Between Love and Need
by Nathan DiCamillo
(Castle Rock, CO USA)
Love has never satisfied anyone. It has never secured anything more than a fleeting moment of joy that leaves the rest of life an unbearably long epilogue. Need is another matter. If need is taken at its fullest, then I needed beer and could have gone on indefinitely without love. As it turns out I found both.
Love. Cupid does not flit about looking for souls to knot inseparably in a state of blissful fulfillment; he is a vicious hunter inflicting fatal wounds, and we, the defenseless prey.
I saw her for the first time walking toward me, a cold beer swinging back and forth in the glass at roughly the same rate as her hips.
“Is this what you want?” she asked.
Her eyes locked on mine. Blue eyes. Impossibly deep. It had been a long day. The beer glass had little beads of moisture clinging to it, and small flecks of the ice from which it had recently been drawn. A stunning beer. Love. No doubt. It had several friends, and we all became very close.
She wrote her name, Helen, on my palm, next to seven numbers. Cupid may have only aimed at the beer, but Helen had held the beer very close to some rather impressive breasts, and to be fair, the beer had been swinging. Tough shot for anyone, even a pro like Cupid.
Helen answered when I dialed the number the next day. Her voice struck chords in me I hadn’t noticed before. I took too long to answer and stumbled through my tardy replies. She laughed. I don’t know why she laughed, but I laughed too. Blue eyes, I remembered, impossibly blue. We would meet, with friends of hers. I wrote down the address.
I was witty. Very witty. She laughed and patted my arm. I drank a beer and felt that the world turned at precisely the right speed. And the stars, my God the stars. Never had I seen such a glorious example of a night sky.
She leaned over and looked into my eyes.
I leaned in and kissed her. The kiss only lasted two or three hundred years but it felt like forever.
She looked into my eyes and studied my soul.
I'm not sure that she saw what that kiss had done to me, but she couldn’t have asked a better question if she had planned from the start to deplete me of my limited good judgment.
“Would you like another beer?"
One, maybe two months passed before we moved into the small apartment out of which I ever-so-briefly contemplated sneaking. Work had never been the joy of my life, but it became an endless hell. I could think only of Helen and how much I wanted her. To my amazement, she seemed happy too. How could someone so perfect have such terrible taste in men?
My boss looked less thrilled to see me every day. As someone to spend the day with, he wasn’t my first choice either.
It was a Wednesday. I had just called in sick again and we lay in bed deciding whether to eat first or love first, or maybe just eat in bed. The phone rang. Mentally prepared for round two, I answered with a little cough thrown in for effect.
Silence. Or perhaps someone breathing.
“Hello,” I said.
A click, some beeping, and I lost interest. We didn’t eat a damn thing that morning, not much lunch either.
Then the letter came. Big letters, red. I WILL NOT LET YOU GO WITHOUT A FIGHT.
He had better be ready to fight. “Who is this?” I demanded. “Who does he think he is?”
I ranted. I raved. I eventually shut up enough to hear about the ex. Phillip. A nice guy. Dated for three months and then Helen cooled. He campaigned to win her back. She met me. The morning I woke up in her apartment she left him a long message on his machine. “I’m so sorry.” The worst beginning for any message. “Time to move on.”
Well past that time, I thought.
She called again to leave another message, but of course he picked up. She went into the bedroom to talk. I went to the bar. I love beer.
“I told him I was in love with someone and that he and I had no chance whatsoever,” she explained.
I was only slightly drunk. “Well did he say he would knock this crap off?”
“He said he would always love me.”
“Oh what an asshole.”
She went to her room.
I grabbed a beer and sat on the couch.
The light looked different in her room now. We lay in the same bed and did the same things but the words weren’t the same. We walked a lot. To the park, only a few blocks away, and to the little bar next to that where we could talk and I could drink. I stopped talking about Phillip. Talk like that made those blue eyes so sad.
Cupid had hit her dead centre. She was helpless. In love with a no good drunk.
If she had threatened to leave I believe I would have changed, but she never threatened. We made love in the evenings when she got home. I would get up and make her dinner. I cleaned house, drank my beer, and enjoyed a relatively perfect summer.
When she first worked late, I thought nothing of it, though I found her absence difficult, of course. I needed her to complete my day. My world was out of kilter until she came home and set it right. Naturally I worried.
“Why are you always working so late? Are you the only one who can stay late?”
She smiled at me and rubbed my arms.
That was not fair. We'd got to bed and then later fall asleep, my dreams a disappointment after that.
When I could stand no more, I waited outside her office building and watched them come out. They turned east. Home was west. I picked up some beer on the way. When she got home I was in no condition to talk, but I asked enough questions to learn that she had been at the office all night. Damn. Damn.
The next month was less than perfect, relatively speaking. We argued, but never aloud. Just quiet uneasy moments.
“What's wrong?” She asked that a lot.
I couldn't tell her. What if I was the next Phillip? I clung to what we had as surely as if I clung to her leg as she walked away. I thought of praying.
The thought had occurred to me the first time I saw him.
I waited at her office until they came out. A professional good bye. No hugs and kisses out in the open, even at this hour. They were careful. I felt like a character in a movie. He walked all the way to his house. A mile at least. I watched the house for a couple of nights and made a plan.
He didn’t put up much of a fight. Poor bastard. I wore gloves, and a pair of shoes I had bought at a secondhand store; the clothes too. I hit him several times with the bat, then I stole as many small expensive items as I could find. Not a lot to steal. Poor bastard.
I expected her to be emotional when she came home, but distracted is more the word. The overtime ended, and for week we were almost as good as new. Then she told me she needed to speak to me.
“Don’t drink too much, and we can have dinner and a talk tonight. Okay?”
I needed a beer. Oh man did I. But she controlled my very being, and I fought and won. Only three tonight. My last night in heaven.
“Look,” she said. “I haven’t been working all that overtime lately.”
I needed a beer. I needed her. God, I needed a beer.
“I didn't plan to tell you just yet, but something happened last week, and so here we go.”
I drank most of my beer and held my breath.
“I've been trying to get a job in Europe. For the last few weeks I've been meeting with my new boss's secretary at night to work out all the details.” She went on for several minutes and explained how she had been sworn to secrecy until she knew for sure.
I didn’t listen that closely until she explained that the secretary had been killed in some bizarre robbery. All she had to do now was say yes and we would be living in Rome.
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
The secretary had a very good friend next door. More than a friend. What is this world coming to? The friend had a very good memory for details. He'd caught a glimpse of me as I left. A glimpse only, and he could describe the tattoo on my right arm.
I hadn’t had a beer in over twenty-four hours. I needed a beer. I didn’t get one. I got the death penalty.
I am sober now, of course. No choice. I need a beer just about every minute of every day. Helen came to see me yesterday. She and Phillip will move to Rome soon. He saw the story in the paper, and she needed a shoulder to cry on. Well there you go. She says she will always think of me and will pray in the Vatican for my soul.
I don’t need to believe in God, though I mostly want to. What I need is a beer.