It's Usually This Dark by Now

Here's the thing. I never took her money. Still, I am a man-slut. For a woman who calls herself Celeste Santana. I should say, "I'm a gigolo." But the word doesn't fit. I'll give her whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Nothing in return. And that puts me in a situation. It's an old story, I know. Sex traders who fall for their clients.

If I had a choice, I'd take it.

This is strange love, something I don't understand but something I know, okay? Her? She gives nothing away. Only she knows what she knows. But a man can't help it. That would be me. That makes me, and maybe you, a trollop with hanging parts. That makes me stupid people who do stupid things for a woman. Her co-conspirator, her accomplice, her partisan. That makes me a man.

This for a woman who will never love me. A woman I can never really know.

Okay.

Okay.)

I'm sitting in Union Square on a sunny Sunday afternoon watching the Bay Area Argentine Tango Association dance. They're all decked out, the guys dressed like cutouts from Coppola's Godfather, the women in red crinolines and black stockings that invite you to look all the way up, starting with their four inch heels. And this, I remind you, is the tango.

The sun dips into that place where San Francisco becomes all light and shadow. My eyes do a slow celestial dance between the two. This a momentary pause, a visual lapse in judgment. Time takes a deep breath. And she appears.

Big white-framed sunglasses conceal her eyes, like you'd see in an old Bridgette Bardot movie. The yellow sunlight on her red hair gives her face a radiant blush, making her full lips luminous. She's wearing a thin black leotard top that hides nothing, jeans and sandals. And stretched low in her chair, the full length of her strikes this kind of do-me pose, legs that go on forever crossed at the ankles, sleek feet that end with a splash of bright red polish. A martini glass hangs loosely from her hand.

It takes me a minute to comprehend that she's not alone. Another woman sits at the table with her. But even before the grand jury I couldn't describe the other woman. All I can say is that she is a looker too and that she wears a man's hat, a fedora, which I assume she's appropriated from one of the gangsters performing on the large open stage.

My girl doesn't look at me, but she's watching me. You don't think you understand that, but you do. Picture yourself sitting in the audience at a play. The actress speaks to you, and your awareness is what you see. But the performance is in what she sees. Example number two: Remember the woman at the cocktail party long ago, the stranger in that black dress with spaghetti-thin straps, the one with her naked back to you, the one you wanted so badly? You stood across the room and radiated your will upon that woman.

And she turned and looked at you.

Although I'm a hundred feet from her, this woman's got me. All of me. Example number three: You know how a dog whistle works? That's what she's doing to me. I have no choice. I rise. She's homing in. And me, I'm just doing what I'm wired to do.

Something not quite a smile forms on her lips as I near their table, and when I get there I don't realize at first that she's speaking to me, not to her friend.

"The answer to your question," she says, "is ‘fly fishing.'" I just stand there for a second. Then she tilts up her face. (The sun's reflection in her glasses still haunts me.) She looks away and fingers down the white frames. Her eyes are green in the yellow light. Then those eyes slowly track down to my whammy bar. "Fly fishing," she says to my buddy. Her friend laughs and reaches down into her purse, lifts a chrome shaker and motions for my baby's glass. She pours them both pink drinks. Baby says, "Just kidding." She looks over at her friend as if to ask if she should take another big slice of devil's food cake, and her friend nods yes. "Sit," my girl says. I extend my hand. "No thanks," she says. "We're operating on a need-to-know basis here. I don't and you don't want to."

"You're wrong about that," I say, taking the chair beside her.

"Okay," she said. She lifted her martini glass and I followed it to her lips. (I lingered on those lips.) "So," she said. "What's it worth to you?" I gave her a look. "What's it worth to know my name?" I looked at her friend for an answer. What I heard was the ticking of a time bomb. "Would you give your life? 'Cause that's what it would cost you."

"Where are you from?" I said. "The accent, I mean."

"Ohhhh, Daaaalyyyn," she said, "you dissssapoint me. I'mmm from the South," she drew a deep, labored breath. "The deep, deep South?"

(You wouldn't know it now, but at that time I still had a little pride. Enough to remind me I was bait for their amusement. I no longer possess that quality). I stood and said, "Nice to have not met you." My baby drops the exaggerated accent when she speaks to her friend while scanning me top to bottom. "He is a pretty thing, isn't he?" she said. And her friend says, "Yes, he is."

She said, "If you'll sit, I'll share my drink and answer your second question." She offered her glass but I passed. "I'm going to kill her husband," she said, nodding in deference to the woman in the fedora. "That's what brings me to San Francisco. He's been unfaithful to her. And now that—by your very presence—you've committed to the cause, I'll tell you how I'm gonna do it. You have till the count of three to walk away." I never was strong in math. "From this moment on, you are my accomplice," she said. "Why?" Our eyes met. "Because there's nothing in the world you want more right now than to be my partner in crime." I couldn't fathom, not then at least, the possibilities that lay in the depths of those green eyes.