Tucson by night in the late 1970s offered skulking bars plus U-Totems and skulking bars plus Circle Ks, these watering holes and convenience stores all in the midst of a veritable fast-food Utopia, with every over-lit, teenage-staffed, menu-posted eatery in America garishly represented, the main streets glutted with logo-studded come-ons in an acne of neon. And though Brandy and Simon had consumed their fair shares of Big Macs and Jumbo Jacks, service with a pock-marked smile was on neither traveler's agenda.
"Italian food; how does that sound?"
They pulled into the nearest gas station in search of a phone book. The attendant, virtually mesmerized by Brandys décolletage, pointed toward the office, his eyes never strayingthey followed her cleavage in; they followed her cleavage outand were still agog as the couple drove away.
"I just chose the one with the nicest ad. Its apparently not very far. Well find another, if it doesnt strike your fancy."
On an unlikely street in a residential section they found what they were after: a converted Spanish-style ranch house with quaint Southwest decor, its outdoor arbor, enclosed patio, and candle-lit tables creating an ideal ambiance for the leisurely flirtation Brandy premeditated. Simons weather-beaten attire was a trifle out of place, but the hostess showed no reluctance in seating them; Brandy looked presentable enough for both. She wore a simple fawn-colored cotton dress with a loose-laced bodice, peasant sleeves, and an empire waist-line, its gathered pleats falling gracefully to the skirt's ruffled hem. Sandal-style shoes, an un-burnished copper bracelet, and a creamy rayon shawl completed her ensemble, the overall effect one of casually dressiness, without unduly shaming Simons utilitarian denimhis dress denim; of the three outfits he owned, this turtleneck, jeans, and Levis jacket combination was the best he could affect.
The waiter came. Brandy ordered a bottle of Chianti. The waiter departed.
"You do drink, dont you?"
He shook his head.
"Not at all?"
To ease her disappointment he indicated a little.
"I dont drink much either, but wine with dinnera nice dinneris a must. I think youll like this one. I used to order it in a little place on Franklin Street in Hollywood. Do you know Hollywood? Well, its one of the few towns Ive been in where a woman can walk around without getting hounded right and left by men in heat. Theyre horny there, too, of course, but they chase each other. I used to sit in that cafe all by myself, sip my wine, read a book or write in my journaleven late at nightand never have to worry about fending off some jerk. Thats the thing I hate about being a woman; you cant go anywhere, do anything by yourself without attracting unwanted company. I mean, on one level, its just irritating. But when you stop to think about the violence in most men, its downright terrifying. Not that women cant be violent, too What about you, Simon? Arent you afraid, hitchhiking all by your lonesome?"
He shrugged, and was spared elaboration by their waiters return. The Chianti was uncorked, a taste poured for each. Simon, though no longer an imbiber, knew a good wine from a mediocre one. This one was better than average; he nodded his approval; Brandy nodded, too. Their glasses were filled. The waiter withdrew as Brandy proposed a toast.
"To our new friendship."
They clinked glasses and drank.
"Mm, tasty, isnt it! What do you want to eat? Im leaning toward the Cacciatore."
Simon pointed to Eggplant Parmesan, feeling that vegetables might help settle his nervous stomach. It was he who caught the waiters attention, proceeding, then, to order by pointing, knitting his brows to ask questions, signaling yes or no with a self-assured air that Brandy found both surprising and altogether charming. Happily she yielded to her escort's blue-jeans savior faire. Simon, again via gestures, asked the waiter for a pen and paper. Once delivered, he wrote:
Your lips could kiss the dust from a butterfly's wing.
Used to being complimented, Brandy took his tribute in matter-of-fact-like stride.
What will you do here in Tucson?
he added, as their salads arrived.
"I honestly dont know. Did I tell you Im a dancer? A belly dancer, to be exact. Youre smiling. You dont believe me? Its true. Really. Thats how Ive earned my living the past four years. You dont believe me. Well, my costume ought to convince you; Ill give you a look. Or, better yet, Ill model it back at our motel."
I believe you.
"Anyway, I dont know if Ill try to find a place to dance here or not. Mostly Ive come for a change of scenery. LA was getting on my nerves, sort of gnawing on them with its set of flawlessly capped teeth. Plus, the air there is awful. I want to live where I can breathe. I read once that a doctor examining a persons lungs can tell right away if he or she has lived in Los Angeles, California even if you've breathed that muck for as six weeks. I inhaled LA for nearly six years. I suppose, by now, my lungs must look like a coal miners."
Simons sidelong glance suggested he disagreed.
"Youre sweet; but I meant under the surface."
Why so flattering suddenly? Maybe even "Jesus" yields sometimes to sin?
Yet Simon had not meant to stroke Brandy's vanity. In point of fact, neutrality sustained his outward ease. Brandy was attractiveto his eye exceptionally attractivebut not to the distraction of pursuits he lately craved.
Noting their salads were finished, the waiter brought out both entr�es.
"Mm, mines delicious! Hows yours?"
Simon kissed his fingers, then gathered a bite-size portion for Brandy to try. She leaned forward, blew on it, tested it with her tongue, then took it into her mouth (using her lips, not her teeth, he noticed) to ease the steamy morsel from his outstretched fork. He then replenished her glass with a splash of the hearty wine.
"Youre not helping much with this vino."
A busboy refilled Simons tumbler of water.
He took a swallow, then followed it with a token sip of wine.
For a while they ate in silence, savoring their respective (well-prepared) meals.
Simon at last wrote:
Do you have any friends in Tucson?
"Yes, as it so happens. At least I think I do. A girl who used to work at the club is living somewhere outside town. We didnt have enough time to become friends really, but I felt we could have been. She must have felt that, too, because when she got to Arizona she wrote, inviting me to visit her any time. Her letter is in the glove compartment along with a map she drew of where I could find her. I guess she lives in a kind of artists community. Earns her living by making and selling pottery. Strange girl."
Simon lifted his brows inquiringly.
"Oh, there were a lot of rumors going around about her: that she was gay; that she got mixed up with a young boy; that she had some sort of deformity. I dont know if any of them were, or are true. I do know Jodis sweetor was to me. Maybe, if you like, we could visit her together."
At length, their table was cleared. The waiter brought a dessert menu.
"Ah, cannoli! Great stuff! Yes, yes, Ill have some. Simon, you?"
He nodded, then indicated two cappuccinos before the waiter took his leave.
Brandy, verging on tipsy, recalled her dinner date's earlier flightiness. She would have to be discreet, lest scare the lad off. And yet she felt her seductive power would doubtless prevail. What to do contraceptive-wise suddenly cleared her head. Being one day (two days max.) from her clockwork-like ovulation, extra special caution assuredly was advised.
No sense worrying at this stage. If we get it on, I'll just have to improvise.
She looked at Simon. The candlelight played softly on his angular face, illumining Christ-like qualities that Brandy found disarming: stoic mouth, austere beard, eyes so clear they chastised, yet surely must conceal more down-to-earth concerns.
Jeezus, he looks like Jesus! That must be the source of my schoolgirl crush. I used to have this thing for our parish priest. Thought Id outgrown it. I can remember praying to Marynot Mother Mary; the other one, the "fallen women" except I thought that "fallen" meant "fallen in love." Poor thing; the first decent man she dotes on leaves her unrequited. How I used to mourn Ms. Magdalene's fate!
Dessert and coffee were served. The cannoli was devilish, its rich effect on Brandy as inebriating as the wine. Simon, stone-cold sober (if hot-wired by the caffeine) gazed across the table with ambiguous eyes.
Tell me about your dancing.
"I'll do better than that; how 'bout a private performance? I have a cassette player in my luggage and a tape I use for auditions. Costume, musical accompaniment—I'll give you the works."
They finished their coffee. Simon signaled for the check. Before Brandy coul;d reach for her pocketbook, Simon had paid (peeling several bills from the roll in his pocket). He rose, held Brandy's chair as she stood, then lent his arm gallantly. They strolled out into the parking lot under a host of stars.
Simon drove. They were halfway home before Brandy thought to ask how he had come by so much cash; she refrained.
Why shouldnt he have money?
It occurred to her, then, how little she knew about the man beside her. Perhaps whatever he had written in her journal would fill in some blanks.
In the meantime, clouds had cleared. A nascent moon competed with the motels multi-colored lights as Simon parked the Volks by their cactus-nestled bungalow.
"Did I give you a key? No, I have both; here, take one."
Simon opened the door, then followed Brandy in.
"Wait. I'm going to change. Won't take but a minute."
A "minute" grossly underestimated the interval needed to 'transform.' Getting into costume, for Brandy, was a ritual affair. The delay would enhance reentry, she was certain. Confident, repairing to the bathroom once again, she deliberately took her time..
Simon, somewhat fidgety, settled into an armchair. The prospect of seeing this woman shake and gyrate to pseudo-Mideast 'Muzak' suddenly made him cringe. Once or twice he had witnessed genuinely skillful belly dancers. Done with finesse, theirs was a praiseworthy art. Done banally, however He could picture rank-and-file housewives flaunting gross anatomies as they crossed with spastic fervor some local-high-school-gym floor. Something very similar, he feared, might be in store.