by Mike Lawless
Merry Black Widow
by Keith Graham
The Merry Widow
by Jeffrey P. McManus
The Merry Widow
by Bill Wright
The Merry Widow
White Velvet Dress
by William Doren
The Rise and Fall of My Roommates, and its Applications to Western Society
The Merry Widow
by P.J. Wolf
The Merry Widow
The Merry Gladiator
by Colin Campbell
Jeffrey P. McManus
THE MERRY WIDOW
"When I was young enough to still spend a long time buttoning my shoes in the morning, I'd listen toward the hall: Daddy upstairs was shaving in the bathroom and Mother downstairs was frying the bacon. They would begin whistling back and forth to each other up and down the stairwell. My father would whistle his phrase, my mother would try to whistle, then hum hers back. It was their duet. I drew my buttonhook in and out and listened to it - I knew it was "The Merry Widow". The difference was, their song almost floated with laughter: how different from the record, which growled from the very beginning, as if the Victrola were only slowly being wound up. They kept it running between them, up and down the stairs where I wasnow just about ready to run clattering down and show them my shoes."
-Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings (1983)
Johnny stood outside the Merry Widow and smoked a cigarette, waiting for his friends to get there with the car. They were supposed to be there at one, and it was already one-thirty in the morning. He shivered. It was cold and foggy out. He wished his people would hurry up and arrive.
About fifteen minutes later, at quarter to two, a Chevy Nova pulled up. The color of the car was oxidizing-blue. And although the color was definitely not what you'd call stock, it fit. All Novas should be oxidizing-blue, Johnny thought. They should be made to look that way atthe factory.
"Hey sailor," a husky, male voice called from the back seat of the car. "Got a light?"
Johnny peered tightly in the darkness, trying to see who had made the comment. It was Michael. Always quick with the fag jokes.
"We're going inside, dude," Michael said.
"What do you mean?" Johnny said. "I thought we were going home." That had been the plan, anyway.
Michael looked directly at Johnny. "Nah," Michael said. "I'm supposed to meet somebody inside."
Johnny shoved his hands into his pockets in an attempt to conceal his fists. He hoped that his hatred for Michael wasn't just because Michael was a shameless and promiscuous bisexual. And he desperately hoped his hate for Michael didn't show. If it ever did, there would be problems. The other two guys got out of the car. It was Dean and Randy.
"We're supposed to meet a couple of people here," Randy said. He was always a peacemaker. "We'll only be a minute. Besides, they close down soon."
"Yaaaah, mon," Dean said. He had a faux aristocratic nasality to his speech that made him sound like a oxygen-starved fighter pilot or a jaded member of the Beatles on helium. "We'll only be a minute."
"All right," Johnny said. "Whatever. But it's dead in there." He couldn't very well refuse them; not only were they his ride home, they were his home. So he went inside.
"Awwww, dude," Dean said as they approached the door of the Merry Widow. "Cover's four-fifty! Mon, Johnny, do ya got three bucks?"
Johnny grudgingly found three crumpled ones in his pocket and gave them to Dean. Dean accepted the money, smiled, and jerked his hair violently to one side.
Dean had a number of incredibly annoying habits, but the one Johnny despised most was the hair flip. Dean had the biggest head of hair in the apartment, and constantly affirmed the dominant nature of his hair by flipping his entire head off to the right at regular intervals. Although the flip was an ostensible attempt to get the hair out of his eyes, it actually made Dean look spasmodic.
Johnny imagined Dean used the flip to punctuate his sentences. He'd say something like "I think we'll be there later," - flip - "and we'll probably stay until it closes," - flip - "so why don't you hang out until we get there?" Flippity flip.
They stayed inside the place until it closed. It was packed, but there was nobody inside Johnny knew or felt like knowing. He drank a few beers while everybody else talked.
When they left, Michael decided to stay behind. The rest of them drove back to the apartment.
Johnny was staying with his friends until he could find a new place to live. His previous house, which he had inherited from his grandmother, had been torn down by the state to make way for a new freeway or some such. They state had given him $43,000 for his grandmother's house. They said it was ready to fall down anyway, and that Johnny really should have paid them to get rid of it. Johnny put up a stink, more for the memory of his grandmother than anything else. But legal counsel advised him that any challenge to the state-appointed sum in court would only burn up half of the money and all of his time. He let the matter drop.
So although he had $43,000 in the bank, Johnny slept on a couch in an apartment with five other guys. It made sense, in a twisted way.
Johnny theorized that he was afflicted with some sort of psychological ailment. He even had a name for it: mental inertia. He wasn't sure if it was a verifiable psychological problem, or if it even was supposed to bother him. But it did affect him in a number of ways.
He somehow knew that if he were to stay with his friends another month, he would either be cured or dead. Or both. But he stayed anyway, as a semi- welcome guest, just to see what would happen. On the other hand, leaving was somehow unthinkable. Shifting his living condition would be too stressful, even though things were plenty stressful already.
At four in the morning on Friday night, the population of the west side apartment customarily swelled to capacity. Johnny, normally the apartment's only house guest, would found himself vying for privacy with whoever chose to inhabit the dwelling that night. His apartment mates weren't as bad about bringing people home as they used to be, they all affirmed. But they did so with an eerie regularity that drove Johnny to arithmetic, fearing the worst - if you've all done this every Friday and Saturday night, 52 weeks a year, every year since you moved out of the house at age 17 or 18; and there's six of you - it was difficult for Johnny to comprehend that the number of house guests the apartment had seen over the past decade nearly equaled the population of his home town.
Male and female voices would emerge from darkened bedrooms and wander down the hallway, looking for darkened bathrooms. They would pass Johnny as he slept (or pretended to sleep). They would go to the kitchen and return down the halls to the bedroom. Every Friday and Saturday night a new set of house guests would temporarily learn how to fumble around in another unfamiliar apartment.
"Hrmmmm...somebody left the coffee still going," somebody said. "Think we got some orange juice or something." It was Dean. "Feels like I swallowed a bag of sand."
Slurp: an unexpected wet kiss in the kitchen.
"Heh. Maybe you did," she said. Dean was violently, self-consciously heterosexual. He never even joked about it.
Johnny hadn't slept with anyone in about three years, since he got his first teaching job at City College. It wasn't for lack of trying: he was nominally interested in women, and he went out with his friends quite a bit.
But in the realm of social interaction, he felt more like a spectator than a participant. He was more comfortable when things were that way. "This looks dying," she said, apparently in reference to something in the refrigerator.
"Leave that alone," Dale said. "That's a very important project. I'm trying to evolve life out of the fridge."
The girl laughed musically. Yeah. Dale was a real witty guy. Johnny opened one eye slowly to see what was going on in the kitchen. It was Dale and his stately consort - a pale-skinned, roundish nymph who couldn't have been more than nineteen years old. They were doing something involving food in the kitchen. Her dark hair was done in a pony tail on the very top of her head. She was clad in only panties and one of Michael's T- shirts.
Johnny recognized her from somewhere, probably school. She was one of his students, he thought with horror. But he couldn't be sure in the dark. He hoped she was not one of his students. No, he was absolutely sure: she was not one of his students, just someone she'd seen around a lot.
Although Johnny knew there was nothing wrong with sleeping on that couch, he preferred no one know he was there. Similarly, he preferred to keep his students' personal habits at a distance. He closed his eyes and pulled the tattered yellow flannel blanket over his head so he wouldn't have to see anything he'd regret later.
"We could probably make sammiches or something, if you want," she said. "Whatever you say, honey."
The girl spoke with baby-doll intonations that had probably been faked at one time, but which were now an irrevocable component of her manner. She could have been and probably was quite intelligent, but you'd never know it by the way she spoke, Johnny thought. He wondered if there was a male analogue to female babyspeak. If there was, he couldn't think of it off the top of his head.
"Cheese?" she asked Dale. She was poking around the refrigerator. "Is this your cheese?"
"Can we eat it anyway?"
It was really Johnny's cheese. He'd go buy some more in the morning. Tomorrow would be Saturday, and he could go to the market down the street, two streets over from the Merry Widow.
Dale began to munch and slurp. From his unqualified vantage point beneath the blanket, Johnny imagined they were making deli sandwiches with his lettuce and tomatoes.
They ate without talking for a few minutes more. Then she spotted Johnny on the couch.
"What's that?" she whispered to Dale. "Is that a person?"
Dale had to finish his sloppy chewing before he could answer. "He's a guy that lives with us," Dale said. "Well, he doesn't exactly live with us. I mean, he sleeps here, but he doesn't really live here."
There was a pause as she looked Johnny over.
"Is he -"
"Oh, no," Dale said. "No, he's not gay."
"Well," she said, "what's he doing on the couch? Is he by himself?"
"His place got torn down," Dale said. "To make a freeway. And he never gets together with anyone. He goes out with us a lot. But he hangs out by himself. I don't know if he's gay or what, kinda more like neuter. I'm not even sure what he does for a living."
Lucky me, Johnny thought.
"Weird," she said.
"You're sure he's asleep, right?"
"I'm sure," Dale said. "What are you thinking?"
"I think he's hungry."
"Don't wake him up. Jesus."
She walked across the carpeted zone between the kitchen and the couch with a dripping sandwich. As she walked, Johnny heard a thump on the kitchen linoleum. Dale had dropped to the floor. The girl stopped, gasped, looked over her shoulder, determined nothing was wrong, and turned back to Johnny.
She kneeled down in front of him. She reeked of tequila and cheap cosmetics, which explained the demise of Dale. He succumbed easily to cheap women and cheap booze. Johnny imagined that in the few minutes he'd covered himself with the blanket, they'd had about four shots each. And dammit, that was his tequila!
Johnny opened his eyes at the girl, who was reaching toward his face. "Who are you?" he blurted. It sounded much meaner than he'd intended. "I'm Merrie. Can I touch you?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. I just want to sleep." "Can I sleep with you?" she asked. "I mean, not sleep sleep, but just sleep? I'm really sleepy."
"What about your date?"
"Just bit the dust," she said. "'Sides, he won't care. He doesn't even know my name."
Johnny let out a breath. It would be easy to allow the girl to take space on the couch because it was so huge and she was so trashed. But more importantly, the act of sleeping with a woman would violate his doctrine of nonintervention. He just couldn't allow it.
"I don't think -"
Before he could finish, she oozed onto the couch and under the covers with him, curling herself around his backside. And Johnny found the situation to be warming, and good.
When morning came, a sharp jab of anxiety hit Johnny in the stomach.
I have a woman wrapped around my body, he thought. And I have to deal with her somehow. But what is expected of me?
She slowly opened her eyes and turned them up to his, taking in a sharp first breath.
"How old are you?"
"Just turned eighteen."
"Really. I am eighteen."
Then Johnny remembered - she had to be eighteen; they didn't allow anyone younger into City College.
"Do you want me to take you home? I'll take you home. Where do you live?"
"Right here," she said.
"Really really. I am a connoisseur of fine couches." She seemed pleased with herself.
"Right," Johnny said. He disliked battles-of-wits. "Where's your couch?"
"No couch of my own," she said. "Nowhere to call home."
"You really don't have anywhere to live?"
"Naw. Too expensive. I only get a little money, and that I use for more important stuff."
"Where do you usually sleep?"
"Well," Merrie said, "that's the interesting part. My aunt arranges it. She runs this escort service. It sounds sleazy, but you'd be surprised. Every night except Friday, she sets me up with men who more often than not end up taking me home. And whoever it is, I sleep with him.
Or rather, sleep at his house. I'm no slut. Besides, most of those guys are oldies anyway.
Fridays are my nights off. That's when I do what you might call freelance work. If I can't find anything by about midnight on Friday, I go to the library and fall asleep in the all-night study area."
"You say you have an aunt. I thought you didn't have any family. Why don't you live with your aunt?"
"Well," she said, "she is my aunt, but I don't want to stay with her. Her old man's an alkie, and besides, what kind of girl lives with her aunt? If I lived with her, I wouldn't get any peace. I prefer my freedom."
"I see," Johnny said.
About that time, Dale began moaning from the kitchen.
"Mrrrrrri," he moaned. "Merrie?"
"What," she called.
"I thought you said he didn't know your name," Johnny said.
"Oh. Um. No," she said. "I was lying about all that. I'm actually Dale's sister. I have a home, and I was also lying about my aunt and all that stuff."
"Oh," Johnny said.
"You seem pissed," Merrie said. "I was just kidding."
"No, I understand."
She twisted her face into a confused expression. "Understand what?" she asked. But this time she was sitting upright on the couch, no longer wrapped around Johnny's waist.
"Uh. I understand that you were kidding."
"Did you really mean that?" she asked. "Or did you mean you understood why I needed to lie to you?"
"Because don't think I was trying to put some big thing over on you for some weird reason. I just felt like messing with you, that's all."
"Right. I got that. I have no problem with that."
Three semesters later, after I'd gotten my act together, bought a new car and rented a nice apartment - my own apartment, with my own bed - the girl appeared in one of my classes. It was a Russian Lit in Translation class, the first I'd ever taught. She sat in the center of the third row on the first day of class.
The master course lists at City College have detailed summaries of information on each student in a class; I made a quick check of the summary by Merrie's name and found no home address and no home telephone number.
The second day of class came, and she was absent. In fact, she did not appear in the class again. I understand she took Russian Lit from another teacher the next semester.