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The Newest of the New
Words by Ferguson Porter
Image by Claire LeFew
With the sedulous stroke of a pen, Sidney Burleson was officially divorced after thirty years of marriage. There was a persistent feeling that the past year, being inundated with the divorce proceedings, had moved by in slow increments. But time had passed at the rate it was supposed to pass and now Sidney was finally free of a life that he had agreed into, a life that a long time ago he had wanted.
#Unreal #Divorce #NewExperiences #Deception #Fiction
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On this final day, Sidney reveled in finally defeating his wife. Now she would be referred to as his “ex-wife” by everyone who already knew and anyone who had yet to know. He said only two words to her: “So long.” After he signed on the dotted line he flashed her an uncompromisingly smug smile. His teeth glistened as they revealed their whiteness from behind a healthy brown beard. He had worn his favorite navy blue suit — a present from her three years earlier for his fiftieth birthday, tailored to perfectly contour to his broad shoulders — out of spite.
Under the flat lighting of the conference room, Sidney left his ex-wife with her attorney. The attorney, doing his best to console her, held and patted her hands. Then he said some reassuring whispers that were only heard by the two of them. Sidney had concluded weeks earlier that his ex-wife was already having a personal, sexual relationship with her attorney, not just a professional one. She had moved on to a man who was almost fifteen years younger than her ex-husband. Sidney disapproved without actually caring. He did not want to see her or even think about her again. The past needed to die.
The afternoon sunlight was magnificent. Sidney walked out of the offices of Bale, Stern and Harmonie with a rejuvenated spirit. He moved quickly down the street, happy and eager to embrace his new world.
The HideOut lived up to its name. It was tucked away on a backstreet a mile away from the central highway, a deceptively long white building with a scattered deployment of trees surrounding it. It was the getaway for the quiet, and at times melancholy, bar patron. It was a place to imbibe and potentially meet someone without the stress of loud, blaring music. On certain nights the tickled ivory keys of the piano provided a soothing backdrop of sound.
Sidney had been to The HideOut several times in the last few weeks. He felt invigorated to finally go there without the weight of marriage. He walked up to the bar just as the bartender was skillfully pouring two simultaneous drinks, the vodka dripping into glasses full of ice and cranberry juice. When the drinks were properly mixed and handed off, the bartender caught Sidney’s eye with ease.
The bartender recognized Sidney from his previous appearances. “Hi there! Gin and tonic with a lime?” he asked.
Surprised to be recognized so easily, Sidney nodded and smiled. Being a man of uneventful existence, he had never gone to a bar on a consistent basis. He was mindful, to the point of worrying, of a person who goes to a bar so frequently that it becomes their home away from home; he was not sure that he wanted to be known as “a regular.”
The bartender mixed the drink efficiently and perfectly. He flashed his dimples. Then he reminded Sidney of the Happy Hour prices. Sidney gave the bartender his American Express card. The black one.
The bartender looked at Sidney’s credit card. He had never been given this card by Sidney or any other customer. He was thrown off. Knowing a face and matching it to a drink does not come close to knowing the truest pieces of a person. Still, he did his job, making sure to ask about keeping Sidney’s bar tab open.
Sidney thanked the bartender after he had a taste of his drink. His drink tasted strong, just how he liked it.
Lured by the faint smell of honeysuckle, Sidney took his glass and made his way towards the patio area of The HideOut. Going from the inside of the bar to the outside, he had to duck to avoid catching his head on a low hanging grapevine just under the doorway arch.
Whoever he was, he looked like Clark Kent for the new millennium. He had the whitest skin and the blackest hair that Sidney had ever seen, with eyes that shimmered like blue crystals magnified behind the lenses of his black-rimmed glasses. His jeans were custom faded and his T-shirt was pink. Both were formfitting to his thin but well-exercised physique. He sat alone with unshaken confidence. On the table in front of him was a glass filled with half-melted ice and water. He smoked a dark cigarette while reading a thin paperback that had clearly been read many times before. On the front cover of the book was a symbol drawn in chalk on the sidewalk, a symbol that looked like a trumpet. Sidney had never heard of the book nor of the book’s author. The front curl of his black hair would droop down whenever he moved his head or turned the page. With a delicate finger he would put the curl back in place while still holding the cigarette. The young man appeared to be no more than twenty years old. There he was, perched precisely on a cast-iron bench in the late afternoon afterglow. Reading. Smoking. Waiting.
Sidney continued to drink his gin and tonic with a lime as he watched the mysterious young man intensely from across the patio. Even though he had never accepted that these desires existed in him until he was long into his marriage, Sidney always had them. This was something different, a hungry lust. He wanted this beautiful creature.
The young man closed his book and refused to use a bookmark. He set the book down while thin grey smoke slid out of his nostrils. Sidney moved towards him. The young man heard the clunky steps of designer shoes on aged concrete as Sidney approached, but he did not look in the footsteps’ direction.
Sidney stopped in front of him. “Hi. Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked.
The young man said that he did not mind at all.
Sidney sat down beside the young man who then turned to briefly look at Sidney. “I’m Sidney.” A brisk moment of no response, then: “What’s your name?”
The young man looked again at Sidney. This time he studied Sidney closely, paying attention to his navy suit. He gave a sly smile and said his named was Devon. His crystals were fully revealed through the center of his frames.
“It’s nice to meet you, Devon. Very nice indeed. You’re very handsome, if you don’t mind me telling you that.”
Again, Devon did not mind at all.
“May I buy you another drink?” Sidney asked. Devon looked at his glass and discovered that his drink needed refreshing. He nodded to Sidney. “I’ll get you anything you want. What would you like?” Just being in Devon’s presence and talking to him excited Sidney. But, fearful of being rejected, it also made him nervous. His heart was beating heavily, the palpitations felt acutely throughout his body. Sidney hoped that Devon failed to take notice of his state.
Devon did not let on that he had noticed. Instead he politely asked for a Manhattan. Up.
Sidney smiled and returned to the bar.
Devon lit a new cigarette. The smoke lingered around him as he cast his eyes out, focusing on nothing, waiting patiently for his drink to be brought to him.
Thanks to his infatuation with the young man, Sidney was very curious to know what a Manhattan tasted like. He ordered the two identical drinks. Once again, Sidney surprised the bartender and the bartender still did his job.
With the glasses in his hands, Sidney suggested to Devon that they make a toast to new chapters in life. Devon took his glass and agreed to the toast. They each held their glass by the stems, close but not yet touching. They smiled at each other. Then the bells chimed.
They made idle conversation while sitting on the bench. Devon slowly nursed his drink and answered all of Sidney’s questions with charming vagueness. Eventually, Devon offered Sidney a cigarette, who declined. Sidney then insisted that Devon’s smoking did not bother him at all, never considering that Devon was in no way mindful of Sidney’s comfort.
While their conversation had been pleasant, it was also mundane. Sidney decided to reveal his personal thoughts about his spoiled marriage and his fresh divorce.
“Thirty years. Where did the time go? I thought the first few years were wonderful, even though I suppose I was clearly lying to myself that I was actually happy. We did have a great wedding and, yes, a very romantic and passionate honeymoon. She got pregnant a year after we were married. We just have our daughter. She’s married and lives in New Mexico. Sounds ridiculous and perhaps, oh my god, so hilariously obvious, but I wonder if we did stay together for so long to raise Leah as a normal family. Once she left for college…shit, that’s when the trouble started between us. We started to fight more. We became petty and sniped at each other all the time. It got so bad one year we wouldn’t even sleep in the same bed for months. We just couldn’t stand to be around each other. And then one day I guess she finally grew a pair. That’s when she came to me and tells me that she wants a divorce. No, not tell. Demand. She demanded a divorce from me!”
Sidney paused to take a drink of his Manhattan. He made a brief smacking sound of his lips, marveling at the sweetness and the bitterness rolling around together. “She says she knew about me when we married even though I didn’t know about myself. I don’t believe her. Doesn’t matter. We still went through with it. Marriage. Shit. And I was always faithful to her. Always! I never strayed with another woman or even a man. I bet she thinks I didn’t know about all the times she was unfaithful to me. Oh, I knew. I knew! Funny thing is…I didn’t give a damn. It would’ve been easy to have acted superior and then throw it back at her. I would love to have sees the look on her little face.”
Sidney took another drink. Devon lit up another fresh cigarette. He was very engaged in the way Sidney spoke and what he had to say. “My lawyer says she threatened to use my — whats the word she used? — my ‘persuasion’, what she knew about me, against me. Thomas is very clever and ruthless. I’m lucky I have him. I didn’t even have to use her affairs against her.” Sidney suddenly felt self-conscious. “God, I am talking too much. I must be boring you.”
Devon shook his head, his black curl falling down and, like always, put back into place. He assured Sidney that it was safe to continue.
Sidney adjusted his posture. He was unsure about maintaining the control of the conversation. He felt more apprehensive than when he had started talking to Devon an hour or so earlier. His newfound lust had fueled his courage. Now the strong mix of time and alcohol had taken that courage away. Devon looked at Sidney, waiting for him to speak again.
Sidney stood up. “I’m going to get us another round of drinks.” He was telling, not asking. Devon was amused at Sidney’s obvious discomfort.
Devon’s drink was not even halfway gone. He drained his drink in one swallow and handed the empty glass to Sidney. Then he watched Sidney return to the bar. The young man thought about about how annoying it was to have to consume a drink faster than he would have normally liked. He was fond of the savoring.
Inside of The HideOut there were more patrons than there were previously. The overlapping voices registered as heavy pressure at the center of Sidney’s forehead. He wondered if the music had also gotten louder or if perhaps his senses were just amplified, an effect from the drinks. Still, he ordered their next round of drinks.
Five feet away from Sidney, at the corner of the bar, a man in a grey shirt was looking outside. Sidney followed the man’s explicit gaze. The man was eyeballing Devon. Sidney was offended. He felt a possessive hold over Devon. As the bartender mixed and poured two more Manhattans, the man at the corner of the bar turned and locked on to Sydney’s hateful glare.
“He’s very cute, isn’t he?” the man asked Sidney.
Sidney wanted to tell the man at the corner of the bar to keep his eyes and his thoughts away from Devon. He held back, only responding with a reluctant nod. The man took a drink of his cheap chardonnay and looked back at Devon. Sidney scowled and grabbed the other glass.
As he moved away from the bar, Sidney had made it nearly halfway towards the exit when he heard the man speak again. “I bet he is worth every dollar.”
Sidney stopped in his tracks and looked around. There was no indication that any of the other patrons had heard what Sidney had just heard. Nor did it appear that anyone cared that Sidney was standing in the center of the moody nowhere. He felt strangely alone and vulnerable, like an abandoned infant. Sidney, his face turned in profile to the man, spoke back. “Excuse me?”
The man at the corner of the bar said nothing in return. Instead he smiled on one side of his face, his closed thin lips making the shape of a protruding wire. Sidney walked back outside. The unwanted music and voices faded away.
Devon was now sitting in a more relaxed posture on the bench when Sidney returned. He handed off the drink but avoided making any eye contact, even when Devon thanked him for going to so much trouble. Devon, sensing a significant shift in his benefactor’s temperament, sipped his fresh drink and waited.
Sidney set his drink down. Still flustered from his encounter at the bar, he searched for the nerve to ask Devon a question. He would never have considered asking anything so personal if not for the prompting from the man at the corner of the bar. Sidney’s questioning was clumsy. “Are you a…are you by any chance…do you happen to be…you know?” Devon, shaking his head, did not know what Sidney was asking. The next question was asked directly: “Are you a prostitute?”
There was a flash just beyond Devon’s glasses as he put another cigarette to his lips. He revealed his preferred term only after lighting his cigarette and taking his time to consider what to say. “The term I like to use is Escort,” Devon said. His voice sounded like a lilting stream of silk.
Then Devon described to Sydney in detail how the transaction would occur — that is if he decided to make a transaction with Devon. Primarily, Sidney would need to give Devon a lot of cash. Depending on which role Sidney wanted Devon to play, he needed to put the cash in either the front or back pocket of Devon’s jeans. This would have to be done discreetly and before they left The HideOut. Devon proceeded to list the type of activities that the two of them could and could not engage in. He recited them with well rehearsed ease.
Sidney listened painstakingly to Devon’s instructions, marveling at their specificity. He was disappointed in himself for projecting an aura of innocence on someone who was clearly far removed from it. However, he realized that with the capital he retained in his divorce he could pay for anything he wanted. Sidney wanted Devon. He did not care if he had to pay for the privilege.
The sun had faded behind the trees. They were now surrounded by patterned shadows. “Can I kiss you?” Sidney asked. Devon nodded and moved closer. Sidney tasted the alcohol on Devon.
Devon parted from Sidney so that he could resume his drink. Sidney returned to their conversation with relaxed comfort, all the while smiling and looking fondly at Devon. Their conversation was equally divided in participation, but neither of them said anything significantly memorable.
When their drinks were finished, Sidney had made his decision. He accompanied Devon to the parking lot of The HideOut. Fate had them parked beside each other – Sidney’s pristine black Mercedes and Devon’s dusty red Mustang. Sidney walked behind Devon and watched his perfect movements. With no warning, he jammed all of his available cash into Devon’s back pocket. Devon was surprised at how aggressive Sidney was, but he allowed this to happen. Sidney’s hand lingered inside of Devon’s jeans.
Sidney, now the one giving instructions, told Devon to follow closely behind in his car. They would caravan to Sidney’s house. Then they would proceed with the second part of their new relationship.
Sidney pulled his car into the driveway of his two-story mid-century modern house. Now that he was divorced, the house was unequivocally his.
The design of the house was also Sidney’s, finally using his years of architectural knowledge and skill for his own benefit. He planned the way that the hallway led from the foyer to the guest bedrooms and around to the kitchen. Tired of designing formulaic bathrooms, he mapped out the rounded angle of the large shower stall to block the view of the toilet while allowing for an openness in the entire bathroom. The back porch, with its screen windows and sliding glass doors, could adapt perfectly to any environment, giving off a romantic ambiance in any season. The house had been designed for a perfect family of three. Now it was only occupied by one.
Sidney was tense. He was always in chronic worry about the house’s appearance. That worry increased whenever guests were coming over. He hoped that the house would be suitably presentable. He had not expected to have a guest over so soon after his divorce, certainly not a guest who was young, beautiful, and paid for. For now it was better to worry than continue to feel lonely inside his prized creation. Devon would be his elixir.
Only when the roar of the engine was silenced by the turn of his key did Sidney realize that Devon and his red Mustang were nowhere in sight. He was so distracted by his own fluctuating emotions that he failed to notice that Devon’s car had deviated from its path several turns ago.
Paralyzed by confusion, Sidney sat in his car until the interior lights dimmed to darkness. He had failed to contemplate that someone as well mannered as Devon would take advantage of him. Devon had set out to do his worst. Because of Sidney’s generosity, he was successful. Sidney wished that he could hide in his car. He wanted to delay the inevitable shameful walk to his front door, as if there was someone out there who was watching him with knowledge of his failure.
The light on the front porch illuminated automatically with his presence. Sidney sat on his front porch and waited. He held out hope that somehow he had not been made a fool. He listened as the crickets conversed with the night. Minutes and then hours gave him the answer that he had feared.
Sidney asked the question without announcing himself. “Did you ever even like me?”
“Did I like you? What are you talking about?” she asked with the telephone receiver pressed firmly into her cheek.
“Did you ever look at me any time and say to yourself ‘I like Sidney. He’s a good man. I’m glad I married him.’? Ever do that even once?”
She paused, seriously considering the question. “You sound drunk, Sidney,” she said.
“I’ve been out on the town. That’s right.” Sidney raised an empty glass, its contents already consumed prior to the phone call. The ice cubes clinked at the sides. He was still wearing his navy suit.
“And you thought you would call me because…?”
“I wanted to know if you liked me.” He knew that the words sounded juvenile, yet he was unable to prevent himself from saying them.
“Sidney. It’s fucking late. I really don’t–”
“I was a good father. I was a good husband.”
She was sitting up in bed. He could hear the bed sheets ruffling and the creaking sounds made along the box springs. “Yeah, I guess at times you were. What’s your point?”
“I just–I couldn’t think of anyone else to call. I…I’m lonely.” She started to feel pity for him, but then her ex-husband said, “You got all of our friends.”
“Well you got the house. And the money.”
“A house I built. Money I earned.”
“Go to bed and move on, Sidney. It’s done.” She hung up on him.
Sidney heard the disconnecting click. Though sufficiently inebriated, Sidney realized that she never answered his question. This night was full of absent answers. He carefully laid the receiver down on its side. The unrelenting sound of the dial tone was comforting.
Sidney returned to The HideOut multiple times over the next several days looking for Devon. He never knew what he would say to Devon if he ever saw him again. There would be no melodramatic scene. There would be no altercation. He certainly was not looking to get his money back. Sidney concluded that a part of him wanted to understand if what had happened was something common in his newly discovered world. It was a ridiculous notion to consider.
But his encounter with Devon had happened…
Desperate, Sidney eventually decided to ask the friendly bartender if Devon had returned to The HideOut anytime recently. Sidney gave no incriminating details as to why he was looking for him. There was no need to share the embarrassment of their only interaction.
“Devon?” the bartender asked.
“Yes. Devon.” Sidney then described Devon at length to the bartender using idolatrous terms.
The bartender smiled knowingly when he realized who Sidney was describing. His smile then turned into a frown when saw the unhidden hope on his customer’s face. He would have to shatter that hope.
The bartender said flatly, “His name’s not Devon.”
Sidney wanted to hear more; he needed to comprehend what the bartender had just said. The bartender said nothing else, leaving the explanation bare.
The bartender retrieved an empty glass and scooped up the ice. He poured gin into tonic and dropped in the lime. “This one’s on me,” the bartender said. The glass glided across the counter to Sidney.
Sidney looked inside the glass. He watched the waves of small transparent bubbles rise and then burst when they reached the top. That was when Sidney, experiencing cavernous lamentations, realized just how much of a patsy Devon had made of him.
Sidney looked at the bartender again. “Thank you very much. You’re sweet,” he said.
“My pleasure,” the bartender said.
Sidney went out to the patio where he could be in what was left of the sunlight. He sat down on the familiar cast-iron bench. He took a slow sip then held the glass in his gently lap with both hands. He decided that he did not want to talk to anyone. He also decided that he preferred a gin and tonic with a lime to a Manhattan.
On the ground behind one of the legs of the bench Sidney noticed the butt of one of Devon’s dark cigarettes. It had miraculously managed to avoid being blown away by the wind and the movements of passersby. It remained exactly where it had been tossed aside, a relic of a once new opportunity that was not Sidney’s to have.