The Minstrel

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Joan Frawley was waiting, as usual. Waiting by the window while sipping a fifth of vodka and wondering where her husband was seemed to be her regular occupation as of late. She waited all the time, at the bank, at the supermarket, for her no-good son of a bitch husband to drop dead. One of her favorite times to wait was in anticipation of the big sales at Sach’s and Bloomingdale’s. When the wait was finally over and she could sink her teeth in the luscious beauty reserved especially for the privileged, it gave her such a rush of adrenaline that no other drug would ever do for her. Those times of waiting she worshipped, with all her heart, all her soul, all her mind.

But this present waiting, this was different. It was not bringing her pleasure, though she always loved vodka. She resented this waiting; there were so many other things that she could be doing right now: her nails, a massage, or a long hot steam bath in her Jacuzzi tub. But no, she had to sit here by the verandah instead. Actually, no one had made her wait there, but she wasn’t in the frame of mind to be self-analytical right now. She was condemned to wait here, rotting by the window, by forces beyond her control. No matter what pleasure she thought of to try to get her off this couch, she still wouldn’t move. And still no one walked through the door.

Damn him, she thought. He’s ruined my life. He goes out, night after night, while I remain here all alone with nowhere to go. She lay back in her velvet cushions and began to weep drunkenly. That asshole has ruined my life, she lamented. She ripped at the silk robe about her body. No matter how she arranged it about her, it was getting in her way. It was all Russell’s fault.

Another woman was in the picture. Joan just knew. Call it woman’s intuition, but deep in her gut, she damn well knew that she had been replaced. Besides, over the years, she memorized his little routines where his women were concerned. The morning Jane Fonda workouts, his neglect of her, and his calling her old hag to her face. These were all signs that another woman was lurking in the winds. She could read the signs and she read them loud and clear now.

Leave him, a voice inside her would say. Millions of women have done it and so can you. Joan hated this voice. It was a remnant of the old days when she was Joan Taylor. She hated it because it reminded her of an era which she long ago neglected to have a relationship with a man. This voice tried to convince her that she still was that feisty, independent twenty year old. It seemed to think that a forty-six year old woman with no skills, no degree and no job experience could just walk out on her husband and strike it rich. But Joan Frawley knew better. Her husband was one of the best defense lawyers east of the Mississippi. Supreme Court judges came to him for legal advice. She, on the other hand, was a complete nothing. If she tried to leave him, she would be out on the streets. Some kind of miracle would have to happen to her life to give her the power to protect herself if she left him.

She primped up her pillows so she could observe the driveway without sitting up. She was getting tired, and the view only revealed the same dank darkness it ha been for hours now. She started to cry again. If she ever found one of these tramps with him, she’d make her pay. She was the one who belonged with Russell. They raised and lost a child together, dear Quentin. She had lost her virginity to him. He had been the man who made her laugh. He belonged to her. She needed him. He made her life worth living. Without him she did not exist. She barely existed with him. But at least being with him made her feel like life was worth living.

He wasn’t coming home. For the fifth night in a row , she was going to have to sleep alone again. She hated sleeping alone. It frightened her. She never quite outgrew her childhood fear of the dark. The comfort of her husband’s body was vital to her, even when it was drunk, stoned or smelled of other women.

The vodka was almost gone. Somehow time had slipped from her; the clock read three o’clock. Another night of loneliness, she thought wearily. For a brief second she caught her reflection in the bay window. Her blonde mane was showing gray, her once-perfect oval eyes had little crinkles by their edges. She looked old. Hatred increased inside her. She had never looked old, even a year ago. Now,, here she was turning into the old hag that Russell accused her of being. It was his fault that she was becoming this. His fault, and the fault of the little biddies that he screwed. She vowed to avenge herself for the loss of her youth. No matter what it took, she would get them both. They had all made her spirit old.

Russell and Addie were in bed together, which wasn’t anything new given the last five days, all care of Trojan. It had been one hell of a vacation from Joan. Though to him, Addie was more than a vacation. It wasn’t the first time he cheated on Joan, but he didn’t feel anything towards the others the way he felt towards Cindy. The other two were quick one night stands. One a paralegal of what’s-his-face yeah Sturbridge though he’d forgotten the paralegal’s name and everything else about her other than she had killer legs and twenty three and almost cost him his life because apparently Sturbridge had been bonking her and Russell had committed affair faux pas. He didn’t fare much better the next time out. Vampire number two was also ex-wife number two of his friend Ray Spinella. Her name was Dorothy. Don’t ask him about Dorothy. No happy little Toto with her. He had to have been shit-faced to get himself involved in that disaster, the fatal attraction Witch of the East Bronx. Somehow Spinella found out; Russell didn’t have any idea if he confessed in some drunken stupor or if Dorothy thought the revelation was going to rip Spinella’s manhood to shreds, but if it was door number two it didn’t work, because Spinella thought Russell’s getting tied up with Dorothy was the biggest laugh in the world. Hey, what were friends for but to relieve you of psychotic insignificant others.

So after a night of lousy sex, Frawley began receiving manna from heaven such as dead rats in the mail, and cryptic messages of violence such as (i) wIlL gET YoU from O magazine and Weight Watchers; he’d recognized the fonts from the myriad of trash that Joan subscribed to. After Dorothy, the idea of being stuck in Kansas seemed like Oz.

Anyway, Addie was nothing like the other two. No fatal attraction here. And she had just as much brains as she did beauty, which he noticed more and more as time went on. She was the complete opposite of any of the women he dated, looks and otherwise. He’d always gone for the tall, small-titted blondes whose refinement smacked of parlor gloves, afternoon tea by the yacht club wearing hats six times bigger than their heads. Joan fell into that category, incidentally, being blonde, five foot nine, and an alumni from Smith etc. If experience told Frawley anything, was not to put any stock into what the Ivy socials and debutante balls offered. It was probably fake anyway. Kind of like the bullshit of drinking cordials when you knew everyone wanted to get down and drink a tequila sunrise and a cold Bud. He thought Joan would be different, being really smart in college in guy things like algebra, but somehow she turned out to be as fake as every other woman he dated, all hung up on what clothes to wear and what terrapin fork went with which caviar and all that. She got worse when Quentin was born, and even more ridiculous after he died. Russell could understand her grief, obviously; Quentin had been his son too. But somehow her grief had done nothing but make the rift between them greater. Who knows, maybe Quentin was all that held them together, that the two of them had survived on the commonality of making it in upper-middle class lala land. But he could have done that with anyone, the role was so generic. What he had been looking for was someone real.

That’s what Addie was like. More than her Mediterranean looks and good stack was the fact that she seemed real to him. Somebody with her own personality. Like he could take her to some shindig and say, this is Addie, and everyone would see she was Addie, not get her confused with Tammi or Debbi or Suzi or some other cuti(e). She wasn’t just some cookie cutter blonde who got facials and manicures and drank Slim Fast all day. When he first saw Addie as she guzzled drinks down, holding her own like a man and not too ladylike to show it, that was all the first impression he needed. He was hooked.

Russell watched her as she slept. It was two o’clock in the afternoon; their heated sex made for extremely irregular sleeping hours. The sun peeked through the closed blinds, shining on her face. She was so hot that even the sun had to sneak a peek at her. Russell wished that he had still been a bachelor right then; he’d take off with her and go to Las Vegas, city hall, Captain Merle Steubing or anyone else that would join them together now.

Strange how he felt so strongly for a woman he just met five days ago and knew nothing about. Once he sobered up after their first meeting and stumbled into the bathroom, happily discovering it unlocked, he encountered her hand-washed laundry hanging in the shower. Sober, they reflected reality better than his hormone-affected drunkenness. He’d passed by too many women in the streets and seen too many lost causes in the courts to be fooled by what he saw. This girl was obviously on the streets. Then his natural wariness set in- he knew he was a great catch, of course, but what were a street girl’s motive for tying up with him? Was she a hooker, or trying to rip him off, or both? Russell decided to say nothing but keep his eye out for anything suspicious. And so far, nothing: except for room service he hadn’t paid for, which was OK by him, no strange charges on his credit cards, he still had all his cash, she hadn’t discussed any weird payment options for services rendered, and no psycho pimps or undercover cops busted down the doors. But he still couldn’t bring himself to ask her what the deal was. Somehow it seemed disloyal and irrelevant tow hat they shared. But he still wondered what brought her to the streets, and what kept her there.

She began stirring, a lioness stretching forth to greet the day. Russell felt his heart stir just watching him. She blinked awake, and through half open eyes shielded by her hand to block the afternoon sun, she focused on him.

“You’ve been watching me,” she declared.

“Yeah. Why, do you mind?”

She hesitated. Russell took note of the pause. “No.” By his calculation, seventy percent of her said this. The other thirty percent did mind.

He got up from the bed. “You want coffee?” He asked as he made himself a cup, black, hers the way he’d come to know she’d like it, really light, really sweet.

“No.” She sat up, head buried in her hands. “What time is it?”

“Two o’clock. In the afternoon.”

“Sun’s so fucking bright.”

“Mmhmm.” Russell came back to the bed with two coffees. She eyed hers like it was some kind of truth pill that would make her say something that she’d regret later. “In case you change your mind,” he supplied. She shrugged and flopped down on the bed. Russell felt at a loss. None of his charm was reaching her. And he wanted to reach her.

“You want to watch TV?” He said, flopping down next to her. She shrugged again. With her dark hair wild and untamed, she looked so hot. Gosh, if it wasn’t sexual harassment to reach out and touch her when she didn’t want to be bothered, he’d be on her right now. Instead, he let her have control of the TV. “Here’s the remote. You pick it.” She picked up said obligatory remote and began channel surfing. From her profile, she seemed a zombie on automatic pilot, her mind here, her mind gone. Russell panicked, going through a mental catalog of their time together, wondering if somehow he’d driven her away. But her body was still here. Even if he had done something, the fact that she was still here meant that he still had a chance at winning her back. But beautiful as she was, he still couldn’t help but cringe slightly when she settled on some Gen-X music channel playing Reality Bites the Dust or whatever inane titles they used nowadays. There were six idiots with perfect bodies and no brains tossing a beach ball on Malibu or Venice or some other silicon sandbox, wearing sunglasses that looked too big for them but Frawley supposed were the hip style for this two month period. Then the big moment arrived for the budding starlets: a cameo of each one came on, and they each offered psychoanalysis of the other participants of the show: i.e., Susie is really shy, we need her to get her to spread her wings so she isn’t swallowed up by the vultures of the world, like any of Susie’s cohorts were a prize catch, David is too obnoxious, we all have to sit down and discuss this with him and call him on his stuff. Russell wondered how many takes it took before they whittled “his stuff” out of “his shit.” Frankly, Russell thought it was all shit. Why didn’t they get they a job and be productive members of society, like him? If a playboy like him managed, why didn’t they?

Then finally this group came on and played music . It wasn’t one of these hyped up things where they wore makeup like transvestites, just a bunch of dudes playing guitar in a garage. They didn’t sound as bad as he thought a band that young would, and he told Addie so, adding that they must get a lot of little girl groupies.

“They’re gay,” she said. Russell was so glad to hear her speak that he almost didn’t pay attention to what she said.

“What’s that?”

“They’re gay. This group. They are gay.”

Russell’s inner homophobe glommed onto what she said, and suddenly the five dudes’ singing began taking on a whole new meaning. Coming over to your heart conjured up the most sickening images for this one hundred percent diehard hetero. He suddenly grabbed the remote from Addie, ignoring her alarm and flipped to the next channel, where he was confronted with a flock of Afro-American female butts in thongs flapping on the beach and some black dude that looked like he ripped off a jewelry store walking among the harem, a-rappin’ and a-chillin’ with this other bro. Russell swore in disgust. Where had Bob Dylan gone? Addie looked at him as he indulged in his private lament. “At least they’re not gay,” she said. Russell wasn’t sure if that made him feel better or not. But she was talking to him. It was a start. He moved in closer to her so they were touching. It didn’t seem to warm her up, but the gesture didn’t drive her away either. The brothers were still a rappin’ in an open convertible on the freeway, but she seemed to only hold a dull interest in it, so he put on the channel of neutrality, the Weather Channel, and concentrated his energies into understanding the buxom beauty next to him. It wasn’t going to be easy. With that face of stone, it would be like solving a 1000 piece puzzle of a kaleidoscope. Maybe a drink would help.

“Do you want to go down to the bar?” He asked hopefully.

“Maybe later.” She hunkered down under the blankets again, rolling herself in them. Russell could tell she was enjoying her experience with the linens a little too much, like she was enjoying it while she could, he concluded, thinking of the clothing in the bathroom.

“Do you want to go shopping?” He asked, marveling at his own brilliance. Shopping would get almost any heterosexual woman going. Maybe the lesbians too. Who knew nowadays. Addie looked at him, the first direct gaze she’d given him since she’d bleary eyed staring at him. He felt like he hit jackpot.

“Shopping where? Where your wife goes? Or some dive?”

Oh. He wasn’t figuring on that response. Reconfiguration time. Which should he address? Wife or shopping? The latter was less volatile, but by opening the former, maybe he could make headway into finding out more about her life. So, living on the edge like the daredevil he was, he chose the former.

“How do you know I am married?”

“Your wallet has a picture of you with her. And your son. You look like you were on vacation.”

The picture from the Grand Cayman, the last vacation they all took together. He didn’t want to talk about it, especially about Quentin. “That picture was taken a few years ago,” he stated.

“Oh? What does that mean? A few years pass, and automatically makes you less married?”

“Some things have changed since then.”

“I see.” Somehow that seemed to kill the flow, and Addie was making like she was ready for a tryst with Mr. Sandman. Russell didn’t want that, so he chased after the current to bring the flow back.

“Why are you so concerned. You saw the picture of my wife. But you’re still here. So you can’t be that bothered by it, right?”

Addie shrugged like she didn’t know the answer herself. “I just wonder why people do what they do, that’s all,” she stated.

“Why is that? People usually want other people to do what they need to do. So do you have any idea why you do whatever you do?” Addie jumped out of the bed. Big nerve had been hit, obviously. “What the hell are you, some kind of Freud?” She headed towards the bathroom, and Russell followed. Damn if he were going to allow her to storm off like that. She whirled around on him like if she had a weapon, he’d be dead now. “Do you mind? I want some privacy.”

“Why are you all of the sudden so angry?” He demanded, almost as loud as she. “Did you really think that I wouldn’t have questions for you? Especially since you seem so hell-bent about finding all you could on me? Did you?

“Boy, you really know how to charm a girl. Is this how you talk to your wife?” She stormed into the bathroom and almost slammed the door, but Frawley caught it in time.

“Where do you think you’re going so fast? Back to the streets?” No sooner had he said the words when she turned and faced him, her face frozen cold. But only for a second. She was a survivor, like him. Poker was more than a game.

She looped back toward the shower. “I don’t have to hear this shit,” she said. She was acting like all his guilty clients saying, “I didn’t do it,” while under oath. Never trust a woman who talked with the back of her head. Not that they were easy to trust to begin with. But from the looks of it, she was getting ready to go, streets or not; and Russell couldn’t let that happen. He berated himself. Maybe he’d been too harsh on her. Damn, he’d cross-examined people and been nicer. She threw off her robe , which immediately threw his hormones into a tailspin and any hope of reasonable logic out the door, and again, like the first time, she ignored him by pulling the curtain around her and started the shower. Except this time, he’d been smart enough not to get locked out.

“Addie, I’m sorry,” Geez, that was hard. Apologizing didn’t come easily to Russell. But Addie wasn’t willing to appreciate this. Steam wafted past him, and a sensuous strawberry smell filled his nostrils, almost diverting Russell from reality. Which was Addie was willing to make it her last strawberry shower just to leave him. He had to stop her. “Addie, don’t go. Where are you going to go?” “Shut up.”

“All right, all right. I won’t mention the streets again. But stay. I don’t want you to go.”

“What about your wife? Your son? What about them? Do you care how this might affect them?”

Steady, steady. “Look, my wife doesn’t want me. She’s a drunk. I know that’s not an excuse, but it’s not something that I’m so thrilled to deal with.”

“Get a divorce like everyone else does.”

“Believe me, I’ve thought about it/”


“But,” Russell sighed, “It’s not on my list of fun things to do. Or cheap things, either.”

“So, you’re not getting a divorce because it’ll cost you. Gotcha. Doesn’t explain your son though. What about him? Aren’t you concerned about how your philandering will affect him?”

“You’re not so innocent in all this either.”

“He’s not my son. And I don’t have kids. Can’t. Besides, it looks like I might be innocent. I’m leaving. So answer my question.”

Russell twisted his mouth in nervous thought. The rage he felt anytime Quentin was mentioned was back. He always dismissed any thought of him so he wouldn’t have to confront this feeling of being robbed. He felt rage at Addie too, though he knew she had no way of knowing. But his desire for her was gone. The hell with her. Who needed her.

“Well? Aren’t you going to answer me?”


“Ah. Guilt. He does have a conscience! Doesn’t give a shit about his wife, but mention the boy–”

“He’s dead.”

Addie darted around the shower. Russell didn’t care about the surprise in her eyes. He’d gotten her attention, but he didn’t want it now. And he didn’t want her sympathy. “What did you say?” Like this was the Rocky Horror Picture show.

“He’s dead. Are you happy now? This is what happens when you nose your way into other people’s business. You find out the truth. Happy?” Images of Quentin ran through his head. They didn’t comfort him, only reminded him of what he lost. He didn’t want to remember. Addie didn’t exist anymore as he slammed the bathroom door behind him and sauntered to the mini-bar to forget. Who wanted to remember? He didn’t want to remember what it was like before he was robbed. Because he’d see himself in the mirror as he did now, and remember that he had been robbed prematurely.

He slammed down a shot of whiskey, letting the alcohol burn his throat. It was pleasurable numbness. He could pretend that nothing was real. All these things in his mind, he could chalk up as bad Hemingway. They weren’t real. They never happened. Addie wasn’t real–

“I’m sorry.” Her hand was on him, her strawberry scent surrounding him like the first flower of spring in the barren winter landscape of his myopia. He tried to maintain the stoicism that had erased her from him, but despite the alcoholic haze or maybe because of it, he found himself warming to her touch. She had been wearing a towel when she came out of the shower, and he pulled it away to receive her, wanting to remember her now that he was reasonably sober, hoping her angelic body would be a salve for his bleeding mind. And as he drank her in, he saw the scars. He saw old wounds all along her body, human bite marks long forgotten but the scars their testament, and from there noticed how her nose, her chin, and her fingers seemed to be too bent to be a gift from God. It could be from the street life. But maybe they were why she was on the street to begin with. His second guess smelled more like the truth to his feral instincts. He knew, and her surprise seemed to indicate that she knew that he knew. He ran his tongue along the scars on her chest, hearing her gasp elude her facade. Before she could protest, he took her mouth in his, and she instantly surrendered, as they impassioned each other in their newfound bond of grief.

Cindy lay back in the king sized bed. She had it all to herself now that Russell wasn’t here. He’d gone off to see his wife or a client or get drunk or whatever he was really going to do under the guise of going out. He’d asked Cindy to join him, she didn’t feel like tagging along like some kind of call girl for hire. That was all she needed, to deal with that; for her name to get around town as the mistress. Not only would she have her psychotic husband stalking her, she’d have to deal with his bereft drunken wife of taking all that she had left. What a pair of freaks. Maybe she could give the wife Patrick’s phone number — right. No thanks. The less known she was, the safer she would be.

The hotel room was quiet without Russell. Cindy was not interested in television or the jacuzzi or any of the other fringe benefits that being a mistress brought. Cindy was getting increasingly restless, and though the suite was set up to be an oasis of luxury, which it had been that for her for five days now, suddenly it felt like everything was closing in on her, like the whole thing was a well-disguised trap. No matter where she went in the place the feeling wouldn’t leave, a feeling of panic, wondering what insanity she had led herself into now. What had she done.

She was going to have to go. She couldn’t continue like this. It was impossible to do so. It may have seemed the most obvious choice to continue down this merry path of bliss that she’d been living, but in her life, bliss was only a fairy tale, and she would rather deal with the harshest coldness of reality than to suffer the cruelty of illusion, to have it snatched from her and leave her begging for more like it always did. The darkest chapters of her life began softly, as soft as the satin sheets that surrounded her now: was the illusion worth dying for , as she had once before? And she knew that as she asked herself that question, the answer was no, that even in her worst despair in her flight, she had the knowledge that she had chosen to survive, and not hide in an illusion of love. For what was love anyway? And had she met it in just five days time? Another illusion. There was no illusion in a hard bed of concrete with only other smelly bodies and a crowded hating grate for warmth.

She gathered the clothes that Russell had bought her on some of his solo sprees, stuff she would have never bought herself. They were too many, and not suited for the life she was about to embark on: expensive wool suits and leather clothing that would make her an instantaneous mugging victim as soon as she walked out the door. What was she going to do with this shit? Use it as a pillow? Maybe the leather would work if she ever wanted to start selling herself and being under the power of men again. But she wasn’t about to sink that low. The best she could think of was maybe the clothes could get her some decent drugs, seeing that they were new, then she could sell most for the drugs for money, leaving aside some for emergency fixes or reserves, and then she could get some food. She laughed at all this, even though it wasn’t funny. Here her lover thought he’d impress her with Ralph Lauren when he’d have scored more points with Chef Boyardee.

Quietly, as though leaving a place of sacred worship, she let herself out of the hotel. She didn’t leave a note. She didn’t look back. If she did, she’d waver. At least, she thought, as she headed back to the streets, if this was a wrong decision, it was her own. And it wasn’t the unknown. There, she’d lose herself.

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