The spring rains washed the dirt from the streets. Thunder echoed across the city and lightning slashed jagged bolts through the sky like a celestial film crew was remaking THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW. Every song was written about Elana and I was tossed out of several bars for punching out the jukebox.
Other women had lips too thin and their eyes dead from too many boyfriends. I begged the old Puerto Rican lady to exorcise Elana from my soul.
“You tell her stay?” she asked in broken English.
“No, she wanted to go, so she went.”
“Stupido, you no say no go, she go. You say stay, she stay.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I am a witch.” The old lady slammed her door. “Not your mother.”
May plowed relentlessly into June. Couples strolled hand in hand and I woke day after day alone in my bed. Summer promised much more of the same, then one morning someone jiggled my front door. The East Village was overrun by thieves. I grabbed my baseball bat and ripped open the door.
”Don’t hit me.” Elana cringed in the hallway.
“I won’t hit you.” It took a couple of seconds to lower the bat.
“You mad?” She leaned against the door.
“No, surprised, that’s all.” She had a black eye and wore a thin cotton shift. Everything else was in a paper bag. “And Danny?”
Heart-rending sobs racked her body and the old senora leaned out her door, her left eye armed for a hex. Elana rattled off an explanation in English and added, “He’s not bad man.”
“You take care of her or else.” The wizened witch warned with a wavering finger.
“I will.” As a superstitious Irish-American I feared her ‘or else’ worse than any hell promised by the nuns and priests.
Elana was sitting on my living room couch. I joined her and she laid her head on my lap. Her tears dried on my jeans and she regained her breath. The window was open and music played from the dance studio. It was Issac Hayes' version of BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX.
“I get to Gloucester and Danny is very happy." Elana wiped her nose with the back of her hand and then continued, "We move to an old boat in the harbor and make love for many days. After two months I ask him to marry me.” Her confession chipped at my heart. “Danny goes crazy. He throws me out of the boat. He beats me, telling me I am trying to steal his freedom. I stay on his boat and cry myself to sleep. I wake up, Danny is gone to sea. I wait one week. He stays at sea. He love the sea more than me. Where can I go? Not home. I come here. You are my only friend. Can I stay with you?”
“As long as you want.” Maybe forever.<
“It has been so long.” She stripped off her clothes to reveal the fading belt marks and bruises, but she sighed, “They will leave. I will not.”
The door remained shut for days. She was my slave and I hers. Somehow the sex was different and I put my finger on this change one afternoon, as we lay naked on my bed.
Elana’s lips were moving in what I thought was a slattern incantation, but then I deciphered two syllables. With her eyes closed I was Danny. This substituted identity sobered my lust and I rolled off her.
“I’m tired.” Like that the end began.
Each time she tried to seduce me with her hands or mouth or body, I said I wasn’t in the mood. Frustrated she would storm off to the old senora. I quelled my discontent with drink and drugs, a deadly combination on a motorcycle. One night I fell through the door in a near-stupor.
“You should not drive in that condition.” Elana helped me to bed.
“I was waiting for you.”
“Why? Couldn’t you find one of your little dancers or another version of Danny?”
Her face went white and she ran into the bedroom.
Comforting her was a small price to pay. Perhaps one day she might have called my name. My pride argued I didn’t need her. It didn’t take long to discover the penalty of my self-deceit.
When I crawled into bed around dawn, ready to repent, she showed her back. That afternoon I told her, “Elana, my sister is coming to the city.”
“I have to leave?” Her feet slowed across the floor.
“Do you have anyplace to go?”
“Yes, I will stay with friends.” She stood without mentioning who those friends might be and I left before I regretted my lie.
When I returned, she was gone. A quick check revealed that she had stolen a couple hundred dollars. It seemed a small price to pay for her leaving, only I was hiding the real cost.
The old lady across the hall asked about Elana.
Wicked Spanish hissed from her lips and I fled inside my apartment too late. Chicken bones were scattered on my door step and her cackling filled the hallway. Her curse sentenced me to another desert.
Some women sought to be friends and others thought I was gay. Mrs. Adorno seemed to shrink every week of this penance. I searched the streets of the East Village for Elana. No one would say where she was, even though I could tell they knew.
Sherri flew into town for a dance session at Show World. She patiently listened to my story and then said, “I used to think that sex was the answer, but I’ve learned that the sex is sex. Nothing more and people make too much of it. To sell movies. To sell TV time. To sell cars. It’s not about the sex. It’s about the way you feel when you have sex with someone you love. Everything else you can get from jerking off.”
“Everything?” I had my doubts.
“Well, only if you don’t think masturbation is a sin.”
“I was brought up Catholic.”
“Then you’re doomed to damnation.”
“And wouldn’t have it any other way.” Sherri and I were destined to survive our tribulations if only to tell people about them, since most of what we would have to say was unbelievable. We weren’t the only people with stories.
In early autumn I ran into Danny at a gallery opening for his friend, Jean-Michel. His face was weathered by the sea. I lunged at him and people had to hold us apart, but finally I calmed down and he asked, “What did Elana say to you?”
“That you had beaten her.”
“I never touched her.” Danny grabbed at a passing glass of wine. I took another. Like me he wasn’t a woman-beater. “I wasn’t pissed at you for taking care of Elana. When she came up to Gloucester I could tell it was different between us. We only had sex that first night and the rest of the time she would look out the window at the harbor.”
“You lived in a house?”
“On a wharf really.”
I knew Gloucester and bet the wharf was on Rocky Neck. “She lied about that?”
“She tell you a story about her mother abandoning her?” Danny’s eyes went sad. “I met her mother and father in Madrid. Had a dance school. Nice people. The other story was what you needed to hear. What men wanted to hear, because she thought she wasn’t enough to be who she wanted to be?”
“I didn’t see her that way.”
”Neither did I, but she did.”
“So now what?”
“Let’s get drunk.” We drank whiskey at the Odeon. He slept over my apartment and in the morning left for Gloucester. I wished him luck. No one did the same for me, then again what else could expect from New York.
Amnesia was the best I could get from that city.