“Speak of the devil,” said Gerry, holding open the door. “How was your day, young lady?”
“You boys gossiping about me?” Agnes said, jokingly. “You know I enjoy negative attention.”
I said, no.
Yes, Gerry said.
“What happened here?”
“Kranepool leapt to his death,” said Gerry.
“Shut the fuck up. No way.”
“No lie. Kranepool is hell bound.”
“Way. It is a mess out there in the courtyard,” I said.
“I’ll have to tell my father the sad news. My dad was very fond of him. Who would have thought? He always seemed very happy to me. This is crazy. just crazy.” I hated that word.
“You never know what’s going on in someone’s mind,” said Gerry.
Agnes Brunswick lived with her sister Kelley, in an apartment on the 12th floor owned by their parents Herman and Doris. Ron Darling wore no. 12 and in 1986 he had a win-loss record 15 and 6. Overshadowed but always dependable.
The Honorable Herman Brunswick, a street smart high profiled lawyer who became an elected Judge years back. The Brunswicks were the only black shareholders in the building. Some people enjoyed the idea of having them as neighbors because it made them feel like they couldn’t be viewed as racist if they had black neighbors, whether they were actually racist or not meant nothing, because it was all about the keeping up of appearances, it was all about the image they projected on the surface.
Some felt they had garnered some new credibility, a weird form of street cred specifically. Herman Brunswick disliked social constructs and categories and was especially suspicious of political organizations of any kind. He preferred to be respected for his accomplishments in life rather than the color of his skin being the focal point. Character over everything. He disdained how much politics and popular opinion interfered with rulings nowadays. During his time on the bench he never wavered and held true to his gut instincts. He preferred to seen as a just arbiter than a just black arbiter. He prefered to be a shareholder and not a black shareholder. He raised his family with a strong sense of love and logic. He was a tough man but fair. I respected him. He didn’t play games.
Agnes studied law at Columbia, and Kelley was in her first year at NYU. Recently retired, Herman and Doris now spent their free time on the island, 534 was a pied de terre for them and a full time residence for their beautiful daughters. Herman had the highest expectations for his little girls. I had no doubt that he would not want any daughter of his dating a homeless doorman.
Inside the elevator I was awkward with Agnes but I was always awkward and she knew that. When I try not to be awkward when I feel anxious, I wind up being even more awkward, which is absurd and cruel and unnecessary but beyond my control. I stood there facing her with my shoulder to the control panel. Agnes swung herself around and stood before me, nose to nose, a gentle little Eskimo kiss. She kissed me on my mouth. I didn’t stop her but I didn’t engage her either. I loved how her mouth felt pressed to mine.
“You know there is a camera? Gerry can see us.”
“So,” she said, “You’ve been avoiding me. It’s not like I can call you.” She didn’t mind if Gerry saw us together but I was almost positive if I asked her if she told her dad about our little coffee morning hangs or her mom about our occasional pizza lunch rendezvous, the answer would be no. I understood why that would be the answer. It still didn’t make me feel great about myself, but I never felt great about myself. I could have also been wrong.
“I know. I don’t have a cell phone. You need a credit card and I don’t have one of those.”
“Not even a home phone?”
“No home phone. No home. It’s a long story. Very boring.”
“I doubt that.”
“Are you sore with me?” I asked.
“ I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t know what’s happening. Is there a mixed signal?”
“Oh, I almost forgot. I broke your coffee mug this morning. I’ll replace it.”
There were moments that we shared over the last two years that made me so fond of Agnes. Little exchanges that stuck out in my mind. I liked the way she looked at me. I like that she’d find a way to touch me. A high five that she’d catch, letting my fingers linger in her grasp for a few seconds longer than necessary. Sometimes she’d see me and throw her arms wide open and ask me for a hug. I’d oblige, and we held each other, and strangely it felt right. She’d break apart some food she was eating and place it in my mouth. She’d have me try a drink that she thought was delicious from her cup or offer up her straw to share. There was an intimacy between us and I respected it. I might have even loved it and longed for it. If you asked me I would say that we were friends. Real friends. And I’d never say that about any other tenant. All I’ve ever wanted was intimacy but more often than not all I engaged in was regrettable sex. Of course I wanted to be with her but it would never work. The relationship was an impossibility. I would only be a disservice to her.
“Is it weird if I say that I miss you? Can I see you later?”
“It’s not necessarily weird. Is your sister going to be home?”
Agnes laughed, “Just us, Rainer. Just you and I.”
There was a connection between us, an undeniable feeling of attraction but was it real? Was it a deception? Romance is such an illusory thing. Up until a few days ago Agnes and I had only grabbed a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee together, on my lunch break or briefly before or after work. We never went to a bar or even kissed, though I wanted to sit in a dive bar with her and buy her a drink and I most certainly wanted to kiss her. I was trying to show restraint. A valiant attempt at doing the responsible thing. It wouldn’t work out, nothing does, and this was my job. A job I needed for more than one reason. If I was anyone else I wouldn’t even think twice and I’d date her without hesitation, or worse, I’d view her as a piece of ass and just fuck her and not care about what happened afterward. This whole thing with her made my heart race.
She invited me upstairs to the apartment, she buzzed the elevator twenty one minutes before my shift was supposed to end. She said she had a bottle of scotch I might like to try. She didn’t have classes the next day and knew I was working a three to eleven shift the following day as well. How do I argue with that? So I went downstairs and showered, I wore a pair of black Levi’s jeans, my only pair, and a camouflage button down from the Gap, which were the nicest clothes I had on hand, other than camouflage cargo shorts and band t-shirts. I was supposed to be a grown man but I’ve never felt grown, I felt immature, uncomfortable, and extremely nervous. I felt like a little kid going on a blind date to the school dance in another country. I went to the store and bought beer, so I wouldn’t show up empty handed. I thought about flowers but wasn’t sure if she would think it was corny and not every girl likes roses. The roses like most things I talked myself out of. The collateral damage of over thinking.
The only person who knew I went up to the twelfth floor was Fisicaro. Franz Fisicaro, the night doorman was possibly the nicest person I had ever met. He high fived me and said, nice going, when I told him where I was headed. Though I had a fair amount of fear that another tenant on that floor would see me entering or exiting Brunswick’s apartment, opening up the proverbial can of worms.
Agnes greeted me at the door, top shelf, a vision in a gray tank top and red panties. She pulled me into the apartment, the door closed but it sounded to me like it slammed and the whole building would awaken and find out where I was. A place I wasn’t supposed to be. She sat me down on the couch.
“Wait here,” she said. She walked into the kitchen and I heard the fridge open, and the ice hitting the glass. She came back to the living room and opened a piece of furniture that inside it was a hidden bar. She poured a heap of a thirty year old Macallan into a large glass, and came over to me and straddled me on the couch. The tank top was not doing a good job of covering her breasts, not that I was complaining.
“You first,” she said and handed me the glass, I drank. “And why don’t you have a girlfriend?”
I wanted to say, homicidal ideation, but low self image came out instead. I passed the glass for her turn to drink. “I suppose the truth of the matter is I don’t know how to behave in a relationship. I don’t have real good control of my emotions. Truth be told, mentally, I’m pretty unstable. If you’re into that, then I’m the guy.”
“You’re definitely a weirdo but I like that. Did your last girlfriend break your heart? Is that why you’re so apprehensive?”
“Not sure. I guess it seemed that way at first but not anymore. You know? It was a little sharp blessing. But isn’t that how it goes?”
“Majority of the time.” She took a sip.
“I’ll tell you what she did say?” I took a big swig.
“Tell me what this nitwit said.”
“She said that my heart was nothing more than a phantom limb. I corrected her, and she didn’t appreciate that but a heart isn’t a limb, it’s an organ but I get what she meant. I don’t want to talk about your exes.” I had met some of her ex boyfriends and none of it made sense to me. Agnes deserved better than the self serving, vapid and sleazy boys I’d seen in her company or heard her mention. She was continuing to date down by slumming with me. She was too good for all of us.
Agnes laughed, she thought I was making a joke. I wasn’t. “I don’t see it. You’re always so happy and nice. I’ve been unmistakable in my unending flirting with you. For forever now. And yet you always find a way to kindly turn me down. Such a gentleman. I’m happy you’ve finally reconsidered and agreed to see me. Two years in the making.” She took a sip.
“I like you. I just think you should be spending your time with someone better.”
“Better? There’s that low self image.”
“You deserve someone more prominent, more successful. Someone who is not your doorman.”
“That doesn’t matter to me.” She took a sip.
“You’re smart and sensitive.”
“I don’t feel very smart and I’m extremely sensitive about my sensitivity.” I finished the Scotch.
“And a sense of humor to go with it. Complete package.”
She took the glass from me, the ice had diminished in size and placed it on the glass coffee table.
“Come here,” she said and kissed me. We kissed some more.
“What are you thinking?” Agnes asked me.
“I’m thinking I’m going to get fired.”
“You don’t have to worry.”
We kissed passionately. She tasted sweet, with a bit of Scotch. I had my hands at her hips but then I snuck my hand through the side of her tank top and touched her breasts. She unbuttoned my army woodland camo shirt and removed it. We kissed more, and she held my face. She stopped me and pushed me back against the couch. Agnes kneeled before me then she unbuckled my belt and I lifted my ass up so she could pull off my jeans and my boxer briefs. She stretched out over me and kissed me deeply on my mouth, then pushed me back on the couch. I had a hard on from the moment I pressed the button to the elevator to go to her apartment. I pulled her tank top off, I really wanted to tear it off of her, I talked myself out of that. She took hold of my attentive penis, squeezed me and then put me in her mouth. She used her free hand to remove her panties.
“Hi, Rainer,” said Kelley, standing in the foyer. We didn’t hear the turn of the lock, or the door opening up or her sister walking in. We probably wouldn’t have felt an earthquake, or Godzilla rising up from the East River and trampling all of Sutton Place.
“Good evening, Ms. Brunswick.”
“My father loves that couch,” Kelley said.
“Just go to your room already. Fuck.”
I waved goodbye to her sister with my free hand.
Agnes said I didn’t have to go but I did. We had been compromised. I didn’t know if I had to worry but If I was let go in the coming days I would know the reason why. I went to the basement, and in the dungeon of a bathroom I finished myself off, relieving myself of a painful case of epididymal hypertension. When I opened my eyes there was nothing there. My sperm disappeared. It vanished with a trace. It traveled out of me at 2,000 miles per hour, burning up into nothingness up like a small comet entering the earth’s atmosphere. The rest of the night I spent reading and doing push ups in the boiler room, all the while hating myself and regretting my decision to leave Agnes alone.