Archive for November, 2011

Amber end

15 Nov

Amber picked at her French fries. Late afternoon seemed early for dinner, but I didn’t trust myself to remain entertaining without some planned event.

“Well, Greg is my soul mate. We love each other.” With the reflexive ease of long habit, my face remained expressionless. Somewhere behind my face, scenes from last night unspooled. We had spent hours in my unlit basement being strangers who had undressed each other. The memory had already begun tectonically to deform, crushing itself hard against other, similar memories and then subducting, descending somewhere hot and private.

She dabbed her fries in ketchup, eating them singly and slowly. We had ended the evening at my parents’ house rather than the castle. This afternoon, I’d prepared myself with internet directions and taken her there for an anticlimactic visit. “But we’ll never be together. I’m just not attracted to him. If I were, I think I’d marry him. He keeps holding out hope that we’ll be together.” I nodded in reflexive sympathy. I thought about how Steak and Shake should change its name to Fries and Shake, or maybe Burgers and Fries, or something more descriptive about what’s enjoyable about eating there. All their steak is shaped like hamburgers or hot dogs. Memories bubbled up liminally and sank again almost immediately. Amber’s hands on my shoulders. Amber’s thighs pressed against my waist. Amber’s voice in the dark and my guilty shushing in response, motivated by the knowledge that my parents slept two floors above us.

In your parents’ house, you will always be a teenager. This is doubly true where fucking is concerned.

As a teenager, I never fucked a single fuck. During my pubescence, my environment imbued in me a certain intractable Irish Catholic faith that should my cock slip past the defenses of any vagina, the unavoidable consequence would be a trifecta of syphilis, gonorrhea and paternity. This particular article of faith outlasted all others, persisting until I was twenty-one and encasing me in an impenetrable technical virginity. However, in the absence of a more straightforward sex life, I had devoted myself to going down with the desperation and enthusiasm of a fifteen-year-old who did not yet believe that a girl might want to fuck him. This not-fucking all happened in the same basement where I now lived, and then as now, I could think of little afterward apart from a dread of being caught. In a ritual of helpless anxiety, I reassured myself that I’d safely collected and discarded every piece of the Trojan wrapper.

“This is the guy you’re staying with?” I asked. Amber nodded.

“Speaking of which,” she said, “We’d better get going. As far as he’s concerned, I’m in town to see him.” She smiled at me. “He doesn’t really know about you.”

I saw the inescapable sense of this.

Any geography that is not familiar is foreign. As far as Amber was concerned, both Greg and I lived in Cincinnati, but the Cincinnatis we lived in were nearly an hour apart. We drove the curve of the interstate 275 bypass, settling our loosened hips into the cushioned seats. I don’t remember whether we held hands. It’s possible.

“Do you think we’ll date?” Amber asked. As a post-coital question, this one is difficult. From a perspective of cold realism, after first-date sex, a couple is less strangers only in that they know what each other’s genitals feel like, or rather what they felt like on one particular night. It’s a single data point and a lonely sort of intimacy. Sure, it can be sexy. But it’s rarely something that can sustain a relationship.

I sighed. I am a champion sigher.

“No, probably not. I mean, I like you, and you’re sexy. But you also live four hours away. I don’t think I can do it.”

That is true. Ask anyone.

At Amber’s direction, I pulled in front of a well-appointed house, two stories of suburban upper-middle-class grandeur. I chose to believe that the house belonged to Greg’s parents, although I didn’t ask. A large man with dark hair answered Amber’s knock. His front door swung open, and then shut.


Amber, part 2

07 Nov

“Are you sure the castle’s around here?” I could feel Amber’s eyes on me, but I didn’t turn to look. We drove on winding blacktop roads, unlit and recently surfaced.

“Of course I’m sure.” I coughed. I was pretty sure. At least she hadn’t started asking me whether I’d made it up.

She seemed recovered from the car accident, but she stayed quiet. I wondered whether that signified concussion while filling the silence with stories about nothing. I wondered how stories about nothing would affect someone who’d been concussed. We had met about thirty minutes earlier at a BP station in Blue Ash, a blandly upper-middle-class enclave north of Cincinnati. A private Catholic girls’ high school squatted in the background on the hill overlooking the lot where Amber waited.  As a point of interest, I had once been banned from the premises of that private Catholic girls’ high school for flipping off a janitor there. He’d informed me that I was an asshole. I’ve always responded poorly to criticism.

I chose to keep that particular coincidence to myself.

Much of the memory is hazy. We called a tow truck, that much seems clear. She’d been able to limp her car to the gas station, but crumpled metal dragged against her tire, ensuring a blowout if she tried to drive it anywhere. She sat on the hood of her car, all snarled bumper and smashed fender. While she phoned her mom, I moved things from the back seat of her car to the back seat of mine, thereby ruining the back seat for its more stereotypical date-night use. By the time I’d finished, she’d placed her phone back in her pocket, and we had a brief discussion about whether to continue our date or to drive her to where she was staying. We reached a decision to continue the date for reasons of what the hell.

“Well, the restaurant is probably closed by now,” she said. “What should we do instead?”

“Do you want to see the castle?”

“Sure.” What the hell.

Loveland, Ohio indeed has a castle. Until recently, I’d forgotten about it, but I desperately needed something to show Amber apart from my basement corner. Somewhat unimaginatively, most people call this place Loveland Castle. Somewhat pretentiously, its caretakers call it Château Laroche. I’m not fully clear on what is and is not a chateau, so I won’t contest the point. It stands, craggy and crenellated, on the shores of the Little Miami river, overlooking a scenic garden and a less scenic unlined parking lot, reachable by car only with a steep, switchbacked one-lane road. Every Halloween, the castle becomes a popular haunted house, and school buses make their terrifying way up and down this road, ferrying patrons between the castle and their cars. Beginning in the 1920s and using flagstones from the river bank, a man named Harry built it by hand as a replica of European fortifications, lovingly reproducing continental machicolations and murder-holes. He died before finishing it. Now, the people who live there call themselves knights and support the castle through tourism. A sign hangs on the gate to the path leading up to the front door. Mostly the sign gives the dates and hours the castle is open. Also it asks the local kids not to harass the people who live there.

While I was still in college, a red-haired girl from Toledo came to visit me for a few days. Sometimes, late at night in the Ohio suburbs, novel entertainment becomes a challenge. I thought then that maybe parking with her in the empty lot of an improbable castle might afford me the opportunity to talk her out of her overalls.

In this thought, I had proven correct.

Perhaps a similar tactic would prove effective with Amber. Not that she wore overalls, but she was cute and she had driven hours to see me. I hoped that the castle would be sufficiently unusual to change the evening’s momentum. Any existing mood had been wrecked along with her car.

Amber fidgeted in her seat and looked out her window into textured suburban darkness. The houses here were stacked fairly densely together, but a line of trees near the road screened them and gave the impression of uninhabited woods.

“Are we lost?”