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Domenic Maltempi

Needle in the Stomach in the Ram


We bandied about 6 messages a piece to each other. After this pale keyboarding-dalliance; Heartstringer sent us text messages in an effort to set up a date as if it were some matchmaking mutual friend in hiding. The message came with an image. It was the first dating site to try this, and members enjoyed it.  It would only send such a message with a picture you hadn’t seen in the regular profile (Secret Stash Photo for Operation Connection)—after a few messages were fired off. One began to see #whatwillbeyoursecretstashPho? —-sprayed or stickered on the walls of infrastructure, doodled on knapsacks, screened onto shirts and so forth. The hash got popular. It became a litterscractch meme many people were stepping through.

I think the number of messages varied before the photo you gave them specifically for this potential crossroads was sent via phone. Most people forgot about the ‘StashPho’ before Heartstringer sent its first on your behalf.

 Violet’s Stash photo appeared on my phone. The photo startled me. I thought I imagined it among the vaporous, unreal pokes for my attention that gimcracks provoked. I never used my phone to access Heartstringer, or the internet very much. The image of Violet came with an accompanying personalized message based on their so-called analysis of her writing style. The message accompanying Violet’s ‘StashPho’ read: “GazzleCiph (my stupid profile name)—what are you waiting for? This could be our chance to make it happen.”

Yeah—— that was based on this woman’s writing style. Sure.

She was a professional writer of: literary criticism, novels, occasional small pieces found in Harpers, publications like that. I was impressed. The ‘StashPho’ picture was quite different from the ones up on her profile. This picture was not pulsing with sunlight out in a piazza, or following an indigenous woman up an interesting hill (taken from a lower side angle) where they would harmonize with singing coffee plants.

I put off contacting her a week after the stash text. What would the dating site come up with for my personalized message? Dribbles of horror fell on my chest while recalling that my ‘StashPho’ was sent to Heartstringer during a wine rocketed hyper night with a friend who convinced me to send a picture of myself soaking wet, dressed as an anthropomorphized tuna smoking a cigarette by a statue of an immodest Neptune in a park that became the site for a Halloween after-hour party. Violet would be looking at that. I’m sure a 34 year old woman who’s indicated in her profile that she would ‘like to reproduce with someone within the next five years,’ will jump at the chance to meet a guy dressed as a wet Tuna buggered by drink.

Oh well—— It’s not going to happen. That’s OK. She was attractive, seemed interesting as far as one could tell. I was fascinated with what her breasts looked like exposed. I know, it was crude, and I’m human. Vulgar means people after all. Why couldn’t I focus on some other aspect of her profile? She liked to run! That told me she was active, most likely healthy, motivated. But I could care less about her running, and the paper numbers she probably collected from various races, and the leukemia she probably helped provide funding for the research to fight against each mile she ran. How awful of me. I know. I blamed the various fountain photos she selected for my perseverating reflections on her taut breasts. My mind imagined her nipple area as a pale pepperoni playground for my lusting mouth. I’m ashamed of all this.

To my shock, she wrote me through the site, avoiding text, as her number was shielded, as Heartstringer acted as the text middleman. Violet suggested we meet on Tuesday at a dark little Francophone African cocktail place that booked great international music acts. She lived in Brooklyn near the little cocktail bar/venue, and I lived in the suburbs about 18 miles or so away. I was familiar with the spot, and it was something we both related to, having enjoyed a few long nights grooving to the tunes, meeting German tourists, avoiding a date that showed up on strong drugs (that was one of my stories told to her during our site-writing.)

Tuesday was crammed with lots of freelance assignments that I needed to get accomplished. Jetting back home from an onsite appointment—- I realized I told Violet I would be at the joint at 7:30. I strongly suggested this, as it would give us time to talk before the music started. I completely forgot to exchange numbers with her during that message, something that one should obviously do in the event that you’re going to meet. It was too easy to run behind time, with all the unpredictable traffic patterns that might bedevil an ETA while driving through this part of the Empire State.

By the time I got to her neighborhood in Brooklyn it was 7:30. Things went well on the roads. I smoked a cigarette a few minutes before getting into the thick of her hood. I then sprayed myself with a bit of cologne to cover it, and popped my favorite mint.

Now I only needed to find a parking spot. So I drove within the long blocks that were near the place. I had usually found parking fairly nearby. Why would tonight be different? I refused to drive too far from the meeting spot. Soon I found myself driving in a suffocating circuit of never-endingness. I was circling for 12 minutes before I began to feel a strange sense of no-parking-panic. This spot was too short. Hydrant, hydrant! A man in a mask with a robe on— lorded over a perfect parking spot near the cocktail place. Ridiculous parking spot saving behavior!

I was now getting closer to 15 minutes late. It was time to email her through the site, a cumbersome but necessary operation at this point. I hope she was looking at her email.

Why hadn’t I given her my number! What about if I had just ruined a chance to find a real paramour because of parking spots! My panic tickled me into a raw vexatious anger. I wanted to smoke again. I didn’t.

I passed the venue again, and there was Violet in front of it looking at her phone with a pained face. It was painted with the heavily creased lines, and waxy pallor of someone in an unexpected deep conundrum, eyes cast up in the late summer waning sun as if she had just been betrayed. Her head darted this way and that. My heart sank, driving past slowly, now looking in the rearview mirror. She looked like she was on the verge of tears. She was the picture of someone being equally pulled by two courses of action to take that had no middle-ground.

 I wanted to yell ‘Violet, wait, don’t go! I’m here!  But I thought the car was too far away on the wide two lane street with traffic going in opposite directions. I would never be heard. I also thought it would sound desperate, or weird, or pathetic.

She must have thought I was standing her up.  My heart shrunk. I felt slightly guilty of smoking a bit of pot before I went out. The purpose was just to take off the edge of meeting for the first time. Now I had cotton-mouth, and was perhaps more susceptible to dramatizing what she was feeling.

I kept driving, when I saw that she had hit me back with a message (responding to mine about being close to 30 minutes late.) It was short.

“It’s fine. Call me though.  917-$*$&*()

I called. After some soft hellos that deeply relieved me, she said “This is going to sound really weird, but I have to go pick something up at the pharmacy before it closes at nine. I was thinking we could take the car ride together, grab a beer and take it with us on the ride, or—- you could wait here and I’ll return?”

 Alas my parking search was over as the phone call was going on.  About 90% of my attention was absorbed in parking. I got out of the car and walked toward her, waving the phone in the air as if to say forget about using this. Her face began to smile. It was five after 8. She laughed as she ran options by me again in person. I was so relieved to know she wasn’t distraught with the prospect of being stood up, and concentrating on her corporeal presence that I continued to only half register what she was saying to me. A Dodge Ram used for a car service was waiting for her to make a decision. We exchanged a kiss on the cheek. The Ram driver ejected sputum from his mouth, and looked at me impatiently.  I agreed to go for the ride.

The ‘where are we going’ question finally became real. Had she mentioned it on the phone? There were no delis to dart in and grab a beer from for the ride. How far could this place be that we needed beers? She wasn’t some strange alcoholic looking to get a little saucy in a hired mini-van with a stranger was she?

“Amsterdam and 89th street please.”

“You told me already,” said the surly driver, licking his fingers free of some bright red chip powder.

What the fuck? There was nothing to say. She must have told me this over the phone, and I blocked it, or consigned the information to sub-peripheral, even though it was of great importance. I’m on a semi-blind date in a taxi-van going to a pharmacy in Manhattan. I imagined what someone from another country or state would think about this. You went into one of the more interesting cities of the world to visit a pharmacy in a taxi with a stranger? I became a bit nervous about it, but let go. 

Maybe she worked near this pharmacy and had a close and trusting relationship with the pharmacist? I was speculating like the devil’s friends, and trying to ease myself into the thought that I drove from a relatively far but manageable distance, parked my car in one borough of NY, only to go to another borough with a stranger that I met from Heartstringer! Was she sick? She didn’t look sick at all. On the contrary, she beamed a salubrious radiance. Things were going well.

We were almost in Manhattan. The darkness of night, and the rubber we shared on this road, relaxed the both of us. I submitted to what was happening, and just tried to be myself. Violet was at ease.

There was an immediate rapport between us. Talking came easy, and the conversation rapt. Darting from a variety of topics, including how we had popped the potential awkwardness of the current moment between us. We loosened our bodies.  I was proud of not being someone who would have collapsed into concerns of awkwardness that were readily available upon reflection of the situation.

Bandying Heartstringer experiences soon followed, only to cede ground to the more particular topic concerning all-things ‘secret-stash’ photos. We discussed where we lived, and how long and when we thought we were lesbians, and how we got mentally scarred from a deranged swim coach. All sorts of weird shit got spoken of. The topic of music came up, and I mentioned some of the projects I was working on, and bands I played with in the past. It turned out we had a close friend in common. I knew Edward from one of Al’s close friends. Christ, I had to tell Al this story!

It had been more than two years since I had communicated with Edward. He was a strange but gifted pianist, who had given up composing, and performing all music unless it concerned itself with a minor character from a Fantasy novel written by a man who went by the nom de plume of Herman Woouset. Edward’s stories rose to the top of my thoughts, and I was amazed at how many there were, considering that I hadn’t thought of this person in a while.

The character’s name was Brie. Brie! Of all names for a Fantasy character! Fucking Brie! Fucking Fantasy Brie! Those words turned me on; maybe it was the texture and movement of the words sitting in the same room of thought. I knew too much about this Brie, and Violet knew even more about Edward’s ‘Brie.’ We lathered each other with stronger energy, created by a sharing of such particular and personal risible matters that further pulverized the lumps of awkwardness between us. The traffic was now stop-and-go as we traveled on the west side of Manhattan. My eyes were gently flossed by the grand lights in the air, reflecting off the water, beaming off of cars and buildings. I wandered off into that dark scene when my attention was pulled back by Violet.

Violet had once slept with Edward. She burst out laughing when she admitted this. I liked her elegant, but ‘real’ candor. We both looked at each other, and shared a laugh of triply gratified absurdity cooked just the way we liked it. The admission had us laughing so loud we were told by the Ram driver to ‘pipe.’ He only used the word ‘pipe,’ and did not raise his voice above the gaunt puff of his tobacco enriched breathe. We waited for the word ‘down,’ but it never came.

 Violet put her hand on my knee, and it made me hard.  She withdrew it when she saw my bolt of smile mildewed after being told——“Don’t worry; I don’t have a venereal disease or anything. It won’t take long. It’s just all really time sensitive. I will tell you more after I get what I need in there.”

And there we almost were, now getting closer to Amsterdam Ave, heading uptown. Finding the quirky-knotted humor of the situation again; we bandied more jokes about Brie, and Herman Woouset. I wanted to feel more attracted to her. I tried to lead myself to feel so, but my self-deception was not up to the task as much as I would have been immediately rewarded by caving in to the dissembling in order to gratify my wishes.

She told me about well-known novelists and writers she knew. A little dirt on big time writer ‘Y’ was revealed. I didn’t like gossip, or name dropping, but I did feel excitement on hearing dirt on ‘Y,’ for he struck me as a total imposter, smart, but a fraud, someone who had put down my favorite novelist in a stupid interview with the ‘Paris Review,’ that infuriated me. It infuriated me because it was soon discovered that the work he was belittling, and harshly criticizing, he only partially read. Partially read….

Violet sang in a little act formed with well-known essayist, and literary critic luminary ‘T’, and they would occasionally get together when work had her traveling to New England.  We were minutes from pharmacy now, which made the confines of the Ram suddenly take on the feeling of a bladder prison. My cotton-mouth returned to attention, and I longed to drain the weez, and take a long draw of brew. As we parked; I asked her if she knew of a place that had a bathroom nearby. She mentioned a Spanish Restaurant.

Violet ran into the pharmacy, and I ran faster to “Panama Viejo.” It was well-lit, and half full, and run by Chinese. I tried to play it cool, looking briefly ahead from the entrance, where the kitchen was partly exposed behind a counter with a few staff members. As I got close to the bathroom I heard “You’re not a customer.”

I opened the bathroom door, and got in there, shutting it loudly and locking it. I was desperate to urinate, and like others in such a state, heedless of all other things, celebrating in the steady musical strain of piss-release hitting toilet water, while the Chinese staff banged on the door stiffly as if it was worth upsetting the dinner of their patrons with such banging and odd-racket making to chastise me. Leaving the bathroom as nonchalantly as I walked in; the staff parted like the Red Sea with a quietness that intensified because the dinners had all stopped eating to look at the scene. I informed someone I identified as the manager that I had eaten here plenty of times, and how could they forget my face? I said it seriously, wanting to be believed as much as a lover with a wayward heart returning to his beloved with intensified devotion. A woman playing with stray fronds of cabbage on a slightly broth-wet plate gave me a look of disbelief, and then smiled warmly.

“Get out. You never a customer… You shame you.”

But I didn’t feel I shamed myself in the least, and now I was happily walking across the street to look inside the pharmacy. It was taking quite a while. I waited, and I waited outside. Violet was looking up at the clock nervously. The look was the identical twin sister of the look I saw when I first beheld her looking for a parking spot.

Coming out, she was all smiles again, and we walked to a grocery store to get some beer. We decided on one large can of Sapporo to share in the Ram. The driver was waiting for us. The side door was open, and Violet stepped in when the door began to automatically shut quickly. She screamed, and I stopped the door from catching her foot by throwing my body into the door. She grabbed my hip, and slid her hand down my leg, as the driver opened the sliding door again with a push of a button, lamely apologizing. As if nothing happened, the driver began blasting some horrible soap-opera man-girl romantic music, and sped away.

Now in the Ram, Rebecca pulled out a syringe. Her eyes widened, and she looked carefully at it before looking at me. 

“Have you ever heard of women freezing their eggs?”

“Uhh…. yeah, I’ve heard of that.”

“Well, I’m doing that, and I have to inject myself in the stomach at exactly 9:15 in order to insure that the process….”

I tuned her out, greedily sucking on the Japanese beer. I was just thirsty. She continued talking, and I could understand why a woman would want to do this, particularly living in a city where it was difficult to meet a desirable man, particularly one that wanted a family. A lot of these guys made decent money, but were mostly broke, or financially over-extended, paying insane sums of money for little apartments that they had to share with other grown men.

There was the needle in Violet’s hand, and she was talking about men ‘not wanting to have babies.’ That was the general subject. She was talking about her ex, and how he didn’t want any, and a recent long-term boyfriend, and she kept saying ‘not wanting to have a baby,’ while the music in the Ram hit us from the back side speakers, but a lot lower than when we left to drive back to Brooklyn.

She pulled up her shirt. There was her stomach with the needle advancing towards it, about to hit its mark and freeze those eggs. I didn’t know exactly what this fluid did. I was  having a biological reverie, but not one so deep that I didn’t notice our driver was pulling over to the side of the road with haste. We were still in Manhattan. He clutched on to his crucifix. He screamed as he got out of the driver’s seat.

 No one was going to kill a baby in this car. I couldn’t believe what was happening. He managed to grab the syringe from her hand. He said something about the both of us freezing in hell, and I imagined myself strolling along a street in hell all bundled up. It was 9:14, a minute before she had to inject herself. I couldn’t stop him. The driver was determined. He made a face at me that didn’t frighten me, but disarmed me. It was full of a conviction that one didn’t see often. It was 9:18. The thing she had got from the pharmacy to inject into her body had been thrown away on the side of a Manhattan avenue. Violet was crying, and the driver was repeating ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, while Violet sobbed violently explaining what the injection was about, what it was for. Violet walked out of the Ram, and the driver screamed about his fare. I sat by myself in the Ram, wanting to follow Violet, but something prevented me from doing so at just that moment.

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