By David Clmenceau
Audrey Belino and Tic Harper knew each other from high school. They had been in the same grade but were never close enough to be anything more than school friends and lost track of each other afterward. Tic went to St. Louis, Missouri, where he got a football scholarship. He came to New York, three years later, with his pregnant wife and a desk job in a real estate agency on the corner of Broadway and Broome in Lower Manhattan. Audrey never finished school and stayed in New Jersey. The short-lived idyll the Belinos had experienced as a functional family when she was still a child was shattered when her dad got fired. He took up drinking full time while her mother had to support the family on her own by cleaning houses. No one in the family recovered from her father losing his job.
And one Tuesday, just after five p.m., Audrey was on her way to visit a friend and stopped by this French-style cafe and bakery on Grand Street for some snacks and pastries for a girls’ night. On her way out she ran into Tic Harper. They immediately recognized each other and talked like old friends about how unbelievable it was to meet in this place, after all this time, and how happy they were to finally see each other again.
Their chance encounter was one where both parties felt just a little awkward for not knowing exactly what to say and at which moment, and, at the same time, comfortable because they were in fact not strangers and felt they could share some things easily – a common state of mind both kept to themselves. There seemed to be a tacit protocol for this kind of situation; one which no one was quite aware of, while everybody appeared to have a notion of it. A set of almost ritualistic – and unavoidable – questions took the edge off as their conversation gained momentum: How have you been? What are you doing now? Where do you live? Are you married? She wasn’t, he was. Tic was also, it turned out, growing fed up with his wife of two years and already considered moving out and getting a divorce. But now they had the children and they had just moved into a really nice house in Mount Pleasant, Upstate New York, six months before and got a dog because she loved dogs and, now – it was complicated.
Audrey, after flunking school, had tried to go back to studying but it turned out that she had had enough of books and teachers. She had found a job as a clerk in a health food store on Greenwich Street instead and moved into a small third-floor rent-controlled apartment in Soho, which she had inherited from a maternal great-aunt who had just died. Audrey had barely known the woman although she remembered a kind, ethereal old lady playing with her during a family celebration when she was a child. Obviously the lady had remembered Audrey, which got her the apartment and out of New Jersey. It wasn’t great but enough for her, she thought. At least for the moment. It’s only temporary, anyway, she always said to her friends.
She remembered how everybody called him Tic at school because he always had this compulsion to adjust his glasses in the middle with his forefinger. None of his classmates actually knew whether he suffered from an obsessive-compulsive disorder but Thomas, whom his mother called Tim, had been nicknamed Tic nevertheless. Audrey also remembered how out of it he always seemed when he was with his dumb friends. As if he was the only one of his gang who would actually do something with his life.
They were so overjoyed about their encounter that they decided to go back inside for just one hot beverage. As they talked over coffee and herbal tea, Audrey noticed that he had gotten rid of the Tic. And when he rose from his seat and put on his jacket over his long-sleeve, she realized that Tic had gotten himself quite an athlete’s body; somehow she had not noticed it before.
That day, he couldn’t stay long because he didn’t want his wife to worry. Tic and Audrey agreed to meet again one week later, same time, same place.
Each Tuesday Audrey waited for Tic at the French cafe-bakery at 5:15 pm. Tuesday was her day off and he usually got out of the office at 5 pm. It was just a short walk from there but the time was meant for both of them to have some leeway in case something held them up.
There, she ordered a cup of herbal tea and coffee for him, and they talked a little about the usual topics – work, traffic, the weather, politics. They talked about how the city was a crazy place full of constantly mad people. They left together thirty minutes later and went to her place which was only a five-minute-walk.
When they got there she closed the door behind him and he began taking off his clothes on the spot, leaving them where they dropped. It didn’t matter. She passed him by, went through the small corridor connecting the entrance and the bedroom, and undressed in front of the bed. He followed her into the bedroom while she sat down facing him. He took her by the back of her neck with both hands and tilted her head slightly back as he bent over to kiss her.
They didn’t talk.
The first time they had had this intermezzo, Audrey had felt like driving a car for the first time. She was frightened and exhilarated at the same time – she certainly didn’t want it to stop. When she was with him, her mind took leave of her body and her consciousness shut down while the endorphin-adrenaline cocktail washed her brains out. Audrey wasn’t there anymore; not in the city. When she was with him, she was in a different place where she didn’t have to do anything and could simply exist. He made her exist. No, not he – what they did together made her exist. She felt as if she had never existed before.
Audrey had done things before without particularly enjoying them. Sometimes she really aimed to please a guy because she genuinely liked him. But often she just tried to divert the guy’s frustration because she didn’t want him as much as he thought she did. But this, this was different. It was more than just physical. To Audrey, this was same-level, non-verbal communication between kindred spirits. This was spiritual.
When she woke up, she felt like a kitten in a basket full of wool. For a few more moments, her brain would be swimming in the soft, warm, slowly ebbing glow of the endorphin rush.
She was always happy to see him when they met, even though she knew she was going to hurt again. And she was always broken-hearted when he left.
“What are you going to do, Tic?” Audrey asked a little shyly, trying to ignore the knot in her stomach. She already knew what he was going to answer and wished he would say something different — that he would leave his wife, that he would stay with her instead. “Are you going to leave her?” she asked anyway.
He threw the cigarette half smoked into the sink and spat on it. It wasn’t enough; the smell became rapidly obnoxious even for a smoker, so he turned on the tap until the drenched paper dissolved in a puddle of cellulose, tobacco, ashes and poisoned water.
He was peering into the sink, his hands on each side, watching the mixture disappear into the plumbing and said that he couldn’t. “The time’s not good, right now, you know that.” He was calm but Audrey could hear the tenseness in his tone. He would rather she didn’t ask the same question every time they met, after they had sex. She sensed that he thought that it was still better than asking it before they did it. That would very much defeat the purpose; this short window in this insane city through which she could see nothing else but freedom, for a few moments. This was her window and it opened only once a week when she was together with him. Then Audrey could take a breath of fresh air, fill her lungs and hold on until the next Tuesday.
He picked up his shirt, pants, socks and jacket to get dressed and leave again. Leave her again — to go home to his wife, his two children and the stupid dog. He didn’t even like dogs. Again. She would be on her own, again. For another week. Until next Tuesday.
She wanted to say something worse but all she managed to force past the lump in her throat was, “You disgust me.” The moment was gone, she was already alone again. Time to catch one last breath.
“I know,” Tic said. It didn’t matter to him.
As Audrey watched him walk away, ready to leave her apartment, Tic turned around one last time and said, “See you next Tuesday.”
Audrey Belino sat alone in her bed for some time — an eternity in a heartbeat — before her consciousness frayed itself a way back through the thick, deep gray-purple fog that encompassed her mind. She reached over to the bed stand for her mobile phone. She noticed that there were messages but Audrey knew only too well that she couldn’t focus on them right now. For now, she needed Bruce Springsteen. She didn’t know whether it made her feel happy or worse than she already did but every Tuesday she played the same song at full volume while she curled up under her blanket, like a wounded little bird waiting to recover.
About the author:
David Clémenceau is of French and German origins and has an MA in translation. His work has appeared in print and online in Soteira Press, Tigershark Magazine, Active Muse, Twist & Twain, Spadina Literary Review, Nzuri Journal of Coastline College and Idle Ink. He lives in Germany where he teaches secondary school English. He thinks and writes mostly in English and likes to read everything from Pratchett to Asimov.