TINA AND I had an arrangement. Unspoken, developed over a year and a half or so, it worked its way into a code upon which we’d silently but complicity agreed. No telephone calls unless it was an emergency, no texting or emails, none of the computerized instant-messaging, electronic stuff that clogged relationships with pretext, innuendo, longing, wondering, hidden expectations that couldn’t be met. She was beautiful in the way that I thought all Tinas must be. Tina, the girl next door. The hot chick that went out with jocks in high school. Tina the waitress at the soda fountain who shot you sly looks along with milkshakes, burgers, fries, and desperate hope for the lonely. Tina the cute nurse, Tina the checker at the supermarket, all the Tinas I imagined from my limited but rich imaginary world of Tinas were gorgeous and secretly generous, semi-available at the right moment at the right time to the right guy, but distant and reticent and hesitant because of something mysterious in their makeup, their past, and maybe something inevitable they surmised about their future. If the name of a women, in my wild imagination, ever conjured up exoticism and sweaty nights in remote topical locales under ceiling fan blades splitting light from naked bulbs scattering the resulting human per-fumes across the South Seas, and steamy midnight kisses in the back of a Jeep at the end of a dirt road softened from a dripping wet jungle, that name would be Tina.
Tina opened the door to her apartment. Wearing a short white robe holding a phone and a beer, Tina motioned me with her head to enter her den, kicked the door closed with her foot and thumped me on the back of the head gently with her beer bottle.
“Want a Coke?” She flipped her brunette hair, flashed her deep blue eyes on me, clicked the phone shut and threw it on the sofa. The robe fell open a bit at the top, Tina making no motion to tighten things up.
“My bank sucks,” she said. “Trying to tell me my credit card interest rate is so fucking high if I don’t pay off the monthly balance. I only owe like, under five hundred dollars.” Her lips pouted enough to put a shadow in her dimples. “Not like some guys I know.” Then she smiled, came towards me, touched my shoulder blades with her finger tips, one hand holding the cold beer bottle touching the back of my neck, the other scratching my shoulder blade so tenderly I could only think of what color finger nail polish could possible attract and generate such a lightning-charge that I felt all the way down in my knees.
She brought in a Coke on ice in a crystal highball glass and set it on the coffee table, turned on the television and flipped through a few channels before settling on a WWE wrestling show taped six months ago. A rugged tattooed thug holding a microphone, carries on a loud wrestler-rant, gesturing to gray-haired ladies in the front row.
“It’s theater, Danny,” Tina said, pointing at the television.
“Winners are pre-determined. Where’s the suspense?”
“Romeo and Juliet is 500 years old and most people who see it have an idea how it ends.”
“WWE and Romeo and Juliet. Comparative Lit 101.”
“Knowing the ending doesn’t mean getting there isn’t fun.”
I didn’t say anything. Tina got up, cinched the robe belt a bit, not enough to hide anything and she went to the kitchen. The wrestler was holding the microphone in front of a women’s face and she pointed her finger, barked into the mike until a light sheen of perspiration broke out on her forehead and the thug pulled back the microphone, held both arms up like he’d finished an encore expecting crowd love. The Coke frothed around the ice when I put it down and the sting from the bubbles worked on my lips and mouth. Tina spread out on the sofa, put her legs over mine and clicked the remote control. The screen came to rest on the same wrestling show, two battlers mugging in the ring making a living chopping necks.
“See that woman in the front row?” Tina said. “Black fur collar?”
“She’s the stage manager. Incognito.”
“Woman with hair like that came in today, said cut it off down to an inch and a half. Butch baby, tinted light frosted pink. She tipped me a hundred bucks.”
“Don’t get any ideas.”
“She’s been in before, I think. Shauna cut her while I was sitting in the chair reading Cosmo. She talked like she had something going on with a younger man. Some kid wearing black leather pants came in that day and met her. She’s gotta be sixty, easy. The kid wasn’t more than twenty five.”
“Maybe her son.”
“No natural born kid, that’s for sure.”
“Foul mouth, too.” Tina raised an index finger at the screen. “Look at that broad there standing up. . .Bingo Queen hits the big time. They pick these audience freaks out of a catalog.” Heavier of the brawlers head-locking his opponent, screaming at the audience, Bingo Queen stepping towards the ring.
Bingo culture, WWE wrestling, butch cuts in frosted pink and kids in black leather pants, it torqued my brain, jammed up the gears. Didn’t add up to my Tina. My Tina, at her best under a torch lamp in a damp lounge outdoors near a sidewalk in late light, my Tinas were creatures of distant forests and deserted sandy beaches in moonlight, sleek and smooth, eyes aglow in hazy rays of a thin crescent holding up the horizon.
“I was going to take a shower,” she said. “I might need some help.” She rose, grabbed my hand, dragged me deep into her secret hideaway and made me do things that animals do on warm sultry days when other furry mammals are busy pecking for acorns and searching for signs of food and water, waiting for mama and papa to emerge squealing and squirming and primping from the nest. We did all that. No talking, no words, the language of groaning and gasping and wet breathing and lots of conditioner for every space and crook, nozzle, hose and crevice, primed clean and squeaky with lathery goodness. Emerging from the moist den in matching his and her terry white robes, we grabbed take-out menus from Tina’s breakfast counter, her’s Chinese, mine Mexican, and we argued over tacos or Schezuan, decided on pot stickers and rice and a tamale plate especial the phone rep described as muy delicioso. That’s the mood we were in. Dual plates to go, half-way in between.
Around 9:30 when I said I had to go, Tina hit the mute button on the remote, quieting the dialog on a French film with English subtitles that made no sense to me‒the subtitles, that is, not the dialog that I didn’t understand anyway, and she blew me a kiss, said to close the door hard because the latch didn’t always catch.
A woman holding two brown paper grocery bags came up the cement stairs as I was going down. I asked her if she needed help. She clutched the bags to her chest, put her head down and hurried up the stairs.
Around the back of the apartments my truck was parked alone, next to a phone pole holding a single fluorescent tube burning with the light of a hazy forest fire sunset.