"OH! You deed not! OH! You deed not! What are you doeeng?" she shouted. "You get dees off of me right now!"
It was a million dollar wedding reception for a wealthy young New York couple at an old Spanish military fort on an oasis of green in the terse Texas Hill Country. I was hanging lights under one of the large white canopied tents amidst the clamor of working crew when the white rental van that she was driving came flying across the grounds blaring hip hop and blowing a dust cloud over us as it pulled to an abrupt halt amidst the shimmering waves of heat rising off the field.
“I’ll bet it’s another one of those damn New Yorkers from the design group,” my friend Jimmy on the lighting crew said as the girl who’d been driving stepped out of the van, shielding her eyes against the white hot glare of the Texas sun.
She looked trashy chic, like a ravaged urban desperado, the victim of some sort of psychic crime. Her hair was shocked and indifferent. A cigarette dangled out of the corner of her mouth. She wore a blue blouse, a few buttons open, braless. A large belt buckle was centered on her shining polyester pants that were tucked into knee high riding boots. Her face was round, yet angular, soft but with an edge, like a Picasso. And when she spoke I had trouble understanding her because of her thick foreign accent. I asked her where she was from as she stepped into the shade of the tent and slowly walked toward me, a waifish pallor blond approaching her with a set of plans. She paused, her eyes shifting in my direction as she pulled the thin hand rolled cigarette from her mouth and blew smoke from her nose, “France” she said sharply and with as little enthusiasm as someone could possibly muster for a response. Then she looked absently away, solidifying my fear that I’d become a no one, that my life at 35 had amounted to nothing. She sensed me watching her and glanced briefly out of the corner of her eye, one hand on her hip, the other pulling reflexively on the cigarette that rested loosely in her lips as she and a pale, sour looking blond conspired over the set of plans that they held between them. She looked up, catching my eye briefly, then stepped out from under the tent to leave. I asked her her name. Marie, she said as she turned, the sun glinting off her face.
I stood staring as the van that she was driving disappeared over the small ridge of trees near the mission and the air became crystalline, as though just before a storm.
“I don’t think you made much of an impression on her,” Jimmy said, putting his hand on my shoulder and staring off into the distance blankly. “Now get back to work.”
“I wanna fuck her,” I said staring into the horizon.
“I hope that works out for ya Corey,” he said, walking away.
The next few days I watched her as she worked in the stifling heat, sweat staining her shirt, her sooty eyes staring across the dry and unforgiving landscape into nothing as she directed the organized chaos of her ten person design crew with a sullen graceful confidence, an air of quiet desperation filling her movements, as though she were trying to lose herself in her work.
After work one night her company took us out to dinner at a barbecue joint along the winding Hill Country road between the mission and our nowhere motel. Inside a country band played for tips on a small wooden stage to room full of picnic tables and locals surrounded by chicken wire windows. Outside on the back porch we sat under the star scattered sky, the slow twanging music and the smoked barbeque filling the air as the neon beer signs reflected off peoples sun burnt faces. Jimmy talked and laughed with a girl named Stephanie from the design crew as Marie sat stoically alone at the end of the picnic table, unwilling to engage with her co-workers in the morbid talk of work, and I sipped on my beer trying to catch her attention. She didn’t look up at me once. And I knew that I was nothing more than background noise of just another job to her.
The next night Marie and Stephanie walked in to the grim colorless destitution of me and Jimmy’s motel room where some of us had gathered to drink away our fatigue. She walked in like I didn’t exist, posting her self up on Jimmy’s bed next to Stephanie where she proceeded to hand roll her smokes and sip on her bottle of red wine. Car lights passed by in a steady stream on the highway outside the window. A worn-out rerun movie flashed incoherently on the TV as I drank my beer and looked over at her from time to time and we all passed around a few joints. At one point I tried to make small talk with her, casual conversation, anything. Then I threw my clichéd French at her. I got up and moved closer to her, to a chair by the darkened and stained window that framed the sprawling lights of San Antonio in the distance. I told her about my impressions of France, about a visit I’d made to the Centre Pompidou, and my crazy stories from Paris when I was younger, trying to sound worldly and interesting. She seemed bored with my stories, as though she’d heard them all before, from other American boys and I went back to my bed defeated as I watched her eyes petrify like opals in the vacancy of her reflection in the mirror above the dresser. And at midnight she left the room without saying a word.
The next day as I passed Jimmy on the job site in the stultifying heat, each of us carrying hundreds of pounds of cable on our shoulders under the blazing sun, he said that he’d heard that Marie was in the process of getting a divorce. Ever since my divorce the year before I felt like I’d been living in a stupor, like I’d given up on love. And I knew then that she had too.
I watched her that day after lunch as she sat alone under the shade of the catering tent near the trees where the expanse of green grass ended and the woods began. Jimmy laughed at me, asking me what I saw in her. “Me,” I said as the sun beat down mercilessly on our heads and he smiled. “You’re crazy,” he said walking away, “a crazy fool in love.”
The day of the wedding reception came with a mad frenzied rush to put the finishing touches on a weeks worth of work, then hide ourselves from sight, sweating, dirty and beat as the bands began arriving in their grand tour buses followed by the shuttle bus loads of New Yorkers as the purple dusk began to envelope the old Spanish mission.
When the country music started playing from the small stage under the main tent and the twilight fused with the hanging lights of the grounds I was ready to get drunk to help wash away the pain in my body and the mounting sense of insignificance that I was feeling with what my life had become.
The sound of celebration overflowed into the woods as the full harvest moon rose slowly into the vast night sky over our own small party out behind the property. Red dirt outlaw country music played from my car as people from the work crews gathered in a semi-circle on the ground. And we passed around a few bottles of stolen catering liquor and a couple of joints.
I sat next to Marie on the ground as the commotion swirled around and I began to think of all the jobs I’d worked on, all the jobs that had left me feeling tired and used up, that had amounted to nothing in me but a sense of my life passing me by without my permission. I looked over at her under the steady gaze of the moon and out of nowhere I said, “I want to sleep with you.” She looked at me startled. “What are you saying?” she said. “I think I love you,” I said again. “OH! You are crazy!” She stood up as Jimmy laughed. “Tell her how you feel!” he yelled. I wanted one thing that I’d done that week to mean something, to be real. I was grasping at straws, I knew it, but I wasn’t backing down. I wanted her to know how I felt about her. “I love you,” I said looking up at her. People were laughing at the scene that I was making. She opened the bottle of Tequila that she held in her hand and began to pour it over my head. “OH! You shut up! You are crazy!” she said as she poured and she poured until I wilted on the ground, the alcohol stinging. “Don’t give up!” I heard Jimmy yell, to more laughter. And I knew that he was right even if he was joking. I had given up too many things in my life. I got up and took my Tequila soaked shirt off, throwing it over a branch of one of the shadowy trees as the country music carried on. I’ll show her love, I thought. I’ll show them all. I went to the car, shuffling through the middle console, and found them. I latched one end onto my wrist as I walked back toward Marie where she sat on the ground as Hank Williams Jr. crooned out of the windows of my car. The commotion of conversation distracted everyone as I sat back down. I wasn’t giving up. I slapped the cuff on her wrist with a quick and assured click. There was a long flat moment of silence as it registered in her mind what I’d done and I worried that I’d gone to far as she jumped up screaming, jerking my arm along in awe, “OH! You deed not! OH! You deed not! What are you doeeng?” she shouted. “You get dees off of me right now!” I could hear fits of shocked laughter choking out all other sound in the background. And I sat there smiling, as I felt as though for the first time in my entire life I’d finally reached out for and taken what I’d wanted. I hadn’t given up. Her eyes were wild in the moonlight and I told her that I loved her again. “OH! You stop dat! You shut your mouth!” she yelled, then more laughter as Jimmy told everyone that I’d reverted to caveman tactics. “You take dese off of me right now!” she demanded. I refused. “I’m not taking these off of you until you tell me that you love me too!” I stared at her, smilingly as a final burst of cheers came from the wedding party and the mission beyond. She smiled a half smile, relenting slightly as she looked at me directly in the eyes for the first time, realizing that I was derangedly sincere. “Pffff… Fine… Ohh… I love you…” she said mockingly and Jimmy pronounced us man and wife to great applause and laughter.
“Now you take dem off uf me,” she said. I unlatched the cuff from my wrist, reluctantly, smiling. “Now you take mine off of me.” I looked at her unflinchingly and shook my head. “OOH, you are orrible. Fine,” she said as she stared at me and shook her head as the moon light reflected off her face.
After the band had stopped playing and all of the guests had been shuttled away we all went out to the mission grounds to see what remained. The long tables under the dinner tent down by the dried up river bed were cluttered with leftover food that the caterers were scurrying away. The flowers had been looted. The place was abandoned and in tatters, forgotten just like every other job that I’d ever worked on, leaving me with a familiar aching emptiness. And this time I simply wanted to know that it wasn’t all for nothing.
As we walked back toward my car under the pale moonlight that lit the woods Marie and I separated from the group as I lightly pulled on her dangling handcuff and she shot me cautious, guarded looks. As we walked we stumbled and fell into a tarp on the ground that lay near the industrial sized dumpster that had collected all the waste of the week. I leaned into her on the ground and tried to kiss her, but she resisted, pulling her head away as she turned and twisted herself on top of me. She stared at me questioningly, then searchingly. “It’s been a while for me,” she said as the breeze rustled the tarp and the moon sat high overhead, watching expectantly, and I put my hand to her cheek.
Back in her motel room, laying naked in bed together, entwined in the darkness she clutched my body in her sleep and breathed into me.
The next morning when I awoke she sat on the opposite bed from me wearing red jeans and a T-shirt, smoking a cigarette, the handcuffs still strapped to her wrist as she watched a black and white Cary Grant movie with the sound muted. There was a small plate of pancakes and a coffee for me on the night stand that stood between us. I sat up and sipped the coffee, too hung-over to touch the food. I looked around the room. She’d taped newspaper pictures over the boring reprints of landscape paintings on the walls, trying in a futile attempt to block out the banality of the room, just as I’d tried to block out the banality of my fading life with her. I asked her if she wanted to have sex once more. She didn’t say a word, nor look over at me as she smoked her cigarette and I realized that I wasn’t interesting enough to block out the dullness of it all and a sense of sadness flooded me. The window was open and the wind blew through the room as though ushering me out. I rose to leave, throwing her the key to the handcuffs as I walked past where she sat on the bed. And as I opened the door I suddenly looked back at her, and for no reason at all I told her that I’d love her forever. “Pffff...” she said, shrugging her shoulders simply and assuredly as she turned her head and looked away toward the gray of the open window.