A novel by Stevan V. Nikolic

Chapter Seven – The Second American Woman

       That Wednesday at the regular House Meeting attended by all students and staff, the Director announced that Michael was the new fifth floor Captain.Many students who had been there longer than Michael were surprised. Usually, floor captains were students who had already been at the Bowery for three, four months. Michael was fairly new. Also, he didn’t have that appearance of street roughness that was so necessary to gain authority among those who grew up in the projects and the poor neighborhoods of New York, as most of the men in the Bowery did.

After the meeting, a few of the fifth-floor students were, making loud comments that they would not follow Michael’s instructions. Michael didn’t react. He knew they said that so he would hear them, but he ignored them. His plan was simple. There were thirty-eight guys on his floor. Those who were going to listen he would engage. Those who were not going to listen, he would ignore for now.

But the best part of being a Floor Captain was the ability to go out for an hour every day. It became Michael’s routine till the end of his stay in the Bowery. Every evening after dinner, he would walk west on Prince, make a left on Mercer Street, and sit on the back stairs of the Boss Clothing Store, light up a cigarette and watch people rushing by. It was his secret spot. It was far enough from the Bowery that nobody could see him smoking and close enough he could walk back in minutes.

He would sit there and watch the large windows of the lofts in the buildings across the street. Those were luxurious SoHo apartments. He was thinking whether or not he would ever be able to afford any of them. If he had money, he would definitely live in SoHo. But he was so far from something like that. He still didn’t know how he would make a living once he was out of the Bowery. Time goes fast and soon he would graduate the program and have to look for a job. If he didn’t find one soon enough, they would not keep him in the Bowery forever. They would kick him out. So not finding a job was not an option.

He still couldn’t understand how he could mess up his life like that. Twenty-something years in New York, so many good things that he had done, children he had raised with so much care and hard work, so many friends he had helped, and he could not turn anywhere for help. And he didn’t blame his family or his former friends for it. He knew that the fault lay with him. But again, if he put himself in their shoes and tried to look at himself from their perspective he would never have ostracized himself the way they did. He rejected nobody in his life like that.

Most of the evenings on Mercer Street, Michael would spend thinking about his life and years that had passed. He knew that the biggest break in his life was when he left the culinary profession and went back to writing. It was at the same time he had his strange dream he often referred to as his “vision.” It was five years before he got to the Bowery and it seemed that since that time, everything was going downhill for Michael. He got divorced, lost his business in New York, and lost his business in Romania. Yet, he was determined to find his purpose as he saw it in his vision. He knew that it was possible only through writing. But the real inspiration hadn’t come yet. He knew what it was that he wanted to say, but it couldn’t come out. His mind was blocked. He was convinced that soon things would turn around for him. But he had to write, he thought, because the success and prosperity that he wanted to gain back could come only from writing.

Michael’s duties as a Floor Captain started without much stress. He thought most of the students on the floor didn’t mind who the Captain was and they followed his instructions, including the cleaning schedule he made weekly. Those who ignored him, he ignored back. But he didn’t want to report them to the Director. At least, not yet.

The following Monday, Michael was on time to Pastor Charles’ office. The pastor was on the phone with somebody, and he pointed to Michael towards the chair next to him.

Michael sat down and looked at the computer screen over Pastor’s shoulder. He wanted to see some of the Pastor’s notes, but he couldn’t. It was too far for him to see it without glasses.

Pastor hung up and turned towards Michael.

“Good morning, Michael.”

“Good morning, Pastor. How was your weekend?” Michael asked.

“Oh, very busy. We had a guest speaker both Saturday and Sunday in my church. It was good, but it made me tired. By the way, in a couple of months, you will be able to go on Sundays to a church outside. I would like if you could come to my church. We have a bilingual service in English and French.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind. I like to visit different churches and temples.” Michael answered.

“So Michael, how is it working in the new Captain’s position? Any problems yet?”

“None, Pastor. Everything is cool. I enjoy it.”

“Okay, let’s get to our conversation from last Monday. I have to rush today. I have a meeting uptown in an hour. So, what happened with the woman you said you had “a fling” with? Let’s hear it.”

“Yes, that was an interesting story. I certainly never – before or after – had experienced anything like that. She was two years younger than me and worked in the accounting department at Fratelli’s.  She was Irish. Her name was Fiona. She was tall with short red hair and green eyes. She had a beautiful body, and she knew how to carry it. Every couple of days, she would come to me to pick up the invoices from bakery suppliers. She liked to chat, and each time she came, we would talk about something. After a while, our chats turned into open flirting that we both enjoyed. I was waiting for the right moment to ask her out.”

“But then, one day she surprised me with the question, ‘Okay, Michael, how long I will have to wait before you ask me out? Is there anything wrong with me?’

“I got embarrassed for a moment, feeling stupid, but I reacted immediately, ‘How about tonight, Fiona?’ I asked. She accepted.”

“It was good timing. I was off at Barbetta’s that day. So I took her to an Italian restaurant in the Theater District, one block from my home. The executive chef in that place was a friend of mine, and he ordered the whole dinner to be on the house. They treated us like royalties. After all, I was already a well-known pastry chef and my friend chef liked that I picked his place for dinner. He was eager to hear my opinion about his desserts, which were very good, by the way.

“Fiona was impressed with the way we were treated. Halfway through dinner, we were already tipsy from the good Italian wine. Fiona was in a silk white shirt that was almost see-through with nothing under it and a short black skirt. We groped each other while still in the restaurant, like some teenagers. Then she said, ‘Let’s finish this dinner fast and go to your place.’ It was a good idea.”

“What happened at my place that night I will never forget. I don’t think I ever had a similar experience in my life. She was really hot, man. We just couldn’t hold it. We first had intercourse while we were still on the stairs, in front of the apartment. Thank God nobody passed by.  It was an earthquake all night. I was young and much stronger then, but I still don’t know where I found all that energy. And Fiona just didn’t want to stop. Who knows how long it would have lasted if I didn’t have to go to work in the morning. Needless to say, that was my first sexual experience in New York since I got here. It had been almost three years since I’d touched a woman when Fiona showed up.”

“She stayed at my place to sleep and came to work much later. Of course, I was already in love and red roses were waiting on her desk in the office.”

“She came to work around noon and went to her office, just to run out of it all red in the face and came to my work station. ‘Michael!’ She yelled, ‘What is wrong with you? Do you want to get me in trouble?’  I was confused. I didn’t know what I did wrong? ‘What is wrong Fiona?’ I asked. ‘Roses, Michael! Roses! I am engaged. What if my fiancé shows up and sees these roses or somebody tells him about it? I’m marrying him in three months. I don’t want any problems. We had a good time and that was it. There is nothing between us except good sex. And I hope you won’t be talking about it around Fratelli’s.’  ‘Of course, I won’t Fiona.’  I told her. She ran from my station, slammed the door, and went back to her office. I was stunned.  I didn’t know that she had a boyfriend. She never mentioned that before. And, I couldn’t understand how she could make love to me when she loved somebody else.”

“She didn’t make love to you, Michael. She just had sex with you. It is completely different,” Pastor said.
“But I never understood that. I could never enter into sexual intercourse with anybody if I didn’t feel something for that woman.”

“Are you serious Michael?” The pastor asked, “You never had sex just for the sake of pleasure? Without feelings? Have you heard of prostitutes? Have you ever been with a prostitute?”

“Prostitute!?” Michael asked with surprise in his voice, “Never. And I don’t think that I ever could. It is a degrading thing for both a woman and a man. Not only that, I never went to a topless bar or strip club and never watched porn. Those are all things for sick people. I feel bad for any woman that has to work as a prostitute.  And all those pimps that make them sell their bodies should be raped and then killed like wild beasts.”

“Oh, oh, wait, Michael. Don’t get radical here. Only God has the right to judge people. That is not our job. So, how did you feel after? Did you go out with Fiona again?” Pastor asked.

“Only once. Her boyfriend was on a business trip and we went to her place. I still couldn’t believe there was nothing between us. The sex was great, again. But two weeks after that, she got married. I was at the wedding. I also made the wedding cake for them. It was my gift. It took me a while to get over her. Even today, whenever I see a red-haired woman, my heart jumps.”

“So, you like red haired women, right?” Pastor asked.

“Not necessarily. I don’t know if there is a particular type of woman I like. Every woman I was ever in a relationship with, had something particular about them, some detail I liked – something that attracted me to them. I think of it as a remembrance.”

“Remembrance? Of what Michael?

“I don’t know, Pastor. The closest I can come to explaining it, is that there is some type of ideal woman deep in my soul. I cannot perceive it completely, but whenever a woman comes across my path that has something that reminds me of that ideal, I feel it, and I usually fall in love.”

“Can you describe this ideal woman?” Pastor asked.

“I can’t Pastor. It comes to me in flashes. Or better yet, through the women I’ve been with. My biggest problem with women was that I never loved any of them completely. In my mind, they all had something of that ideal that I was looking for, but they were never complete.”

“You are too harsh on yourself. As much as I understand, throughout your life, all the women you were with, left you. You didn’t leave them, except for your last relationship.”

“Yes, that is true,” Michael said.

“So, taking that into account you were for the most part always in love and faithful, why do you think you didn’t love them completely?”

“I know I didn’t. Now I know I didn’t. And you are right, if things hadn’t happened with my first wife the way they did, or if things hadn’t happened with my second wife the way they did, I would probably still be in one of those marriages. I would never leave them for another woman. But since I got aware of this ideal woman, deep in my soul I don’t have peace, Pastor. It is haunting me.”

“What is haunting you Michael, or who is haunting you?”

“The idea that I have to find this woman. That is what is haunting me. The feeling we’ve been together already and we have to be together again.”

“And if I understand correctly, you don’t even know what this woman looks like, except for the details that you have recognized in different women throughout your life,” Pastor was trying to summarize.
“That is correct,” Michael said.

“Well, all I can tell you is that you are lucky that you are a writer. It will make for a nice romance novel. I think you are just confused and oversensitive. Are you too sensitive, Michael? What do you think?” Pastor Charles said.

“Maybe… I don’t know.”

“Not maybe. Definitely! We have an expression back home in Haiti, which says something like ‘a man who is thinking with his penis.’ That is what you are Michael. That doesn’t mean that you are addicted to sex or pornography. You are not a pervert of any kind. Contrary!  You are just too sensitive with women. You fall in love at the blink of an eye and all your decisions are based on your passions towards a particular woman. Your mind gets blurry because not enough blood goes to your brain. And your heart pumps all the blood back to your penis and that is why you are a man who thinks with his penis.”

“Thank you for your vulgar explanation. Theologically it is very deep, you know,” Michael said ironically, visibly upset with Pastor’s comment.

“It is true, Michael. You have to learn to control your passions, especially your passions towards women. Why do you think throughout the Bible, the favorite tool of the devil to subdue man was a woman? That is where our weakness lies. From Adam to any man today, that is our weakest spot. And it seems to me you keep surrendering to it over and over again. You are too sensitive – weak towards women. You have to bind your passions, Michael. And you have to pray about it, a lot. Oh, yes, a lot!” Pastor Charles was almost shouting.

Michael saw the direction this discussion was going and he didn’t like it. There was much he could say to Pastor about his vision and about the ideal woman from his soul. But Pastor wouldn’t understand, Michael was sure. Also, Michael didn’t want to tell him. He couldn’t trust anybody with his secret. It was just his.

“So, what do you propose I should do?” Michael asked.

“For now all you can do is pray. Pray to God Almighty to bind your carnal passions and give you strength to control them. You have to find a way to re-wire your heart so you don’t fall for any skirt that passes your way.”

“I don’t fall for any skirt that passes my way. That is simply not true.” Michael said.

“Yes. And my name is not Charles. Please, Michael, don’t deny the obvious things. I am not trying to be hard on you. I am not telling you this as a counselor. And I am not being cocky. I am telling you this as a friend who cares about you. I just think this image of the ideal woman from your soul you have, is just a way for your conscience to excuse your behaviors. You made this image in your imagination to make it easy on yourself. It is normal. Otherwise, you would blow up or jump from a bridge.   Anyway, I have to rush to my meeting. We’ll continue next Monday. Don’t be upset. This was good today. We are getting somewhere. With God’s help and blessings, you will be able to conquer your weaknesses.  Remember what Scriptures says, ‘I can do all things through Christ My Lord who strengthens me.”