John Wayne is her true love
The deli lights scaled my eyes with white florescent light after so many hours in the dimness of the strip club.
The clerk, a blonde-haired jock looked bored right up until I ordered the turkey club Peggy said she wanted, and then he squinted at me., knowing exactly who I was burying the sandwich for from nearly endless repetition – the sandwich never changed, only the men did.
Peggy’s car was parking the lot when I got to her place, and the lights in her apartment window glowed like two bright eyes in the dark landscape. I hurried up the stars to her apartment. The door was unlocked. She was in the living room waiting for me.
I sat down beside her on the coach, and put the sandwich on the coffee table. Then I noticed the wall and the dozen photos of John Wayne which decorated it, John Wayne as a cowboy, soldier, sailor and himself.
“Don’t tell me you like John Wayne,” I said.
“I love him. I would fuck his brains out if I could. But I can’t. He’s dead. Does that make you jealous?”
“That he’s dead?”
“No, silly, that I want to fuck him.”
“I don’t know. Should it?”
“Maybe. John Wayne is my kind of man. He’s the only man I could ever trust. He’s the only man I ever really loved. I cried like a baby when he died.”
She mentioned that she once gave her heart away to a man who didn’t deserve it, a man who had come into her life and hurt her dearly, destroying things that were precious to her.
“That’s never going to happen again,” she said.
I leaned closer to her.
“Do you mind if I kiss you?”
“If you have to ask, forget it.”
I tried anyway. She pecked my lips.
“Behave,” she said, and then stood up.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To get undressed.”
“What about your food?”
“I’ll get it when I get back.”
She vanished into the kitchen, then into the bedroom beyond and returned a moment later wearing nothing but a short maroon smock.
“There’s that look again,” she said.
“Like you’re embarrassed. You shouldn’t be. Sometimes I walk around here completely naked. I hate clothes.”
But still she didn’t sit down. She went back into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle out of the refrigerator, and then returned with it and two glasses.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“With a turnkey club?
“Champagne goes with anything as long as it is good champagne.”
“And this is good champagne?”
“I don’t drink anything else.”
The champagne went to my head in a way beer never did. I started talking about my dysfunctional family and how my grandmother had raised me, and I did not look forward to when she might die.”
Peggy stiffened and glared at me.
“Don’t talk like that,” she said.
“About your grandmother dying.”
“It’s only a matter of time,” I said. “She’s 88 and frail. I’m not sure how much longer she has.”
“My grandmother is 94,” Peggy said. “And she’s going to live forever.”
Peggy said she couldn’t even attend the wake of anybody close.
Much later, I learned that her grandmother lasted eight more years, dying at the rip old age of 103 in 1995 – at a point when Peggy had just moved back into the Lanza Avenue home. It must have been a heavy blow and one of the factors that sent her to her own demise a few years after that.
Finally, she stood up and said, “It’s time to go to sleep.”
“I’ll go,” I said, standing as well.
“Please, don’t,” she said.
“But if you’re going to sleep…”
“I don’t sleep right away. Just sit with me until I do.”
So I followed her out of the living room, through the kitchen to the bedroom. It was a remarkable world filled with unicorns, novelty unicorns, stuffed unicorns, even posters of unicorns on the walls.
“You have quite a collection here,” I said, fingering a small unicorn made of blown glass.
“Men hear that I like them and give me more,” she said, rolling down the covers to her bed which was tucked into a corner of the room. She had four or five pillows which she plumped up. Then she rolled out a TV carts with a black and white TV on it, then climbed into bed with her back against the pillows.
“I watch TV until I fall asleep,” she said. “Sometimes the TV stays on all night. Sometimes I turn it off before I nod off. Sit with me.”
She patted the bed beside her and I sat.
“Not like that.,” she said. “Take off your shoes and lean back against the pillows.”
It felt strange get wonderful lying so closer to her after all the barroom fantasizing, and remarkably tender, barred from doing anything but keeping her company.
The talking heads on the 11 o’clock news faded into one of the talking heads of a late night talk show, and Peggy seemed to linger on the edge of sleep.
“I really like you, Alfred,” she mumbled. “You’re not like any other guy I’ve known.”
Then after a few more minutes, she flicked off the TV.
“Time for sleep,” she said, already more than half there.
I started to rise.
“No, don’t go,” she said, clutching my arm.
“But you said…”
“Wait until I’m a sleep, please. Keep me company until I’m asleep.”
So I settled back down and she curled up against me, one arm across my chest, slipping into sleep.
At this point, I realized that I could not move without waking her, and I wondered what exactly I should do.
Even the lamp on the night stand near my head remained illuminated, its dim light allow me to just make out the number on the lock radio progressively flipping over in a nonstop advance of time.
The air grew chilly and I managed at one point to pull some of her blankets over enough of me to keep my teeth from chattering.
Curious about the whole arrangement, Jesse, her black cat, climbed up onto the bed, over me, then over her, before settling into some corner I could not see, yet purred loudly enough for a while before even that faded and all I could hear was the hum of the clock and the more distance sound of an occasional car traveling down Harrison Avenue outside.
I tried to move.
But each time I did, Peggy’s fingernails dug into me, clutching me closer with some sleeping desperation I could only guess about.
She mumbled things I didn’t catch, but with such terror this reminded me of the sleeping scene from Breakfast at Tiffanies.
Eventually, I nodded off, too.
When I opened my eyes again, the room glowed with sunlight through the door to the kitchen as well as the window above the night stand. The clock said 8:45.
Peggy was still asleep.
I shook her shoulder gently.
“It’s morning,” I whispered.
Her eyes popped open.
She stared at me so long I wondered if she was actually awake.
Then, she sat up, and – still fully dressed, I stood.
“What the fuck are you still doing here?” she asked, feeling around at the bed for something although it wasn’t clear what it was, and clearly, she did not find it.
“I fell asleep,” I said.
“I said get the fuck out!”
I looked around for my shoes – found one, kicked the other, the whole time Peggy glared at me as if wishing me out of existence. I could not move fast enough and stumbled into the hall and down the stairs clutching my coat as the latched locked to her door behind me.
Our return to the My Way was something of an anti climax.
I just showed up with my notebooks and Wolfman said nothing about my being there, even though as it turned out, Peggy was dancing.
She was a different story.
When she got up onto the stage and saw me, she gave me one of those: “What the hell are YOU doing here?” looks.
I tried to ignore it. But Peggy wasn’t about to be ignored – even though she was working three of us at the time for drinks.
She eventually sat down with a guy across the bar from me between her sets, glancing at me often and laughing overly loudly, making a point of touching the man she was drinking with.
I suppose this was aimed at making me jealous.
I didn’t exactly feel jealous, but certainly uncomfortable.
I didn’t know what my status was with Peggy and felt a little awkward paying attention to the other dancer.
So I just kept my nose in my notebook.
This seemed to annoy Peggy all the more. So when she got back up on the state, she didn’t dance. She stood over and a pointed down at me.
“Hey, look everybody,” she yelled. “Al’s doing his homework.”
This was the last thing I needed on my first night being back after being banned. I looked towards Wolfman who glared at me through his usual cloud of cigar smoke.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked Peggy.
She didn’t answer. She just smiled, and then started to dance.
She was so smug, it stung.
But Wolfman continued to stare at me. So finally, I packed up my notebook and left, vowing not to return on a night when Peggy was dancing.