Caviar & Coleslaw

by

04/20/2006

55th St. & 2nd Ave., NY, NY 10022

Neighborhood: Midtown

It was during my second month in the new office that I determined I was in love.

She was standing next to the fax machine, paperwork in hand, bending over slightly so she could read the message in the small screen. She had a short skirt and long legs. They looked very shapely but solid. Clover never asked me to fax stuff for her like everyone else did. That was okay. I was glad she chose to do it herself because watching her was way more enjoyable. She used a long slim finger to push the buttons, dialing the numbers from memory. Her nails clicked softly on the plastic. I was just a young butch lesbian but I was in love. Sure, Clover was a few years older. But she was gorgeous. So gorgeous it made me dizzy.

It was just as paper in her hand began slowly moving into the machine when the familiar voice called out from the next room. It was the boss.

“Clover! Can you step in my office for a second?”

I saw Clover frown, then shoot a worried glance down at her paperwork, which was slowly and systematically being eaten by the machine’s hungry mouth. With an imprompt decision, she gave up on the fax machine and hustled off towards the boss’s office. Her four inch heels clicked on the hardwood floor behind her as she disappeared from view.

Of course, this offered me an opportunity I was not about to pass up. I spun my chair around and jumped to my feet. Pretending to rearrange my desk, I gradually moved closer to the fax machine. There it was now, just inches away from me. I lifted the paper, now spewed from the other side of the machine and upside down in the tray. I had to see what she had been sending. Whatever it was, it was penned in red ink.

“Hey sexy. Meet me for dinner?” the note read.

A love letter! My stomach twisted itself in knots. Clover’s secret love affair! How could I be so fortunate as to get a glimpse at something as precious as this? I leaned in, studying the paper closely. At the bottom of the note she had drawn a heart above her signature. It was perfect, just like her penmanship—–full of smooth, long strokes.

Suddenly I heard the machine beep again. I looked down to see that there was a second page as well. Lifting the top of the paper as it came out, I found a crossword puzzle for lovers. Sexual words covered the paper, along with the kinky picture next to it.

Ah, Clover, I thought lovingly. You must have a million admirers.

I wondered who the recipient of the fax was. Was he was handsome and brilliant and well-dressed? Was he Italian like Clover? Dark skinned and charmingly confident? The two of them together were likely candidates for the Hollywood couple of the year. Both mysterious, rich, elegant and beautiful. Radiating an aura of pure sex. Somehow it seemed strange to think of Clover having to woo someone, flirting and toying with a man in an attempt to win his love. Please! As if she needed to play games to be enticing.

I heard the faint click-clacking of heels again, this time coming toward me. I dropped the papers in the fax tray and leaped, one strong surge into the safety of my chair. She briskly re-entered the room. Unaware of my adventures in snooping, Clover smiled at me innocently. I reciprocated the gesture, nervously. Clover. She was no dummy. She hastily moved over to the fax machine to recover her letter.

Turning back to my own work, grinning smugly, secretively, I realized that I did not feel guilty about nosing around. In fact, I felt special for sharing a little secret with the mysterious woman. After all, Clover was an enigma, herself a puzzle and one that I needed to solve. Maybe my actions had been wrong. Maybe my reasoning was senseless, naive—just a cheap justification to make myself feel better about invading Clover’s privacy.

I could live with that.

I walked home from work that night, trudging over a hundred blocks to save the dollar and fifty cent subway fare. I didn’t mind the walk. It gave me an opportunity to see the city which I barely knew. But I didn’t see very much. I was too busy thinking of Clover. I couldn’t get her off my mind. I thought about her all the way to my apartment. I thought of her as I climbed the chipped concrete stairs and unlocked the double bolted doors. I thought about her as I tried to tell myself to stop thinking about her.

In the apartment I passed by my middle aged Asian landlord. He lived there with me. As usual, he was wearing sweats and pink plastic sandals, hovering over the stove. He was swatting madly at the smoke billowing from a blackened pot and yelling, “I so sorry! I so sorry! I burn pan! I so sorry!” He threw open a door in a valiant effort to clear the room of the quickly accumulating gray clouds.

I moved past him and stumbled into my bedroom, exhausted. It was late now. I wasn’t sure where all the time and gone. I surveyed the little room, my sparse quarters. Everything was in disarray as usual. The walls remained skeleton white and bare and the tiled floor was littered with old, dog-eared books I had collected from various sidewalk sales. In the corner old newspapers were piled high, yellowing and disorderly. Along the wall leaned a desk with one leg too short; on it rested a plastic container of generic peanut butter, a handful of cheap plastic flatware from the dollar store, and a wooden lamp. The lamp did not work. It remained there for aesthetic purposes.

These, I thought sarcastically, these are my worldly items. The extent of my twenty four years on this earth.

I collapsed on the mattress on the floor and stared up at the ceiling. It struck me then, the way the world worked. There would always be your Clover Vail’s, charming and beautiful and successful. And there would always be your Julien Lanway’s, poor social outcasts traveling the world, never fully recognized for everything they had to offer the world. And together, the two of us would exist in parallel universes. In my short time with the company, Clover had never even acknowledged me. We were as different as night and day. She was caviar, I was coleslaw.

It was with this thought in my mind that I rolled over and fell asleep. After all, it was all okay by me. I had nothing to prove to the world. The beautiful thing about life was its simplicity. I needed very little to provide for my happiness. And why wouldn’t I be happy? After all, it had been a good day, a nice day, and tomorrow would be another. It was warm in that empty little room. I drifted off into a caressing sleep, comfortable on the shabby makeshift bed. The artificial light from the alley crept in over my mattress like moonlight, lying gently in the spot beside me—my unrequited lover.

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