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 That summer I missed the keggars, moonlight bowling and skinny dipping to work nights as a busboy.

      My friends tagged me a hermit.  Some said it gently because of what had happened, but others mocked me with raw, blistered teenage angst.  Still, none of their words or anyone’s brought me back to them.

      Amir, the waiter, was a preposterously handsome Muslim with sheen-wicked hair, steel wool stubble and strange wolf-white eyes that made women gawk open-mouthed.  Amir gave me ten percent of his tips, or claimed he did.  The real money came from room service.  I’d get three to four calls a night, usually from solo business men already drunk but willing to overpay for a cheap bottle of Cabernet or a half dozen Tanqueray and Tonics.

      One night this guy called for a magnum of Dom Perignon and strawberries.  “A mountain of berries, not just a couple piddly things.  And bring a whole can of whip cream, too.”

      Because we made ours fresh, I had to jump across the street to the convenience store by Circus Circus to pick up a can.

      Inside room 1805 they were going at it.  The doors were not so thick as to block out those kinds of sounds.  I considered my options--waiting, coming back another time, leaving the cart—and decided to knock.  “Room Service!”

      It took some time for him to get to the door.  He looked half-human half-bear, his striped dress shirt open where his hairy, laundry bag belly greeted me.

       As I wheeled the cart inside I saw her squirm larva-like beneath the blue felt blanket.

      Bear Man ripped a strawberry in two with a meaty butchering sound and smacked his lips and said, “Juicy.  Ah, good, you brought the whip.  Open up the champagne and we’re set.”

      I wheedled the gold tin foil off and untwined the metal netting and pulled on the cork and twisted and pried my thumbnail between it and the bottle glass, but it would not budge.  I bent over for a butter knife and, as I did, the cork exploded.  It hit me in the right eye and I wheeled around, blinded, and fell onto the bed as the woman shrieked.  In a second The Bear pulled me up by the shirt collar, saying, “What the hell?”

      I couldn’t see for several minutes.  I wondered if I’d be blind, what it’d be like to have a glass eye, wear a monocle.

      Two hours later the phone by the dishwasher rang and I picked it up and said, “Room Service.”

      “Hey,” a woman said.

      “Yeah?”

        “It’s me.  Room 1805.  I was hiding under the covers.”

        “Okay.”

        “I knew your brother.”

        “Kenny?”

        “We went to prom together.”

        “Kim?  No, Cathy?  Cathy…”

      “Bigelow.  But it’s not Bigelow anymore.”  Through the phone receiver I heard sheets whisper as she moved against them, and a ripple of electricity stung my earlobes.

        “Come see me,” she said

        “What?  I’m working.”

        “Fine.  Then bring me up some toast and jam.”

      She opened the door wearing a blanket togaesque, her sandy hair big, beautifully lopsided and mussed, way too sexy.

      “Where is he?” I asked of The Bear.

      “Playing Craps.  Running a marathon.  Who knows?”

      I pushed the cart beside the table and lifted a silver heating dome and, out of habit, started to unwrap the napkin containing the silverware.

      “What’re you doing?” she asked.

        I didn’t know, I really didn’t, so I slumped.

       Cathy patted the end of the mattress until I sat down beside her.  My eye throbbed and a billion locusts flapped their wings inside my eardrums.

       I expected Cathy to comment on my injury, but instead she said, “I’m sorry about your mom.”

      “That was awhile ago.”

      “Sure.  Sure it was.”

      But I still missed her, Mother.  Every message left on my cell phone I expected to be from her.  I saw Mother’s face in the bedroom window each night before nodding off.  She still controlled the majority of my dreams, real and not.

      “Kenny and I almost got married.”

      “I know.  What happened?”

      “Your Mom.”

      “What?”

      Cathy inhaled deep, still holding the blanket seam over her bosom.  “He never cried, never brought up the subject unless it was an ‘I have to.’  ‘I have to visit Mom again.’  ‘I can’t make the movie because I have to take Mom in for tests.’”

      I choked down a web of sticky, dried-up mouth goo.  “It went on for a long time,” I said.  “Years.  Something like that, it’s hard to deal with.  You might as well be the one with the cancer.”

      “Exactly.  That’s what I was expecting from Kenny.”

      As Cathy stared ahead, I sneaked a look at her cheek and the swirl of blonde hairs rounding her jaw, downy puppy fur.  “So, this guy now—“

      “Skeeter.”

      “—Skeeter.  So, he’s the one?”

      She tottered her head and shrugged.  “Nah, I don’t think so.”

      “That must suck, being with the wrong one.”

      “It does.”

      I held my breath.  Ants skittered inside my clothing, prickling my skin.  I turned, anticipating Cathy’s mouth, her kiss, and, sure enough, she moved as I’d thought, her rhythm a twin to mine.  The blanket drooped to her ribs as her arms came up like pulleys to enwrap me.

      I did not exhale.  If not on my mouth, I at least expected her lips on my neck, her tongue in my ear, drowning all those noisy grasshoppers.  My heartbeat arced, but after resting awhile against Cathy’s chest, it flattened and slowed.  I was nearly asleep when she said, “It’s kind of silly.”

      “What?”

      “To keep looking for Mr. Right.  For all I know, you could be the one, but it’s not like I can do anything about it now, you know what I mean?”

      I did.  I didn’t.

      I fingered her hair and brought it to my nose.

      “Don’t do that,” she whispered.

      “Why?”

      “Okay, look,” she said.  “How much money do you have?”

      “What?”

      “I charge four hundred.  I could do three hundred for you, because you’re sort of a friend and all.”

**

      I called her in the morning but she’d checked out.  I phoned Kenny next.  When he answered, I started crying.  I despised myself—for blathering on, for hating Mom while she was sick, for letting Kenny be the one to take care of her while I got stoned or rode around with friends.  I hated that I’d paid to sleep with Catherine and the fact that I wanted her again, the urge an endless slither now knotting my wretched heart.

      “Hey, man,” Kenny said.  “What is it?”

      “I miss her,” I said.

      “So do I.”

      He didn’t know what I meant, who I meant, and so shame sluiced through me, a wild stream of frigid water.  “I’m sorry.”

      “It’s about time you let loose.”

      “I’m sorry,” I said again.  I shouted the words and kept shouting them even as the drapes danced from my breath, even as Kenny yelled to, “Hold on,” that he was on his way and would be here soon.


**





During High School I worked as a busboy, but the real money was in room service tips.  I had an experience similar to the one I mention where the champagne cork was stuck and--just as I reached down to pry it lose--it shot me in the eye.  And yes, there was a woman hiding under the covers the whole time.  And no, I did not sleep with her or even speak to her, but the scenario always struck me as fodder for a good story, so all these years later it took shape as the piece, "Room Service," the word "service" having three different interpretations, one each for the narrator, Cathy and Kenny.

 



Room Service - Len Kuntz (c) 

  
















Copyright 2009