Fiction by Fred Bubbers • Photo by Anndra Dubhacan


He stands up from his desk to look out the window and suddenly it is half an hour later.  Where does the time go? The spreadsheet on his computer screen, with its barren white columns staring back at him reminds him that he is a procrastinator. Already it is eleven thirty and he is not even close to finishing his morning work; entering the previous day's claim estimates in the worksheet titled OUTSTANDING/ LOSS.  In the afternoon he is supposed to enter the loss payments into this same worksheet and balance out the estimates.  It is boring work.
Daniel wishes he were at the beach.  He believes he wishes he were at the beach.  Ruth is at the beach, probably drinking a frozen margarita.  Just like her, he thinks.  Drinking a margarita at a beach in the Hamptons.  Without him.  Ruth and Daniel have the house for the whole summer, but he hasn't been there yet.  The lease runs from June through August, and this is their first week.  Ruth is taking her two week vacation now. Daniel's isn't until the end of August.  They didn't plan it that way, Ruth's boss planned it that way.  "Everyone in the whole office is taking off in August," Ruth said.  "They won't let me and all the other slots are taken up."  In Daniel's office everybody is taking off in June and no one will trade with him. This year, they are forced to take separate vacations.
Daniel is supposed to drive out Friday night and spend the week end with Ruth.  He is not sure he wants to.  He's not sure what is happening, but for the past several months, Ruth has been distracted, distant.  They have had a few fights about it, but nothing has happened.  Ruth insists that nothing has changed, but Daniel knows better.  Daniel argues a bit and then accepts what she says, fearing the truth may be worse than he imagines.  
Down on Church Street, a young man in a clown suit is entertaining a crowd. Every time an important looking executive type enters the large open circle in the crowd, the clown pulls up behind the big shot and does a caricature of his or her walk. Most of them take it well.  Some of them even do a parody of the clown doing a parody of themselves.  One woman, however, doesn't like being made to look foolish.  She suddenly stops and turns on the clown, glaring at him.  The clown takes a step back, bows with a flourish and produces a paper rose from his sleeve.  The woman laughs, accepts the rose, and curtsies to the applause of the crowd.  
"Excuse me Danny."  It is Annette, the administrative assistant.  "The bloodmobile is coming next week and I need to know if you're signing up so I can make an appointment."
"Here's a girl who knows what she wants," Daniel says, "not money, not clothes, not jewels.  Just blood."  Annette looks particularly beautiful today.  She is wearing bright yellow blouse and pastel blue slacks that show off one of the nicest asses Daniel has ever seen.  A devout catholic girl, she nonetheless lives with her boyfriend, Donnie, who is in construction.  She is in love.  Daniel may have a chance, though. Donnie may go to Louisiana for six months to re-assemble New Orleans.  
Daniel signs the form and hands it back to Annette.  "Thank you," she says, flashing a smile.  Daniel studies her ass as she walks away, looking for evidence of panties. "Thong," he decides. And then his mind returns to Ruth.
He sits at his desk, appearing to work until lunch time.

Bill Thompson approaches him in the hallway and asks him where he is going.  "Just downstairs," Daniel answers, "to get a gyro and look at the girls in their summer dresses."  

"Mind if I join you?" Bill asks.  Daniel says no as they step into the elevator. Daniel met Bill the first week he was working there.  Bill had graduated from the same university as Daniel three years earlier. Bill is a programmer in the data processing department.
Daniel follows Bill through the revolving door in the lobby, a kind of airlock linking the climate controlled skyscraper and the arid concrete landscape at its base.  There are times, during summer and winter, when Daniel feels as though he is on some outpost on a planet with a hostile environment. One could live a lifetime in this office building without ever having to be exposed to open sky.
They walk several blocks to a small luncheonette on a narrow street with tall buildings on either side.  The sun never shines here.  The gyros here are somewhat bland, so Daniel opens the bag, takes his out and sprinkles a healthy dose of pepper on it. He carefully re-wraps the gyro and puts it back in the bag. This ritual having been completed, Daniel and Bill return to the office plaza and settle themselves down on a bench near the fountain.  A jazz band on a small stage in front of one of the towers is playing "Take the A Train."
"How's work?" Bill asks.
"Rotten," Daniel says. "How's work?"
"Tell me," Daniel says, "what is it that this company does?"
"I don't know," Bill says. "I think we're in the insurance business. People give us money and sometimes we give people money. I'm not sure. I just write computer programs."
"What do your programs do?"
"It's hard to say," Bill says. "I think they count the money. What do you do?"
"I type numbers in spreadsheets," Daniel answers.
"They pay me to."
"Hell of a way to spend your time," Bill says. "I've been working there for two years and I just found out that a ceded company is the same thing as a re-insurer."
"What's a re-insurer?" Daniel asks.
"I don't know. That's not my department."
"Christ, why did I become an accountant?" Daniel asks.
"What did you want to be?"
"An astronaut," Daniel says.  "Or a secret agent."
"Good work if you can get it, but stick with astronaut. You can't be a secret agent any more."
"Why not?"
"Blond hair and blue eyes might have worked for you in East Germany, but they'll get you killed in Baghdad."
"Being an astronaut can get you killed, too,"  Daniel says.
"Yeah, but then they name middle schools after you."
The conversation goes this way nearly every day except Daniel chooses different alternate occupations each day.
"How's Ruth?" Bill asks.
"I wouldn't know," Daniel says. "She's out at the house."
"Ah, now we get to the heart of the matter," Bill says. "You miss her?"
"I guess I do. I'm supposed to, aren't I?"
Bill takes a long sip from his soda and says, "Keep trying, you might convince yourself."
"Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel," says Daniel. "I suppose I'm feeling angry that she's out there without me. Especially since she knew when my vacation was when she planned hers.  I think she might be trying to tell me something."
"Maybe," Bill says.
They finish their lunch in silence and return to the office where Daniel still has trouble getting down to work.  He sharpens a box of pencils.  He gets coffee.  He goes to the bathroom.  He gets coffee.  He watches Annette put files away for twenty minutes.  She has to stand on a stool and stretch to reach the higher shelves.  Her ass is exquisite from any direction.  He goes to the bathroom and stops for coffee on the way back.  He gets in the elevator and rides down to the lobby.  Outside, he smokes a cigarette.  He smokes another cigarette.  He does not feel like being alone tonight.  He rides back up the elevator and wanders into data processing and finds Bill at his desk staring into a computer, concentrating.  Daniel doesn't want to interrupt him right away so he stands back.  Eventually, Bill looks up at him and says "What's up?"
"Want to have dinner tonight?" Daniel asks.  "Mexican, my treat."
"I'd never say no to Mexican food, especially if you're paying," Bill says, "but I can't.  Going to the in-laws tonight."
"I wouldn't want to keep you from that," Daniel says.
Bill smiles.  "It's one of those things you have to do."
"Good for you."
"Why don't you call Bon?" Bill suggests.  "It's a Tuesday, I'm sure she's not doing anything."
Bon is short for Bonnifer. She is originally from Albany, Texas, thirty-eight years old, divorced, a former ballerina with the Houston Ballet, and holds a Master's Degree in Art History. She now manages an art gallery on Madison Avenue.  Since they met several months ago at a screenwriting class at the New School, they have met after work for drinks several times.  Daniel is a little in awe of her.  He has never met anyone who seemed so comfortable and well adjusted in her own skin.
"I don't know," Daniel says.  "I haven't seen her lately."
"Go on, call her," Bill says.
Daniel considers it for a moment.  "What the hell, I'll call her, he says."
"Good," Bill says.  "Now I really have to get back to writing this program even though I don't understand what it's supposed to do."
"Have fun," Daniel says as he leaves.
Daniel is listening to Green Day in a bar on West Fourth Street, near Bon's apartment.  This is where they usually meet. Daniel has to travel uptown from the business district after work and Bon has to travel downtown after work.  A waitress with fishnets and raven-black hair approaches and Daniel orders his second Jack Daniels on the rocks.  It is approaching six o'clock and Bon should be arriving shortly.
Daniel has occupied a small table toward the back and next to the window, where he can observe the comings and goings on the street and in the bar.  The bar is slowly filling as people arrive singly and in pairs from work. It is an odd mix. Some, wearing jeans or shorts or sweats are students. Others, wearing business suits, are obviously not.  Altogether, it is a very casual and easy going crowd, unlike the people in the bar at the Sheraton Center uptown, where Daniel usually meets Ruth.  It has nothing to do with age or money, though.  The body language is looser and freer than the Sheraton, the pace of conversation seems more relaxed.  
Sitting at the table across from Daniel is an attractive woman with light blond hair.  She is wearing a beige business suit and is looking over the papers in a file folder that is open on the table in front of her.  She is writing on a yellow note pad.  A glass of white wine sits on the table.  Daniel has overheard her telling the waitress that she is waiting for someone.
The door of the bar opens and a tall muscular man approaches her.  He is wearing soiled jeans, a dirty t-shirt covered by a leather vest, and construction boots.  His long brown hair is unkempt, his mustache is straggly and he needs a shave.  He is carrying a lunch box.  As he comes up to the young woman's table, she looks up him and smiles.  He leans over and they kiss.  Then he takes the seat across from her blocking Daniel's view of her.
"Aren't you the disappointed one!"
Daniel looks up and sees Bon. She is wearing sunglasses. She is a small, slight figured woman, the very picture of a ballerina.  On her head is a white fedora, which matches her simple white skirt.  A light brown belt around her slim waist accentuates the gentle curves of her hips.  As always, she is very pretty and extremely tasteful.  As she slips into the seat across the table from him, Daniel says, "Bon, I didn't see you come in."  Bon takes her sunglasses off, revealing her large brown eyes, and nods over her shoulder. "Yes," she says, "your mind was elsewhere.  On the prowl again are we?"
Daniel likes the sound of Bon's voice.  It is southern and gentle, but with more of a twang than a lilt.  After hearing New Yorkers, including himself, mangle the language all his life, Bon always sounds good, no matter what she's saying.  
"I don't prowl," he says. "I admire."
"What is that you have there?" she asks, nodding at Daniel's drink.  Daniel tells her. "Sounds good," she says.  The waitress appears and Daniel orders a drink for Bon and another for himself.  "I'd like mine neat, please," Bon adds.  
"I just happened to be thinking of you today when you called.  I haven't heard from you in a while. I've missed you. How have you been?  How's Ruth?"
Daniel realizes that she had to ask.  "I'm all right, Ruth's fine," he says.
The waitress interrupts them with their drinks.  She takes away Daniel's empty glass and leaves.  "She's away," he says simply.  
"Out at the house?" Bon asks.  
"Yes," Daniel says, sipping his drink.
"I thought you were taking vacation together," she says.
"It didn't work out," he says, setting his glass down and looking up at her.
"Oh," she says. "Do you miss her?"
Daniel studies his glass for a moment and then answers, "Yes, but not as much as I thought I might."
This has gone on long enough, Daniel decides. "I don't want to talk about Ruth, for God's sake."
Bon holds her glass up next to her cheek and smiles brightly at him. "Thank you," she says in a sing-song voice.  
Slowly they finish their drinks and order another round. Bon is telling Daniel about her job at the art gallery, the odd assortment of people who come in every day: the stockbrokers and lawyers, looking fill up wall space in their co-ops, the professional girlfriends, looking for a new stockbroker, failed artists, looking for something sneer at, shopping bag ladies, looking for heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.  She also deals with the artists whose work is on display at the gallery.  An artist from Brazil has flown into New York for an opening next week.  He is staying at the Waldorf.  Every morning, a bill for a case of champagne with his name on it arrives at the gallery.  "He's supposed to come in to discuss the placement and lighting of the sculpture.  I call him every morning, and he says he'll be in the afternoon.  He never shows up.  We don't have that much time any more. The critics have to come in the day before.  I'll have to do it without him. He'll probably cause a scene at the opening, saying it was done all wrong."
"Is the stuff any good?" Daniel asks.
"It's ok, but he's hot now.  That's why he gets away with it."
"Are all artists like that?"
"No," she says, "only the newly rich and famous ones."
By now, Daniel has had quite a bit to drink and he can feel it. "Listen," he says, "before I get too drunk, why don't we get some thing to eat?"
"Good idea."
Daniel pays the check after arguing with Bon.  "It's all right," she says, "you don't have to pay for me."  Daniel shrugs and says, "I'll let you pay next time."
"Good to know there's a next time on your mind."  
They leave and walk a few blocks to an Italian seafood restaurant where both order shrimp with hot sauce and a bottle of wine. Daniel is now telling her about his job and the mysterious company he works for.  This time around, it is humorous rather than depressing.
"So what really made you take that screenwriting class at The New School?" Bon asks.  "Was it to find some hot artsy chick?"
"Well, no," Daniel says.  "I got my business degree because that's what my parents wanted me to do.  I don't mind it, but writing and film is something I was always interested in. Life was getting dull, so I decided to try it out.  I want something to matter to me.  The hot artsy chick I met was just a fringe benefit."
"Really? Who'd you meet?"
"I wonder," he says.  "A tiny dancer type in Capri pants and Foster Grants. I liked the tiny feet in the tiny loafers."
"Trust me," she says, "you do not want to see a ballet dancer's bare feet. It's a wonder I can even walk."
"Well, we didn't become friends right away, but you definitely caught my eye the very first day."
"How so?"
"I don't know," he says. "Your look, your style.  I just knew you were interesting.  I wanted to have coffee with you."
Bon laughs broadly and her eyes look up to the ceiling. "What a line," she says.  She picks up the second bottle of merlot and tops off both their glasses.  
"God, you are smooth, so fucking smooth. I just divorced one sociopath and now I think I'm having dinner with another. What's going on with you tonight? Not that I mind it.  It's more like a pleasant surprise."
"I don't know," he answers.  "Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's the night.  Maybe it's the person I'm here with.  Maybe it's the three drinks and the bottle and a half of wine."
"Oh," she says, "blame it on the wine."
"Sorry, I'll try to behave," Daniel says, "and be less smooth. God, I'm not a sociopath, am I?"
"No, I don't think so. I haven't married you, so probably not. And sometimes smooth is good. Keep it coming."  

Afterwards, they walk slowly,  back to Bon's apartment. They walk enter Washington Square Park, arm in arm.  In front of the lighted archway, jugglers and mimes are performing for the tourists.  Off to one side of the arch a young girl with long straight blond hair, wearing tight low-riding bell bottoms strums a guitar and sings to a small throng of people.  Daniel and Bon stop and listen for a few minutes.  The singer is pretty and very expressive.  Her head is bobbing to the shuffle rhythm she strums, making her golden hair swirl and flash in the light.  Her eyes are open wide and flashing blue as she sings about her "Darling Sweet Boy."
Bon reaches up and puts her arm around Daniel's shoulders and gently pulls him closer.  He leans down toward her as she pushes herself up on her toes.
"Are you ever not on the prowl?" she whispers into his ear and he feels her warm breath on his neck.
"Who me?" he says innocently. "I don't prowl, I admire."
"I think we need to get us some coffee," she says, pulling him away from the throng.  "And I better tear you away from little Miss Nubile Undergrad Hippy Chick while I can."
They enter Bon's one room apartment.  Daniel takes off his jacket. Bon steps out of her shoes.  As she begins to step toward the kitchen counter, he takes her hand pulls her toward him. He puts his arms around her.  Her momentum pushes him back against the hallway wall.
"You are just so fucking evil," she laughs.
"And I don't think I want to go home," he says.
She looks at him. Her smile is confident, inviting. Her eyes, wide open.  "Well?" she asks.
He kisses her lips lightly.
"Finally," she whispers.
"Finally" he smiles into her eyes.
It is 5:30 AM when he slips out of the convertible bed in Bon's studio apartment.  Moonlight and the reflected light from a church steeple streams through the white gauzy curtains.  Bon stirs and then sits up.  Moving a pillow aside, she slides her body back and sits back against the back of the sofa, facing the window.  The bedcovers have slid down to her thighs and she modestly pulls the sheet up, covering her breasts.
"I'm so sorry," Daniel says.  "I need to go home and get some fresh clothes for work."
"I understand," she says.
"I really wish I didn't have to leave."  He leans over and kisses her lips.
"Danny, I understand," she says.  "I assume you've noticed that I am not Miss Undergrad Songbird with the high point breasts and creamy white thighs.  I'm an adult."
"And maybe you don't understand," he smiles.  "I really don't want to leave.  I want to stay. And your breasts are quite lovely and your thighs quite delicious, thank you."  
He looks around the room.  "Jesus, what happened to my underwear?"
"I ate them."
"Oh Bon, that's gross. Really, where they?" he asks, still looking around.
"I hid them," she says.  "I have a collection and I want a souvenir."
"Really, Bon, you're beginning to scare me.  What have I gotten my self into?" he says pacing around the bed, scanning.
"Are these yours?" she says.
He looks over and sees Bon twirling his briefs around in the air.  He leans over the bed and reaches for them and she raises them above her head, beyond his reach.
"Give them to me," he says, kneeling on the edge of the bed.
"Come and get them," she says, smiling at him.
He crawls across the bed and grabs her wrist firmly and kisses her deeply.  He gradually relaxes his grip on her wrist and her hand drops the briefs on the bed and she puts her hand to the side of his face.
"Wow," she says.  "That was some kiss."
"I needed my underwear."      

The red light on the answering machine flashing. He hadn't noticed it when he entered the apartment in a mad rush to the shower.  He is standing naked with a towel over his shoulders as his hair drips onto the notepad that Ruth placed on the table next to answering machine. He's in a hurry and doesn't really have time, but he hits the "playback" button anyway.
"Hello Danny. It's ten o'clock. I've been trying to get you all night long.  Listen, I know you're angry about the vacations, and I'm sorry.  I really miss you.  I know you weren't thrilled about driving out this weekend, but I really do miss you. Come on out, and I'll have a special dinner ready for you when you get here.  We don't have to go out to any bars or anything because I know you don't like that.  We can just stay home together, the two of us.  Please.  I really want you. I love you."
His hands grasp the ends of the towel around his neck and he steps to the window.  He parts the curtains, a gift from Ruth's mother, and peers out. Down on the street, rush hour is beginning.  Cabs are swarming at the corner where the doors of the Starbuck's are now propped open to facilitate foot traffic.

The sun is ascending over Brooklyn to the east and its first orange rays are lighting his window frame.
Daniel has much to consider, for his life has suddenly become much more complex.  And interesting.  His mind struggles to reshape itself and begins adjusting to a new reality.

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