on my bed stark naked, recumbent on her side, elbow on the mattress, head in her palm, telling me about sex with her husband and masturbating to sleep and adultery in a motel, all with the nonchalance of giving a neighbor an account of her shopping at Macy’s.  Pregnant and not sure whose baby.  And me lounging beside her, naked with limp dick, listening.  Where did my Helen Waterman go?

“Nathan, I thought I was in love with him,” she said.  “I wasn’t even seventeen at the time and he was in the Navy.  A friend of my aunt gave him my number.  He called and we went out a few times.  He was handsome, he had a sense of humor.  He proposed and I accepted.  He was aggressive then, and I finally let him play with me, first my breasts, then down there.  I liked it, I began to look forward to it.  He got me to a point where I wanted to have intercourse.  He wouldn’t do it.  He wanted to wait until we were married.

When he shipped out I missed him.  I missed his playing with me.  I was still a virgin, but only down there, not—” she pointed to her head “—up here.  I was already masturbating for, I must have been thirteen the first time.”  She giggled.  “It took me an hour to come.”

And me.  What about me?  Where was I all that time?  I was right there, wasn’t I?  Yeah, I was shitting in my pants over the thought of putting a hand on her breast, don’t even think about Helen Waterman using her vagina for anything other than peeing.  Even her peeing I couldn’t imagine.

“I was unfaithful to Nathan even before we were married,” she said.  “While he was away I’d gotten a job with Lever Brothers, my first job out of high school.  One of their executives had eyes for me.  He kept coming to my desk and fooling around with me, you know, running a finger across my neck touching me here and there.  I was attracted to him, he was good looking.  He was married but separated.  He took me to dinner one night, then to his apartment.  But he didn’t want to go all the way, he only wanted to play.  I pleaded with him, begged him, but he just wouldn’t.  He asked me if I knew what statutory rape was.  That went on for a few months, taking me to his apartment and playing with me.  Then he suddenly stopped coming around to me.  He said he had gotten back together with his wife.”

He could hardly accept what she was saying.  How was this possible?  His young love, this beauty inhabiting sunny fields of wild flowers … all those thoughts of her, the treasure of images, daydreams, yearnings he had accumulated.  It was as if some stable government of his mind had suddenly devalued its currency and left him bankrupt.

“Then there was Charlie Burns, a sailor who I picked up at the Paramount.  He was sitting alone and as I walked down the isle looking for a seat he gave me the once over.  I gave him a big smile.  When I sat down he came over and sat next to me and offered me Goobers.  Before I finished chewing them his hand was between my legs, playing with me.  He didn’t seem too worried about statutory rape.  He wanted to take me to a hotel, but I thought better of it.  He was a little too violent, a little too quick.  He followed me to the subway and called me a dumb cunt as I went down the stairs.  I found sailors in Times Square a few more times, but when I got married I was still a virgin down there.”  She got out off the bed.  “I have to go to the bathroom.”

His senses felt wilted.  What dark magic tainted her soul?  Did an evil

spirit unlock some murky chamber of her mind?  A witch cast some kind of spell?  And with such … not nonchalance.  Veiled boasting.  Boasting!  Like trying to conceal pride in her achievements.

She came back and resumed her position in bed.  “I was anally raped.”

she said.

His consciousness blurred.  She said that like you’d say, Oh, and I also bought a new set of table ware.  “You were anally raped?”

“Yes, by my New Jersey Arabs.”


“Yes.”  She smiled.  Smiled!  Her New Jersey Arabs.  “A Moroccan restaurant in Jersey City Evelyn knew of.  Eshraf a waiter so courteous and cute.  Wrote his address and phone number.  Seemed like fun.  Went there a whole bunch of cousins.  A party.  Went to the horse races.  Picked a whole bunch of winners.  Horse lost the last race Areesh couldn’t get over it.  All these expressions.  Let me see you have an orgasm.  Open your legs.  she’s suspended in space, head thrown back drooping to one side, her pretty face deadened her limbs crooked and lifeless   Tried to masturbate me couldn’t make me come.  like a discarded rag doll thrown into some dark alley in a deserted town  Nobody when I don’t want to.  flying disjointed through a murky, stinking space,  eyes lifeless, mouth twisted, saliva flowing down her chin  Ath alsakeen.  Arid an ara idik aljama.  helpless.  She’s hurt, she’s hurt!  Black and blue marks on my breasts  Is she dead?  Is she breathing?   Held me down.  She’s suspended there, doesn’t anyone give a damn?  My God I have to do something.  First Areesh then Kassen  She’s bleeding!  She’s bleeding!  I have to I have to

He lunged at her, clutched her fleshy body in a tight embrace and squeezed, harder, harder to … to … to what!  Protect her?  Purge her?  Reclaim her?  Retrieve her?  What the hell was he trying to do?  He felt movement under his body and then a groping around his crotch.  He grasped her arm and freed himself and jumped off the bed and walked into the living room, turned without stopping and came back to the bedroom.

“What is it?” she said.

“I … I just … nothing … I just … ”

She looked at him, confusion in her eyes.  Is she going to cry?  He took her hand and held it a while.

“Let’s get dressed,” he said.  “I’ll take you home.”

“I’ll take the subway,” she said.

“You’ll also have to take a bus,” he said.  “It’ll take you two hours this time of night.  And it may not be safe.  I’ll take you home.”

The ride was silent except for her telling him where to get off the Parkway, and then giving him directions to her house from there.  Nor did she look at him during the whole ride.  He gave her several glances, but could think of nothing appropriate to say.  She asked him to park a block away.  He opened his door.

“No, don’t bother,” she said.  With some difficulty she shifted and turned her rounded body to get out of the car, having to use the door support bar for purchase.  Through the windshield he watched her lonely, plump figure in the succession of street lamps as she walked the remaining block and receded up the walkway to the garden apartments, disappearing into the shadows of one of the entries.  He couldn’t avert his eyes from that empty walkway and lifeless entry.  Everything brightens as if by raising a dimmer switch.  The sun is up.  Grass and flowers and leaf-full trees at the sides of the walkway.  People strolling, children playing and laughing.  The fragrance of spring and girls.  She comes out of the entry, looks about, a hand to her forehead shading her eyes from the sun.  She sees me.  She smiles that beautiful, shy smile and walks toward me with that particular girlish sway.  But she suddenly stops and turns around and it’s dark, and there’s that desperate overweight woman hurrying up that walkway again and into the shadows of that entry.  You had to do it!  You had to see her!  Blunderer.