Helen regained consciousness while telling a joke. She heard herself says “And Sherlock Homes said, ‘No Watson, you idiot, what it means is …’”
Her mouth hung open. She blinked. Looked around at the pile of pillows in a brightly lit corner of a backstage. Looked at Chad.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” His eyes were wide. “What did Sherlock Homes say?”
“Where are we?” she asked.
He was naked. She was naked. He had a blanket wrapped around his upper half; she had a blanked sitting in her lap. He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
In the distance, Helen heard people shouting instructions at each other, and the clanging of metal. There was no music. It was light outside. That meant … “What time is it?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Chad smiled at her. He stared from her breasts to her eyes, then back to her breasts.
“Are they … cleaning up?” she asked. She shook her head. Everything was foggy. “How long were we …?”
“We talked all night,” he said. “It was amazing. Then I lost … ” He reached out to take her hand, and when she didn’t respond, his lips squeezed together. “What … what’s the last thing you remember?” he asked.
It didn’t occur to her to lie until after she’d said it. “Taking the hit. I didn’t think they made acid that good anymore.”
“It’s European. That’s it? That’s the last thing you remember? No … nothing …” He stared back into her eyes again, looking for something to hold on to.
“European, that makes sense. No, everything just kind of … slid … into …” then she got it. “Oh,” she said. “No,” she said. “No, I’m sorry. I’m …” she should have lied. “I’m so sorry.”
For a moment, he looked like he was going to cry. “I didn’t …” his lips quivered … “I didn’t do anything you … I mean you were …”
She reached out and put her hand on his knee. “Oh I know! I mean, I’m sure! I’m sure I was enthusiastic. I’m very … sexual … I’m sure I responded … you didn’t do anything like that.”
Well, strictly speaking she wouldn’t have chosen him … she wasn’t really attracted per see, but she’d always liked him … if she’d been drunk and he’d asked the right way it wouldn’t have been out of the question … obviously it hadn’t been … but … well …
“Yes,” he said. “Because I … you were …” he took a deep breath. “You don’t remember … any … of it?”
Oh God … Helen looked around, pretending to take it all in, really looking for her clothes. His clothes. He needed to be put in a less vulnerable place, or else he’d go to pieces. No sign of anything. Dammit. She’d been trying so hard to be celibate for a while, to steady her passions and keep the world from rocking underfoot. She hadn’t done acid in years, either, which made it kind of funny. The lesson, she supposed, was that acid and celibacy don’t mix. “European,” she muttered.
He was waiting, as though his soul hung in the balance.
She found a sock.
“Chad …” she said. The time to lie had been then. Now it would only dig her in deeper.
“It’s okay,” he said, looking away. There was something about his gentleness, about the fact that he wasn’t going to shout at her, or even suffer in front of her, that reminded her of why they’d never fucked in the first place.
“Do you want go get breakfast?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said, desperately grateful for a new subject. “If I can find my clothes.”
They looked around, for a minute, wrapping their blankets like togas around them; there were a lot of pillows to look under.
Footsteps, from the prop room. Annie walked out holding a broom. Smiled when she saw them. “In the chest over there,” she said.
“Thanks,” said Chad.
“Do you need any help?” Helen asked. “You’ve been so good to clean everything up while we were …”
Annie laughed. “It’s okay. You were having a great time.”
Annie laughed again. “You were having a great time. Very loudly.”
She sighed. “Okay. Thanks.” This always seemed to happen to her, when she tried to slow down. There was always a moment, like a damn bursting, all that stored up libido rushing out. She saw Chad go over to the chest and open it. Saw him pulling out their pants. She hoped he was smiling. To himself. She hoped he wouldn’t try to gloat over breakfast. “Maybe,” she thought to herself, “I’m not cut out for sex. Or drugs. Or maybe I’m not cut out for quitting.’”
She had the awful feeling that, over hash browns, Chad was going to tell her he loved her. She wondered if there was any way she could talk him out of it. He wouldn’t listen to reason: nobody listens to reason.
For a moment she wondered: if she fucked him again, would he get it out of his system? It seemed, if she was cynical, like the way these things work
No, she decided, I’m doomed. There’s no way out. There was a reason she’d been trying celibacy. Maybe she’d never get it right. She slipped her underwear on, then started buttoning her blouse. Giving up sex suddenly seemed a lot like giving up jokes. It seemed like there ought to be a punch line. It seemed like there was, and she hadn’t been able to catch it.
“Ready to go?” he asked her, slipping on his shoes.
Not for a minute.
Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
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