There existed only one unequivocal thought in his mind and that is that he desired her. Maybe it wasn’t quite love in the traditional sense or maybe it was the closest thing he felt to that insidious saccharine sentiment, but it was the one thing he felt that he couldn’t question. Harry could only admire her from a distance. In fact he’d gone over a year without seeing her and there was nary a hint that she had ever given him a second thought since the last time they met. When last they parted, it was an awkward hug in the rain in front of Neary’s Bar on St. Stephen’s Street. For the 50th time in his life, he had lost count of how many shots of tequila he had had resulting in a jingle jangle stutter step to the curb and a cab back to his place in Clifton.
They had each sworn in bold declarations that they’d see each other soon. Just because their employment at the paper had ended that night didn’t mean they couldn’t stay in touch. The rain pelted his raincoat with a fury that felt like a tropical hurricane. The wind blew her chestnut brown hair this way and that, and while she probably deemed herself to be a righteous mess in those moments that’s how he frequently thought and even dreamed about her. She had opened the rear door of the cab bracing herself against the rain and wind as if her clothes could be ripped apart by the force of it all. In his rush to obtain a reprieve from these conditions Harry cut her embrace short, climbed in the cab, and let her close the door for him. He drunkenly stared after her as she ran back into the bar and thought that’s it. That’s the last I’ll ever see of her. Then time did its thing. There were new commitments to be made, a book to write, a dram and a drink to quell an infinite thirst, and a slow dirge marching towards middle age and death to round out a lifetime of misery.
He followed her career closely but could never quite get up the nerve to call. Phone calls these days carry so much less weight than they used to. It used to be that if an old friend called you, it meant something. It might even change the course of your evening. Now, everything was meant to be quick. People dismiss old friends easily because life gets busy and why make time for a conversation when a text would do. Harry clung to a deep-seeded fear that she would dismiss him in this manner so he maintained to himself that it was best to avoid reconnecting with her. It wasn’t worth shattering the illusion he had of her. It wasn’t worth ruining the subject of his desire with such a thing as a discomforting truth. Fiction is almost always better than fact. He allowed the fantasy of her to reign eternally in his heart unencumbered by what must be by now her cold indifference.
He could still replay almost every detail of their first assignment and segment together. The chief had told them, “These higher ups want us to produce these short web segments on news stories so that the website could get more hits. Harry and Samantha, why don’t you two tackle the rising murder rate. I want it done and up on the site by noon.”
Samantha piped in, “But I’m still working on that piece on the latest poll numbers.”
The chief replied, “Who gives a fuck about the poll numbers. People want to see action but we’re not going to give them action. We’re going to give them two reasonably attractive talking heads talking about action. Now, get to it.”
Harry chimed in, “Why thanks, boss. I didn’t know you felt that way about me.”
“You can whack off to me later,” said the chief.
Harry had had a crush on Samantha since she started there several weeks beforehand. She may have been new to the paper, but she proved right away that she knew what she was doing once she delivered her first story. It was a doozy. Everyone loves a sex scandal. Correction: Everyone loves a female reporter talking about a sex scandal. Harry turned to Samantha and said, “At least he didn’t call you toots. It took Caitlyn years to live that down. She thought about going to HR, but then decided it was best to take it all in stride.”
Samantha smiled. She shot him that alluring glance he learned to relish with her and said, “Harry, nothing ever fazes me. Let’s get a drink together later tonight.”
That was the start of it all. They did their segment and it was a hit, but it’s what came after that stuck with Harry. The drink turned into a nightcap at her place and the nightcap turned into a make out session and the make out session turned into the kind of ferocious love making reserved for pornography. The next morning came the awkward goodbyes and “see ya at work.” Then, the following week would yield yet another successful web segment followed by another similar evening of frolicking. Neither of them spoke of a need to define the nature of their relationship. Even the very word “relationship” would have been poisonous to the very enterprise. They worked fluidly together to the point where they could read each other’s minds. Their repartee on screen was almost like music. The paper’s website got more and more hits. Everyone was happy and Harry and Samantha knew better than to spoil a good thing by having an actual serious conversation about their desire for one another.
Then, just like that the bomb dropped. The paper shut down its print edition and became a web exclusive news source, which wouldn’t have been so bad if so many people didn’t get laid off. Harry and Samantha were initially spared, but then word came down that Chicago was looking for a pretty face. The morning anchor job on a network broadcast station was too big for Samantha to give up. Harry knew it would be the beginning of the end. His pink slip came on Samantha’s last day. The chief walked up to his desk that morning and spouted, “Sorry, Harry. Looks like it’s the end of the line.”
Colleagues had decided it was the perfect occasion to go out with a bang at Neary’s Bar that night. Harry drank and drank some more repeating the phrase “onward and upward” with every shot of tequila wishing he could get one more taste of Samantha’s skin to savor on his taste buds. He knew she wouldn’t be up for it. He didn’t even have to ask. Before going outside to meet the cab in the pouring rain, he staggered over to her and slurred, “It’s been fun.”
She smiled that alluring smile of hers and said, “Right back at ya, Harry” accompanied by an ever so coquettish wink. She walked him outside to the cab and then it was over.
Harry thought that’s it. That’s the last I’ll ever see of her.
The funny thing about desire though is that at least for Harry it never dissipated. He spent every night since thinking about Samantha, dreaming of that chestnut brown hair coming down on her naked shoulders. He thought about the way her voice reduced to a whisper as she seduced him all those evenings. Her every gesture in his memory became a lavish oil painting complete with a moving canvass. He couldn’t escape the memory of her. She became a ghost transfixed upon his brain. Every time he’d get lucky with a new girl he’d pick up at a bar somewhere she’d disrobe and he’d find that his eyes had morphed her face into Samantha’s.
He couldn’t bear to watch Samantha at her new gig next to that pompous prick, but he forced himself to watch anyway. The clips he’d get hold of made him sick. Those knowing glances that were exchanged, that alluring smile he thought she’d reserved only for him, the way her voice rose when she agreed with one of his talking points, all those things plagued him. Still, this was the woman he desired, and once you desire someone it’s impossible to forget that desire.
Harry decided to write a book. He had the free time anyway. He was working freelance and steady work was hard to come by. He had published a novel before in the lifetime he lived before Samantha, but it had been years since he considered fiction writing again. His editor was pleased to hear that he’d return back from the journalism front and pressed him for a first draft, but nothing came easily. He decided he’d try to channel Samantha into his writing. He’d devise a story about her although it wasn’t exactly about her. It would be a facsimile of her, but even with this close approximation of her he found that it strangely brought them closer at least in his mind. He came up with a brilliant plot and every night he wrote with fury attacking his old fashioned Royal typewriter almost as feverishly as when he made love to Samantha. Writing this novel became his way of at the very least channeling this desire and making something productive out of it instead of letting it plague him.
The real Samantha had no idea that he was channeling her, and for a while it bugged Harry. He thought If only she knew just how much she has inspired me. That might even be enough to at the very least get her to invite me over for a drink if I should happen to be in Chicago. Then, who knows what else a drink might lead to. Still, he resisted the urge to call her or contact her. Better to let fantasy rule over reality, he thought.
Months went by. The book was finished. The galley was printed. Everything appeared to be wonderful about his life again. On a whim, he decided to send a galley to Samantha. He had obtained her contact information so he sent it to her home address. Inside the front cover, which had an image that had been cleverly modelled after Samantha’s likeness, he inscribed the words:
I plan to dedicate this book to you as it has been wholly inspired by our dalliance together. I hope you don’t think it too forward. I promise not to use your real name but of course you will know that every word of it was written for you. I still remember the touch of your skin, and I’ll never stop desiring you.
A week later the package came back with a note inside the book that had been returned. It read,
I don’t have time to read books these days and anyways we hardly even knew each other. It was fun for a time but do yourself a favor and get a grip.
It’s been fun,
A couple of months later after the book release, Harry returned to Neary’s bar instead of the book signing that had been arranged for him. For the 51st time, he lost track of how many shots of tequila he downed. He never wrote another word.