[ fiction - november 11 ]
Quentin followed slightly behind me as we entered Wilson’s Leather store, me looking for a leather jacket, desiring, craving black and stylish leather. He had lived on savings ever since the chain of DVD stores he owned went belly-up. I longed for leather jackets: Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, the Black Panthers, Black Sabbath lured me into a lair of power, style, hipness. I could afford it these days.
If Quentin and I had not walked past Wilson’s at that precise arc of time, one I told Quint jokingly was an “a-ha, libidinal moment,” its allure based on proximity, walking distance from my apartment, later events would not have happened. I let Quentin rent a bedroom, though he griped about having to pay anything.
“I’m down to nearly nothing,” he moaned. I smirked at him. “You always were a bastard,” he tossed in.
Quint’s pudgy fingers swept through his balding, purple birthmarked head, that hangdog look swam over his face, an odor of rotten fruit oozed out his body, and black, anal “perfume” swept across my nose as we entered Wilson’s. The clerk had breathed in scents of animal hide, civilized with dyes, chemicals, leather baths, and treatments. When I tried on a Byrnes and Baker pink-lined jacket, its zipper sliding across my body from left to right, two snaps at the waist, one near my right shoulder, I stood before a mirror, shocked by how good I looked. Quint bent down, hands upon the glass countertop, looking down at the floor. “Don’t forget all the girls you can get,” the clerk whispered in my ear. He swiped my card, putting four cans of leather protector in a bag, and I walked out, Quint still in the store.
He trudged reluctantly three steps behind me, an entourage of one. I itched to make myself better looking but nothing like celebrity-louche, hankering to be more than just another dumpy guy dressed in thrift-store-hip retreads. Not handsome, a person of outward qualities.
Quentin had always annoyed me, ever since a Boy Scout campout, how he tried to mount me fully clothed. I gave him a shove, flopped my rear through my tan pants, then whacked him with my fist, his nose bloodied. I smacked his mouth, too, watching a thin stream of blood dribble down the side of his jaw, and then seeing him rubbing his teeth. I chortled when I saw a front tooth chipped, thanks to my handiwork with my scout belt buckle.
“Dogs do it, Valentinian. What do you have against dogs?” he said. Was he joking?
“Very witty, Quint, but they don’t do it in a two-man Pioneer tent with me.”
“Girls scare me.”
“Yeah, I remember you running out our cabin in Camp Pokey when boatloads of girls came to our side of the lake.”
Quint came at me, and the tent collapsed. A stake ripped through the torn canvas and I grabbed it, jabbing it into Quint’s face, not aiming at anything in particular. We scrambled out from under the tent, Quint holding his eye, blood seeping through his fingers. He lost sight in that eye, its deadeye stare from its socket perennially blanked.
Back at my place, I hung the jacket on a Byrnes and Baker wooden hanger. Quint flopped in front of the TV, watching Nick at Nite, seeing Fonzie strut, the wardrobe department presenting Fonz in a tight-fitting leather jacket, parodying that era’s leather jacket gang of Brando and Dean. I hated ‘Happy Days,’ not corresponding to my vision of the late fifties. I watched Johnny Depp in John Waters’ ‘Cry Baby’ the previous night and could not comprehend any roommate of mine watching creepy “Happy Days” re-runs.
Before the mirror, I stood naked, wearing only the jacket, admiring Maleness. Quint slid behind me, I peeking at his one-eyed shape, an obese blob, lurking near me. I turned, watching the shiny glint of a pocketknife’s largest blade.
“Boy Scout knives like this one are classics, Val,” he said authoritatively, closing in on me. “I’ve always hated your Steve McQueen good looks.” I backed up but struck my bare ass against the closet door’s mirror.
“Me, good looking? I look like ugly John Waters.” I said, Quint edging closer, three feet away.
“I see 20-20 from my good eye and can stick you in the jugular if I wanted. I move fast for a fat man.” He lunged at me, and I grabbed for his wrist, but missed, my fist nearly punching his groin. Then the blade thrust upward and I covered my face, my forearms and shoulders protecting my chest and stomach. The blade slashed my jacket diagonally across the zipper. Another slit the sleeves of both arms, then ripped its side. I quickly slipped off the jacket, using it as a shield, but he never stopped piercing and lacerating the jacket. He finally caught my bare arms, gashes bloodying me. Suddenly he stopped, I naked, the jacket stained with gore at my feet. Our breathing, panting for air, “Happy Days” the only words heard. Each of us waited for the other to speak. The pocketknife rested atop the jacket.
“I could press charges,” I said, remembering Quint’s Catholic parents never called the police after the campout incident. Their son homosexual? Never. “But I won’t. Do you want to stay anymore?”
“I haven’t a choice. Maybe something will break for me, landing a good-paying job.” He looked downward at the blood and leather.
“I’m game for that. I better clean my wounds,” I said.
“If you heeded the Tenth Commandment, this wouldn’t have happened,” Quentin said. His admonition was absurd; I would never affirm anything religious. And I despised pomposity.
“That’s the covet one, isn’t it?” He shook his head.
Tomorrow I will return to Wilson’s to buy another jacket plus a three-quarter length one.