Queenie Goes to Bosnia
Chloe had a thing for unavailable men. For her, unavailable meant: the guy was a player, married, had a girlfriend, lived in another city, country, was gay, didn't like her enough to call but would go out if she'd call, would only see her once a month, had a drug or alcohol problem....
She put down people who returned to their place of work on their nights off. Yet, last night she felt lonely. She couldn't believe it herself, but she went into the French restaurant, Germain, where she worked. Well, now she was one of those lonely people. She took a seat at a wrought iron table out on the patio, and stared at an art piece which was a new addition: a tall blue slab of marble with water streaming down into an illuminated pool. She walked up to stick her finger in the cool water. Lasa appeared and let the water run over his hand, too.
"Are you working?" he asked.
"No, are you?"
"No, I just finished my shift."
She smiled. She was happy she had made the decision to come in. He had just arrived from Sweden a month ago. Since then they had been exchanging shy smiles. To her he seemed very quiet. She recalled something her dad once said.
"You get a shy person to talk by being silent."
They drank apple martinis side by side in silence. He wandered off to the bar to talk to his Swedish roommate. A small baggy was discreetly passed to Lasa under his stool. He then stuffed it into his sock. She sat back, breathing in the night air.
"What are you doing tonight?" he asked, rearranging his red wool hat.
"I'm going to look at the stars."
"I should do that, too," he said, running his finger along the rim of the martini glass.
"Come along then."
They left Germain and hopped into her yellow Volkswagen bug.
"Would you stop at the 7-Eleven? I need to get Zig-Zag."
"Zig-Zag? " she asked?
"Rolling papers...what's all this about?"
Classical music blared from outside speakers as they pulled up to the 7-Eleven.
"They say it's to keep away the homeless people." As she turned off the engine, a skinny shirtless man with red blotches covering his chest, began to spray her window with brown Windex.
"Yeah, the music's cool...but I mean the cops." Lasa pulled his red hat over his eyes. Four cop cars were parked in the lot. "Would you go in?" he asked handing her two singles. "The cops here aren't easy like they are in Sweden. I don't ever want to deal with them here. In the jails back home they even give you a key for your room. It's like a hotel. Even the food is very good. Not as good as my mom's though."
Chloe went inside and purchased Zig-Zag papers and one overripe banana. As she waited in line she saw Lasa handing the shirtless man some change through the window. The martini had gone to her head. She rarely drank. She was happy to be out with him. For the past month that he had been bussing tables at Germain, she had been wanting to talk with him outside of work.
Griffith Park was closed when they arrived. She parked and they hopped the fence. From the moment they entered the park something changed in Lasa. He began to talk.
"This is the first job I ever had. It's different for me. In Sweden I just sat around with my friends. In our apartment. A one bedroom with, like, eleven guys. We all paid a few bucks each month. Have you ever stayed up for five days? Yeah, I didn't think so. You begin to hallucinate. Thinking you see people who aren't really there. You get paranoid. I don't get like that because part of me knows what's going on...and I don't care. So what if someone is on my tail? We all die eventually. Hey, does it cost money to look at the stars once we get up there? They have those telescopes, right?" The night air was crisp, but Chloe worked up a sweat with the climb. She took off her forest-green poncho, revealing a dark purple halter top. The hovering trees blocked out the light from the quarter moon. It was very dark. She worried if she had taken the wrong trail.
"I think about death a lot." She glanced behind her shoulder, then shot another look. "I don't know...I'd like to believe we go somewhere. I was by my grandma's side when she died. She just went away, and when I looked at her body, I hardly recognized her. I think that's because we're all really just shells. And when we die.... I think we just float away."
"I'm not scared of death." Lasa reached into the back pocket of his baggy Levi's. He pulled out an Asahi beer. "Want a sip? Ha. Don't spit it out...it's good shit. Yeah, I want to live totally at every second. Who knows, I could die tonight. " He picked up a branch and began to wave it in circles. As if it was a sword and he was defending himself from the black air. "Or tomorrow I could be walking along and someone could walk up to me and pull out a gun. Bang! I'm dead. Would you call my parents in Sweden and tell them their son is no longer? Thanks." He threw the dead branch away, and lifted up his gray sweatshirt, tying it around his waist. He stood still, looking at her directly in the eye. "Chloe.... I like you." She studied his light brown, long lashes. His pale blue eyes which to her, seemed to be sprinkled with silver glitter. How could they sparkle in the blackness of the night? She smiled, not knowing what to say.
He finished his beer and stuck the empty bottle back in his pocket. "The longest I ever stayed up for was seven days. The mind does weird things when you haven't slept or eaten for that long. You know, in Sweden it's very expensive to get a driver's license. I got mine taken away a year after I got it. I had one that you could use for motor bikes and big trucks. It's too much money to get my license back now. I took a chance that day. Me and my dog Queenie had been up for like three days straight. That's what I love about her, she never gets tired. We had been skiing. Well, Queenie has a sled. On the third day I hit a tree. Nose first. It didn't even hurt, but the blood just wouldn't stop. My tracks in the snow were all red. I got dizzier and dizzier. Queenie and me just wanted to go home. We made it to my car. I wasn't steering too well. The cops there know me. They sliced up my license with a razor blade and made me walk home. Queenie got to ride with them. I won't do anything like that here. The cops here...well, I'm not messing with them. I don't see any stars yet." He threw his long, pale arms up over his head, looking into the sky. She was surprised how Lasa just spit out the words, with almost no trace of an accent. "It is very dark. I don't remember the walk being this long." Chloe stopped and took a seat on a big rock.
"Get up. Sit on my sweatshirt," Lasa said, folding his shirt into a little square. They sat on the side of the wooded path, listening to the crickets and the sound of a train off in the distance.
"Your family in Sweden must miss you." Chloe wondered why he wasn't asking her one thing about herself. "Yeah. I'm really close to my mom and sister." He slid one hand into his pocket and the other into his sock. On his knee, he placed the rolling papers and the baggy. With a fixed gaze, he rolled a joint as he talked on. "We've been everywhere in Europe together. Jamaica has the most stars, you know. I remember laying in the sand one night and staring up. The sand there is like white silk. The warm water coming up, back and forth over my feet. I think about those moments a lot. You know my whole life is music, drugs and work....for now. But one day I want to be normal...you got a light on you?" He held the joint up to the moon between two long fingers. "You know I want a family, two kids.... I guess I could rub two twigs together, get this thing lit. Drugs and alcohol are really big in Sweden. But I think I can outdo anyone there. My tolerance is really high. I took fifteen hits of exstasy once. My dad's an alky. You know the suicide rate is really high there?" He began to rub his hands together, looking from side to side warily. " Maybe we should come back another day when we can drive up."
Chloe turned to face him, ever so slightly. She hoped he would do the same, and maybe kiss her or something. He stood up, giving her his hand. Their bare arms lightly touched as they walked down the hill. "That's good you're close to your mom and sister." She slid her poncho back over her head. "Maybe you get along better with girls as a result. Yet I have a brother and I don't know if that makes understanding guys any easier." Chloe felt there was something asexual about Lasa. Maybe around someone else he'd be different. Yet she had watched him at the restaurant, around other girls for the past month. He didn't appear to be flirty with any of them. When he'd walk her to her car after work he'd look slyly at his feet, sometimes giving her a hug or a kiss on the cheek. We are too tentative around one another, she thought. Desire freezes me up, and maybe it does the same to him, too.
"Yeah, I don't know. Maybe having a sister makes me more comfortable with girls." He pulled at Chloe's poncho, making her stop for a moment. He looked down at his feet. Slowly his eyes shifted to hers and then up to her mouth. She in turn, fixed her gaze on his lower lip, which stuck out in such a way that appealed to her. He took the back of his hand and wiped a few leaves off of her poncho, then continued walking.
"I had a girlfriend for four years. I don't know what the point of that was. I still think about her sometimes. I think about Queenie, too. A pit bull. I tamed her really good. As long as you didn't make any jerky movements around her, she was cool. Man, I loved Queenie. One day, my girlfriend was getting up from the couch. She got up in such a way that frightened Queenie. Fuck, before I knew it Queenie's jaw was locked around her wrist. She just wouldn't let go. I had to give Queenie a shot. A tranquilizer. Finally, after what seemed like an hour of gnawing on my girl's arm, Queenie fell asleep and unlocked her jaw. We were all really high. After that my girlfriend's parents never let me see her again. They said I was crazy and could've killed their daughter. I had to send Queenie away. You know where she went? To Bosnia. My friend, Steph was moving there so he took her with him. Steph ended up living upstairs from a bakery. He sent me a photo of Queenie. Fuck, poor Queenie is all fat and shit now. A belly on her that drops to the floor. When she lived here with me, she was in good shape. Bosnia has done that pit bull no good. She's been sitting around in Steph's apartment too much and eating too many donuts. That bakery below is killing Queenie. I gotta send them a postcard and tell them to stop feeding my dog pastries."
The walk down went much quicker. As they approached the gate Lasa said, "You know...today I'm twenty-four." Chloe squinted, peering into Lasa's eyes. The sparks which flickered in them earlier had disappeared. Now she saw two huge black holes. As if the clear blue pools of water had turned into a deep, dark lagoon.
"Oh. What are you going to do for your birthday?" she asked.
As they hopped the gate he lowered his voice, "I'm seeing the stars with you." They were silent as they headed back to Germain. Both sticking their arms out the window, enjoying the cool air. After she dropped him off she drove home, and sat in her car out in front of her apartment for a very long time. She didn't know where to go. She stared at her bright red door, feeling lonelier than ever.
Suddenly she heard the ringing of the phone. She took out her keys and raced to the door.
"Hi, it's me. Can I come over?"