(Click here to return to the beginning of this “lewd and lubricious saga of love and lust in La La Land” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in The Catholic Standard & Times.)
Of course she offered to take the bus home and of course Buddy insisted on driving her. Because he had been drinking he drove carefully through quiet streets. Neither of them said anything for a while and then she said, “I like driving through the streets. The freeways suck. What’s the big hurry anyway?”
“Dig it,” said Buddy.
Blocks and blocks of silence. Which was okay, in fact it was more than okay, it was kind of nice, but then Buddy said, “So, you gonna tell the Mariner we had dinner?”
“Oh. The Mariner. Short for the Ancient Mariner.”
“Is that what you call him?”
“Oh my God, that’s so perfect. Did everybody --?”
“Oh my God. Did he know you called him that?”
“I doubt it.”
“That’s just so perfect. Anyway,” she said, “no, I’m not going to tell him you and I had dinner. He would be -- weird about it.” She paused. “And I guess it is weird, but --”
A long moment passed and then she began to talk, in a dreamy warm voice, about not belonging in L.A., about her love for the world of the stage, her plans to move back to New York...and after a while Buddy only half-listened, minding his driving, enjoying being with her and the strangeness of the evening.
“Don’t you think?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he ventured.
“So I’m not just -- some fruitcake.”
“No, not at all.”
“Thanks. That means something to me coming from you.”
“Oh, well, you know --”
What the hell was she talking about?
“Yeah,” she said.
She didn’t say a word the rest of the ride back until he stopped the car in front of her house -- well, the Mariner’s house.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” said Buddy.
“Thanks. For the dinner.”
“It was -- I think that was the best meal I’ve ever had.”
She looked away. He couldn’t tell for sure but he suspected she was gnawing on her upper lip. She turned back to him.
“Hey,” she said, “do you want to come in for a bit?”
“Well, to tell the truth I have to pee like crazy.”
“Oh, my God, so do I.”
So they went in, and she clicked on an overhead light.
“You go first, Buddy.”
“No, please --”
“No, you’re a man, men pee quick.”
Unlike the last time Buddy was here he used the bathroom.
He came out and she went in, and he stood there in the big living room, surrounded by all the Mariner’s antiques and curios.
He heard the toilet flush, but she didn’t come out.
He just stood there. The big fat black cat appeared, came over and rubbed himself against Buddy’s leg and then walked away. Still no Cordelia, so Buddy went over to a tall bookcase made out of ostentatiously rough-hewn planks and old red bricks. He took off his driving glasses and put them away. Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner. Raymond Carver, Tom Wolfe, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon. In the middle of one shelf were a bunch of framed photographs, most of them of the Mariner, at various stages of his career, in some of them he was in costume and make-up. In one picture a younger Mariner was standing with a very young version of Cordelia, aged twelve or so, on a pebbly beach on a grey day. The Mariner wore Speedos and rope sandals and a beret. Cordelia wore a plain light-colored dress and she was looking away from the camera, one hand brushing her dark hair away from her face. There was another one of a much younger Mariner, wearing hiking shorts and a straw hat and a peasant smock, posing by a thatched cottage with a dark haired, somber-looking young woman wearing a black turtleneck and jeans. Cordelia’s mother? The dead wife.
Buddy looked away, he could hear Cordelia’s footsteps finally coming back down the hall from where the bathroom was. For some reason he put his hand on the spine of a book, as if he had been checking the title, which in this case happened to be The Fountainhead.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Hey, no problem.”
“Are you looking for a book to steal?”
“No, you’d better not. He would notice and then I’d catch hell.”
“Yeah, well,” said Buddy.
He looked at the books, or at least in the direction of the books.
“Well,” she said.
Buddy turned and looked at her.
“Well, I guess I better get rolling.”
She paused for an oddly long moment and then, very suddenly:
“Oh, Buddy, come around the back first, I have to show you something.”
“Well, okay,” he said.
They went through the house, through the kitchen, and out the screen door in the back and onto the deck. The beach was moonlit, cool and windy.
“Do you see that forbidding mass over there?”
“Yeah,” said Buddy, thinking, Oh, right, the thing I didn’t bother pissing behind last time I was here.
“Come on, you have to see this.”
She took off her shoes and left them on the deck, and Buddy followed her down the steps. They walked together over the scurfy sand to the mass, which, instead of being a dead baby whale appeared to be a boat covered by a big rotting canvas tarpaulin. Cordelia set to work yanking and pulling off the canvas and revealed what was in fact an old wooden boat reeking of mold and tar.
“Do you know what this is?”
“But what kind of boat.”
“A wooden boat.”
“But what kind of wooden boat.”
“A stupid wooden boat.”
“No. It’s a stupid Breton fishing boat. From Brittany. Bretagne.”
“Your father’s insane, baby.”
“I know. He inherited some money and so he had this thing shipped all across the Atlantic and all the way across the country, but that's not the best part."
“No, because he took it down to the marina and tried to sail it and it immediately started to sink.”
“Absolutely. And I was in the boat. But It was just as well it started to sink because he doesn’t really know how to sail a boat. So he had it hauled back here and it’s been here ever since, for like seven or eight years. He’s always supposed to be fixing it up and patching it up or whatever, but he always makes some excuse, and so here it sits, because he’s secretly afraid to ever take it out again.” She stood quite close to Buddy now and he could tell she had just brushed her teeth. “So you see, he really is the Ancient Mariner.”
She leaned back against the boat. She had buttoned the top button of her cardigan. But only the top button.
Next thing Buddy knew he was kissing her. They kissed for a full minute, then paused and looked at each other in the moonlight, she didn’t say anything, he didn’t say anything, then more kissing, here in the cool ocean air, pressing against and kissing this warm voluptuous girl with amazingly soft lips and this nice smell she had, like, like --
“Ow,” she said.
Buddy drew back.
“You were pressing my back against the boat.”
She had her hands on his waist.
“You’re not in bad shape for an old guy.”
The top button of her sweater had come undone. (In fact Buddy had undone it.) Her lipstick was blurry. She looked at him with those eyes, oh Christ --
“Do you have a Kleenex?” she said. “You’ve got my lipstick on.”
Buddy found several Kleenex in his jacket pocket, including at least one that seemed fairly clean. She took it and licked it, then wiped his lips.
“There, good,” she said. “How do I look?”
“Give me,” said Buddy.
He took the tissue and wiped Cordelia’s lips. And this got him so aroused that all he could do was let the Kleenex flutter away on the ocean wind like the sweet bird of youth while he put his arms around her and brought her around so that his back was against the boat, and kiss her again. He put his hand on her backside which was larger and softer and nicer than Joan’s, and she pressed against that part of him that had gotten him married to Joan and before that to Madge, but forget them, they were in the past along with all the other ones, and this was now, of course it was always now, but this was really now.
After a while she whispered, “Let’s go inside.”
Buddy thought, Um, no, I’d better not, but what he said was, “I can’t stay long. Deirdre, my daughter -- my stepdaughter, is home alone. Well, she has a girlfriend with her, but still --”
“How old is she, your stepdaughter?”
“She’s -- uh -- what, fifteen?” -- he was pretty sure --“fifteen going on sixteen?”
“That’s a dangerous age.”
“So should you go home now, or --?”
Buddy hesitated, then took out his cellphone, speed-dialed. (Philip had recently put in all his speed-dials for him.) Deirdre picked up.
“Hi, baby, how ya doin’? Uh, look, are you cool if I’m another uh hour let’s say?” With his free hand he caressed Cordelia’s hip. “No, I’m not. It’s a business dinner. I’m schmoozing, networking. Yeah. Okay, don’t burn the place down, I’ll be back by midnight. Behave. Call my cell if anything --”
He closed up the phone and dropped it into his jacket pocket.
“She’s okay,” he said. “She and her friend are watching --”
“Let’s go inside.”
“Okay -- wait -- let’s kiss some more.”
They did that.
After a while he said, “Wait, wait.”
She stopped and looked at him.
“Wait,” he said.
She put her forehead against his shoulder, and something about this gesture was almost more than he could take. But --
“Look, Cordelia, I can’t go in there with you. It’s -- I just don’t know if it would be a good idea.” Right, no kidding.
She raised her face and looked at him.
“We wouldn’t have to have sex. I didn’t necessarily mean to have sex.”
“I know. I mean, no, I didn’t know, necessarily, but still, I don’t know --”
She took a long beat. Then --
“Well -- I guess you’re right,” she said.
“I mean, it’s -- I don’t want to--”
“No, I understand. You’re nice.”
She gave him a kiss, on the lips, but a quick one this time.
“Hey, can I give you something?” she said.
“Uh, sure,” he said.
“Okay, come on.”
She took his hand and led him toward the back of the house. He had trouble walking, for biological reasons. He followed her up the steps, and on the deck she reached down and got her shoes. She went over to the screen door, opened it, and turned toward him.
“Hey, Cordelia, I’m not going in there.”
She went in. He waited and a couple of minutes later (and three decisions to go ahead and have sex with her anyway and three decisions not to think with his dick for once in his life) she came out.
“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot where I put it.”
She handed him a videocassette in a cardboard case.
“It’s this stupid movie I was in.”
“It’s not good. And it’s got a nude scene but it’s from when I was thin.”
“Okay, I’ll bear that in mind.”
“It’s this arty low-budget black-and-white thing --”
“Good, I’ll take a look at it.”
“It was in a couple of film festivals, but -- oh my God!” She put her hand to her mouth. “You think I’m like my dad. You think I’m giving this to you to try and get a job.”
Actually the thought had flickered into the back of his mind.
“Give it back to me.”
“No, Buddy, give it back. I don’t want you to think that.”
“I don’t think that.”
“Give it back.”
She tried to grab it and Buddy held it behind his back.
“I just, I just wanted you to see something I did. I mean I know you saw me that one time on stage --”
“And you were great.”
“But -- I just -- I don’t know -- the movie’s not real good but some of my scenes are okay, I mean I could’ve done better.”
“Look, I really want to see this movie.”
“I mean, hey, just for the nude scene alone --”
“Yeah.” She looked away, toward the ocean. “Whoopee,” she murmured.
And Buddy looked at her.
A few seconds passed by, the surf gently crashing.
“All right,” said Buddy. “Look -- I’ll --” what? “I’ll call you.”
This time she actually furrowed her brow. She turned to Buddy.
“No, don’t call me. That’s too -- bizarre.”
“I don’t know when my dad’s getting back, and --”
“But I could call you --”
“Uh, sure --”
They looked at each other.
“This is weird,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I can’t wait till I save up enough to move out of this house --”
She was feeling the material of the seam of his shirt with her fingers.
“Look, Cordelia --”
His fingers were touching her hip.
“Look -- even if you weren’t who you are, I’m not -- I’m not looking for a -- a girlfriend. And -- even if I was looking for a girlfriend -- but I’m not. I’m just not -- uh, what am I trying to say -- just --”
She gave a little pull on his shirt.
“It’s okay. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. And even if I was looking for a boyfriend it definitely wouldn’t be some much older old fart boyfriend.”
“Oh. I’m an asshole.”
“I’m not looking for any kind of boyfriend.”
“I’m a jerk.”
“No. You’re a dork.”
“Yeah. I knew that.”
She looked at him. Then she licked her fingertip and began wiping around his lips with it.
“You still had a bit of lipstick on,” she said.
She smoothed his hair back.
“I look okay now?” said Buddy.
“Yeah,” she said. “So, I’ll call you --”
“Yeah, sure,” said Buddy. “Oh, wait.”
He took out his wallet, opened it, and found a business card. Then, feeling like this was taking way too long, he got out his pen and wrote his cellphone number on the card.
“Here, this has my work number, but I wrote down my cellphone number. It’s probably better if --”
She took the card and then started to give him a quick kiss, and then it got not so quick and then she stopped.
“Okay,” said Buddy.
She looked at him, then she went into the house and closed the door. Buddy stood there alone on the deck for a moment, then turned and went down the stairs, stepping slowly to favor his erection.
When he got home Deirdre and Trish were sitting on the couch with Ming, watching a movie in the dark. The movie was The Wages of Fear.
“Hey, Uncle Bud, you have a good time?”
“You were on a date, weren’t you?”
“No. Hey, Trish, shouldn’t you be getting home?”
“Uncle Bud, for the millionth time, Trish is staying over. Her mom gave permission.”
“Oh, right, okay, well, look, uh, hit the hay when the movie’s over, okay?”
“No, we’re gonna stay up all night.”
“Okay, I’m going up now.”
“Oh, Uncle Bud, Shakira called. She wanted to talk to you.”
“Good night, Mr. Best.”
“Good night, Trish.”
Buddy went upstairs.
He had almost reached relief when the phone rang, and he picked it right up before Deirdre could get it just in case it was Cordelia, even though he had asked her to use his cellphone number, but no, it was Madge, Shakira, wanting to talk about Liz, and he let her talk, filling in his own occasional lines on cue, lying in bed naked under the covers in the dark, not listening very closely, which he was used to doing with Madge. She was calling from that gas station phone booth again, and after a while he had to call her back because she said she was out of change. It occurred to him that it was pretty late for her even to be up, let alone calling him from a public phone a couple miles of dark mountain road from the ashram, and he thought about mentioning this but didn’t manage to. He began touching himself again, not thinking very much at all about Madge or his daughter.
(Continued here, because it’s too late to turn back now.)
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