Charlie played with the gun, running his hands over it’s cool blue steel. He checked to see that it was loaded, and pointed it at Rosa’s fish tanks. Quite a mess that would make, he thought. He imagined the water pouring out through the holes, like blood pouring out of a body, splashing onto the floor, slowly seeping in. He pointed the gun at the sepia-toned picture of him and Rosa dressed in period clothes from the Civil War. He looked just like a bearded Union officer with the brass buttons on the uniform and the sword held across his body. Rosa was dressed in a long dark dress with lace on the ends of the sleeves, and a wide hat provided by the photo shop. She looked so happy. He put the gun barrel in his mouth. He put his finger on the trigger and slowly pulled the hammer back, but slowly released it, and brought his hand with the gun down to his lap. He emptied the gun of bullets, then put it back in his mouth and pulled the trigger – click! Click. Click-click-click! Click. He put the bullets back in. Again he put the gun to his mouth, and cocked it. It would only take a slight pressure to set it off now.
That night, three weeks ago, still played in his mind, in an endlessly repeating loop. He remembered how the evening started. He had walked into the bathroom. Rosa was standing at the sink putting on makeup.
“Mind if I take a leak?” he said.
“If you’re going to this party, aren’t you going to shower?”
“I’m planning to.”
“Well, now, after I pee.”
“We’ll be late.”
“No we won’t, I’ll be real quick. I know how important this party is to you.” Rosa turned, then turned back to Charlie and said, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t go.”
“What? You been wanting to go to this party all week. Now I’m all fired up and ready to party. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Rosa said quietly.
“You seem upset,” Charlie said. “Do you want to stay home?”
“I’m not upset. Just hurry up so we can go.”
“Sure. Rosa?” Charlie put his arm around Rosa, and tried to kiss her.
“Not now! I just put makeup on, and you smell.” She pushed him away.
“I’ll be ready in five minutes,” Charlie said, cheerfully. He felt rejected, but didn’t want to get Rosa any more upset. He thought she was being especially difficult lately. He did his best to get ready fast, although he couldn’t understand why there was such a hurry. It was just a dumb party. There’d be drinks and dancing, but the political animals would be out to convert them. He knew that they had been trying to get Rosa into their little socialist sect, and he and Rosa had been to a lot of their meetings. Even a Party can have a party, he had decided.
BEEP-BEEP. BEEP-BEEP. Rosa was leaning on the horn of her car, her ex-husband’s MG Midget. Charlie had to run out to the car.
“What’s the hurry? I was on my way.”
“I just wish you’d get ready ahead of time.”
“I was ready. It only took me a few minutes. Why the rush?” To himself, he fumed, Hell, you spent an hour and a half getting ready.
The rest of the drive was silent. Rosa pulled up to the curb on a strange block. Charlie decided to see if Rosa was still upset, so he said, “I’ve never been here. Whose house is this?” To his relief, Rosa seemed relaxed, “It’s Carol’s,” she answered, “You remember the blonde – with the Carpenters Union?”
“Yeah, I know the one.”
Inside, they were warmly welcomed. Too much! Charlie thought. These people are too friendly to be believed. They were soon separated by smiling people, people who never seemed to stop smiling, and not incidentally trying to discuss their own “correct” analyses of current events. Rosa and Charlie got some wine. People talked to them, dividing their attention different ways. Charlie noticed Rosa being dragged into a discussion in another room. Divide and conquer, that’s their plan, he thought. Charlie started in her direction when he was intercepted by Rebecca. She was one of the group’s better people, Charlie thought, friendly, but not always pushing the party line on him.
“Hey Charlie,” she said excitedly, “people are watching Star Trek in the next room. Wanna watch?” That’s a great idea. He’d just spent ten minutes in a useless conversation with Larry, who was insisting that Charlie define himself politically. Charlie had told him that he figured he was kind of a hippie redneck, just to shut him up. That somehow made Larry mad, and he said that he didn’t know how Rosa put up with that. What’s it to him? Charlie thought. Well, Rosa can see through these people. So he joined a small group around the TV, glad to be away from Larry. He watched a bit of the show, until he heard music start up in the other room. The music had people up and dancing, and several people asked Charlie to dance, before he had a chance to look for Rosa. After he’d danced to a couple of songs she walked into the room.
“Come on, let’s dance,” he said.
“No, I don’t feel like dancing,” Rosa said, coldly.
“Don’t feel like dancing? But this is a party, the music’s great. Hey, c’mon, let’s go for it.” Charlie put his hand in hers, and gently pulled, but was shocked to find that she was not only resisting him, but stiff, and pulling away.
“Rosa, what’s wrong?” Just then there were some new arrivals at the door. Rosa turned to him, said, “Alright, let’s dance,” but it was a futile effort. She was still stiff and her movements were jerky and uncoordinated. “Rosa, are you OK?” Charlie asked.
“Do you want to go home?”
On the way home Charlie tried to find out what was wrong, but Rosa just said that she was tired, that they could talk when they got home. As they walked in their door, Charlie asked, “Do you feel like talking now?”
“No. Yes. Oh, I don’t know, let’s go to bed.” They walked into the bedroom, but Rosa sat on the bed and started crying.
“Rosa, what is it?” Charlie put his arm around her, and they sat hugging each other awhile on the edge of the bed.
“Charlie, I’ve been seeing someone else.” Charlie didn’t say anything, he just held her tighter.
“Do you know who it is?” Charlie didn’t know what to say. He was thinking, Is this the same woman who told me that we were through if I ever touched another woman?
“Uh, is it Tom?” Tom had once been their roommate. He was a good friend of Rosa’s, and they talked with each other a lot.
“Tom?” she said, opening her eyes wide. “No!” she said, in an exasperated tone. “It’s Larry.”
Charlie almost laughed. Not Larry. He’s the most obnoxious, artificial bore I ever met.
“I don’t care,” he told her, “I love you.” But she started crying again. He hugged her tighter, and she continued to cry. Charlie felt numb. He wasn’t mad. He found it hard to think. He loved Rosa, and here she was crying. He wanted to comfort her. Surely, he wondered, if she’s crying, she must still love me? They sat there for minutes – five, ten, thirty – then wordlessly undressed and got under the covers.
Charlie didn’t know what to do. He loved Rosa, and didn’t want to have to think about anything else. He kissed her, and tried to make love. Rosa didn’t resist, but she was limp, unresponsive. Charlie kissed her mouth and neck. He kissed her cheeks, her forehead, the space between her eyes, and kissed the salty space below her eyes that had so recently been flooded with tears. He wondered if he would ever be able to touch her again. He kissed her some more, moving down her body, to her shoulders, and to her breasts. He paused to run his tongue briefly around her nipples. He kissed her stomach, her thighs, and in between. Rosa put her arms around him loosely.
After a few minutes, Charlie found that he could enter her easily. But she didn’t respond to his thrusts. She was passive, and quiet. Charlie kept trying to excite her.
He turned over and put Rosa on top. Charlie was feeling less passion now, but he wanted Rosa to know how much he wanted her. He wanted to remind her of the fun they’d always had in bed. He continued to kiss her, to touch her, to fuck her. Suddenly Rosa was crying, and Charlie stopped. He pulled her flat against his chest, and then lay silently while Rosa gently sobbed. Rosa Rosa, Rosa, was all Charlie thought. He loved her; always would.
In the morning, they were still curled together. Charlie lay awake for several minutes, digesting all the events of the previous evening. He reveled in Rosa’s warm nude body softly pressed against him. She moved slightly, pressing closer to him. But he had to know. He had to see what the new day might have brought.
“How are you, Rosa?” he ventured, and instantly regretted it, for she had still been asleep. She opened her eyes slowly, looked at Charlie, and rolled quickly out of his arms, and out of the bed.
She hurried into the bathroom. Charlie waited in the bed. When Rosa stepped out of the bathroom, he held an arm out to her, beckoning her to return to his side. She began hastily dressing.
“What are you going to do?” Charlie asked.
“I have things to do. I have to go.”
“Go where?” Charlie asked, dreading the answer.
“I don’t know. Charlie, I need time to think.”
“When will you be back?” Charlie asked.
“I won’t be back, Charlie. I have, I have to go.” It was Charlie’s turn to cry. Rosa came to him, and he began to sob, tears streaming from his eyes, along his nose, into his mouth and beard. Rosa held him while his body shook and heaved, and he cried. After he calmed down, she gently released herself from his arms.
“Do you have to go?” Charlie asked. Rosa looked away. “Where are you going?” he asked again.
“Probably to my sisters house. I need time to myself, time away from both of you.” Charlie straightened up, calmed himself. Maybe it’ll be OK, he thought. “I have to go grocery shopping,” he said to her. “Do you need anything from the store?”
“No,” she said, and hurried out the door. Charlie looked out at her, watched her as she started her car, and quickly drove out of the cul-de-sac, disappearing around the fire station on the corner. He heard her car’s engine accelerate down the street. She was gone.
Charlie had found Rosa’s thirty-eight snub-nose in the closet. She’d been gone for three weeks, and she no longer said she needed time to think. Five days ago, too anxious to wait any longer for her decision, he had called her from a phone booth. She was in love with Larry. She said, “We’ll always be friends, Charlie.” Right. He didn’t know what else to say; she’d made her decision. He pounded on the glass walls of the booth, hoping to break them. In his mind the booth shattered, he cut his wrists, and ended up in the hospital. Rosa would be sorry.
All of her things were still in the house, except for a few clothes. Charlie felt more lonely than he ever had, more so than before he’d met Rosa. When he met her two years ago she’d been married, but left her husband for Charlie. Charlie had been surprised. He liked Rosa, but was just passing through. He’d been traveling across country, enjoying his freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Meeting Rosa had changed his plans. At first, Charlie had simply found Rosa attractive. When he found that she was married he’d been disappointed. But Rosa offered him room at her house for a few days. He discarded the idea of sex with Rosa when he met her tall, blue eyed husband. Hans seemed an ideal husband, affectionate, intelligent, and open-minded. Hard to compete with that, Charlie thought. Although he worked, he didn’t seem to mind his wife’s role as director of a public interest group. Nor had he insisted on a common surname. Rosa had discarded his last name for her own. Hans even cooked dinner for them all the first night Charlie slept in their living room.
Rosa was bright and witty. She’d traveled a lot while she and her husband were in the Peace Corps together. She told Charlie about her experiences in Africa and her vacations in Europe. Since Charlie had never been out of the United States, he was fascinated. Here was the kind of woman he’d been hoping to meet, but she was married, so, Oh well, he thought. But he enjoyed talking with her. They discussed feminism and socialism, and Vietnam, and racism. They got high too. She had a stash of some really primo weed. One day, she invited Charlie to join her and her husband at a party. At the party, she danced with Charlie. He found himself really liking this woman, but he knew he had to leave soon. As they talked and laughed and danced, Charlie regretted that he’d probably never see her again.
Moving from one room to another, Charlie passed Rosa, stopped, and spontaneously kissed her. Rosa liked it. She pulled Charlie into the bathroom and shut the door. Charlie was pretty nervous about that, but Rosa was on fire, it seemed, until there was a knock on the door.
“Rosa! Are you in there?” boomed through the door. Rosa turned out the light in a panic. It didn’t help. Hans had been looking for her. Charlie turned the light back on and opened the door to an enraged Hans. Hans, however, said nothing, turned and walked away. Rosa ran after him. Charlie found another place to sleep that night. He was ashamed of himself, but expected that Hans and Rosa would patch things up. All we did was kiss, he thought. We just kissed.
In the morning, however, Rosa found Charlie and woke him up. “Rosa! What happened?” Charlie asked. “Oh, it’s OK. We talked about it. Don’t worry about it.” “Are you sure, Rosa? I never thought I’d see you again.” “Do you want to see me?” she asked. “Of course!” “Let’s go for a drive.” Rosa drove back to the house they’d partied at the night before. The house would be empty all day, and her friend had given her a key. Charlie was shocked, and nervous, but he overcame his misgivings when Rosa dropped her clothes. In fact, nothing existed then but him and Rosa.
Later, although glowing from his sexual encounter with Rosa, Charlie knew he still had to leave. Rosa was married, after all, and it was time to move on. Rosa, however, had other ideas. She said that she wanted to leave her husband. She said she had been trying to leave him for some time. “Now’s the time,” she told him. “But I’m leaving tomorrow,” Charlie reminded her. “Just stay two more weeks,” Rosa asked. When she looked at him, Charlie’s resolve melted. He could do that. He could stay two weeks, just to see what might come of this.
Rosa dropped Charlie off much later that day. They were saying good-bye, kissing each other just one more time. Rosa made Charlie promise not to say anything to her husband. “I want to tell him myself,” she insisted. As they kissed, just one more time, standing by her car on the curb, an old Dodge truck drove up, tires squealing as it jerked to a stop, crookedly, in front of them. Hans jumped out. “Are you fucking my wife?” he demanded of Charlie. Charlie was speechless. On the one hand he wanted to admit his guilt, bare his sin, and take his punishment. On the other hand, Rosa had insisted that he not tell Hans anything. He took the cowardly way out. He said, “Well, I had wanted to.” It was not admitting anything one way or the other. He didn’t want to just say “no”. What will he do if Rosa tells him? Charlie wondered. Maybe this way he’ll think I only tried to seduce her.
“What the hell does that mean?” Hans roared. Charlie was trying to think of what to say next when Rosa intervened. She grabbed Hans’s hand, and led him away. Rosa talked, Hans shouted. In the end, they drove away, Hans following the little MG in the old Dodge, but not before telling Charlie, “You stay the hell away from my wife! You hear me? Stay away from her, or I’ll kill you.”
Charlie wished he had now. He’d never felt this bad before. As he toyed with the gun, tasting the steel on his tongue, he still needed something to convince him to do it himself. Hans had left Rosa. She had come to Charlie, and Charlie couldn’t leave her. He found a job. He and Rosa rented a comfortable house. He’d felt such happiness with Rosa, such peace. On a trip home from Taos one day, Charlie told Rosa that he wanted to have children with her. He hadn’t wanted to have children before he met her. Rosa had smiled, and told him that she had said the same thing to a girlfriend just days before. She wanted a baby with Charlie. She’d never wanted to have children with Hans. They planned a long life together then, with a child or two. Charlie planned to build a house for them all. It was the happiest time Charlie had ever known.
Now it was over, and Charlie didn’t care about anything. He didn’t care about politics, or changing the world, or music, or sunsets. He closed the windows against the shrill noise of the birds. Rosa had taken her cats, and her dog, and Charlie was completely alone. The dog at least would have been some company. He had no family in town, except for Rosa’s family. It was Sunday, so Rosa and Larry were there now. His only close friends were out of town.
<– (Graffiti art. Photo by Paul Armstrong)
Charlie took the gun out of his mouth again. He walked out the back door to the back wall, and fired into the field behind the house. The noise, and the burst of light jolted Charlie’s senses. He couldn’t hear anything for a moment, but he saw a car on the street a few blocks away suddenly pull over and stop. Charlie looked at the car. He looked at the gun. He removed the spent shell and tossed it over the wall. He went back inside, afraid that someone had seen him, that they thought he was shooting at them, that they would call the police.
He felt foolish. Here he was worried about the police, when he was going to kill himself anyway. Not the police. My mom, my brothers and sisters. What will they think? They’ll miss me. This is more than just me. And Rosa, what will she think? Hah! She won’t care. Well, maybe she will, for a few days, or a few weeks. Maybe she’d even cry. But that’s all. Then she’ll forget me altogether. She might even laugh at me, be glad I’m gone, out of the way. She’ll be free to live her life with Larry and never think of me again. NO! Damn it. I’m not going to make their life that easy!
He put the gun back in the closet where Rosa had kept it. He was tired, and hungry. He hadn’t slept much in the past three weeks, and hadn’t eaten for the last five days. He forced himself to drink a glass of water, one swallow at a time. He made two pieces of toast. He ate one. He went to sleep.