by Jessica Ciosek
“You know,” she said, twisting her feet for a 360 view, “I think I could kick your ass in these boots.” She smiled when she said it, sly and baiting.
I nodded, standing over her. “Reckon you could,” I kissed her hard on the mouth then whispered in her ear, “but I doubt you’d need boots to do that.”
She shrugged, dropped her eyes back to the mirror. “That’s true. But with these I’d look like a bad ass doing it.” Rail thin, fragile blonde hair, Siobhan had the wild eye about her. She’d fend for herself if she had to, and she’d had to. They weren’t stories she told me, but her eyes took on a hooded look, a certain careful squint when she thought she might get caught wanting. Trust fund baby that I was, I did my best to make sure that never happened. Pulling a slim platinum card from my wallet, I tendered it without a word. Siobhan kissed my neck.
“Thank you, my prince,” she whispered and sauntered out of the store in those boots, distressed silver leather with a round-toe, a heavy sole. On the street she planted a gentle kick in the crack of my ass.
The day was overcast, gray, chilly, the sky hung drab like a cloak of mourning. Fall was usually more beautiful in New York, but this year it weighed heavy, tired, unwilling to try, sick of itself in a way that seemed destined for drug addiction. But Siobhan and I, we were six months clean and sober which was supposed to be a good thing.
She tucked her arm in mine. “Brrr,” she whispered. A tickle of goose bumps ran down my neck like an icy sauce dribbled over my bones.
“I could go for a café au lait,” she said, leading me toward Stumptown. I didn’t want anything you could buy at a coffee shop, but it was easier to let her lead.
The place was empty, Wednesday before Thanksgiving, everyone below 34th street was getting out of town. We were staying put, claiming we liked an empty city. Truth was, I had lied my way out of a trip to my parents’ lavish neurosis. “Bring flowers and a nice chardonnay for your hostess,” my mother said when I told her I had plans. Siobhan’s family lived across the pond, so what did she care.
We took a table near the window, the place thick with the oily scent of over-roasted beans and boredom.
“I got you a double espresso,” she said. “Pull you outta your nasty funk.” I stirred three packets of sugar into it and drank it in one gulp. Her lipstick left a magenta kiss on her cup’s white lid. She eyed me broadly. What the fuck? I thought about saying, but I shrugged. The energy for disdain draining out of me like the helium in those clownish balloons they sally forth every fucking third Thursday in November.
“It’s the fourth Thursday in November,” Siobhan countered, and it surprised me to know I’d said it out loud. “You think you’d know that growing up with Thanksgiving and all.”
I shrugged. “You think I’d give a shit, too, wouldn’t ya?” She laughed.
“Holidays are for suckers.”
“Not if you eat right,” Siobhan said.
My cellphone vibrated on the marble tabletop. I glanced at it, but let it wriggle and buzz. Siobhan grabbed it.
“Who’s Brad?” she asked.
“I didn’t know you had a brother.” I shrugged. She eyed me slyly, dangled a finger over the green “accept” button. I shook my head but found it hard to give a shit either way. Rehab may have cleared my head, but my life still yawned out in front of me like an empty linoleum-lined corridor, long, ugly and going nowhere. She put the phone back on the table, unanswered.
It vibrated again. She leaned over the edge of the table, squinted.
“He insists you pick up.”
I shrugged again.
She grabbed the phone from the table, punched in the code and started typing.
“You wouldn’t like my brother,” I said, watching her thumbs jump around the keyboard. “He’s kind of a pompous ass.”
She kept at it, the phone buzzed incoming replies. A whole text conversation with my brother whom she’d never met.
Finally, she slapped my leg. “Let’s go,” she said, “I wanna pack a bag.”
“Oh, no, babe. This is your family.”
“Wait. You did not.”
“I did,” she nodded with a knowing grin. “Sounds very nice, actually. Your sister-in-law has a friend who owns a gallery.” She sipped her coffee.
“Yeah, some asshole’s rich wife. She studied art history, did a semester in Milan and now she’s an expert.”
“Rich people buy art.” She winked.
“Not my art. I’ve tried with that crowd.”
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” She poked a finger into her cheek, twisted it and smiled like some overgrown Shirley Temple. I laughed, shook my head.
“But seriously, I already told my mother we had plans.”
“She didn’t believe you. She’s worried.”
“That’s what he said.” She held my phone up as proof. “Besides, I could do with a home-cooked meal.”
“This one is gonna be catered, babe. Count on it.”
“Wow, Mr. Fucking Particular, how about I do kick your ass with these new boots of mine?” She winked, raising one silver toe to peek just above the edge of the table. “It could be kinky.”
And it was. With the efficiency of a nurse, she undressed us both. I sprawled across the cold mattress, the dank chill of the fifth floor walk-up curling about my toes. She slipped her boots back on and grinned. My member chubby but my mind still wallowing in the tepid steam of my own ennui, I rolled onto my stomach. She stood over me, pounding my half-frozen ass like stamping the loose dirt of a recent grave and reciting my sins in nursery rhyme cadence.
“One for being grumpy, two for fake smiling, three for not getting hard, four for being handsome, five for buying me boots, six for not fucking me, seven for flirting with the shoe store girl.”
“Didn’t,” I said.
“Did,” she countered and kicked me hard from the side. I can’t recall the next of my transgressions because after number ten she dropped onto the middle of my back, curled her body over and bit my butt cheeks, hard.
“Spread ‘em,” she said with a slap, then jammed her finger into my asshole and told me to cough. I did as instructed. She laughed the laugh of witches. “Hahahahahahahahaha,” she cackled. “I’m a doctor.”
Pressing those boots hard into my hip, she rolled me over, straddled me and rocked her wet regions against me until I was hard and thinking of nothing but her tight ass. I reached for her. She grabbed my hands, flipped her legs forward and pinned my arms against the bed with her boots.
Still astride but not letting me inside, she rocked and moaned, “Oh, Danny. Oh fuck, I wish you could fuck me,” she cried, tears streaming down her face.
“Let me,” I whispered, “let me in.”
Her face turned wicked, sly and baiting again. “But you are a bad boy,” she leered. “You can’t come in.” I pushed against her booted feet. She pushed back, the barely worn rubber cutting molded patterns into the soft underbelly of my forearms.
Finally, I threw her off with the force of my hips against her tiny pelvis. She fell back toward the foot of the bed and tumbled off the edge, her head smacking soundly on the ancient cast iron radiator.
“Fuck!” she cried.
I scrambled to the end of the bed. She glared up at me from a crumpled curl between the foot of the bed and the wall.
“Ouch,” she said reaching to gingerly probe the damage. Her fingers came back clean.
I climbed down next to her. “Baby, I’m so sorry. Let me get some ice.”
She was sitting up on the floor, her hand cradling her broken head when I came back with the ice. She let me press it there, ever so gently, a wince in her eyes as I did. I curled my arm around her, kissed her delicately. “I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
She grinned wickedly, grabbed ahold of my inner thigh and dug her nails deep into the vulnerable flesh. I screamed, she laughed.
“Aw, baby, you are a sick one.” I kissed her lips hard, cradling her head. “Maybe we ought to have that looked at,” I whispered.
“After,” she whispered back. I lay on the floor, pulled her on top of me, we rocked and pinched, licked and screwed until neither of us had anything left. I lifted her onto the bed, cupping a hand over the bump on the back of her head.
“Maybe we should go that 24-hour clinic on Chambers,” I said.
“Let’s take a nap, then we’ll go.” She wrapped the ice pack around her head with a fresh towel.
“Siobhan,” I said.
“Shhhh,” she said, pulled me in around her.
Waking in the early evening dark, Siobhan lay curved under my protective arm.
“Hey,” I whispered. She said nothing. I kissed her shoulder. “You need a blanket, baby.” I stood, pulled an extra from the foot of bed and laid it over her. In the bathroom, I looked at my ass. It was decorated with red tread marks and circles of bites like evidence of some newfound tropical disease. Next time I’d ask for bruises.
Barely a bump under my faded green quilt, she looked peaceful, almost fairy-like, pale white, eyes softly closed, head enrobed with the thin blue towel. At the edge of her lip, a trail of spittle dried the muted brown of milky coffee. I pulled the towel back. The ice pack, just a flat bag of water now, fell away revealing a perfectly round, small lump under the thin sheen of Siobhan’s flaxen hair. I shook her shoulder.
“Hey babe, I think we better take you in for a look. That bump is kinda ugly.”
She didn’t move. I shook her again, put a hand on her cheek. She was cold. “Siobhan?” I turned her fully over onto her back. Her shoulder flipped, her arm fell onto the mattress with a thud. “Siobhan?!” I checked for breathing, I could not find a pulse, I pumped her chest, called her name, over and over and over again.
She was still wearing the boots when the paramedics arrived. They pumped and they prodded, worked in that expert way of medical people seeking signs of life.
“She’s gone I’m afraid,” the smaller man said after not nearly enough time.
The thicker man shook his head.
“What?” I looked from one to the other of them for answers.
“She’s passed on.”
“No,” I said. “NO, no, no.” My head thickened, eyes went dark.
The fat man grabbed ahold of my elbow. “Maybe you ought to take a seat.” I fell onto the bed.
“Siobhan,” I whispered, reaching for her.
“Very sorry, sir,” the man said, intercepting my hand. “Let’s have you sit over here.” He pulled me up, led me to the chair on the other side of the room. I never touched her again.
“It can’t be,” I said. “We were just…”
“What a way to go,” I heard Siobhan’s voice, looked over where she lay on the bed. Her lips never moved. I started to cry.
The cop pulled me to standing, slapped the cuffs on my wrists. “Let’s go, pal.” They led me passed where she lay on the bed. I leaned toward her, looking to kiss her one last time. The cop yanked my arm. “Not happening.” I followed him out.
The 1st Precinct on the night before Thanksgiving is an odd sort of place, belligerent and frightening in its jolly decorations.
They took photos of my ass. Siobhan laughed when I had to drop my pants.
“Bet you wish it was me taking those pictures, don’t you?” And she cackled that weird witch’s laugh again. “If it was, I’d be up your ass with the camera in a second. Find out what makes you tick.” Pathetically, the thought turned me on. She knew that, too. “You always were a pervert, you were just afraid to admit it.” I shrugged.
My brother answered his cell, groggy and irritable. “Dude, what?”
“I swear it was an accident,” I said. “Don’t tell Mom and Dad.” The pleading in my voice sickened me.
In navy cashmere overcoats and hushed Italian loafers, Brad and his lawyer friend strode in like the well-dressed cavalry. They had me out in less than thirty minutes.
“My kid brother,” Brad introduced me after I was free.
“Keep it clean, man, we’ll get this handled,” the lawyer said. He shook both our hands. I thanked him then climbed into the warmed leather seat beside Brad.
“You’ll come for the holiday. I’ll bring you back to the city Friday.”
“Dude, can’t you just drop me off…”
“You’re coming out to the house and you’re gonna act like you remember how to have a normal Thanksgiving. We’ve got twenty-four people coming and you’re not gonna fuck it up.”
“O – fucking – kay, Dad.”
He glanced at me sideways, shrugged. “Sorry, man. Just this is pretty messed up, you know?”
“I know.” I leaned my head against the smooth glass, relieved in a way that he wasn’t giving me a choice. “Thanks, man.”
His wife, Cassie, a “darling girl”, labeled so by our mother, was at the kitchen sink when we rolled in. A wholesome, trim brunette, her smile flashed equal parts concern and annoyance.
“I put a pair of Brad’s pajamas in the guest room for you.”
“Thanks.” I nodded. “Really sorry about this.”
“S’alright.” She smiled halfway. Brad threw his keys on the table.
“I’m going to bed,” Cassie said. She patted my shoulder, pecked Brad on the cheek.
“You wanna shower or a beer?” Brad asked. Apparently my recent rehab stay hadn’t made the family news cycle.
“How about a shower and a beer? Or a scotch?”
Brad smiled. “That’s my boy. The guest bedroom is through there.” My clothes felt dirty, out of place, dark and used, in the perfect glow of the off-white surroundings. I hid them in the empty closet and turned the shower on hot.
“What the fuck?” Siobhan said, her voice a harsh whisper in my head. “Your brother’s got a Hampton’s estate and you never told me? Let alone carried my sorry ass out here for a visit.”
“We were supposed to come tomorrow.”
“Oh, right,” she sighed. “Damn, that would have been nice.”
“I’m really sorry, babe.”
Brad was sitting by the fire, a scotch in hand and a glass ready for me.
“Damn dude, nice place.”
“Yea, thanks. I’ll show you around in the morning.” The gas from the fireplace hissed gently between us.
“So what happened?” he asked turning a raised eyebrow my way. I pulled a long chug of my scotch.
“God’s truth, we were fucking around. She hit her head on the radiator pretty hard, but we thought we’d finish then see about getting it looked at. Really stupid. We fell asleep. I woke up. She didn’t.”
“Jesus, man. Who was she?”
“Siobhan. We’d been dating for a few months.”
“Almost a year, you prick, we met on New Year’s Day,” Siobhan weighed in. I watched Brad to see if he heard her. Nothing. He just stared at the fire.
“She was cool. Hot, crazy but sweet, too.”
“You kiss-ass,” Siobhan said.
“Fucking mess, huh?” I said to Brad.
“Looks like it,” he said, swirling the amber liquid in his glass. “But my buddy who got you out tonight? He specializes in criminal. He’ll take care of it.”
“It was an accident.”
“He’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks, man.” The fire hissed, ice clattered against crystal, I breathed thin slices of air flavored with guilty relief.
“Ain’t that just the sweetest damn thing, big brother coming to the rescue,” Siobhan said.
I shrugged and raised my glass. “To Siobhan.”
“To Siobhan,” Brad echoed fraternally.
“Fuck you,” Siobhan said.
We finished the bottle.
The bed wrapped around my drunken ass like comforting clouds of hell.
“Still can’t believe you never brought me out to this place,” she said. “We coulda had some fun in that bed.”
“It’s kinda gross though.” I spread my arms wide, as if to prevent myself being swallowed by the bed’s fathomless pillow top.
“Gross?” she said. “Looks pretty cushy to me.”
“But it’s fake, all of it, not an ounce of authenticity in it.” I rolled onto my side, pressed the third extra down pillow over my head.
“Authenticity? Like you’d know, little prince.” She laughed.
“Is that what you think? Shit, I’m just poor. Or was.”
“I’m sorry, Siobhan, I never meant….”
“Only rich people think poverty is authentic.”
In the morning I apologized more sincerely to Cassie, wore Brad’s khakis to dinner and made perfect small talk just like my mother had taught me.
“I had no idea Brad had a brother in the city,” was a common refrain.
“Hides me away for special occasions,” I said jovially.
“Wow, these are some fancy people,” Siobhan whispered in my head. And they were. Dressed in well-fit cashmere sweaters and tailored silk blouses, these were people raised in suburban splendor, a life of ease and comfort, possibility and opportunity pre-ordained. The people I’d grown up with. Sure, there were troubles in suburbia, but not the real kind. Nobody went hungry or didn’t have a bed to sleep in at night. I tried to picture Siobhan holding her own among them. She’d be wearing a sleek black dress, leggy black tights and those silver boots. She’d be the one they’d all eye, curious and surprised, but would anyone of them dare to speak to her? Maybe that guy, the balding short guy who looks like he’s up for a challenge. He’d ask her what she did, who she was and she’d offer some bullshit to put him off. Before yesterday, I would have enjoyed the discomfort she’d cause, would have reveled in throwing the comfortable people off their game. But now, I could see Siobhan would be out of place here, she’d be just as uncomfortable but trying ever so hard to be nice. I was using her to distance myself from these people, my people, just like she was using me to get further away from hers. Neither one of us would have succeeded but I came out on top. There was part of me who, though guilty and afraid, was glad it was me who survived, because I could. I had this to fall back on. She had nothing, or very little.
We sat politely for dinner in place-carded seats.
“So much to be grateful for,” Brad declared.
“Here, here,” the guests agreed. We raised our glasses to good fortune. The food, catered and abundant, landed in my stomach like a dense ball. I pushed the turkey and potatoes around my plate. Siobhan insisted I eat two pieces of pumpkin pie.
“That always was my favorite part of Thanksgiving, when I could get it,” she told me.
Brad drove me home Friday morning.
“Want me to come up?” he asked.
“That’s cool. I think I’d rather go it alone.” He drove quietly away and I let myself into the chilled apartment. A stillness hung in the air, an emptiness with her gone. Her magenta-rimmed café au lait cup sat on the dresser. I picked it up. The frigid dregs sloshed. I pressed her lipstick mark to my mouth like a kiss.
She laughed, gently this time. “It’s okay, baby,” she said. “I was never gonna get old anyway.”
This made me cry which made her laugh again, harder, meaner. “Toughen up, you shit. Life is hard, then you die. Or don’t they send that memo from the Hamptons?”
“Intracranial hematoma” was the determination, bleeding inside the skull caused by blunt force trauma. Both drug screens came back clean. The cops weren’t inclined to let it go that easy, but it turns out she had been a foster child, ward of the state. Her mother murdered by a jealous boyfriend, her father a victim of his own drunk driving.
“I had a grandma,” she barked. And she wasn’t Irish either, not really, descended from Irish like we are all descended from something we wish were better than ourselves.
With no aggrieved mother, no angry father, the authorities accepted the truth: rough sex and those boots.
Of course, she couldn’t stay forever. Exactly one month to the day after she died, she was gone. I’d spent the night before drowning my broken heart. There may or may not have been tears involved, but I do recall Siobhan next to me on the barstool just before they threw me out. In the bed where she died, I passed out. At noon, high noon, she called to me.
“Hey Danny, this is goodbye.”
I opened my eyes. There she stood at the foot of the bed wearing an old Army jacket and black cotton bikinis.
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“I can’t do this without you.”
“You’re a rich kid, you’ll be fine.”
“But you kept me real.”
“Nobody is that real.”
She was gone without another word. The sharp whisper in my head went silent. The apartment sighed a final release. I cried into the pillow where she’d last laid her wounded head. But I knew she was right.
An emptiness descended upon me, one I only knew how to fill with booze, needles or pills. Instead, I called my mother. She packed about a third of my clothes and shipped my paintings directly to a warehouse in Schaumberg. I was home for Christmas.
It’s been five years and still I think of Siobhan. Sometimes she’s in my dreams. She looks happy, smiling and not so angry. Me, I sobered up, took a job with my father’s company and married my mother’s tennis partner’s daughter. But every Wednesday before Thanksgiving I go out for a café au lait in Siobhan’s honor. My wife orders one, too.
“It’s a tradition for us,” she says innocently, her pale rose lipstick leaving barely a trace on the cup’s edge.
About the Author:
A native Midwesterner, Jessica Ciosek lives with her family in NYC. By day she works for a New York City public high school, by night she toils at the keyboard. She has recently finished her first novel and is looking for an agent. Her work has appeared in Minerva Rising Literary Journal.