An excerpt from ‘Café Baci’ – Copyright © 2011 by Michael Kuch
Continued from Claire, Darling
JACK HAD BEEN HERE
One too many times. He laid still, silent as death. His body stiff as a plank of gnarled hardwood, like rigor mortis had set in, harpooning him to the mattress. His skin prickled with chills from a sleepless night of cold sweat, suffocated by dreadful night terrors, awakened by sudden fear and anxiety.
His tongue was swollen and pasty. Parched drier than a desert iguana after noshing on a box of saltine crackers. Nothing compared to his head, a relentless migraine hammered his temples. His stomach knotted and heaved, took the worst of the hangover.
Sunlight breached the skylight above him washing the bedroom in a halo of translucent ochre. A cascade of rays blanketed his torso, casting soft shadows in the crevices of the duvet. The air was stale and viscous, chewy, too thick to breathe, impossible to shallow.
With one eye buried under a pillow, the other staring off at a blank ceiling, Jack’s first thought was about last night. What little he remembered he couldn’t forget. He rolled a pillow behind his head and propped himself up on both elbows as if to make a move. Exhausted, he let the weight of his body sink and flopped back flat.
Jack looked down at himself. Bare feet sticking out the end of the bed. At the morning chub propping the linen sheets like a half erect tepee, encouraged by a piss he’d been holding since crashing out hours earlier. He rubbed his eyes in small circular motions with the palms of his hands. Checked his finger nails, smelled his hands, and ran them through his hair, scratching lightly at his scalp and neck. He stretched and yawned, letting out a warbled yelp, and cleared his throat. The night came back. Where he was, how he got there.
The room was different in the morning, not as he recalled. It had been a year almost to the day since he moved out. A large oil painting leaned against the dresser. Minimalism. Blocks of primary colors, not much to it. Black and white photographs framed the long wall. Jack pictured solo in one; during a ski weekend in Vail. Jack reclining by a stone fireplace, a snifter of Cognac cupped in his hand, a celebratory Cohiba propped for the occasion.
Jack’s senses started to awaken. The scent was undeniably Claire. A trinity of fresh-cut flowers, dark truffles and Chardonnay. Vaguely citrusy, lemons if he had to guess. Ripened fruit, familiar whatever it was. Enough to make his throat tighten and stomach curl. No, it was perfume, ungodly expensive French stuff. Annick Goutal, all Claire ever wore. In his hair, on his chest, all the hell over him.
Jack itched. He scratched his underarms. Tugged at the sheets. He let out a throaty groan, closed his eyes, and turned his head as slightly as possible toward the right to see if Claire was asleep. Her side of the bed was empty. In the kitchen making Mimosa, or the bathroom, freshening up, putting on her morning mask, predictably vain.
CLAIRE WAS COMING BACK FOR HIM
Jack was certain. She’d slither along any moment. Silk robe draped open at the front, as made up as she had been the night before. Crawl under the duvet, purring, love bites here and there, nibbling his neck. Start up with innocent pillow talk, whispers, getting dirty, nudging Jack to clean up a little, the undercarriage, if he wanted any. Nestle into him, spoon like they use to.
Claire seducing the boy, make him work for it. Play the submissive slutty secretary. Fishnet stockings and garter. Jimmy Choo red stilettos. Get all hot again. Shower together afterward, content, share silent moments like they were still a couple.
Segue through the fun times, hints of another ski weekend in Banff or a couples spa retreat in Bimini. Preamble to the serious talk, never letting go. Finally asking, demanding, where had it gone wrong? Was it her? Jack’s fault either way, is where it would end up.
A toilet flushed in the ensuite bathroom. Pipes hummed, the faucet spluttered to life, the tumbling of a toothbrush and water glass. Early warning signs of a reality check to come.
Jack snapped out of it, maybe thirty seconds to get dressed. Get the hell out of there in a hurry. Twenty-five when the cobwebs cleared and he realized he has laying prone, flat on his back, butt-naked in a bed not his own, with a happy chub that had ideas if its own.
He rolled away, entangled in the bed sheets, grabbed at his jeans and boxers at the ready where he had tossed it hours earlier on the side chair. Fumbled through his socks and t-shirt, pulled a sweater over his head and stood up in one full motion. Boots and coat piled at the foot of the bed, he slipped into with military precision and stuttered toward the apartment door.
The water stopped and the bathroom door clicked open.
JACK WAS GONE
He skipped the elevator, ran down eight flights of stairs, hopping two at a time, then swept through the foyer, out the lobby door and stumbled into the morning sun as if late for his own funeral.
A gust of late December wind bit his face. Jarred awake, he squinted against the sunlight, catching his breath in long deep inhales. His throat burned with every tortuous exhale. His eyes narrowed into moistened slits of sapphire, the whites broken with miniscule filaments of pink, crackled in infinite tributaries. His stomach heaved, not entirely emptied of nauseous bile, and no less merciful.
He hurried next to a small hedge at the side of the building, bent over and vomited. Then he chucked his guts again, to get the troublemaker stirring deep down this time. Blamed it on the Gouda, cursed the Brie. Lactose intolerance. As if the tequila shots had nothing to do with it.
Jack straightened himself, spit again, and wiped his mouth with a cocktail napkin he found crumpled in his coat pocket. He turned it over, couldn’t make out the phone number or the name. Too many letters smeared in a pool of blue ink. Something Lana sounding. Big rack for a petite skinny chick, he remembered. A little rough around the eyes. And those hellacious tattooed arms. Koi fish?
Svetlana was her name. The bartender working the office party last night. Same girl Buddy left with. Claire’s brother.