Riding Esperanza

      She was riding him again, swaying her hips to and fro. Not up and down like most men want, no, to and fro and deep for pleasure, for feeling, absent of cinema thoughts and the way she liked it. It’s a mandatory position, on top. They always want to watch you, to suckle your beauty, to thrust in the fantasy of that nameless bitch walking down the street. But he was different. He never opened his eyes. And more and more she caught herself watching him.

      He’d been a client for almost a year now. Once a month on the first floor of an old Greenwich townhouse. It was spacious for New York, well-furnished and clutter free, but with little latent absences like bare walls and a sobering silence. No one had dusted in years either; a thick gauzy film covered everything, decorated with smear arcs and finger trails here and there like hieroglyphics spelling the past. And though roomy, he seemed to keep a good portion closed off, content to live in the back alone. Each month he’d answer her call with a warm but officious smile, leading her down a long hall that ended with two opposing doors, both open, one leading to the bedroom and the other to the kitchen. And that’s all she ever saw. A barren, dust-covered ‘T’.

     She got the feeling he didn’t get out much. “He’s one of those reclusive types,” she thought, “always alone. Timid. Afraid of meeting real women.”

     After leading her to the bedroom he’d ask her to “get ready” with a soft, smooth voice that reminded her of mink or felt. Then he’d leave to check something in the kitchen. Every time. He was always cooking something; she had no idea what. It never smelt like anything she’d tasted, was always poignant, and contaminated the farthest corners with a spicy aroma that slapped your consciousness like the bleach.
     She’d strip while he was gone.

     The bedroom was as neat and dusty as the rest of the place. Bed, weight bench, an oak bureau with carefully stacked papers and desktop computer. There was but one window, always closed, and a magnificent mural spread across the walls and ceiling. All trees. The room was surrounded by a veritable forest of genera: silver poplar, oak, beech and maiden-laurel, hazel, lotus, resilient fir and white ash, a chromatic maple, boxwood, tamarisk and myrtle, elm, spruce, viburnum and ivy coiling round, an arbutus, a swaying palm, and a single draping willow bearing each corner. All covered with gossamer dust and the faded years of neglect. A ghostly shadow of foliate splendor.
     The ceiling was nightshade blue with a single star slightly off-center.
     When they were done he’d ask her to leave. Politely, but without so much as looking at her. He’d just say “thank-you very much. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to be alone,” in the same smooth voice. At first she thought he was weird, kind of funny, in a kinky way. But then she realized he actually wanted to think. He was just like that – pensive after sex. So she’d exit without a word, traveling back up that long barren hall and spilling out into the city.

      She was still riding him with his hands on her hips. Spanish hips. They never left her side. Not for her salient tits, her smooth ass, or any part of that magnificent booty straddled above. He was just different she guessed. But there was something he loved about her hips. Every client had their little turn-ons, she was used to that. And maybe it was her rhythm. That hipped, gyrant dance across his pelvis, harkening a faint Africaness, a resonance of bonfire drums and pagan fertility gods tickling his euro-mind with the musk of exotica. Maybe.
     She continued to sway on him.

      She always shut her eyes while they watched, deploring eye contact. Whenever her eyes did open, for whatever reason; a sound, an ache, an odd smell; she’d see them staring up and devouring her. It was like eating a guava. Tearing the skin and sucking the flesh with course slurping sounds, the sweet, succulent juices running down the side of their mouths and thirsting for more. So she kept her eyes closed and thought of something else, anything else.

     Suddenly she yelped and jolted upright. She’d gotten carried away and took him in too deep, hitting someplace awkward inside with a sharp, pricking pain.
      “Are you ok?” he asked, softly, as in first waking, his eyes barely open.
      “Yes,” she said, “yes,” this time softer, noting his hand glide up her side.
     Then she renewed the sway and his hand slid back to her hip, his eyes dithering before they closed.
     She got carried away with him often. Not because he was beautiful or good. He was handsome, if not a little older, but he exercised vigorously and she could tell. He wasn’t particularly 'good' either, though very considerate and encouraged her to pull him in deep. She enjoyed that; none of her other clients bothered with depth except in quick, stabbing thrusts. But he wasn’t exactly 'creative' in bed either; they did it in the same position every time. It was the scent. The tangy juices and fleshy sweat, it was the only thing that blocked out his cooking, drove it back, contained it to the kitchen and gave relief from its all consuming odor. After a while all she could smell was sex. Besides, he really was a considerate lover. And she did like it deep. Most women do, if not secretively.
     She kept swaying on him.
     He responded a few minutes later by moaning, coming, and asking her to leave.

     Sometimes she thought he was just shy. You know, one of those quiet sensitive types who were actually really sweet, but no one notices. The best clients.

      It would hit her hard when she’d leave the bedroom, the kitchen miasma, as if it sat brewing up potency while they were busy. So she’d stand at the door and build up pep. Then she’d sprint down the hall cannon shot, desperate for release into the fresh air outside.
      And he’d still be lying there, staring at the ceiling, saturated in an aromatic sex cloud and lost in unknown thoughts, a look of haunt on his face. Then, slowly, the pungent spices would creep in, overwhelm his senses, and drag him back to life.

     She dressed and left. There was no need to ask for money, he paid via a direct transfer from a specific account set up for her. A thousand dollars a session without complaint. Each and every month.

     Sometimes she thought he saw others. Or maybe was cheating on someone. "No, it had to be others. Other call girls. He’s too reclusive to have a girlfriend."

      He was very specific about their schedule too. Every first of the month at precisely 12:30PM. The day of the week didn’t matter and she never stayed over two hours.
      One time, in the Spring, she showed up early and heard voices inside. They were very distant, likely down the hall so they must have been talking quite loud. She almost didn’t recognize his, it grew raspy when it rose, but she was sure it was him. Then it became quiet and something happened she never forgot - she heard him crying. So she left. When she returned an hour later he had answered the door the same as always. Taciturn but sweet, like nothing had happened. And who knows, maybe nothing did. At times she found herself doubting the tears. Like maybe she had heard what she wanted to hear, and he’d actually been laughing. But then she doubted that too.

     Next month she found herself watching him again. He had this determined yet pleasured look on his face, the manifest play of welcome tension, as if he was trying to imagine something as vividly as possible, or struggling to orgasm. She couldn’t decide which.
      Maybe he just had a problem. With sex. Like he couldn’t do it except in certain ways and felt embarrassed to ask a real woman to be so specific. Like maybe he was a regular guy, a Joe, and this was the only way he could sate his sexual needs. Maybe it was a health thing.

      Suddenly his eyes opened. His face twitched, his head lifted, and then he looked straight up into her eyes.
      He caught her watching him.
      Her first impulse was to pretend it didn’t happen, but it did and she couldn’t shut her eyes. They were locked. The two of them. And for the first time she realized what beautiful browns he had, dark and deep, with long lashes preening. Her sway began to slow. The motion narrowed. It grew less gulfed, less to and fro. Her vaginal muscles gripped him and he moaned, but didn’t close his eyes. So she bent down low and placed her hands on his shoulders, bringing her face close and leveling her body, inhaling his breath. Then he tilted his head back, came inside her, and asked her to leave.

      The next month she thought she’d try talking to him. They had bantered before but never really talked. Beyond initial acquaintances; schedule, payment arrangements, preferred positions and fetishes; there was little communication.
      When she arrived he courteously led her down the hall and asked her to "get ready" while he headed toward the kitchen. As she started undressing she noticed a clutter of papers on the floor, radiating from the desk. The room was usually so neat, "odd", so she picked one up hoping to glean a conversational in. There was writing all over it, type-written and arranged in short, neat little paragraphs with a page number in the upper right corner. 432. Another read 490. The computer screen was on, again unusual, glowing with a word processing program. Its document was much the same, short descriptive paragraphs. Page 501. Then she noticed a small photo in a gilded frame next to the computer. It was the only picture she’d ever seen in the place: a young, pretty, bronze-skinned woman profiled in a wedding gown. She had to be in her early 20’s and the call girl wondered why she’d never noticed it before. Was it her? Or did he just put it there?
      "I’m a writer."
      "What?" he startled her, reappearing without warning and catching her prying. Guilt slithered up her larynx and constricted her voice.
      “I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I write stories. You know, fiction. I’m working on a novel.”
      “Oh.” He had brought the kitchen smell with him, but it wasn’t as bad as before.
      “Is that your sister?”
      He grew dolor and began undressing. “No. It’s my wife.”
      “Oh. She’s beautiful. Is she Espanish?” Conversations about client’s wives were nothing new to her. Several actually asked advice on how to deal with them, something she found thoroughly ironic.
      “Look, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, you’re a very nice person and all, but do you think we could just get started?” He turned away and sat on the bed.
      “Sure. Sure. Of course.”
      She resumed undressing and he watched her laying down. She noticed, saw him watching with his puddled, placid eyes. So she slowed her movements, removing each article with a smooth, erotic grace. Especially the pants. She wiggled out of them slowly, careful to use nothing but the hips.

      When they were done she rolled off and cleaned up. Then, as she dressed, decided to break his little afterlife and try talking again.
      “Is it any good?”
      “What?” he replied, staring at the ceiling but quite on mark.
      “The book.”
      “Yes. It’s worth it. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t bother with all this.”
      She looked down at the papers but he continued staring at the ceiling.
      “Oh. Have you written a lot of them?”
      “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”
      “No, I guess not. I’m sorry. I’m not much of a reader. Maybe I’ll pick up one of your books sometime.”
      “There’s only one,” he continued, sitting up and looking at her, “you’ll find it in the classics section under Jack Donnelly. I’d give you a copy, but I don’t keep them around anymore.” Then he slunk back down and resumed looking at the ceiling.
      “It’s really beautiful you know.”
      He grew uncomfortable and was about to say something when she beat him to it.
      “The mural. It’s beautiful.”
      “Oh. Thank you. It’s from a scene in Ovid. Orpheus’ forest.”
      “Have you read him?”
      “Well, no. Sorry.” She didn’t even know who Ovid was. Orpheus too for that matter.
      “It doesn’t matter.”

     She thought he was an abandoned husband, that his wife left him. That’s why he was so quiet, so considerate, timid, shy, afraid to go out in the world. “The bitch left him,” she thought, “he married a young wife and the bitch left him. The court probably gave her half too.”

     The book was called The Nexus, and she barely understood it. What she got was this: a man and a woman learn to love each other after all kinds of obstacles, both internal and external, and in the end they poison themselves and die in each other’s arms. It kept mentioning Romeo and Juliet. Most of it was far too deep for her, droning on about the isolation of language, the distrust of the sexes, and the American divorce rate. She did remember the scene when the main character is confronted by his father and a priest - they want him to get married in a big church bonanza. He goes on a tirade, blaming divorce on weddings, saying “if people would just toss all the shotgun pomp of weddings to the wind and marry each other, instead of their parents, their friends, the gawd damn government and some mute deadbeat lounging about the stars, then love, true love, would flourish, and all this blubbering lament over weekend dads and alimony moms would end. America is the land of the lonely, and weddings are problem number one.” That just struck her somehow, and she remembered the picture of the girl in the wedding gown, smiling with her dark lips on some far off sunny day. All the book’s rants were balanced by the romantic rendezvous of the lovers, which she reread several times. He was good. She hated tear-jerk romances, but he was really good. It was like he convinced you he really knew what love was, real love, not the self-deluding flings broadcast on soap operas and reality television. But more than that, he made you believe it still existed, true love, that it was possible for most anyone if they’d only try.
      She couldn’t believe he wrote it.

     She thought she’d broken his heart. His wife. Dug it out with a spoon and slurped it down like a guava dessert.

      The next month he didn’t answer the door. The doorbell rang twice, there was no response, and a flutter in her stomach told her something awful had happened, something morose. It ached with each grim second, right behind the abs, stretching time and dissolving like acid. Then his voice called out, “who is it?” and the pain effaced itself.
      “It’s me, it’s,” and she realized she’d never told him her name. Not once. Not even her stage name. “Luna. It’s me.”
      There was a silent pause.
      “The door’s open,” he called, “come in.”
      The place smelled good. The same spicy odor whiffed down the hall, but he’d changed it again for the better, more alluring, like he’d finally found that special ingredient the others had lacked. She found him in the kitchen, somewhat excited, adjusting the dials on a sickly yellow pressure cooker.
      “Hola. I’m terribly sorry. I must have gotten carried away. But I think I finally got it down,” he said.
      “Hola? Tu hables espanol?
      “Non. Eh? Un poco,” he smiled, “Not really.”
      Luna smiled back but he quickly returned to the pot, ignoring her and creating one of those awkward silences, those spacebar sloughs of expectation that highlights corners and counts floor tiles. Nothing was said, and she stood there questioning her own presence. Should she go undress? There was four. Between him and her. Four large aqua tiles spaced by thin black lines of adhesive and dirt.
      “What are you cooking?” she asked finally.
      “Oh yea? What’s in it? It smells wonderful. Unique.” She slinked over and leaned up against the counter next to him.
      “Oh, whatever’s lying around. I tend to mix it up. Toss in whatever I find and hopefully make something tasty. It’s an on-going process. Takes me a while to find the right ingredients. The right mixture.”
      She wondered why he didn’t just buy a cookbook, but didn’t say anything.
      The cooker was sallow and peeling on the outside, covered by a glass lid besplattered with some type of red sauce. He kept peering through and adjusting the temperature with a delicate, almost paternal care.
      “You’re pressure cooking it?”
      “Yes,” he replied looking at her, “it’s the only way I know how to cook.”
      “Well, shall we then?” he said lifting an open palm toward the bedroom.
      The room was a mess. There were clothes piled in the corner, dirty coffee mugs on every surface, and papers strewn across the floor like ground zero, starting at the computer and radiating outward.
      They reminded her of his book. The papers.
      “I liked it you know.”
      “What?” He began undressing.
      “Your book. The Nemesis.
      “Nexus. And thank-you.”
      “Very deep. Very, um, beautiful.”
      He didn’t respond, silently sliding his naked body up on the bed. And she felt it again. The seditious expectation of uncomfortable silence. A paper near by, page 810, read “...again he stood on his morning precipice, staring down into unknown countries he knew all too well...”
      She began riding him. His eyes were closed as usual, hers open, and that same look of welcome tension contracted his facial muscles. She bore down on him, gripping him hard inside. His back arched a bit, a small reaction, and suddenly she knew it all - why she came, why he did it, did her. And the hips, why he loved those hips, caressing them with such loving care and nowhere else, his eyes closed. It was her.
      Luna bent down low and feathered his jawbone with her finger tips. His face turned toward her, but the eyes remained shut.
      “It’s all fantasy you know,” she whispered between breathes, “that’s why I’m here. I’m here for you.”
      He remained impassive facing her.
      “I can be anything you want,” she pressed, “let me be anything you want. I want to please you, to help.”
      His face contorted slightly, showing the wayward signs of struggle and discomfort.
      “I can even be her. Let me be her John. The wife who left you.”
      He screamed a howl of agony and pushed her off him, frantically sliding out from underneath. The shove surprised her, knocking her off balance and down to the paper-strewn floor.
      “Mother of a... pendejo!
     She rolled up and stood at a wide stance, attack posture, claws open and eyes alit with violence.
      But he was whimpering. Curled up in the fetal position and whimpering deep souled sobs, rocking back and forth ever so slightly, eyes wide open, glassy and staring at nothing.
      “Hey,” she began, “I didn’t mean.”
      “GET OUT!” he screamed mid-sob, surging emotion amplifying his voice. It was a spiritual loudness, deep and resonant, calling to the soul, the heart, the thin thread of that human condition plaguing us all. And it wasn’t just about her. There was something existential to it, harkening beyond and uttered indiscriminately at the world with its trailing last syllable.
      Luna stood dumbfounded as his sobs continued bursting forth in air-gulping waves.
      Then she left without a word.

      Luna debated it all month. What to do. Should she show up on the first or not? There were multiple reasons weighing both options, but in the end she decided the reasons to keep away were far more selfish than the reasons to go. She didn’t expect sex, she expected to apologize, and headed to The Village on December 1st.
      The doorbell rang and there was no answer. She rang it again. Same result. Silence. Part of her thought he didn’t want to see her, that he knew it was the first of the month and just wanted her to go away. But then again she half-expected him to call out from the kitchen too. After a pause she decided to knock. The door opened when she struck it, sending the scent of his cooking out to meet her. It was rich, spicy, and absolutely delicious. “He’s back cooking again!” she thought as she walked on in.
      Luna arrived in the kitchen doorway and stood aghast. The entire room; floor, counters, walls, ceiling, everything was covered in meaty crimson splashes rank with spice. The sallow cooker was still on the counter but the lid had blasted off, shattered into several sharp pieces all glittering on the floor. Again, she feared the worst.
      He was actually quite sedate. The bedroom was dark, but once again tidy. He laid on his bed, arms folded on his chest in one of those deep, restful naps you just kind of slip into while reading. She feared waking him, so quietly crept over to his desk and wrote a note:
Dear John,
Sorry for everything, I never meant to hurt you and promise to never speak about it again.
Call me if you can.
She thought a minute and added,
your senorita.
      She crept over and tried to place it on top of his crossed arms. But something was already there, a book she imagined, cradled loosely on his chest. She crept closer to remove it but halted when she saw something shiny. It wasn’t a book; it was a gilded frame. Then she noticed a small translucent orange bottle to his right, open and empty. Under his head lay an open page-filled box, supporting him, like a pillow.

      “Orpheus Bound,” read the publisher.
      “Yes,” she replied.
      “He always had a thing for mythological flair. Did you read it?”
      “Yes, I liked it. It was beautiful.”
      “Much different than his last, but I agree. There’s a unique mixture of elements that creates a very subtle beauty, dark and tragic, but quite delectable.”
      “Orpheus. I’m not surprised. You know the story I take it?” He said the last with the subtle condescension of a wry smile.
      “The poet who lost his wife on their wedding day, reclaimed her from Hell, then lost again just as quickly. Yes. Torn to bits by a group of crazed women in a multitudinous forest,” she delivered as naturally as possible.
      “Yes, that’s right. But Hades.”
      “Hades, not Hell. They’re different.”
      “And they killed him because he remained abstinent after she died. Well, for the most part anyway.” Again, the wry smile. “It’s hinted that he found other outlets.”
      “From Ovid.”
      “That’s right, from Ovid.” He looked away and paused. “Such a shame what happened to him. To John. Poor bastard.”
      She said nothing, initiating an uncomfortable silence.
      “But I must say we’re all quite surprised he lasted this long. That first year whenever the phone rang, I swear... But I guess we know what kept him going.” He looked down at the manuscript.
      “The first year?”
      “Since his wife Esperanza was killed. Tore him to bits. He was such a social lad. They both were, always out on the town at this club or that,” a short laugh escaped his lips, “I have no idea when he found time to write. Did you know him well?”
      “No. Just worked for him on occasion.”
      “Ah, a part-time assistant.”
      “Yes. Only once a month though. Just to keep things in order.”
      “Well, he needed that. He really did. He was such a disorganized guy, but then again most geniuses are. I remember he once told me that Esperanza had to straighten out his office every month or it’d inhibit his writing. He’d get all jumbled and grumpy so she’d straighten it out and then he’d be fine. He was quite empathic. But why he couldn’t keep the place clean himself is beyond me.” He laughed, sitting back and smiling reflectively. “But I’m an orderly person myself.”
      “Is that all then?” she asked.
      “Yes, I believe so.”
      Luna stood up and headed for the door.
      “It means waiting you know,” he called after her.
      “Esperanza. It means waiting or too many words or something like that in Spanish.”
      “Funny,” she replied, “I thought it meant hope.”