Arthur and I are lucky. A client of mine on 110th and Broadway—I clean houses—had a family thing and needed to leave the country for a few months. Arthur and I could stay.
It’s late morning. The door buzzer sounds and Arthur springs up. His old friend, Joey Chestnut. What we know so far is that Joey’s gotten clean, or at least a lot cleaner than the last time we saw him. He has a lady now. Maybe she’s a calming influence. Now Arthur and Joey are going on a fishing weekend. They’re traveling light because just yesterday Arthur’s Pacer was towed.
This is their Staten Island greeting. Shoulders are smacked. I say hey. Joey’s put on weight. This is good.
You want coffee? I say, and Joey says yes.
Where’s this woman you made up? Arthur asks, and Joey says she’s downstairs with her friend.
From the kitchenette I can look down and see. Sure enough, there are two women on the sidewalk in front of the stoop on the basketball court side, smoking. They’re both wearing fur-collared coats and platform shoes. Okay, so she’s real.
If it weren’t for my client needing to leave the country, I don’t know where we’d be, because of all the mess Arthur caused at our old building. The thing is, my client said, we’ve got to keep our noses down, avoid the other neighbors, and above all do not call the super for any reason.
So far, it has gone great. My client’s not a Richie. Part of her disability payment provides house cleaning. I don’t know where she gets the rest of her money. I mind my business. I have friends who get high with their clients. Eat with them. Not me.
—the best thing that ever happened to me, Joey is saying. You know where I was at after high school.
Arthur murmurs something supportive. And then Joey is saying he’s really gotten his shit together and all’s he brought for the whole weekend is chicken tranquilizers and a handle of Wild Turkey. It’ll be like the old days.
Now Joey is laughing—he actually pronounces the words hee hee hee—about our heavy door and our various locks. I guess he thinks this is our apartment.
Oh, this place is a regular Fort Knox, Arthur says. Self-important with his thick mustache and mutton chops. The river and Colombia are easy walking distance, he adds. St. John’s too.
A real lord of the manor, I think but do not say.
Joey steps back into the hall, where he’s left his bag and the fishing rods. The door closes behind him with its heavy click. I’m always worried about locking myself out. We only have one key.
So, what do you think? I ask Arthur, and he says he thinks it’ll be okay.
What about those girls? They’d better not be coming with.
Nah, they’re just with Joey. They’re with Joey. Accompanied him here, is all. And I can hear now that the girls have come upstairs. Someone must’ve let them in. They’re talking fast and their voice bounce against the enameled walls. I can’t make anything out.
Arthur makes a big thing of taking my chin in his hand and tipping my face up to his for a kiss. He tries to hike my skirt up, but I’m wearing my quilted maxi and it’s a lot of fabric. I say Arthur’s gonna start pounding on the door and he says no he won’t. Arthur takes my chin and tips my face for a kiss. And then he’s hiking my skirt up. Oh, Arthur. The things he gets me to do. I step up onto the couch and sway strip-tease style, adding a dip to shuck my skirt and panties. Arthur throws them across the room. He’s kissing my tits and kissing my tits and it just lights me up; my whole body buzzes with want.
I say, Joey’s gonna start pounding and he says no he won’t and we’re kissing again. And I’m lying on the couch with my feet touching the floor when Arthur enters me with full urgency and oh. Oh. Then he’s finished, our bare chests, our rib cages, pressed together. I taste the
salt of his face. He pushes up, dips to kiss my neck saying thank you thank you thank you. I belong to this man. Oh, Arthur.
I wash the coffee cups and the pot, thinking about a job I have at three, a gay couple in the village. I switch on WNEW and it’s Patti Smith, a girl singer from New Jersey. If Arthur were here, he’d say turn that shit off.
That’s when I hear it: the next-door neighbor lady screaming: she’s been robbed. I run out to the hall and she’s there with her laundry from the basement machines, and she’s telling me she propped the door with a matchbook and down in the laundry all of ten minutes. And it hits me: I’m good and locked out barefoot in just my maxi skirt. Arthur’s gone baby gone, already hurtling on the sweltering A to Jesus knows where and the neighbor lady comes out with her baby which she left sleeping in his bassinet and she’s saying thank you thank you thank you.