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                   The Barcelona Review

Author Bio 




James smelled Anita’s perfume. It lingered in the air along with her lament. His face had begun to cool. His eyes still watered as though she had slapped him. She had left for work in the usual manner, but he heard the door slam. When it was his turn to leave, what had started as a mote in his awareness blossomed into the fear that something else was wrong. He grabbed for his wallet to reassure himself, but found nothing. Then he tossed the apartment. He wrote down yesterday’s steps: the car, the office, the car, the bank, the car, Bobo’s, the car, the office. The phone rang. “You James Lovett?”
            He nodded as though the caller could see him. 
            “I got your wallet.” A woman’s voice or maybe a kid.
            James glanced around for that pen and paper. “Do you want a reward?” He waited. “Hello?”
             “Meet me at the zoo. By the gate.”
            “The zoo?” 
            “Yeah. Where the animals are at.”
            James grabbed his forehead and tried to picture the owner of this voice. “How will I know it’s you?”
            “I’ll know it’s you. You’re thirty-two. You got yellow hair and blue eyes.  You’re five foot eleven. You weigh a hundred eighty pounds. You ride a motorcycle. You’re an organ donor. You like Bobo’s.”
            So that’s where he lost it.
            “What kind of a motorcycle you got?”            
            James smiled. A boy.
            “I sold it,” he said. “When do you want to meet?”
            “Doesn’t it feel nasty? Being an organ donor? How would you feel if they took off your willy?”
            James said, “Probably like I feel now.”
            “The lady in the picture.” The kid was groping him. “She your wife?”
            He hesitated. “Yes.”

That morning, he had opened his eyes to the dark tangle of Anita’s hair. She turned to him. Her eyes opened slowly, then narrowed while her smile grew. Her fingertips inched down the furrow of his spine, tugged at the fine hairs on the small of his back, and brushed ever so lightly along the cleft of his buttocks. He rolled away and staggered to his feet.
            Anita gathered herself and scooted to edge of the bed, then ran her hands down her breasts and splayed her fingers around her waist.
            “Do you think I’m fat?”
            His face burned. “No. You’re beautiful.” He bent down and kissed her the way he used to when it was real.
            She locked her arms around his neck. This close, her eyes merged into a dark pool. She whispered, “Should I go back on the pill?”
            The phone rang. He pulled himself away. It was his mother. She had started to call him Jimmy again. She asked how his week had gone. Then she got cross, and told him he would end up like Him. He wasn’t very good at sales either.
            Him. James thought of the snapshot, cracked and faded, over which he had pored as a boy. He’d always had an uncanny sense that it was he who had taken the picture of the sandy-haired man standing on a dune overlooking the ocean, his arm around the waist of a pretty girl. They were laughing. When it vanished one day—and his mother had not seen it—it only fed his intimation that he lived only at the cost of his father’s life.
            Him. Did she cry when she learned he was dead? James imagined his father, craning his neck over the wheel, fogging the windshield, wipers knocking fast, unable to clear the rain. A roll-over. Drunk—she didn’t have to tell him that. He had been floating in her womb when she got the call, and arrived in a gush of water, already half an orphan.
            He hung up.
            He turned on Business News Report and listened while he watched Anita bend over and capture her breasts in the black bra she fastened behind her back. She tossed her hair out of the way, sauntered over, and locked her arms around his neck, pressed into him and delivered small, soft kisses to his forehead, nose, cheeks, lips. She drew back, held his shoulders and gazed into his eyes. He smelled her perfume, her sweat, her scent and wondered when the dollar would regain enough strength to drop the price of imported goods.
            “Jesus!” Anita said through her teeth, and shook him. 
            He scratched his head.
            “I hope God is listening.” Then she managed a smile of sorts, but it collapsed and she began to cry. She shoved away from him, slumped into the chair by the vanity.
            “We were going to mix your stuff and my stuff and make something wonderful. You said that.”
            “I did,” he said. “I will.”
            “It was Labor Day. Auspicious, you said.”

“She’s hot,” the boy said. “How come you like Bobo’s?”
            James shouted, “I don’t like Bobo’s.” 
            He tilted his head back and took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. 
            The phone rang again. 
            “What were you doing at Bobo’s?”
            James sighed. “Having lunch with a client.”
            “You go to Bobo’s for lunch?”
            James leaned back and closed his eyes. “I do if that’s where my client wants to eat.”
             “What kind a job you got?”
             “A lousy one. I sell gourmet foods.”
            “Your clients like Bobo’s?”
             James took another deep breath. “This one does.” He kept his eyes closed.
            “I don’t know.” He clutched the back of his neck. “Likes titties, I guess.”
             He heard a snicker. “You like titties?”
            “No,” he said.
            “Because I’m sad.”
            “Because,” James whispered, “someone took my wallet and won’t give it back.”
            He waited, then grabbed the phone on the first ring.
            “I’ll be by the gate.”

It was the first heavy snow of the season. James parked close to the entrance and kept the motor running awhile, but saw no one. Then he scooped a few bills from his glove box and, leaning into the wind, headed for the gate. A small figure appeared, wearing a large parka.
            The boy handed money to the attendant in the booth. “One grown-up, one kid.”
            “I’ll take care of that,” James said.
           “You already did,” said the boy. He turned and started down the lane past the Bactrian camels, which leaned into the weather, their windward sides flocked with snow. James followed, but the boy seemed not to notice. He skirted another compound. A bison was shaking a spray of ice off its forequarters. The boy picked up the pace when he crested a gentle rise and entered a wooded area. A wire fence encircled a spacious paddock. A second ran parallel, four feet in. The boy stopped there, and without looking at him, pointed to the inner fence.
            “That’s so some fool don’t stick his hand in and get bit,” he says. “They ain’t dogs.” 
            James nodded, then said, “Look—what’s your name?”
            “Earl,” he said. “I know you. You’re James. You don’t look like your picture.”
            “Earl,” he said, “May I please have my wallet. I don’t care about the money. You can keep the money. And I’ll give you twice as much for a reward.”
            Earl said, “Want to see something?”
            “Yes.” said James.  
            Earl let out a thin high-pitched howl.
            “Ah Jesus.” James shook his head. 
            Earl howled again. “Wait,” he whispered.
            Shadowy forms materialized from a stand of aspens, and wolves soon milled near the fence. They growled and whimpered. Earl howled again. The wolves seemed to pay him no heed, until a large white wolf tilted back its head, closed its eyes, and began in a low pitch that slid upward until it broke, climbed higher to a crescendo, then fell slowly and tailed off to silence. As though that were a cue, the others, even the pups, joined him in a chorus that swelled in intensity. James heard cruisers and ambulances converging on a death in the night.
           When the howls ceased, Earl said, “They’re family. That one there,” he pointed to the white wolf, “is Maurice. He’s the daddy. That’s his girl over there, the black one, Ashanti. They stay together for life. And they all take care of the kids—”
            “—and he’ll be dead before you know it.”
            Earl pulled back his hood. He had curls the color of toffee. “What’s wrong with you?” He wiped his hurt green eyes and worked up a smile.
            James struggled to collect himself. “Earl, I really need my wallet now.”
           “I don’t have it.”
            James groaned like a baited bear. “Where is it?”
           “My mama’s got it.”
            James cleared a bench of snow and sat down hard.
            Earl talked to the wolves until they straggled into the trees and disappeared. He stayed at the fence, clutching the wire.
            James called to him, “Your mama dance for Bobo’s?”
            “Sure.” Earl came over.
            James nodded. “She take you to the zoo?”
            “All the time.” His face fell. “Used to. She’s going to college.”
            “Where’s your daddy?”
            “I don’t need a daddy.” Earl’s eyes blazed.
            James changed the subject. “You go to school?”
            “Sure I do,” Earl said.
           “How come you’re not in school today?”
           “It’s a holiday.”
           “Middle of November?”
           The boy said, “It’s my holiday.”
           James nodded. 
           Then Earl asked, “How come you’re not at work?”
           “They put me on straight commission.” James cleared his throat. “I work whenever I feel like it. Me and Willy Loman.”
           “He your partner?”
           James nodded. “Your mama at home?”
           “She’s sleeping,” the boy said. “I’m not gonna wake her.” Then he marched off. He turned back to James. “And don’t try to follow me.”
           He gave the boy fifty yards and started after him. Earl exited the gate without looking back, and traversed the parking area. Then he skirted the vast half-frozen pond that bordered the zoo. James followed him through the roar of waterfowl mobbed along the edge of the ice. 
            Then he was out of the park, across 17th Avenue, and into a neighborhood of small bungalows. After several blocks, Earl vaulted the stairs and disappeared into a yellow brick house. James paused on the porch, which smelled of cat and mouse. He rehearsed his speech to Earl’s mother, then noticed the door was slightly ajar. He gave it a gentle push, and stared into the darkness.
            He called out, “Earl?”
           There was no answer.
           He called again.
           This time a woman yelled, “Who is it?”
           “Don’t worry, Mama,” Earl’s voice came from the rear of the house. “It’s James from the wallet.”
           James stepped into the hallway and closed the door softly behind him. A young woman emerged, wearing a white jersey shift. Her hair stood away from her in a ragged fan. Her eyes were still hooded from sleep, and her eyebrows were plucked down to dots that almost smashed together in her frown. She retreated and re-emerged, wrapping herself in a robe. 
           “He’s on the commission. He works with Willy Loman.”
           “Earl,” she yelled, “Get in here.”
           Earl hung back. “He had a client.”
           She sighed. “Where’s the wallet?”
           Earl disappeared, and returned with it. She swiped it from his hands and flung it backhand at James.
            “Found it on my way out.” She looked at him with contempt. “You’re real lucky.” Then she turned to Earl. “Did you take anything out of this man’s wallet?”  
           Earl shook his head.
           “Check it,” she said to James.
           James thumbed through it, still staring at her. “I promised him a reward.”
           “He doesn’t get a reward. It doesn’t have to do with him. Did he call you?”
           James nodded.
           “He try to shake you down?”
           “He just wanted to go to the zoo.”
           “He did shake you down.”
           “As a matter of fact,” James said, “he treated me.”
             “You’re covering for him,” she said, and put her hands to her hips. “What’s wrong with you?”
            She turned to Earl. “You been goofing with the wolves?”
            Earl hung his head.
            She glanced at James. “What are you looking at? Haven’t you seen enough?”
            He shook his head. The only thing he saw through the smoke at Bobo’s was Horace Lefkowitz from Crown’s Deluxe, his mask pulled under his chin. Storing a wad of steak sandwich in his cheek, Horace had told him that during a plague people were disinclined to buy babas au rum or Iranian caviar.
            “Get out of here,” she said. Like he was a stray dog. “Get.”  
            James turned to leave.
            “Wait, Mama,” said Earl. “He’s the donor.”
            Her voice sounded tired. “He’s got yellow hair, is all.”
            “I ain’t going to Chattanooga,” Earl said and brushed past him out the door.
            “You get back here,” she shouted after him. “Now.”
            James saw him out of the corner of his eye, hovering outside.
            She sat down hard on the sofa and rubbed the back of her neck with both hands. Then she looked at James as though she hadn’t really seen him before, and cocked her head.
            “Why’d you tell him about yourself?” She looked toward the door. “He’s not right.”
            “What’s wrong with him?” James eased himself into a chair.
             “Too big,” she said still staring out the door. “Too big and too nosy. Got into my stuff when I was working. Curious about his daddy, being light and all.” She stared at James with disdain. “Grabs onto every yellow-haired man that comes by.”
            James said, “He told me he didn't need a daddy.”
            “He doesn't.” The woman held herself, tightening her hold, her eyes as lifeless as those of a wall-mounted buck. “I never met a man I could stand.”
            James could see her done up, hard-faced, swinging from a pole or spraddled on the stage, deaf and blind and no one knowing.
       “Don't like to be touched,” she said, her glare an accusation.
        James thought about Anita, how he would bury his face in her breasts, her pelt, the taste of her flesh, plunging everything he had into her, barely hanging on while she rocked him. 
            “I wanted a baby,” she said. Her gaze softened. “Somebody who wouldn’t leave. So I had him artificial.” She was looking at his hair again. “Lady showed me this photo album, said I should pick a man same shade as me like I was buying a couch.” Her smile came and went. “Didn’t matter. A man—he had a white coat and yellow hair—gave me the look. Used his own stuff, I know it.” She tried the smile again. “They sent me a letter a couple months later, said the company was going in a different direction.”
            She shrugged. “Worked out fine. Just got too big is all.” Her shoulders crept up.  “And strong.” She glanced at the doorway and lowered her voice. “I mean, I’m going to college. I got to study. My Aunt Lurdine in Chattanooga, she’s got boys. She knows what to do.”
            Earl stood in the doorway crying.
            “Huh.” She bowed her head. “Stripped and I still got my clothes on.”        
            The stillness grew until he could not stand it. He stood, and as he passed Earl in the doorway, he tousled his hair.
            Earl looked up at him. “You coming back?”
            He shook his head.
            Earl called after him, “I ain’t going to Chattanooga.”
            By the time James arrived at the parking lot, his hands and feet hurt from cold. He looked over his shoulder, unnerved by the curious notion that Earl was tracking him, lurking in the shadows beyond the lamp lights, waiting for the chance to bring him down like a deer, never letting him go. He would make his way through life with Earl attached to him like a limpet. His anxiety grew until he reminded himself that Earl was just a boy.
            Nevertheless, he leaned against his car in the swirling snow, his arms folded and waited for the boy to appear. Then he called his name. The more he called, the more sadness overcame him.
           He cleared the windshield with his sleeve. Then he slid behind the wheel and squinted through the crusts of ice that had formed beneath the snow. He turned on the wipers, which clattered over the ice in a slow four-four. Then he leaned forward, hunched over the wheel, and peered through the tiny gaps in the ice. He took a deep breath, and to his surprise, he began to howl.

© 2022   Roy Lowenstein


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