She described the wine as the color of bloody gauze, which seemed harsh, until we talked some more and I realized she meant in as a compliment. We were on the third bottle when I started to notice that when she spoke the corners of her lips were perforated, as if words pierce her mouth when they emerge. Or somebody had stapled her mouth shut at one point. The waiter seemed to find himself unable to stop by our table, but there was still wine in the bottle and we were too full to order dessert, so I didn’t mind. He stunk like Christmas ham anyway.
Conversation was painfully trite. Weather. That new movie by Quentin Tarantino. Her recent abortion. In a deadly lull, I remarked, “There was an art exhibit on my last trip to Helsinki that was really fascinating.”
She rolled her eyes and slugged back her glass of wine. “Oh my god, you’re as interesting as a dancing Santa.” I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad, so I just stared at her and waited. She went on. “Who fucking cares about art? I don’t. I’ve taken shits that are more interesting than modern art.”
I don’t think she was paying attention. I explained. “I was finishing off a deal that will bring Finland its largest shopping experience ever. 300,000 square feet of commercial space! Now Fins are able to shop and catch a movie at the…”
“That’s great,” she interrupted. “Where is that waiter? I want to see the dessert menu!”
“You’re still hungry?” I asked, annoyed she wasn’t listening.
“Fuck no, but I’ve never had Tiramisu. As long as you’re buying I want to at least taste goddamn Tiramisu, right?” She laughed, a mean, hollow cackle. I don’t know if she expected me to laugh as well, but I did, because it was safer than telling her what I really thought.
In Finland, there is a hotel in the north where the rooms are dug into the snow and there is a glass dome so you can watch the Aurora Borealis from your bed. I rented one of those rooms and smoked a Cuban cigar. They’re legal in Finland. The smoke from the cigar swirled in patterns and the light from above colored the smoke so it looked like the Aurora Borealis themselves came down from heaven and entered my room. I could just reach up and touch them. Charged particles emanating everywhere. When I cough it’s a phenomenon. I wanted to tell her this story, but it would be wasted on such a creature.
I found her standing outside the hotel, smoking a cigarette like she had inside information the world was going to end and it’d be her last. The first thing I noticed was that, although they were vacant, her eyes were a startling color of blue, like cold water you jump into and immediately regret. I told her I’d buy her dinner if she would tell me about herself. Pretty clever. She laughed in my face. Spittle landed on the tip of my nose and stayed there, like a snowflake. At that point I knew I wanted to use her.
“You can have the Tiramisu. Three pieces, I don’t care. Just pour me some more wine,” I told her.
“Man, you drink more than I do. You’re a big time, suit kinda guy. Why are you messing around with a girl like me, huh?”
I looked down at my Patek Phillip watch that cost me over $200,000, which was a steal because I haggled some crummy Hong Kong watch broker down from almost $240,000, and wondered how much money I could offer this woman to have sex with me on the spot. To give me that most holiest of place. It’s probably less than the price of this dinner. “I don’t like talking about myself. I’m more curious about you. Tell me about you,” I said. “Do you like it when men play with your asshole?”
Her frivolous look turned suddenly sour. “You’ve never even asked me my name,” she complained.
I felt my teeth gnash together… she was offended. I couldn’t stand it if she had feelings. “Oh, please. Let’s just enjoy this conversation before we get too specific. Don’t you agree?”
“My asshole isn’t specific?”
I didn’t answer. I thought about Deborah and how she stubbed her toe on the bed right before walking out the door, and how I laughed, and how I still hear the echo of that laughter, my own, haunting me. I wanted to change the subject. “I’m sorry. Do you think we should order another bottle of wine?”
She stopped scowling, nodded. “But I don’t think our waiter likes us very much.”
“Well, you did call him an idiot when he dropped the cork on the floor,” I reminded her.
“Fuck him — wine monkey!”
She was drunk and classless and totally wrong for me. I couldn’t have been happier with my selection. I pictured what my VP of Operations would say if I showed up with her to our stupid holiday party where we lie through our teeth about what a wonderful job our employees are doing while they tipple lavishly on our dime, grope each other, and flail about like children on a snow day. Her cracked, wine-stained smile, leathery face. I bet he would pull aside me aside and question if I was trying to personally sink our stock price. If it was part of some power move to gain full control of the company. What a schmuck!
“Your lips look like you’ve been eating bats,” I told her.
The waiter slithered over. He was holding the bill in his hand and his grin was not pleasant. “One more bottle,” I insisted, and before he could protest I pulled out of my pocket the three-inch clump of hundred-dollar bills I kept for kicks, peeled four off the top and said, “This is your tip.”
His face lit up like hot filament. “Same variety and vintage, sir?”
“That’ll be fine,” I answered.
The waiter disappeared and I noticed that she was now looking at me with the eyes of a babe. A lamb. A lamb that lies down with wolves. There were dark specks near her pupils and they may or may not have been methamphetamine-induced. I may or may not have cared.
I told her, “I’ve received 36 Christmas Cards this year.”
“You must be loved.”
I corrected her. “They’re all from business contacts who couldn’t care less about me. It’s just business.”
Her ghoulishly blue eyes dimmed to a level of humanity I felt uncomfortable with. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Does that make you sad? I would send you one.”
“Please don’t. That’s not why I told you.”
“Why did you tell me then?” She asked.
“Not for sympathy!”
She went on. “Don’t you think there is some reason, though? The same reason you asked me to dinner, maybe. Maybe because you feel you can talk to me?”
Her damn questions made me upset. “I told you because somebody should show you how the world works — that it’s not all pretty eyes and free dinners. That it’s empty greeting cards and, and wine monkeys! You should see how people bend over to do what I say — just because I run a company that has malls in 17 European countries. In addition to America, land of the fee and home of the slave. There’s a tide that is sweeping us all out to the sea and you can’t trust anybody,” I shouted. “A tide of sucking up, selling out, giving in… Trust nobody, dammit!” I was wound up and breathing heavily and it felt good, like sex when you never have to see the person again.
She wasn’t bothered by my anger, which only heightened it. “You take things very seriously. I’m like that at times, too,” she confessed. She didn’t look scared. She didn’t look offended. I didn’t know what to say. She was looking at me with something like, I could be wrong, but respect, maybe even tenderness. And not just from the stack of cash throbbing in my pocket. Like she knew exactly how I felt. Like she could read my eyes. I felt tenderness back, which annoyed me.
“We forgot to order you a Tiramisu.”
“No thanks,” she said.
“But you never had it before. I once had a piece in Florence that cost 80 America dollars. We opened a high end fashion plaza in the City Center. Cheapest thing you could buy there was a pair of wool socks for 100 Euros.”
“That’s okay, I’ve had it before,” she admitted.
“We can get it to-go,” I suggested. “Then go back to my suite at the Ritz. You can see the bridge from there.”
I laughed. “Does it matter?”
She looked uncomfortable. “No, I really have to go,” she said.
“Where do you have to go?”
Maybe I said it a little rudely. She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “I have places to go!”
“Of course. I didn’t mean anything by that.” Oh my god. I was groveling now. “Please don’t get mad,” I pleaded.
What’s happened to me?
I could see blood come to the front of her face, her hands constrict into fists. “Why did you ask me to dinner?” She asked. “I fucking missed my dealer for this.” She started fidgeting with her elbow. The waiter returned with the fourth bottle of wine and I was positive we wouldn’t be having a sip of it. He displayed it to me and I gestured toward my glass. While he poured a small taster and I swallowed it, she folded her arms across her chest and stared at me. Like Deborah used to.
“It’s good,” I told the waiter. “Can you box up a piece of Tiramisu and bring the check now?”
“Of course, sir.”
“I told you I didn’t want it,” she said, then added, “You’re pathetic.”
“Ha! Most women get to know me before they realize that. You must be special,” I told her.
The waiter quickly filled our glasses then scurried off. If he had a tail, which I’m not ruling out, it would have been so firmly lodged up his ass that he could have used it to wipe his shit stains. I was sick of this restaurant. I was sick of this conversation. I was sick of her. I don’t know what I was thinking in picking her. It’s like business deals, the easiest ones always turn out to be the most trouble.
She pouted. “You think money makes you better than everybody.”
“I know it does,” I corrected.
She took her napkin and threw it on the table. “Well,” she said, sniffling and wiping her nose with her hand. Whatever drug she was strung out on was starting to call her. “Enjoy your fucking Tiramisu,” she growled.
“Look,” I said. “Don’t go.”
“Give me one good reason.”
“I can meet your dealer with you. Whatever he has in stock, I’ll buy for you. The whole load.” I could see the calculations going on in her head. I had no plans to do it, I only wanted to stall her, so I could get one more word in. “Like every other bitch, you’re only happy when I’m defeated.” I smiled at her like when I know I have somebody beat on the bargaining table and the slow recognition travels across their face and their palms sweat and I take a sip of expensive water bottled from some pristine stream.
She grinned like a lousy trout. “And you’re only happy when you’re fucking somebody over. I got news for you, you’re not the only asshole on the planet.” Then she did something that made me fall in love. She turned and tracked down the waiter, grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him toward her. “Come here, wine monkey,” she yelled, then kissed him savagely on the mouth, their lips grinding together like industrial machinery. She then slapped him hard across the face so that his tongue whipped against his cheek. We both watched her stomp out of the restaurant, grabbing a mint from the hostess stand on the way, throwing the wrapper on the floor and popping it in her mouth like an ecstasy pill at a rave.
The waiter looked at me with a mixture of fear and confusion, like a child waiting for his punishment.
I shrugged my shoulders and sighed. “Women…”