Of all the worldy passions, lust is the most intense. All other worldy passions seem to follow in its train.
- Gautama Siddharta, founder of Buddhism
The storm had resumed with the same force as that morning, as if Dan and Bill had taken their walk in the calm, quiet eye of the storm. Rain hammered on the roof and pelted the windows with noise. A chill hung in the air. Bill started a fire in the living room fireplace that dominated the eastern wall. Like the exterior of the house, it was built by hand with flat, differently colored stone pieces grouted together into a patchwork design but without a discernable pattern. Dan unpacked and called to have a pizza delivered. His appetite was finally beginning to return. When he returned to the living room he found Bill stretched out on the sofa next to the fireplace, shoes off with his hands laced behind his back so that his elbows stuck out on either side of his head. "So, now what?" He asked.
"Well tomorrow I've got to go to the home and pick up the rest of Chulkie's belongings, visit the funeral parlor and make the arrangements, see the family lawyer, like that. Eventually I've got to clean out this place so we can list it. It's really hard, in a way, to think about selling this place but what else can I do with it. I'm certainly not about to live in hell. It's bad enough just visiting." Dan told him.
"It doesn't seem that bad. Another small town in America, that's all. There must be thousands of places just like this one." Bill countered.
"You're probably right." Dan conceded. "But any one of them I'd choose to live in besides this one or one too nearby. I think the longer you stay in one place the more permanent marks you leave. Good and bad alike, but they do't go away ... ever. They just hang in the air and foul it with your past. If you don't keep moving, you can't escape them. If all your memories are good, perhaps then it's possible to endure, maybe it's even pleasantly comforting. But if good and bad mingle indiscriminately then it's bittersweet, at best. And, of course, if the mix moves toward the less positive end, then it becomes pure hell. And for some reason, it's easier to remember the negative stuff. It leaves a deeper mark, I guess. Or perhaps we simply take the pleasurable for granted. So wait until you've seen more before you rush to judgment, not that you'll probably get that chance. I mean, I expect you'll be gone when I wake up tomorrow and the hallucinations stop. No offense, I've really enjoyed talking to a dead guy. And if I had to pick a ghost to haunt me, I'd certainly want you."
"OK, now you're just getting maudlin." Bill told him.
"Damn." Dan whined. "I was going for sarcastic." They laughed together.
"So what do you want to talk about on our last night? Pussy?" Bill asked hopefully. Dan shot him a look and Bill added quickly. "Hey, it's been ten years, man. Cut me a break! There have been some chicks other than Trixie, weren't there?"
Dan slumped into Chulkie's well-worn upholstered chair to the left of the sofa that faced the fireplace. "Yeah." He sighed. "There have been regrets." The wind picked up ominously and howled as it whipped around the house. It felt like a hurricane was centered on the house. Rain continued to noisily pound the house. The occasional lightning bolt flashed in the front picture window, momentarily bathing the mostly dark living room in washed out, white light where everything was visible, but only for a second or two.
"Well let's hear 'em, man. I got nothing but time. Besides, how do you know I won't be here tomorrow?" Bill asked.
"'Cause you've got to be a hallucination. Though I confess I've never carried on a conversation with one before, I suspect I'm just talking to myself and hearing, and seeing, part of the conversation in your voice. What other explanation could there be? There's no god so that means there can't be a devil or a biblical hell, either. A ghost? Seems unlikely. I mean what the hell is a ghost anyway? You know, there are several African cultures that don't see the cycles of life as black and white, alive or dead. They have a third distinct category of being, the Sasha. There is alive, of course, but they call the dead Zamani, but it doesn't mean dead in the same way we mean it. Someone isn't dead until everyone alive who knew that person in life also dies. Until that happens, that person is considered Sasha, essentially meaning in living memory. After everyone who knew someone in life is dead, they then move to the realm of the Zamani. So my grandmother is not really dead so long as I can remember her. As long as I can picture her, hear her voice, taste her cooking, or smell her perfume then she lives on in my memory. I think that's a beautiful idea."
"So, that means I'm not dead, either." Bill opined.
"Exactly!" Dan shot back, pointing at Bill as he said it. "You're just mostly dead, not completely dead."
"Hey, isn't that from Princess Bride?" Bill challenged.
"So? It still works. Maybe Goldman was on to something." Dan replied.
"I guess so." Bill said hesitantly. "It does seem like a more comforting way to look at the world."
"Yeah, it is." Dan agreed and put his feet up on the ottoman.
"So." Bill began. "Tell me about the pussy." Dan shot him his death stare again. "OK, OK. I mean the regrets."
"Forget it. I'm not dredging up more painful memories just to satisfy your libido." Dan said firmly."
Bill scrunched up his face again, this time into a pouty expression with wide, pleading eyes. "Pleeeeeeeease. I'll be good." He said, using his best 'aw, shucks' voice. "Promise. Cross my heart and hope to die ... again." And then he laughed.
Dan laughed with him. "Alright. But I better not hear goat-boy throw his two cents in or I'm stopping right then and there. Understood?"
Bill, looking wounded, held his hands out at his sides, palms front, and said. "Deal. There any booze in this house?"
"I don't know." Dan answered, but then he was struck by something he hadn't considered earlier. "You know, I never checked the liquor cabinet. I was looking for food before, not alcohol. Let's check there." They snapped out their seats and Bill followed Dan into the formal dining room in the corner of the house between the living room and the kitchen. There in the corner was antique hutch with glass paned doors on the upper half. As soon as they neared the cabinet they could both see there were bottles there. Dan swung open the doors and peered inside. Mostly weird liqueurs and bad wine, but there in back was something that looked more promising. He reached in and pulled out the dusty bottle. "Score." He exclaimed. It was 1977 bottle of Taylor Fladgate's LBV Port.
"Is that good?" Bill asked.
"Oh, yeah." Dan answered. 1977 was a great year for late bottled vintage ports. I've only had a '77 once before and it was terrific. This bottle is probably sell for about a $100 today. He grabbed two wine glasses from the kitchen and they settled back into their respective places around the fire. Dan opened the bottle and poured generous amounts into their glasses, handing Bill his drink. "Cheers." He said, clinking his glass against the other one.
"To lust." Bill toasted. They laughed and clinked their glasses again.
The fire crackled nosily and created a warm glow to the otherwise dark room. They sipped their wine and Dan thought how perfect it was that he found a 1977 port. That was the year he'd graduated from high school and left this town for the first time. He'd come back regularly at that time and had even lived in town for a while before his mother's death in 1984. He'd been living in California ever since that eventful year.
"Hey, this is good." Bill offered.
"I know." Dan agreed. "Do you taste the plums and cherries? And chocolate? This is just sinfully delicious."
"I can also taste licorice." Bill added. "But I also get the berries, though I wasn't sure what kind. It just tasted like some kind of berry."
"'It's okay." Dan reassured Bill. "There are no wrong answers in tasting wine, especially port. It's so complex, particularly after twenty-seven years, that every person will smell and taste different things. That's what makes it so fun. I know I don't need any more brain-altering, but this was a good idea Bill."
"So tell me about Trixie." Bill asked.
Dan froze. "I don't think I'm ready to talk about her yet. There were other women in my past. How about I tell you about some of them instead?"
"Okay, but you're gonna have to face her sometime." Bill warned.
"Yeah, yeah. I know. It's my first day here, alright. It can wait a little while longer." Dan stalled. "I once took out Jamie's little sister, you know."
"That jock we saw this afternoon." Bill asked.
"Yeah. I don't think he knows about it." Dan began. "He was very protective of her. He and his sister, Polly, were both adopted. Their parents were pretty religious and I guess couldn't have any kids of their own so they adopted Jamie and then later Polly. We all went to the same church growing up, so I knew her since she was little. She was three years younger than me, so that when I was a senior, which is when we had our 'date,' she was in ninth grade. At some point, when no one our age was paying attention, she had blossomed into a really cute young girl with a great figure. She filled out a sweater nicely, if you know what I mean. I remember seeing her at the pool that summer wearing a polka dot bikini and thinking how voluptulous she looked, particularly for a freshman. Anyway, it was still sort of an accident. This friend of mine, kind of skeez it turned out later but that's another story. Anyway, his name was Max, and he was hot on this girl who lived about a block from me on State Street. I can't honestly remember her name but she lived in the second house down the hill on the right. But she was in the same grade as Polly. So one night it was snowing really bad, just laying down a thick layer and Max and I were hanging around at my house trying to figure out what to do that night and we ran into this girl and Polly walking past my house. Max immediately tried to get something going with her so we decided the four of us would go out to a movie. But Polly had to check with her parents that it was okay. And here's the weird thing, her folks said yeah, go ahead we know Dan, he goes to our church, we trust him."
"Did she tell you that's what they'd said?" Bill interrupted.
"Yeah. But she laughed when she said it, which I kinda took as my cue that she didn't want me to be too trustworthy. Maybe that was wishful thinking on my part, I don't know. But that's how it seemed at the time. Of course, I was seventeen, with active hormones and a few cans of beer in me from my stepfather's stash. So anyway, we went in my place and played some pool in the basement and gave the girls a few beers and had a few more ourselves. After that, I drove up to the little theater up on Lancaster Avenue, I don't even know if it's still there, but it was the only one in town in the Seventies. I also have no idea what we saw. We sat up in the balcony and on such an ugly night we had it to ourselves. Max and his date and Polly and I pretty much just made out through the whole movie."
"That's it, just made out?" Bill asked incredulously.
"Well ...." Dan paused. "There was a little fooling around. It was dark, but it was still a public place. A little under the shirt, over the pants action, that's all. Until we left, I mean."
"Then what." Bill prompted.
"I drove everybody home and even though the other girl - damn, what was her name - lived practically right next to me I dropped her off first. Then Max and, lastly, Polly. But I didn't take her home immediately. First we drove to this secluded parking spot up by the cemetery."
"And then?" Bill quickly asked, wanting him to pick up the pace.
"Hey, this is a little embarrassing to talk about." Dan snapped.
"Why? Who'm I gonna tell?" Dan scolded. "I'm dead, remember? You think you're talking to yourself, so what's the difference?"
They both laughed. "Yeah, I guess you're right at that." Dan agreed. "Okay, so I shut the lights off and we kept making out, groping one another. She took off her shirt, no bra, and I pressed my face into her chest and sucked on a nipple, squeezing the other breast with my hand. She really did have great tits. I undid her jeans, reached down and inserted a finger. She rubbed my dick with her hand over my jeans and I was ready to go. But then I thought about what would happen if we had sex. You know, I liked her a lot but I didn't want her as girlfriend. She was too young for me." Dan laughed. "Remember when three years seemed like a big deal? But she was immature. Not immature, really, she was just acting her age. And in a girlfirend I wanted someone more mature. Does that make sense?"
"You little pussy." Bill growled, disgusted. "Why don't put on a dress."
"Dude, you weren't there. I had to live with this person. I would see her all over the place. She went to my church. I knew her parents and they knew mine. I was friends were her brother. In a small town, you can't escape your actions so it kinda forces you to act morally, or perhaps more morally. At least, that's how I looked at it. In a big city, you can have a one night stand more easily because of the greater likelihood you'll never run into that person again or that they know all your friends. There's fewer consequences. It's one of the things that makes a small community such a double-edged sword. On one hand, you know your neighbors and you help each other. On the other hand, you know your neighbors and you can count on them to screw you over, talk about you behind your back and never let you forget the mistakes you've made." Dan countered.
"Okay, point taken. But couldn't you have asked her not tell anybody? Or told her you didn't want a relationship?" Bill asked.
"Not if I'd wanted to take it any farther." Dan replied. "Funny thing is, we never talked about that night. In fact, I rarely ever saw Polly after that night. A few months later I graduated and left town. I haven't seen her since. So I guess maybe you're right after all. But my regret isn't that we didn't have sex, it's that we did anything at all. She was a cool person and I would have liked to have been her friend and gotten to know her better. That night made it impossible. Or it seemed impossible."
"Okay, now I'm really starting to worry about you." Bill reproached.
"Look, I didn't feel that way then, or at least I couldn't have articulated it that when. It's hindsight talking now. Then I wanted to screw her but knew somehow it wasn't the right thing to do." Dan said, defending himself.
"Well you did have sex with somebody, didn't you?" Laughed Bill.
"Sure. Yeah. Of course." Dan quickly said.
"Tell me about them." Bill again pleaded.
"Well there was Donna. Donna Snyder. We had sex ... a lot. It's about the only thing we did well. After a short time, we didn't really get along at all. Fought all the time. But the sex was always great. We had sex in all kinds of places and all kinds of ways. So we kept breaking up and missing the sex, getting back together and remembering why we'd broken up in the first place. I don't know how many times we did that. A dozen, maybe? Sometimes we'd manage to stay away from each other for months, other times only a few days. Sometimes one or both of us would be going out with another person, which made it a little easier. But that didn't always work, either. When that happened, we'd agree to meet secretly just to screw around. It was awful and wonderful at the same time. And it was terribly unhealthy for both of us." Dan confessed.
"That's more like it." Bill snorted.
"Yeah, I figured you like Donna. We screwed driving all the time. I mean, while I was driving. She'd straddle me facing the back of the car and sit down on me, cocking her head to one side on my shoulder so I could see to drive. Usually we'd drive around at night or on back roads in the country. Although this one time we drove through downtown Reading in broad daylight fucking our brains out. At first, it was a way to have sex when we didn't have a place to go. It's not like high school kids can just get a hotel room. So we improvised. But then we got to kind of like it. It had one great advantage, especially for me. You remember how when you were sixteen you were on a hair trigger? You know, when it was hard to keep yourself from finishing too early. Well, having to concentrate on driving meant I could screw for a long time, literally hours on occasion. And it wasn't uncommon for Donna to have multiple orgasms, so it worked for her, as well. I remember this one time she came six times in an hour."
"What else." Bill said eagerly.
"Let's see. Once we screwed on her parent's dryer while it was running and her mom was upstairs. And this other time when only her brother was home I crawled in her bedroom window and entered her while she was still asleep so that she woke up with me insider her. What else? Oh, I had anal sex for the first time with her in the shower. And she great blow jobs."
"She sounds perfect. What happened?" Bill demanded.
"No romance. Or rather the romance died. Quickly, too. When we first started dating, she was my first serious girlfriend and I was really into it. We met in band when I was a junior and she was a sophomore. She was a majorette. I used to put flowers in her locker every Friday morning before school. I'd get them at the farmer's market when I picked up my potato chips on Fridays. But then our lives became a soap opera. This guy she liked when she was in seventh grade, Lance Lutz, a drummer, started liking her. She thought seriously about hooking up with him behind my back since it was this longstanding crush she'd never gotten over and now she had a chance to fulfill it. To make matters worse, he was a friend of mine, or at least I thought he was. Well, somehow I found out about it and she decided not to go through with it. I think it was because he pulled some childish stunt to put me down, I guess to himself as the better man. Apparently that pissed her off and she sent him packing and stayed with me."
"But things were never quite the same between us after that. I never quite felt like I could trust her again. I stopped bringing her flowers. I think she wanted credit for not going through with it and I couldn't forgive her for considering it in the first place. So we were constantly at each other's throats. And neither of us wanted to give up such great sex so we stayed together off and on for almost two years before we finally called it quits for good. This was a case where I really confused sex for love. I treated Donna harshly and I kept sabotaging my own opportunities for happiness by staying with her. And all for great sex. It was always fabulous, but ultimately unsatisfying."
"What opportunities did you miss?" Bill asked.
"Let's see. There was another majorette, Deb Mohn, who was a sophomore when I was a senior and cute as a button. We actually had a date scheduled and I stood her up. And it was to get back with Donna, which was a sure thing, sexwise."
"Then there was Jenny ...." I can't remember her last name. A friend of mine fixed us up. It was weird. Jenny had seen me at a basketball game and asked my mutual friend to give me her number. She was an absolute knockout. Long blonde hair, tall with legs that went all the way up. We went bowling on our first and only date. We got along well. I had a great time. Afterwards we went back to my place and made out in the basement. I got to second base but was perturbed that I hadn't gotten further and I never called her after that. I was an idiot. She was great, or it certainly seemed so. Because I had this sure thing for sex I could call on whenever I wanted, I didn't pursue what could have been a complete relationship if only I'd had the patience. But I was an immature kid. I really regret that one. I hope she didn't hate me for too long."
"But the worst by far was Gail Bixler. Another sophomore my senior year. She was such a normal girl compared to who I was usually attracted to. I had to stop acting like a dick just to get her to go with me. She told me to just be myself. She brought out the best in me. It was the healthiest relationship I had in high school, hands down. We did normal things; spent time together, went bowling - she loved bowling, talked, saw movies, stuff like that. Individually, they were dull things to do but they never felt boring at the time. As these things go, I really loved her. Sadly, we never had sex but we got close quite a few times. It just wasn't about sex, which after Donna felt great for a change."
"What do you mean, you got 'close' a few times?" Bill jumped in.
"Alright, here's an example. We went to see a movie this one time. Gail was a beautiful brunette and she wore this tight red turtleneck sweater and jeans. During the film, I had my hand on her leg and over time, it inched closer to between her legs, coming to rest there without protest. I just kept my hand tight against her front door for the bulk of the movie. I barely moved by hand but she, and my hand, got wetter and wetter. By the time it was over we were both at a fever pitch and I drove home like a madman. Once alone in my parent's basement, we made out passionately and clothing was removed and hands and fingers fumbled, poked and grabbed in the dark. I'm pretty sure she orgasmed but we never had sex. I just couldn't ruin the relationship like that. I felt it was too pure. Sex had ruined so many other ones that I didn't want to mess it up."
"Stop. Stop right there." Bill hollered. "Is there something wrong with you? You are just pissing me off."
"Hey, I didn't say it was a good idea in retrospect, did I?" Dan replied sharply. "It just seemd right at the time. It was the best six months or so of my life up to that point and after my own bad relationships and watching my parents, grandparents and others screw up their relationships, I was trying to figure out how not to do the same."
"So what happened this time? I know your strategy didn't work or we wouldn't be talking here now." Bill said, a bit calmer now.
"You know, that's another funny thing. I don't really know whay we stopped seeing one another. My senior prom was coming up so, of course, I asked Gail. But she wouldn't go. Not because of me or anything I'd done but because her older sister, who was also a senior, didn't have a date to the prom and she wouldn't go if her sister wasn't going. It was sort of noble. She asked me to ask her sister to go to the prom. I just couldn't do it. I don't even know why. There was nothing wrong with her sister. She wasn't as good-looking as Gail, but she very pretty and had this gorgeous red hair. She was a little shy and wasn't too popular but I'd always gotten along with her. I just never thought of her romantically. Gail made me promise not to take Donna to the prom, which I agreed to. It was our only source of conflict. She was jealous of Donna although I did my best not to give her any reason to be. But after I said I couldn't ask her sister to the prom, we just stopped seeing each other. No goodbyes, no fight, no nothing. We just stopped. To this day, I wish I had been a big enough person to do that simple favor that would have made her and, hopefully, her sister happy. Instead I got back together with Donna. We got dressed up and went out for a fancy dinner on prom night but I kept my promise to Gail and didn't take her to prom. And I never even told Donna why I wouldn't take her to my prom."
"Dude, that is really sad." Bill conceded. "No wonder you're so fucked up."
"Tell me about it." Dan sighed. "And that's not the half of it. But I'm finally coming down and getting tired. I think I'm going to crash. I'd like to say I'll see you in the morning, but I don't honestly think I will."
"Spoil sport." Bill whined, but stood up to shake Dan's hand.
Dan took his hand but threw the other arm around Bill's back and hugged him. "Sorry, I'm a hugger. It was really nice to hang out with you and not be so alone here my first day. Even if you're a hallucination I still enjoyed it."
"Me, too, man. Me, too." Bill agreed. "See you later." He called, as Dan disappeared down the hallway toward the bedroom.
But Dan wasn't too sure about that. "We'll see." He thought, and crashed on the bed falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.