Desire Equals Rain
By John Flynn
Paco said every traveler wants a whore in Amsterdam. Gil didn’t agree, and remarked that nothing was sadder than loss of innocence. Paco just laughed, not caring that Gil hadn’t tried to be funny.
Then he hurried Gil down the slag treads of a cellar hole. Once inside, where the walls grew moss, it was neither cozy nor dry. Hash smoke sagged in widening coils. The chill felt medieval. Centerfold pin-ups bubbled with leak stains. A nut-brown sofa and easy chair faced a TV console showing Roots subtitled in Dutch.
After drying his glasses, Gil scribbled “explore desire” in his tiny notebook. He loved the dated movie Roots the way he loved the centerfolds, some of them a decade old. They were fertile soil for his imagination, heated now that the planning stage had passed and he was in Europe.
What he didn't love was hashish. Had no intentions to buy, had already told Paco who’d cackled at him, "You save for girl. Paco know this."
Paco had found him alone in the kitchen at the Fat City boarding house, eating a grilled cheese while reading The Sun Also Rises. It wasn’t easy to admit he was lonely.
"I get whore for you, amigo. We find."
Gil liked to believe in tragic flaws. His was that few of his sexual experiences had been remarkable. Ignoring Paco, he wrote in his notebook: “Desire equals rain.”
Paco, grinning, pointed at a man lying on the sofa. Gil balked at the sight of him. Hair stringy, rat-eyed, he smelled like burnt wires. But there was no reason to be unfriendly. "Good old flick, man. Seminal."
The man, rolling in the sofa’s muddy current, blew a sigh. His face scabby with zits, he sneered at Gil. Worms of hair streaked his forehead. He looked as if he were caving into his blowsy moth-eaten T-shirt. "Your passport," he said in American English. "Gimme it."
Gil acted as if he hadn’t heard him. "You don't think it's a great movie?"
"I said give me your fucking passport."
Paco cut in. Alert, swarthy, streetwise, a tight blue shirt accentuated his imposing build. Islands of sweat spread between his shoulder blades. With one shove, he knocked the man to the floor and let fly curses in Spanish. "Gil, he my amigo. You no good. You leave him alone."
The man whimpered, balling himself up on the floor. Gil had expected a fight. Wide-eyed, he turned to Paco, "You know this guy?"
Paco glared at his Americano from a place called Teaneck, New Jersey. "You listen me, Gil. Paco know. I help. He kill you. Stay with Paco."
Gil crouched next to the man. He felt sorry for him. "Maybe if you go to the embassy. They’ll help you."
The man kicked at him, hissing. Gil flinched away. Paco laughed. "Gil, is not possible we help." He motioned as if shooting a needle into his arm.
"A junky?" said Gil. "But I’m positive they’ll help at the embassy."
"No," replied Paco. Clamping two hands on Gil’s shirt, he yanked him away and led him down a hallway.
There was a counter at its end where an Indian in a maroon turban stood over cigar boxes of hashish in sealed clear packets. The Indian explained there were three blends: Blond Bombshell, Black Pudding, or Green Wave.
Gil chuckled at the labels. Paco beamed at the Indian in the way of old crones. Keeping his hand locked around Gil’s elbow, he said to him, "We make business. It no like Bulldog Café. You no have no police, no have no worry. He my friend. Like you."
How many times did he have to say it? "I'm not buying hash!"
He bounded back down the hallway, hairs jumping on his neck as he sped past the man still on the floor. Took the wet stairs two at a time glad to be outdoors.
Paco caught up to him. He didn’t apologize. Nor did he insist they return to the hash vendor. "Amigo. We drink cervezas. Find girl."
"Isn’t that what we agreed to at the boarding house? You know, bar-hopping."
Paco’s grin was dopey. "You like bar? We go bar. Vamos."
Off he went. Gil didn’t move. Was he making a mistake? Anne Frank's house was all he’d seen. Full of tourists and hardly smacked of the underbelly he craved.
Desire: there it was again. He hurried to catch up.
The first dive lacked windows, and didn't serve beer. Urine fumes seeped from cold brick walls. The only customer was a truculent pony-tailed biker in a leather vest who kept a muzzled Doberman leashed to his stool.
Gil paid for two shots of whiskey, and let Paco cajole him into buying a pair of brownies called spacecakes.
The spacecakes didn't affect him. Gil bought another round of whisky. Back home, he wasn’t much of a pothead, and tended to drink with gusto, preferring beer to liquor. "Let’s blow this place, drink some Heinekens."
For a change, he’d said the right thing. Paco, grinning, led him outside.
With the creeping expansion of the hash, Gil began to weave a little as he kept up with Paco. The fog of the red light district hugged his skin and left a film. He felt rank, suddenly drained as he stared a long time at scarred cobblestones.
A swampy reek drifted out of the canals. Time slowed. He felt spied-upon as he walked, unable to judge his footsteps. A passing Citroen scattered clustered pedestrians and nearly ran him over. Tracer bulbs blinked around a big yellow sign: XXX NUDE GIRLS NUDE GIRLS.
"Okay, amigo? You no look so good."
They were in a dive now, and it was mobbed. Herring-eyed, Gil yelled over the crowd. "Wasted."
He paid for two beers and gawked at the ornamental coffins, bones and seagulls that hung on wires from a black ceiling.
The walls, too, were black. Purple tubes in each corner made everything phosphorescent. Skulls glowed on a shelf above a mirror behind the bartender. Heavy-metal music reduced conversation to broken shouts.
Hands and faces rose in ghoulish hues. Black-light posters in velvet glowed orange in the eyes of a panther, white in the foam of a waterfall, chocolate in the flesh of a naked woman with a peach-colored Afro and the word “freedom” in scarlet bleeding down her stomach. One of the barstools was an ejection seat from an American B-29.
Gil sucked down Heinekens as if he were back at the campus bar. He watched with awe the movie he was in. Then he felt logy. Heavy-legged. The room tilted. He broke out in a rash of sweat. Stammering, dizzy, short of breath, he told Paco to buy the next round.
Paco suggested they step outside, stop drinking for a while. Gil didn’t argue.
Wet night air ghosted from the pores of wobbly lanes, where snake-backed ribbons of cobblestone shone dully. A hint of scarlet flavored the mist as it scudded against brick, blurring each surface as it blurred connections to his limbs.
Paco led him down alleys and around corners. In the chilly dampness they turned up their coat collars and drove their hands into their pockets. They viewed one hooker after another, each in costume behind a glass door with a red light above it.
Gil’s eyes shone. He was walking an outdoor gallery of living mannequins behind glass. Hard to believe he was there, let alone stoned in such a province for bottom feeders. It was a squalid sink of ill repute, as absurd as it was bracing.
At each glass door that he studied, Gil knew the whore behind it was as lonely as he was. Come to me, she beckoned. I want you, Gil. You’re the one.
In another bar, downing another Heineken, he shot nine-ball against a runty sailor in a blue uniform, his hair salt-white. Gil beat him in two games.
His next opponent wore a Mohawk, each spike six inches high, anti-freeze green along their tips. He wore combat boots and camouflage parachute pants with drawstrings around each ankle. A skull and crossbones earring dangled from his left ear.
The body slam of the hash encouraged fearlessness spurred on by alcohol; Gil could beat anyone. "You’re going down," he shouted. The punk smirked at him, cursing in Dutch. Then he ran the table. Gil never even had a shot.
Paco, who’d been watching, shot Gil a look of annoyance, and then squeezed out of sight between bodies. Gil didn’t care. To hell with Paco, he was sick of buying him beers. There were women here, and he'd find one and she wouldn’t be a whore.
Gil, eyes bloodshot, held his beer as if it were a lantern. In prowl mode, moving from the pool table, wedging between bodies, he let himself be shoved back and forth. And he scored.
She was seated at the bar, puffing a clove cigarette. He loved the aroma. He moved closer. Yes, oh yes, she wanted him.
Heavy metal guitars thrashed and he shouted messy syllables that held her attention. She had horsy teeth, a big-boned face, eyes the green of apples, but she was a blonde and Gil went nuts for blondes. She whispered close to his ear in French while gently fondling his crotch.
If only his campus crew could see him. He was scoring in an Amsterdam dive. Oily sweat beaded his forehead as he followed the blonde outside. Her ass filled out an otherwise loose leather coat. He imagined running his hands all over it.
He followed her around a corner, and down a slender side street without cars. The gabled peaks of brick buildings tilted in at their tops, reducing the sky to a gash of smoky light with ragged edges that sucked night steam out of cobblestones.
Belching, feeling bloated yet giddy, Gil pushed the blonde against a wall and tried to make out with her. She was stronger than he’d suspected, and fought him off.
She pinned him against the wall and took control, driving her tongue into his mouth. She dropped to her knees, opened his fly and lodged his penis between her teeth. Her strength was unusual, but he was enjoying himself too much to think about it.
Working with speed and practiced urgency, the blonde now and then paused to ask, "Okay Cheri?"
Night air chilled the sweat running down Gil’s sides. He stammered, trying to answer, buckling as he let go, moaning "Oh, oh, oh my God…."
Wet air like a clamp around his drenched forehead and neck, Gil was certain the blonde had loved it. An icy tingle played in the roots of his hair, and he teetered as he watched her lick semen from knobby fingers. She was happy now, and so was he.
Where could they lie together in a blissful etude of silence? Nowhere. She had other ideas. Having cleaned her fingers, she tidied her dress and coat, poked a Galois between her lips, and lit up. One hip cocked, she held out her hand.
Wants money thought Gil. He studied her face. She looked away, as if bored. She was a whore, just like the rest of them she didn’t want him, at all.
He asked her how much. She held up three fingers. Thirty Euros, nearly fifty bucks American. Gil groused to himself, counting out the money. Then he watched her hurry off, click clacking over cobblestones.
He’d been taken, and wasn’t surprised to feel deflated, and disgusted by what he’d done. He scratched his hands against brick to clean them of semen. He gazed at the sky’s dark broth and thought: manipulative Paco, his fault.
It was time to sleep. He went in search of the Fat City boarding house.
He couldn't find it. Didn't care. His exhaustion, so thorough, had sweetened to indifference.
He wandered the neighborhood, as if floating. Found a cold wall to sit on, where he tucked hands under his thighs, dangling his feet while gazing at a canal. Then he curled up like a cat, the wall frigid against his bones.
Bed-spins forced him to sit up as a prickly sweat danced over his flesh. He soothed himself with the sound of water rocking against a houseboat. This helped him breathe easier, find calm, and sleep.
Meanwhile, the blonde returned to the bar, squeezing past a concerned Paco at the door. Their eyes met and the blonde flashed a coy grin. Paco, shaking his head, muttered, "Madre de Dios."
She ordered a cocktail. She fought her way to the men's room, where she counted her money while relieving herself standing up.
With a shrug, Paco ventured in search of Gil. He found him looking pasty-white, but his genuine smile was hard to resist.
"Hey Paco," said Gil. He sounded gentle and sheepish. He flopped down from the wall, staggering on his feet. "I got serviced, man. First time in a foreign country."
Paco laughed in his face, his eyes brimming with light. "Just when I think no more Americanos like this, you come."
Gil, bloodshot and pale, collapsed a little. The look of worry on his face halted Paco’s laughter.
"Man, why you making fun of me? You always do that."
"Gil, you naïve boy. Gil from Teaneck."
He hooked his arm around Gil’s, pulling him close to his side in the intimate European style. He walked him along. "You my amigo. I no laugh at you. I laugh at la vida loca. I take you other bar. More quiet. We sit. Play chess match. You like chess match?"
Gil lowered downy eyes. He felt cheated. Desire equaled rain–whatever that meant. "Yeah, sure, I love chess."
Paco said: "This bad place. Paco feel you like a brother. Stay with Paco."
Out of the darkness, canal waters lapped against stones.
John Flynn has work due out this year from The Paterson Review, The Powhatan Review, and Plumb Biscuit.
Photo "Saacht" courtesy of Ryan Aréstegüi, Brookfield, Wisconsin.
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