Read Kissing in Manhattan Online
Authors: David Schickler
DELTA TRADE PAPERBACKS
Kissing in Manhattan
with thanks and love
to my parents
Jack and Peggy Schickler
and to my three sisters
Anne Marie, Pamela, and Jeanne
When two kisses kiss, it’s like two tigers
talking about infinity with their teeth.
Donna didn’t want to meet Checkers. It didn’t seem right.
“Checkers?” said Donna. “What kind of a name for a man is Checkers?”
“He’s strange,” admitted Lee.
Lee and Donna sold Manhattan real estate. They were in their early thirties. They shared an office on Bleecker Street.
“Checkers.” Donna tried it on her tongue. “Checkers, Checkers.”
“He’s attractive,” said Lee.
“Checkers is a name for a dog. Or a henchman.” Donna stared at her computer screen. Listed on it were SoHo prices.
“He’s strange but attractive,” said Lee.
“A henchman in a movie.” Donna wore a suit and important shoes. “Not a
. Not suave like that. Just a henchman.”
“This isn’t a movie,” said Lee. “This is real life.”
“How do you know this Checkers?” asked Donna.
It was ten minutes till five on a Thursday. Donna and Lee’s office was on the twenty-first floor. It had a bay window facing south, and just before five every evening, Donna and Lee stood at this window and looked at the sunlight on the rivers. Lee, who was a lesbian, loved the East River best. Donna loved the Hudson.
“I don’t remember.” Lee shrugged. “He’s just one of those men you meet.”
They looked at New York, which they routinely broke into pieces and shuffled around and sold.
“Checkers what?” said Donna.
“What?” said Lee.
“Checkers what. What comes after Checkers? I mean, Checkers is his first name, right?”
Lee was frustrated. She had long, graceful fingers, but beady eyes. “Look, I don’t know him. All I know is, his name has nothing to do with the game of checkers. He was very clear about that.”
“He’s attractive,” insisted Lee. “He’s in need of a woman.”
Donna laughed. “I’ll bet he is.”
Lee frowned. She was single, just like Donna. “That’s how he said it. He used those exact words. Checkers said, ‘Lee, I’m in need of a woman.’ That’s how Checkers talks.”
Donna’s hair was cut short. It tapered to a point at the nape of her neck, and there was a fine scoop of air between her shoulder blades that had been there since she was sixteen.
“When did he say this? That he needed a woman, I mean.”
Lee sighed. “Last night. At a bar. Checkers said what he said, and I told him about you.”
Donna and Lee, combined, were worth three and a half million dollars.
“What bar?” asked Donna.
“Flat Michael’s,” said Lee.
Flat Michael’s was a restaurant bar in the East Village where poetry wasn’t allowed.
“Why me?” asked Donna. “Why tell this Checkers about me?”
Lee sighed again. Donna was one of those women you told men about. Her hair was the color of a medieval peasant girl’s. She was not in the habit of licking her lips, but her chest was full and her waist was slender.
“This Checkers,” said Donna. “Why’s he so attractive?”
“He just is,” said Lee.
Donna closed her eyes. She imagined a man who was a spy, or an idiot. She pondered the potential hairiness of the knuckles of a man named Checkers.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll meet him.”
“Great,” said Lee. “He’ll be at Flat Michael’s at eight tomorrow night. He’ll be waiting at a table for you.”
“It’s all set up? He’s not going to call me or anything?”
Lee smirked, shook her head. “Checkers said he knew you’d say yes.”
Donna snorted. “He’s awfully presumptuous.”
“He’s Checkers,” shrugged Lee.
“I don’t know if I’d like such a presumptuous man.”
“Try,” said Lee.
Donna had grown up in Manhattan. As a girl she took ballet classes at Ms. Vivian’s, on the Upper East Side. Ms. Vivian watched Donna’s body carefully, to see whether Donna had a vocation for ballet. Ms. Vivian was an expert on the matter of young women’s arches, calves, breasts, and demeanors. Fable had it that Ms. Vivian possessed gypsy blood, that she could read in a girl’s limbs and attitudes that girl’s destiny. Jezebel Hutch, for instance, grew up with Donna and took ballet at Ms. Vivian’s for seven years, until the day Ms. Vivian tapped Jezebel’s shoulder and said: “You are an astronaut.”
Jezebel giggled. She was twelve. “What?”
Ms. Vivian was stone faced. “You are an astronaut. You will fly to the moon in the machines that men make. You will be noble, but you will not dance.”
Jezebel’s face collapsed. “But—”
Ms. Vivian pointed to the door. “Farewell,” she said.
Jezebel left, weeping, in the arms of her mother, Jennifer Hutch. Jennifer called Ms. Vivian a freakish bitch. The next day, though, she started Jezebel on Einstein and calculus.
As for Donna, she lasted at Ms. Vivian’s till she was sixteen. In fact, it was just two days after her sixteenth birthday that Ms. Vivian summoned Donna to the office.
“You belong to a man,” said Ms. Vivian.
Donna held her breath. She’d kissed an ugly boy named Harold three months earlier. Harold was from Queens.
“Your body is destined to belong to a man. That is your vocation.”
Donna’s eyes teared up. “Harold’s just a friend, Ms. Vivian.”
Ms. Vivian gazed at the wall. “You will not dance.”
“He—he didn’t even get up my shirt,” blubbered Donna.
“Farewell,” said Ms. Vivian.
Donna believed that she’d proved her teacher wrong. As an NYU undergraduate she’d slept with two men—one was timid, the other Libyan—but neither of them had ever come close to owning Donna’s soul. In her twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh years, when she was founding her business with Lee, Donna lived with a man named Charles, who smoked pipes and worked at the Strand. Charles was sweet, but he had chronic dandruff and a tendency to handcuff Donna to major kitchen appliances during sexual intercourse. Bored with these conditions, Donna left Charles. She’d been single since, except for the occasional stray dog that never lasted.
By thirty Donna felt mostly pity for men. Their eyes always seemed starved or dead. They earned money, yet felt it necessary to bungee-jump or climb Tibetan mountains. Their biceps and laughter were ungodly strong, but, as far as Donna could see, men never used the full force of these strengths against women. This was cowardice, Donna felt. She wanted a man who would crush himself into her—psychically, sexually, utterly, daily—and never apologize.
By thirty Donna was convinced no man could impress her. She tried a fling with a woman named Maxine. The experience was disastrous, in part because Maxine owned thirteen cats and treated Donna as a fourteenth. Maxine wanted Donna to cuddle against her, or to lash out at her and move off indifferently into the night. Donna broke Maxine off in two weeks.
No one, it seemed, man or woman, could muster the power it would take to claim Donna. Frustrated by this, Donna would strip naked sometimes, late at night, and stand on her bed and dance. But her dancing wasn’t ballet anymore. It wasn’t about grace and structure. It was like this: Donna would let her hair, arms, and breasts sway and flail. She’d kick, stamp, and groan, and her thighs would sweat. Sometimes, she would grab whatever smart outfit she’d worn that day and rend the silk or cotton to shreds. At the peak of these tantrums, as she shrieked and thrashed, Donna expected Ms. Vivian’s words to come true. She expected a man—a cloven-footed man, perhaps with the head of a goat—to throw open her bedroom door and roar and mount her. She’d fight this man with her claws, her intelligence, her body. She would beg freedom, demand independence, but the man would work himself into her without mercy, and Donna would gasp and gasp, and, finally, smile.
On Friday night Donna took the F train to Flat Michael’s. Lee always took cabs, but Donna feared automobiles. Having grown up in the city, she’d never gotten her driver’s license. This was a source of embarrassment for Donna, but even deeper was her suspicion that cars were chariots of doom. In the movies they housed corpses in their trunks or blew up at a bullet. All over the island, doormen were always packing women into taxis and grinning like conspirators. Where were these women going? Donna wondered.
The subway was safer. It was like a good dance floor, crowded but anonymous. If you were on your way to meet a man named Checkers, it gave you time to consider your perfume and your mood. Donna was wearing a black shift and black pumps.
“You look sexy,” an old man told Donna. The old man was sitting with an old woman, probably his wife. The wife read a newspaper and ignored the old man.
“Oh my God,” said Donna.
“You resemble, in my opinion, a girl from a blue-jeans advertisement.” The old man smiled meekly.
Donna pointed at the newspaper the wife held. “Oh my God, I know that woman.”
The wife glanced at Donna, glanced at the paper. On the front page was a picture taken at Cape Canaveral. The picture showed four men and one woman, all in puffy space gear.
The old man cleared his throat. “Not a cigarette advertisement, you understand.
“That’s Jezebel Hutch,” declared Donna. “She’s from Germantown. I grew up with her.”
The wife stared at the picture.
“Jezebel’s an astronaut,” whispered Donna. “She did it.”
The old man cleared his throat again, louder. “Goddammit,” he declared, “there’s nothing sexy about cigarettes.”
When Donna arrived at Flat Michael’s, there was only one man sitting alone, at a window table. The window looked out over East Fourth Street. The table had a candle on it.
“Are you Checkers?” Donna held out her hand. “I’m Donna.”
Checkers stood. He smiled, shook Donna’s hand, took her coat, sat her down.
“I thought you’d be black,” he said, sitting himself down again.
Checkers was thirty-three. He had blue eyes and brown hair that came down, thin and casual, to his shoulders. He was six feet tall. He wore a black Irish fisherman’s sweater, white painter pants, and sandals. He held a glass of dark draft beer.
“Excuse me?” said Donna.
“I thought you’d be black,” said Checkers. “Donna.
It sounds African-American.” Checkers shrugged. “I just thought you’d be a Negress.”
Donna stared at the man.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Checkers. “You look great.”
Donna took a breath. “Didn’t Lee tell you anything about me?”
“She told me your name would be Donna and that you’d look great. She’s right.”
Donna looked Checkers over. He was holding his beer and watching Donna like a man who was content to hold a beer and watch a woman. Not depraved, Donna thought, just content.
“You’re in need of a drink,” said Checkers.
“Sure,” said Donna. “Sure, all right.”
“Our waiter’s from Ecuador.” Checkers flagged the bar. “His name’s Juan.”
A short, stout man came out from behind the bar and trundled over. He had light brown skin and eyes and a beaming smile.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Juan. He touched Donna’s shoulder. “For you, a drink, exactly.” Juan had a thick accent. “A drink, for pleasure. Right?”
Donna ordered vodka with ice and lemon. Juan brought it, set it down before Donna.
“Pleasure,” said Juan. “Right?” He vanished.