by Sameer Saklani
I heard the mattress squeaking and whining, the headboard hitting the wall. But it was inconsistent and disconcerted, like a child playing piano for the first time. Noisy, silly creatures. I got up off the couch and walked to the kitchen. There was a bottle of wine sitting on the counter; I was almost sure that I had bought it. I poured myself a glass and returned to the couch. The day’s newspaper was sitting atop the coffee table, so I began to flip through it. Now little womanly squeals and moans were seeping through the closed bedroom doors, followed by the dumb moans of some subnormal male. According to the paper, Jackson had knocked out Kaufmann, just as I had predicted. I had placed $100 on Jackson at +350, which meant I had a nice $450 coming back to me. So, overall, I was fairly happy.
The squeals and groans and squeaks culminated in one final climax, and then slowly subsided. I heard her emit one last moan for dramatic effect. I threw the paper back on the table, leaned back in the couch and sipped the wine. I could hear them moving around and shuffling to get dressed. I noticed a pair of black shoes by the door. I had never seen them before. They looked like they belonged to either a young boy or a large lesbian.
I heard the doorknob turn and saw the door open. Illiene stood at the door in a loosely tied white robe with her hair sitting lazily atop her head. I could see her goods peeking through the robe; somehow it felt like it was the first time I had seen them, and also the last.
“Hello,” I said.
She saw me sitting on the couch and her face transformed into one of genuine shock and terror.
“Wha-wha-when did you?…” she stammered.
And just as she said that, a man, or at least something resembling a man, appeared beside her. He was a balding and corpulent thing.
“Well that’s just absurd,” I said.
I stood up and walked over to him, standing inches from his peculiar face. I towered over him. The shock and fear on his face transcended Illiene’s.
“So was it exciting?” I asked. “Hmm? Did it excite you? A new woman, to you at least, excites you like a schoolboy?”
He trembled and shook, looking for an answer.
The little man was a pitiful, almost dolorous sight, like a three-legged puppy. I took a deep breath and said to the man.
“Listen, buddy; she likes whiskey on the rocks and Italian food. She enjoys naps at mid-day and occasional trips to the zoo. She isn’t cheap or judgmental and enjoys Chinese history. This is what I’ve learned, but who knows, it may all be lies. Also, be careful; I have reason to believe that she may be unfaithful.”
I looked at her; she seemed terrified and apologetic. I believe, if given the choice, she would have told this new man to scram and would have jumped back into my arms. But I gave her no opportunity. Without much drama or finality, I turned, walked out the door, down the stairs, and back out onto the streets.
It was nearly night. There were cars honking, women passing with grocery bags, cats in alleys and men on stoops. As I emerged from the building, I saw a bright white flyer posted on a tree, cutting through the night with its sheen. It read “SPIRITUAL PATH OF BUDDHISM. CLASSES OFFERED BY THE VENERABLE TODD FRESCO. FRIDAYS 8 P.M.” By some force of caprice, I tore the flyer off the tree, put it in my pocket, and continued walking home.
It made more sense than the rest.
I don’t know if I would have woken up if the phone hadn’t rang; there’s no way to know, really. But luckily, or unluckily, it rang and I was exploded back into life. I was sprawled out on my couch, only one dim lamp in the room, papers and bottles on the floor gazing up to see their indolent king. My head was in some sort of political upheaval or revolution. I rolled myself onto the floor and I answered the phone atop the middle table.
“Yeah?” I said.
“Sandini, you already know what I’m going to say, don’t you?” It was Tommy.
I thought for a second. Then replied, “Refresh my memory, will you, Tommy?”
“Do you know what you have due tomorrow?”
I thought. “Refresh my memory.”
Tommy was the editor of “Puncher’s Chance,” a boxing publication. I was one of their writers. I reported and covered many of the fights. Also, Tommy thought the magazine needed class, so he also published boxing related literature. I wrote the boxing related literature also.
Tommy continued, now sounding a bit ireful:
“I need your report on the Doogle/Comely fight! And you’ve got a story due this month, too.”
The Doogle/Comely fight had been last night. I didn’t even know the results.
I rubbed my throbbing head. “What time do you have there, Tommy?” I asked.
“What do you mean “here”? What time zone are you in?”
“What? No, no, listen, don’t worry; I’ll have them in the mailbox within the hour.”
Tommy hesitated. “How much have you been drinking, Sandini?” he asked.
“Enough to kill me,” I said.
“Good, so that means you’ve been writing.”
“Oh, no, I haven’t been drinking that much.”
Tommy hung up. I sat inactive for a few moments, and then sprung to my feet. I opened my front door and saw four daily newspapers lying at my doorstep like a tramp’s history. I brought them all inside and found the newspaper belonging to the previous day. I turned to the sport section and found that Doogle had taken a split decision over Comely. I had lost $80.
I read through the article by a certain James Swinton. It was bland and basic writing but somehow I had to use it as the framework for my own article. I opened a bottle of wine, took a deep swig, and wrote feverishly for the next three hours. How I created so many combinations, crowd reactions, cuts and marks on the fighter’s faces; it was all so beautiful and false. By the time I arrived at the short story, the wine and impatience had pervaded me. I believe I wrote of a mid-ranked boxer who secretly dreamt of being a tap-dancer. I stuffed it all into a stamped envelope. I walked to the nearest mailbox and dropped the envelope in. It was a chilly night, so I reached into my pockets for a cigarette. I found none. Instead I felt a wad of paper. I unraveled it and saw that it was the Buddhist flyer. “FRIDAY 8 P.M.” it read. I passed a man waiting at a bus stop.
“Excuse me,” I said to him, “what day is today?”
“Don’t you know?” he answered. “It’s President’s Day.”
“Oh, right, of course, thank you,” I said as I walked off.
I still didn’t know what day it was
The place was underneath a travel agency and beside a barbershop. I found it and walked in 15 minutes late. I expected to get some reviling looks for my tardiness, but the class hadn’t even begun yet. I suppose Buddhists had no conception of time. They were a group of strange, certainly different, seeming human beings. The collection was diverse: men and women, fat and thin, tattooed and pierced, eye-glasses and flowing skirts, black and white and yellow and brown. I found myself a seat in the back.
I sat for about another 10 minutes, until a man walked in and stood before the front of the class. He was a short man with gray hair and a wide nose. He had a bag around his shoulder which he set upon his desk and began to remove several books from within it. All the while he did this he had the most satisfied smile and demeanor I had ever seen on a man. He introduced himself as “the venerable” Todd Fresco. He was a well-traveled, well-educated man who had seen many faces and many places.
Then the venerable Todd Fresco insisted we introduce ourselves; what we do and why we had decided to begin our journeys upon the path of Buddhism. I realized that I didn’t do much of anything the only reason I was in that room was caprice and a biting loneliness. The people began to introduce themselves:
“I’m Sarah; I’m a medical assistant and I want to calm my mind.”
“My name is Michael; I’m a postal worker and I hope to learn compassion.”
“Hi, I’m Anne; I’m a swim instructor and I just want to be enlightened.”
I thought of what to say. The introductions continued up and down the row, until they reached me.
“Hello, the name’s Sandini; I’m a theater actor and someday I intend to move to Thailand,” were the words that came out.
“Very interesting,” remarked the venerable Todd Fresco. “I studied in Bangkok for six years. Where were you interested in moving to?”
“Bangkok…” I answered.
The introductions continued. The last introduction was by a man sitting in the corner. He said:
“My name’s Jack. I don’t really do anything. I saw a flyer for this and thought it’d be a way to kill time.”
I wished I had said that.
Then Todd Fresco began his lecture. My mind wasn’t focused and I heard only fragments and words: dissatisfaction, dharma, impermanence, Middle Way, four sights, no-self, Bodhisattva, precepts. I was fairly disinterested until she walked in. She came through the doors nearly an hour late but Lord, who would question her? She was more beautiful than a lie; tall with thick long red hair, a soft kind face with red lips. Her pulchritude seemed limitless; she could have sung “Happy Birthday” to the President if she desired. Instead she was in a Buddhism class on a Friday night.
For the remainder of the lecture, my attention was divided amongst listening to Todd Fresco and sneaking obvious, ignominious peaks at my redhead. By the time Todd Fresco dismissed us, the clock read 10:30 p.m.
The class shuffled out like little enlightened snails, into the city night, going individually asunder. I followed my redhead’s shimmy. I sped up and walked beside her.
“What a great class. I’m so glad I came,” I said. Her head turned; she smiled.
“I feel the same way!” she said. “I think Mr. Fresco is a brilliant man and I’m so excited to_”, and she continued on about what she felt. I nodded and smiled alongside her words.
“You know, we all did class introductions. I don’t think it’s fair that you should be exempt.”
She brushed her hair aside in sexual precision and said, “I’m Lily. And I’m upon the spiritual path of Buddhism.”
“That’s a pretty name.”
“And what about yourself?” she asked.
“Well, I’m Sandini.”
She kept her gaze and smile on me, waiting for more.
“I’m Sandini and…I’m hungry. I have a chicken in the oven, would you like to come back to my apartment?”
I had no chicken in the oven. It was a very bold invitation.
“I’m a vegetarian,” she said.
“Of course,” I said.
But to my surprise, she continued, “But it’s cold tonight. We can keep talking at your place.”
Good Gautama, what luck! I thought. Then I remembered the horrid condition of my apartment.
“Oh, yes, but I must tell you, I’ve been robbed,” I said.
“During class?” she asked.
“Yes. I mean, no. Recently though. The place is still in shambles.”
“I detest thieves,” she said as she made a cute scowling face. “They have no respect for the five precepts.”
“Yeah, sure thing,” I said, as we walked south to my apartment.
I opened the door and let her in. Immediately she began to survey the surroundings.
“I can’t believe what they’ve done to this place…” she said.
“Yes, how impertinent.”
She continued to look around, picking up this, putting down that. An insensible nervous feeling came over me.
Then, seeming not find what she was looking for, she asked, “Where’s your Dhammapada?”
“Your Dhammapada. Where’s your copy of the Dhammapada?”
I didn’t know what she meant. There were only two things one could have a copy of; either a music album or a book.
“Oh, yes, the Dhammapada…” I stammered, “What a great…thing that is, isn’t it?”
“It is!” she said. Her excitement was apparent.
“Yes, especially that one particular song_”
“That one particular verse, you know…Well, it’s all just simply wonderful.”
It was a book.
We both quickly forget about dinner and the time. We sat on my couch talking through the night. Well, she talked and I simply gawked at her like a young boy seeing tangible sexuality for the first time.
I kept moving closer to her as time passed, as furtive as I could by. She wouldn’t react. She kept talking and I kept moving closer. I knew she took notice because at one point she stopped mid-sentence and looked down at the distance between us. Then she resumed her speech. She was a fascinating creature; there wasn’t a modicum of viciousness or bitterness in her. She was perpetually optimistic and hopeful.
But soon I became hungry and tired and simply bored. My body was touching hers by now and still she showed no desire.
“Okay,” I said, cutting into one of her sentences, “it’s late; I’m going to bed. You can sleep on the couch if you’d like, or you can leave.”
I stood up and walked into my bedroom. I threw off my shoes and pants and got into bed. I shut my eyes and momentarily thought about the great possibility of her and me. Then I decided to forget about it.
Just as I was resigned to sleep, I heard her at my door.
“Are you sleeping?” she asked timidly.
“Sleeping, yes. Asleep, no,” I answered.
“Well, it’s really late. Could I stay here?”
“I already said you could,” I answered.
Then to my surprise, I felt the bed sag and creak. I opened my eyes to see her crawling under the sheets. Her face was inches from mine.
“So you promise that you’re a Bodhisattva, right?” she asked.
“What?” I said.
“A Bodhisattva; you know, a being of great compassion motivated to help others achieve enlightenment,” she recited like some anthropomorphic dictionary.
“Yeah, sure, baby,” I said. I put my arm around her waist and pulled her closer to me. But as soon as I did, she pushed away.
“Hey, hey!” she said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The third precept!”
“‘I vow not to take place in any sexual misconduct.’”
“A Bodhisattva can’t take place in any sexual misconduct, now can he?” she asked like a mother would.
“Yes…” I answered, “I suppose he wouldn’t…”
“Goodnight,” she said, as she turned her back to me. I stared at the back of her head, as she, I assume, slept.
Weeks passed. I continued to attend Todd Fresco’s class and I continued seeing Lily. The classes were a formality to appease Lily, but as the weeks passed, more and more of Todd Fresco’s lecture began to seep in. Ninety-percent of my time was spent wool-gathering about Lily, but the other ten-percent I was enticed by the lecture. The venerable Todd Fresco said some interesting things about the mind and compassion and attachment. But just as soon I began to become interested, class would end and all my attention would be diverted to consummating what I had with Lily.
But consummation was like the sun at night; hidden and far off. Every night was identical to the previous night; conversing on the couch for hours and then falling asleep, only falling asleep, in bed.
I had still not told her what I did for a living, worried that it might upset her. However, I had another article due to Tommy on the Ramirez/Wallace fight. I couldn’t keep it from her any longer.
“I have a little job to do tomorrow,” I told her one night.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing much; I’ve got to cover a sporting event.”
“Can I come with you?” she asked, eager as always.
“It’s really nothing major…”
“Fine, it’s settled then; I’m coming with you.”
The fight was in a boxing club not too far from my room, so we walked. Akin to how intriguing and genuine Lily seemed to be, I kept forgetting just how attractive she was. I was quickly reminded out on the streets. The young boys, the men of the night, were out and salivating.
We arrived at the fight as the undercard ended and Ramirez and Wallace were set to begin. It was an atmosphere anyone would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere; the air was thick with lingering cigarette smoke, the chatter and shuffle of people incessant, a wild rat race to place bets. The crowd was mostly stoic old men and defeated husbands; there were no women to be seen.
We moved through the people and took our seats. Lily already looked uncomfortable. Soon Ramirez and Wallace had entered the ring and the crowd had begun to stir.
“Sweetie, what is this?” she asked over the noise.
“The sweet science, baby; a ballet of brilliance.”
“It’s a boxing match.”
The bell sounded and the two fighters took the center of the ring. It was immediately an explosive fight; they were two hungry Welterweights not afraid to exchange, wanting the finish, not afraid to be finished. It was the best fight I had seen in some time. Lily, on the other hand, seemed to be watching a horror film. She cringed, grimaced, shut her eyes and bore her fingernails into my arms each time a punch was thrown. I tried to console her between rounds but it was feckless. By the time the fifth round had ended, the fighters were bloodied and Lily could endure no more.
She stood, shaking her head, proclaiming, “No, no, no! Terrible!”
“Baby, it’s okay; I think Ramirez is about to take this,” I told her.
“No, no, no, I’m going outside!”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll be out as soon this ends.”
She made her way through the aisle and disappeared.
The fight continued. I hoped for the fight to end as soon as possible so I could make my way to Lily. But to my dismay, Ramirez began to falter and the fight carried all the way to a 12 round decision. Ramirez had won and another hour must have passed since Lily had left.
She’s gone, I thought to myself, she’s not waiting outside. She’s gone off with some other man; there are so many other men. I let her get away, she’s gone.
The crowd shuffled outside and I was convinced Lily had disappeared. But then I saw her, sheltered under a tree, arms crossed in the cold of the night.
“I’m sorry…” I said.
“It’s fine,” she said. “Can we go home?”
“You really are something else,” I said as I put my arm around her shoulder and we walked to my apartment.
“Again, I’m really sorry.” I said to her. She was shuffling around the room, changing into something more comfortable, trying to get her mind straight.
“I just don’t understand such blatant disregard for the first precept. The first!” she said.
“‘I vow not to harm any sentient being!’”
“Well, yes, but it’s not like that…”
“There isn’t any reasonable explanation as to why two men would simply thrash each other. What good does it do anyone?”
I couldn’t think of an answer at that moment. I knew I had an explanation but it was difficult to argue with Lily.
“I hope neither of us have to experience something like that ever again. Right?” she continued.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“Those men weren’t Bodhisattvas.” She walked over, hugged me from behind, and kissed me on the ear. “My man is a Bodhisattva.”
The night went on as usual. We cooked some dinner; vegetarian, Garbonza beans and okra. I was becoming accustomed to the routine and rarely offered any complaint.
I caught sight of the clock. It was getting late.
“I should start on the article,” I said as I got up off the couch.
I took the cover off of the typewriter and I loaded the paper. Then I walked into the kitchen and opened the cupboard under the sink. There were two bottles of wine; I grabbed both and sat down before the typewriter. I heard Lily in the bathroom as I opened a bottle, took a swig, and started hammering away at the keys.
About half a page in, I felt Lily approach me from behind.
“What’s this?” she said.
“What?” I said, distracted by my work.
“What’s this?” she repeated.
“You know; the article I’ve got to write.”
“I mean this.” She was pointing to the wine.
“Oh, I’m not sure exactly, just check the labels.” I kept my eyes on my work.
I saw her grab both wine bottles and carry them into the kitchen.
“Why do you need both?” I asked.
She offered no reply. She simply walked to the sink, opened up both bottles and began pouring them down the drain. I jumped up and ran over.
“Hey! I don’t know if you’re educated in wine or not, but that hasn’t gone bad. The older it is, the better, you see? Like golf in a way.”
She kept pouring diligently until both bottles were empty. She placed them onto the counter and looked at me sternly.
“I’m perplexed,” I told her.
“Do you know what the fifth precept is?”
“Refresh my memory.”
“‘I vow not to intake any substance that may negatively affect my mind.’”
“But it makes everything else so positively bearable,” I retorted.
She had her hands on her hips now.
“You told me you were a Bodhisattva,” she said. “You didn’t lie, did you? Because you know the fourth precept says_”
“‘I vow not to lie?’” I guessed.
“Exactly,” she said. “Do I deserve to be lied to?”
She spoke with such baleful and innocent eyes.
“Fine,” I said, “fine.”
I sat down before the typewriter again and finished up the article without the drink. The first half was fine and flowing, the second half seemed stymied and forced. I had to write my short story next and I had no ideas or inspirations to put onto the paper.
“What should I write my short story about?” I asked Lily.
“Write about the love we share,” she suggested.
“It’s a boxing publication.”
“Oh.” She thought. “I know; write about a puncher who suddenly finds his love for all sentient beings and decides to stop punching.”
“Fine,” I said. I no longer cared. I wrote exactly what she had said; a boxer who decides he doesn’t want to box anymore. I could only imagine Tommy’s reaction when he read the bland nonsense. I put it all into an envelope and sealed and stamped it.
After sitting at the desk, silent for a few moments, I said, “I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”
“Okay,” she said.
She went into the bathroom as I stripped down to my underwear and got into bed. Soon she came out in her pajamas and got in beside me. I could feel her flesh, smell its freshness, almost taste it; it was ingeniously constructed. It was flesh meant for great men. But great women didn’t give their flesh away on any random whim.
I reached down, grabbed her by the waist, and squeezed tightly. Immediately she pushed my hand away.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said. I turned over, forgetting that there was a body beside me, and I slept.
But it wasn’t long before I awoke in horror.
I was under a tall, wide, sprawling tree of wood and the greenest leaves. I seemed rabid, foaming at the mouth, wild-eyed, red-eyed, laughing the laugh of a deranged killer. Then I saw something descend from within the tree; it was a spider with the face of Lily. However, it wasn’t an ugly, insidious thing as most spiders are; in fact, it was silken and smooth and delicate. She came down and settled inches from my ear.
“Sit down,” she instructed gently.
She continued to spin words into my ear.
“Do not watch two men harming each other,” she instructed. “Do not work for one who condones harm. Do not take that which doesn’t belong to you. Do not speak deceitfully. Do not bed any woman simply because your lust instructs. Do not drink for the sake of tolerance and ability. And if possible, grow a mustache.”
I kept nodding at her precepts until I was no longer rabid or deranged. In fact, I was no longer anything. I was still and placid; almost water.
I awoke with suddenness and anxiety. My heart raced and I was perspiring. I looked down at Lily beside me. I got out of bed and began to get dressed. The noise woke Lily.
“What are you doing?” she asked, still in sleepy state.
I zipped up my pants.
“Where are you going?” she asked again.
“I’m going to go mail the article and story I wrote,” I told her.
She was quiet and incredulous.
“Do you promise?” she asked.
I seemed cold to her genuineness. Without answering, I walked out the door and onto the streets. I walked almost robotic, no thoughts in mind, into the nearest bar and took a seat.
It was around 1 a.m., which meant the place was still rather full, the people drunk and content by now. I sat around until the bartender finally asked, “Can I get you drink, buddy?”
“No,” I answered, “np, I’m not in the mood.”
He shrugged and went on his way. I surveyed the surroundings; the people were boozy and far from reality.
There was a woman at one of the tables; a truculent, thick, vicious looking thing. She was flirting with two drunken men at a table, trying to strike up a deal. Her face reminded me of charcoal or a withered tree stump; hard and coarse, not an ounce of beauty contained in it.
The two men appeared too drunk, disinterested in sex now. She saw me looking at her and smiled. She got up, abandoning the men, and walked over to where I sat.
“Hey there, darling,” she said. She was touching my shoulders and back.
“Hello,” I said.
“You look bored.”
“Want some excitement?” she said.
I didn’t answer. She leaned over and gave me a soft kiss on the ear. My ears could almost smell the harshness of her breath.
“Follow me,” she instructed. I acquiesced.
“Sam, is the room open?” she said to the bartender.
She led me to the back and up a flight of wooden stairs. Sure enough, there was a room at the top.
“Have a seat, darling,” she instructed.
I sat down on the small bed in the middle of the room; the springs squeaked and it made me feel like a little kid. I folded my hands together and surveyed the lines on the wooden floor. The woman removed her top and was now in a loose, wrinkled tank top.
“So what do ya want?” she asked.
There were dead roach carcasses shuffled into the corners of the room, spider webs hung from the ceiling like houses long ago abandoned.
“It’s dirty,” I said under my breath.
“Dirty?” she asked. She came and sat down beside me.
I saw her crooked smile imploring me to abuse her, to qualify her existence, to keep her in business.
She placed her hand high on my leg. Whether instinctively or intentionally, I don’t know, I took hold of it and tossed it aside. She jumped to her feet.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Just what are you here for?”
I couldn’t answer.
“What’s wrong? Are you a gay?
I wanted to leave.
“Is that what it is? Are you a gay?”
I smiled and rose to my feet.
“No,” I answered. “I’m a Bodhisattva, baby.”
Sameer Saklani resides in Tampa, FL but was made extant in Brooklyn, NY.Â He has received his B.A. from the University of South Florida and is now pursuing his MFA. His writings appear sporadically and prolifically like graffiti. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for various reasons.