It seemed like the day would never end. Cosmo went through the motions of work absentmindedly, automatically. The needling had abated when the others noticed that his thoughts were so far away that their remarks no longer were even registered. Cosmo tried to occupy his mind by fantasizing about a woman he had seen the week before. Where had it been? The supermarket? Liquor store? He was not sure, but it did not matter. He day-dreamed about meeting her, falling in love and then learning that she was really rich and he could quit the job at the factory. He would move into her big house, and he would spend days sipping cocktails along the pool in the backyard. “And then? Shit!” he mumbled ” He had no idea what he would do after that. He knew he would be bored stiff, and soon be over-indulging in drugs and/or alcohol. There must be something else to do. He had been fishing a couple of times and liked that. Maybe he could start tennis again, but he always got so frustrated.
“Hey, wake up lover boy! The foreman’s got the paychecks.”
“How did he know?” Cosmo thought to himself until the other added, “You’d better not buy any liquor and take that money right to the supermarket. That sweetie of yours gonna need a lot of food.”
“You seem to know her well,” he blasted back and walked the other way.
He drove in a subdued mood to the liquor store and considered whether he should perhaps lay off the rum for a few nights. He went there before the supermarket Friday nights so he could get his check cashed. While he stood there wavering as to whether he could stand the evening only on beer and thus fairly sober, Joe, the liquor storeowner, had already bagged the customary rum along with a six-pack.
“Here you go, Cosmo. Best service in town.”
Cosmo smiled somewhat weakly.
“And the rest of your check. You have a good evening now.”
“Yeah, thanks. You too.”
He walked out thinking that it was probably better that way.
With the week’s paycheck in his pocket, he was liable to spend a good deal of it in the bar that night if he were not sufficiently plastered.
In the supermarket he procured a big steak and baking potatoes, lettuce and onions, tomatoes and salad dressing. Fridays he splurged and went to a little extra trouble in preparing his fare. He hoped that the cute little girl from the previous evening would be at the checkout counter, but she was nowhere to be seen. He was certain that if he bull-shitted her a couple of more times, she would eventually acquiesce. “Why not?” He surely had more to offer than some teenage punk.
The customary beer was opened and consumed in the car on the way home. Inside, the television was switched on, the groceries deposited on the kitchen table, and a second beer opened. He flopped down in front of the tube, took a long draught and quickly fell out. Twenty minutes later he awoke with a start when he inadvertently knocked the half-full can of beer over, spilling its contents onto his lap. His first thought was that he had pissed in his pants, but he quickly recovered to curse the goddamn beer can for not knowing enough to stay in its place and for spilling its contents otherwheres than down his throat. He gave it a good kick just in case it did not understand English. He stamped into the bedroom, threw off his clothes and landed on the bed where he immediately continued his snooze.
Dinner was a somewhat more formal affair than the previous evening’s. He managed to clear the whole table and even went so far as to wash a plate and silverware – with detergent! – prior to exercising his culinary expertise.
The oven smoked a lot from the spilt grease of a past endeavor, and Cosmo reluctantly opened a window. To compensate for the cold air that rushed in, he turned the heat up full blast, and them turned all the burners on the stove on. When the potatoes were just about done, he switched the oven dial to broil and popped the steak in on some aluminum foil covered with pepper, salt, Tabasco, garlic powder and real (!) onions. He poured half the bottle of salad dressing over the lettuce and tomatoes, turned up the radio and sat down to feast.
“Mmmmmuhm!” he complimented himself. “I sure knows how to care for my person!” He attacked the meal with relish and loud accompanying noises. It was finished all too soon. He stared blankly ahead, wishing there were more although he was full.
He turned off the overhead light, leaving only a small lamp burning in the corner. The radio followed suit as its meaningless banter irritated him. For a moment, he sat transfixed, unable to stir. He became aware of the emptiness in the apartment, an emptiness only accentuated by the voices from the television in the other room. He wanted to think about something, but he was not sure what. He felt that there was something important he should be aware of, but could only sense a certain sadness creeping over him. Something he was supposed to do…. He wished someone were there sitting across from him to remind him of what it was and tried imagining who would be best for the role. Not the woman who had walked out on him two months before; she would only hassle him. No one from work; they were a bunch of jerks, a bunch of losers. He could not put up with his friends from the bar when he was sober for extended periods of time. No, he would not want to see one of them sitting across from him. The woman from his daydreams? Well, sure, why not?
And then he thought of what Janey had told him: “You’re all right, but your stomach is starting to sag,” and something about getting drunk too much. He walked into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. It was true. His features were drawn and somewhat puffy. But so what?! He was still Cosmo, better looking than most of those clowns in the bar, and certainly more intelligent. What did the woman expect? The ones he met in the bar were not setting the world on fire either.
He returned to the kitchen and poured a strong drink. He was angry with himself for being in such a mood. Hell, it was Friday night! He had a bottle of rum, money in his pocket and a good meal in his stomach. What more is there?! At least he was not some mindless bourgeois slob living in his split-level house in the suburbs and thinking he got it made while worrying about the mortgage payments, kids’ dental bills, ogling his neighbor’s wife and not suspecting that it was his wife who was getting it on with his neighbor. No, he had escaped that trap; he was too smart for that one! He had a lousy job and a lousy apartment: so what?! That’s just the way life is; no use crying about it.
He finished his glass in front of the television, banishing evil thoughts from his mind. The alcohol was beginning to have its effect and he was starting to feel better. “Got to admit it, I’m still a fine looking man. Sometimes I fuck up, but shit so does everyone else! At least I admit it. Anyone who doesn’t is only fooling himself. I ain’t ashamed…”
He refilled his glass and played with the channels. Why didn’t they have any ball games on at this time? Shit, maybe he’d get cable or a VCR. He could probably get a hot video for not too much money, and one of the guys at work said he knows someone who will hook you up to cable for a special cheap price, neglecting to inform the cable company. Or maybe he should start playing basketball again in the evenings. But he was always so tired from work, which caused him to be slow and clumsy on the courts. And he did not like to lose! No, maybe he would start playing again when he was unemployed, but not now.
He arrived at the bar around nine, and greeted Doug and the others laconically.
“Hey Cosmo, ain’t ya gonna tell us about last night?” someone chided him who had been sufficiently sober to notice.
“Just don’t say another mother fuckin’ word about it, okay? Cause if you do, I’m gonna break this damn pool cue over your smart ass head.”
The others knew better than to test him.
Cosmo won the first three games he played, which improved his moral considerably. He thought it might be his lucky night, although if he kept on winning so many beers it might turn out to be a short one. “Hey Doug, why don’t you hold the next couple. I’ll tak’em later.”
“Don’t worry Cosmo,” Sam broke in. “I’ll take them off your hands.”
“Hey, where’d this man come from? And he’s got some new duds on again.”
“Yeah, and I’m gonna teach you how to play pool again.”
“Damn!” Cosmo swore as he saw the game slipping away. “Where you been practicing?”
“That’s not practice; that’s feeling. Ya gots to have a positive attitude, that’s all.”
“Oh cut the shit. Next you’re gonna start telling me about your karma.”
“Don’t worry Cosmo. I ain’t tellin’ you nothing.”
“Doug,” Cosmo called, “give me one of my beers and give the other to this clown here. I think I’m gonna retire till he starts playing like his old self again.”
He walked to the other end of the bar and sat down where he could see the television. Sammy must be dealing again,” he thought. He had caught a quick glimpse of how thick Sam’s wallet was, and he knew he was not working. “The least he could have done was buy another round of drinks.”
“Cosmo, you’re mumbling to yourself again.”
He looked up, surprised that someone was observing him. “Oh no, Janey. I’m just suffering from an advanced stage of alcoholism, that’s all. Makes me mumble all kinds of nonsense, especially when I see beautiful womens. Where’s Jimmy?”
“Oh, he went to the track with a couple of friends. I came here with Sally.”
“Oh,” he said, his mood darkening at the mention of his former female companion. How’s she doing?” he asked trying to act nonchalant.
“Fine. See for yourself; here she comes.”
“Hi Cosmo. How have you been?”
“Ah, pretty good. Yourself?”
“Not bad. I got a new job at better pay, and a little more interesting too.”
“That sounds good.”
“And you? Still at the factory?”
He shrugged his shoulders in assent and thought to himself that she had to already know that. She only wanted to try and hurt him, to humiliate him.
“Yeah, I’m still there, but not for long.”
“Maybe,” he answered annoyed that she should be able to fathom his plans so well. “But I got some other things in the works too. There might be some changes.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going back to school.”
“I didn’t say anything. I don’t want to talk about it too much now; it’s pretty uncertain, and besides, too much talking about it will bring bad luck.”
“Okay,” she snickered.
“You don’t believe me.”
“Now I’m the one who didn’t say anything. Good luck.” She said the last two words sincerely, then turned and walked away.
Cosmo looked to where Janey had been, but she was also gone. “Didn’t believe me, goddamn bitch!” He mused for a moment and then reflected, “Why should she? It’s not true. The only plans I got are to get drunk and laid. But how did she know?”
He walked around the bar talking, joking and drinking with most everyone. He could remember being introduced to someone’s cousin from out of town, but not much else.
He woke up late the next morning, slowly opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. A dream quickly receded, something about a pool game, but he could not remember what. It was followed – in quick succession – by blankness, aversion to the thought of getting up, and finally relief upon realizing that it was Saturday. He anxiously wondered what the woman lying next to him looked like and cautiously turned his head in her direction. From that angle he could see no one, and he pushed back the covers. He raised himself on one elbow, and only upon confirming that he was alone did he become aware of the smell of cooking food coming from the kitchen.
“She’s eating my breakfast!” he moaned to himself as he plopped back down. However, he considered that if he did not get up, there would probably be nothing left. He slipped into his clothes from the evening before and braced himself for the encounter. He stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, somewhat taken aback by the long black hair and the shapely figure. When she turned her head and smiled, he almost fell over; she was beautiful!
“Welcome to the world of the living,” she laughed. “You were sure conked out. I didn’t think you’d ever wake up. I was going to leave you a note.”
” Wow, I’m glad you didn’t,” he said stumbling in. “You shouldda woke me.”
“Oh no, you told me about how hard you work all week. You got a right to sleep in on the weekend. C’mon,” she motioned. “Have a seat while I finish making breakfast.”
“Hey, you washed the dishes!” he exclaimed.
“And cleaned the table, sink and stove, and went shopping. Here, fresh bagels, ham, eggs cheese and orange juice. After all, Cosmo, it is the weekend.”
“I must be dreaming! I wake up and there’s this beautiful lady who’s serving me breakfast.” He smiled at her. “You really are beautiful,” and went to put his arms around her and kiss her.
“Hey, none of that now! You’re gonna make me drop the eggs. I don’t suppose you have any oregano for the omelets?”
“Ah no, I’m afraid I just ran out a couple of days ago.”
“Doesn’t matter. How can you live in such a filthy place? It took me an hour to clean it up a bit this morning.”
“I guess I’ve been kinda lettin’ things go ever since my last girlfriend moved out a few months ago and I’ve been living alone. But that’ll change now, you’ll see.”
“Oh will it?” she smiled wryly as she laid two plates on the table and sat down across from him. “I could only find instant coffee.”
“Yeah, I ran out of regular. I was gonna buy some today. What kind do you like?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Let’s eat before this gets cold. Cheers,” she toasted raising the coffee mug.
“Cheers… . Hey, this was awful nice of you to go to all this trouble. It shouldda been me who got up to fix things for you. But I’ll fix a good dinner for you tonight.”
“I’m sure you would, but I’m afraid I can’t.”
“Huh?! But why not?! C’mon, you gotta give me a chance to thank you for the breakfast. We can go out to eat if you’d prefer.”
She smiled and shook her head negatively.
“Is it someone else?” he asked hesitantly.
“No Cosmo, there’s no man involved.”
“This one would like to be. Last night,” he tried remembering, “You were so good.”
She laughed. “You really were drunk last night.”
“Didn’t you enjoy it? I’ll do better today.”
“Don’t you remember anything after we got back here?”
“Well, we went straight to bed,” he said uncertainly.
“Yeah, you mean you were so drunk, I practically had to carry you.”
“No, and then I was willing enough, but you fell asleep as soon as you hit the bed. I slept on your couch in the living room.
He stared wide-eyed with astonishment at her.
“As long as your mouth’s open, put some food in it,” she joked.
“Oh shit! Did I do that?” he cursed trying to recollect. He was not sure whether she was telling the truth, but he had no choice but to believe her. “I’ll make it up to you,” he pleaded, and then he came around the table and kissed. her.
“Hmm… C’mon now. Get back and finish your breakfast like a good boy.
Something in her voice made him obey, a fact that he later regretted.
“I’m not always like last night.”
“I believe you,” she answered wistfully. “I’m afraid I just hit the wrong night, and I have to leave very soon.”
“Leave?!” He was close to panic. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve talked to in years. You can’t leave yet!”
“Such flattery. I bet you don’t even remember my name.”
“Ah, but … . Look, I’m sorry. You’re right; I don’t. I know it, I’m a slob and a bum, but I’d like to have a chance with you anyway. Please don’t go.”
“I’m sorry too, but you see – I’ve been trying to tell you – I have a plane ticket to Europe this evening. My cousin’s driving me to the airport this afternoon. That’s the reason I came to north Jersey in the first place.”
Cosmo’s heart sank as he heard her story. “Can’t you postpone it for a week? A few days? Gimme a chance…”
“Sorry, I’ve put this off for too many years.”
“How long will your trip be? I’ll be here when you get back,” he offered brightening up.
“Okay, thanks for the offer, but I’m afraid it might be a while.”
“Three months? Six months? A year?” his hopes diminished with each nod of her head.
“A year at any rate, but I hope it’ll be much longer. It’s just a question of money. If I can only find a job somewhere…”
“Oh shit! One time in my life, I meet a woman like you, and you leave before I even get a chance to know you. It’s not fair!”
“Ah, c’mon Cosmo! You aren’t exactly the domestic type. You expect me to set up house here? What would I do? Get some lousy job and waste away my life in Jersey? This place is worse than where I come from.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“I got things to do. I want to see the world, meet different people, to learn something new.”
Cosmo was surprised by the excitement in her voice. “You really think it’s any different from here? The only thing I know besides here is Nam, and that wasn’t exactly a vacation.” After a moment’s silence, he asked, “Where are you going anyway?”
“Well,” she hesitated before answering, ” to Italy to study art.”
“Hey, I’m Italian.”
“And a work of art you think too, huh?” she laughed.
“There are probably more Italians in this town than where you’re going.”
“Yeah, and if I stayed in New York, I probably wouldn’t have to go anywhere else in the world. It’s all there.”
“Well, it’s true. ain’t it?
“Could be, I don’t know, but I’m going anyway. Which reminds me, I got to get going. I promised my cousin I’d be back before noon.”
“Hey, why don’t you let me drive you to the airport?”
“Thanks, that’s kind of you, but I haven’t seen her in a while and I want to spend some time with her.”
“Do I know her?”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” she said getting up and putting on her coat.
“At least let drive you over there.”
“You really were out of it last night. Don’t you remember? You were so drunk that we left your car at the bar, and I drove us here in my cousin’s.”
“Oh…. Well, look, where you gonna be in Italy? Why don’t you give me your address? You never know…. Maybe some day I’ll get the traveling bug myself.”
She smiled. “I don’t have an address there yet. And at any rate, I’m not going there to meet Americans.” She turned at the door and gave him a quick kiss. “Take care of yourself, Cosmo. You’ve been sweet. Another time it might have been different.”
“Sure. Thanks for the breakfast and doing the dishes, and have a good time over there. Watch out for those Italian mens. I should know; I’m one of them!”
“Ciao,” she waved.