36 – Phantom Babe
Gloria raised herself, dropped out of High School at 14, a very pretty 14 she would deliver drugs to rich business men in offices and in parking lots, invisible to the world around her, the least likely of mules. She’d deliver to Stan, once, twice, three times, and finally, they married, she was 16 years old, still a kid, both completely naïve and not at all innocent, youth was a commodity and also not a commodity at all. It was the currency and more, but it wasn’t the pleasure. She needed her Mom’s permission and Stand paid for it, her Mom so ignorant, she took 10K when he would have paid 100K. Gloria told Shaw enough of this for him to understand, and he told of Denise telling him she was pregnant, and then once they were married having a mysterious miscarriage.
They smoked in bed, balancing the ashtray on his flat, muscular chest. “She lied about being pregnant?”
“If I was a betting man, that is what my bet would be.”
“The phantom baby…”
“Yes, the phantom baby that wrecked my life.”
“You don’t love her?”
“It is so hard to love someone who takes such advantage of you. I might have loved her once, maybe came awful close. I wasn’t faithful to her ever, but maybe in some limited way there was something that could’ve blossomed into true love but… I felt completely forced into it and then, when before a doctor had even confirmed it, the baby was gone? I was really, like, I’d been bartending and I was offered an off the books job, driving stuff from La to New York and return. Don’t ask what. Don’t care. It got me away from her and that was enough.”
“I dunno, maybe a freelance guy, not my problem really. Denise got a job working for you last October, and I hit the road back and forth. I could have got another assignment but I figured as long as I could work for you it’d be easier and cheaper so… “
“I bet you didn’t realize how much easier, did you?” Shaw smirked and he kissed her and he smirked again.
By the time the two weeks were over, they were friends and they were lovers and nothing could ever change something that happened. A dream somehow that together they could be happy forever, forever.
“This isn’t the only time I’ve been in love”, she told her daughter, the lights automatically turn on as it got darker and the large fountain a rainbow of color, flickering on and off reflected from the water, as she splashed occasionally onto the floor. “But your daddy was different and Arturo,” her kept man from ten years back, “Him… he could never convince me it wasn’t about the money and by the end that’s exactly what it was all about.
Gloria closed her eyes and began singing into the heavy night air:
“It is the summer of my smiles – flee from me Keepers of the Gloom.
Speak to me only with your eyes. It is to you I give this tune.
Ain’t so hard to recognize – These things are clear to all from time to time”
Lying on the bed in a clean but cheap motel, the sound of the air conditioner so loud it battled with Led Zeppelin on the portable cassette player and she whispering in his ear, feeling young and sexy and free, just to be held like that as they dreamt about nothing ness, about Gloria, leaving her husband, which she would have done, and their children, which she would also have done, and all that money, not so fast. So they just dreamt together until it was over. Denise decided to clean out the coupe for them, so Shaw gave her the keys, while checking out the trunk she found the lipstick covered handkerchief from the first day.
Denise was smart enough to realize how tenuous and careful she needed to be. Mr. Fellowes would believe nothing and she could lose her job and her husband at one shot. So she thought for a day and approached Blake in private. He listened and said “I’ll get back to you soon.”
What happened next Denise never found out and Shaw denied the entire thing till the day he died, but she had a check for $25,000 and excellent references and she and Shaw were gone.
“Yes, I cried at first”, she told Hannah, sitting staring into the ink blood starless summer night. with a couple of Long Island Teas before and after her, and a hangover arriving or leaving, it was hard to tell. “I was broken up inside, I didn’t know what to do…”
Gloria left the kids with Blake and drove the car around the hills all day, drinking, swerving, and dangerous, a slip away from death, from jumping the cliff, from moving like a scene in a Bond movie, floating downwards from the top of a cliff, flying downwards and then crashing, sizzling meat. That didn’t happen, she skidded, nearly got hit, but the Corvette was a great car, it stopped on a dime, and she nodded off behind the wheel on the side of the road.
When she awoke it was dark out, and she had a pounding headache and it suddenly dawned on her how close she had come to the end.
Gloria took to her bed for a couple of days, first with a hangover and then with an overwhelming sense of existential horror but then slowly she came round and within a week of Shaw and Denise leaving, she awoke one morning and suddenly it dawned on her: nothing had happened. She hadn’t died, she hadn’t left her home, she hadn’t lost her husband, no rumors, no concerns. In the entire world only Blake had the slightest idea, Blake and Shaw: and neither of them were talking.
Gloria came down from her room, picked up two year old Hannah and, as Hannah began to cry, handed her off to Blake. The boys were in school. Gloria took her breakfast outside, looked about her at the center of so much money and so much security. There was a moral to all of this but Gloria couldn’t quite figure it out, eating fruit salad and toast, she didn’t see why a story with no moral could have a moral. And then it hit her. There was no moral, there was no huge cosmic scale of good and bad. Nothing had changed because nothing changes.
“But I was wrong because the change happened where I wasn’t looking. The change happened when you cried when I carried you, I gained my freedom and I ,ost my family and now you are going off without me and I can’t get you back.”
Hannah looked at her coolly, then she half smiled,. “Yes, you are being left alone for all of three days. I would take you, even though it would tire you out, but it isn’t my decision.”
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