You are meeting your flocculent blond girlfriend, Fluffer, for drinks in the skyscraper where she works. She’s not employed at that bar. She manages people who have to pass it — figuratively and literary. She admins a law firm on the 49th floor. Most days, she and her legists would rather flock to and wassail and opiate via vape on the mezzanine instead of practicing jurisprudence. Barring an exam of conscience, you think: who wouldn’t?
You arrive first, order a pint, not the first of the day, and sit in a corner booth. The second story is vacant, quiet as a convent. The walnut walls are polished; the pea-colored carpet wicking from shampoo, and the sun late-afternoons the Windexed window. Below, on the downtown streets, the rush-hour Exodus begins. A logjam of horns and brake lights. Little moves even at green lights. Ballsy bike-messengers toting chits, writs, and blueprints weave through cars and pedestrians in the crosswalks, flipping the bird. Across the skyline, the pigeon-dunged spires of Saint Patrick’s and the hour of vespers. So, you raise your glass and drink solemnly. Slainte, the Gaelic for good health, is what Fluffer says with a wink since you’ve dropped your faith in God like a ball. It’s a strange transition, she says. You’ll work it out, find the way. Faith isn’t a handout, she adds, it takes work. She has some Irish so it sounds authentic, wise. She’s had some Scots too, she’s said with cunning, a black German, and now the half-Mexican vapid you. She imperials a proclivity for men, and you remember to place five-dollar bills on the table like handy coupons.
She elevators punctually from the playboy penthouse, as she calls it. She enters with an
androgynous woman you don’t know, who has a decade on Fluffer, who has a decade on you. Fluffer spots you, makes eyes which are tekhelet, the Hebrew for pure blue. But you don’t remember jot or tittle from Old Testament studies, Latin, or Catholic seminary for that matter. Or the marks you earned in theology or Marx. Fluffer foots black patent leather shoes, shiny and pointy as her nose. One nostril gapes wider than the other from snorting pure coke, which left her pale petty face gaunt as a hunger artist. She’s giraffe-tall and languid in black slacks with flared bottoms. Under her crisp white dress shirt, you know what awaits.
What tits? she always jokes. I don’t have any.
“Hello, Jimmy,” she says. “You always look so nice. I love your taupe dress shirt.”
“It loves you.”
“Is it new?”
You smile at her inviting touch and talk.
“Feels like Poplin.”
“Something’s poppin’, Mary.”
“Mary Poppins,” Fluffer says. “Funny!” Grinning, she points to the splayed bills and says, “I see you’re ready in more ways than one.” She leans forward and kisses your lips, spearing a long, wet giraffe-like tongue, as though your tongue is a mimosa leaf to be gathered and eaten. She pulls back and winks.
“You two need a room?” the older woman says, a bit rictus.
Fluffer says, “Jimmy, this is Maud. She used to be a Catholic nun.”
You never know what to say when meeting a stranger you don’t care to meet. You get enough interactions with vapid customers at work. You’re sure Maude is a fine human being worthy of Fluffer and God. So you singsong, “Really? You too?”
Maud says seriously, “You’re not transgender, are you?”
“No,” Fluffer says, “Nor a nun. Just a blue-eyed goofball. He’s mostly a scop who topes sudsy potations.” She has a way with words, handy with lawyers. She lisps a playful quality, the “s” catching at the back of the teeth. You think scop makes you sound like a cop and one of her Scots.
You shake hands with the former nun.
“You two have such beautiful blue eyes,” she says. “That must mean something.”
“Our kids will have blue eyes?” you joke and wish you hadn’t.
“Some coincidence,” Fluffer adds with a hopeful smile that worries you.
You release Maude’s limp bent fossil fingers. She quotes single liver spots on each pale temple shrouded by an English boy’s haircut combed to the side. She’s dressed as a laic, nothing identifiable. Not even a cross pendant or sandals made of recycled tires — the shoes of the discalced nuns who taught you. Maud sports a beige cashmere sweater, matching plaid slacks, and low-heeled dress shoes. Her waistline bulges broader than her chest — like Fluffer. Also, she seems not all there, distracted, maybe preoccupied with vespers too. Or working on an algorithm, it turns out.
“She’s a financial guru,” Fluffer says. “She does derivatives — whatever those are — and makes money deals.”
You hold up the green fivers, wave them like a side-show hustler or an eye-catching erecting inflatable tube man at a car sale. You say you’ve got a meaningful deal.
“Those are mine,” Fluffer says with another famous smile and those moony blues. She playfully money-grabs the air.
Maud takes and swigs your potation. Then she puts the half-full pint down — lip marks,
fingerprints and all. Then she licks her thin pale chops. “Slainte,” she says and stares into space.
“See, she’s one of you.” Fluffer says, always trying to make a positive connection.
You don’t quite get it but smile and nod anyway.
“Is the waitress on yet?” Fluffer says.
“Not yet,” you say and get up.
“You sit,” she says, “I’m already up. And keep those out,” she says of the bills, heads to the bar.
“So, what do you do,” the former nun says coming back from her thoughts, “when you’re not being a transgender?”
You smile as she bogarts your beer again. You think how the tables have turned since the first day of grade school. Sister Katherine, the principal in habit, wimple, and sandals, found you crying at lunch. When she asked what was wrong, you said you’d eaten all your food earlier at recess and were still hungry. The tender mercies. She took you in hand to the convent kitchen and made a PB and J on soft fluffy white bread with real berries like manna from heaven. Then she wrote a note — small as a chit which she placed it your shirt pocket — to your mom to kindly pack more food. When finished eating, you didn’t thank Sister, and just walked out to the playground.
And like that, Maud finishes your beer like it’s a PB and J, a karmic payback. What do you care? You’ve had your fill with plenty to go around for the masses. Before you ask if she read the theologian Thomas Merton who said the only place communism works is in communal religious life like the monastery or convent, she leaves without a word, note, or manifesto.
Fluffer returns with a trinity of beers, a triangle of pints. “Where’s Maud? Bathroom?”
“She just left,” you say. “Out the front door.” You point and drunkenly imagine her
skipping on the school playground.
“Figures,” Fluffer says. “She’s a strange one. I only met her recently. We were just doing
copyright work for her. You know she was cloistered in the convent for decades? Can you imagine not saying a word to anyone for that long? That’s a serious vow. Course, you know that. Anyway, I thought
you two might hit it off, given your time in religious life. So, that makes two beers for you then.”
“Winner winner,” you say.
“I’ve heard that before.” She’s full of smiles.
+ + +
Winner winner is what she’s heard before, because she’s the one who said it. Last week you met for lunch at a pub downtown. There were communal tables but Fluffer didn’t feel like sitting with strangers, especially the Wall-Street or attorney kind. Or the start-up wannabe Steve Jobs types. “Who wants a proper hand job?” she said. “Five bucks.” She splayed her fingers in the air for freak-show effect or like a TV commercial for a foot-long sub sandwich. Then she air-lipped the sum. Getting no responses from the gentleman diners in tailored suits, she said aloud, “Don’t be shy, come on!” You’d just gotten off work at the cafe and had tips. The offer suited you. You peeled off two fivers and placed them on either side of your plate like napkins.
Everyone got up and left.
“Winner, winner,” Fluffer said.
+ + +
Fluffer killed her late husband. You left your wife, she reminds you. But she killed her spouse,
like she’s up on you one nill —a way of keeping score in soccer because her husband was a professional goalkeeper. Though, he wasn’t much for keeping to goals and plans in life, sounding like you. He was the black German she snorted coke with, his personality and skin lustrous as jeat. Nose candy — he preferred the word gak — reminded him of the chalk lines of the penalty box in the Bundesliga in the 1970s. His grandparents as children were captured by the Schutztruppe, the German army in Morocco or Mozambique — who knows — at the turn of the century and smuggled back to Germany. He was born in 1950. Growing up, he couldn’t transition and had cultural identity issues, even after immigrating to the US in the 1980s. Where the brand of football soccer sucks. Fluffer said their life blurred of blow and she somehow drove him to overdose. She still penalizes herself, swept up by guilt and emotion. You’ve told her not to blame herself. She’s a good, loving person. People, you said, make choices even in the depths of their vicissitudes. You consoled her. That’s when she first called you a mensch.
Don’t mention it, you said.
+ + +
Recently, Fluffer fired her boss from her previous law firm. She gave him time, trying to resurrect his qualities. But he was disorganized and unethical, she says. His briefs — legal and boxer — were a mess. He supposedly loved everyone but was moody and created a hostile work environment. He asked some for sacrifices and chose others for raises but never delivered. He shit on employees by criticizing them in front of everyone and derived pleasure from it. And his clients? He charged them an arm and a leg. He didn’t care about the difference between doing justice and doing what is right. He just wanted to beat his opponent and get paid and laid. A lot. So she fired him instead of saying she quit. It was an important distinction with meaning.
You consider the difference of justice and doing right in-between pints as she continues. On Palm Sunday, her fired boss emailed a psalm-like poem, saying his palms were empty without her.
“Let him beat himself off,” she says.
Which leads to her self-appointed nickname — Fluffer. It’s not because she has fluffy flocculent hair. It’s because she is good at keeping dates ready to go — fluffed up, worthy of the job and title on a hairy porn crew, keeping actors erect. The claim is not limp.
Fluffer’s real name is Justine O’Leary. You just can’t imagine not calling her Fluffer. It wouldn’t do her justice. Fluffer just feels right.
Just like after four more rounds, you feel like and switch to the hard stuff.
“Lick’er?” Fluffer says, “I hardly know her.” Shots for the road, she says, licking the rim of a tequila popper like a margarita. “Needs salt,” she says.
The bar grows loud. Before you know it, it’s dark, no telling the hour. “Time flies when you’re in good health,” she says. “Slainte. Chin chin,” she adds, switching languages. That could mean anything but not a double chin; she’s too rawboned for that.
Time for sleep, you say, having to work at 4 in the morning, and pay the tab with the last of your coupons.
But Fluffer insists on you two going up to her office first to grab something.
“I forgot something,” she says and takes you by the hand like there’s a PB and J waiting.
You take the elevator to the 49th floor. Finally, a soft ding as the doors open: the top of the mountain. Fluffer unlocks the wood-paneled law office, index finger to her lips, keep quiet.
You nod, wishing you had extra fivers for at least a BJ.
Sure as estrous, she hip-checks you in the dark. You kiss. She turns around, tugs the desk-lamp chain. In the low light, she chits a memo not for your mother and tapes it on a manila folder with colored tabs and documents — the kind for bike messengers. Then she turns off the lamp and bumpers you. She lowers her pants and yours. Her skin is ice cold. She tugs your chain, guides you in. Before you know it, you’re on the carpet, trying delicate, end up ramming but have to pee. Grunts of pleasure and cries of mercy-seeking grow.
“Part pleasure and pain,” she says and pulls your hip.
The door opens and lights go on in the adjacent office. The cleaning crew ripples across the cloudy glass partitions, fluid as a stream of ghosts. You scramble, hide playfully under the table while they feather-dust furniture, vacuum the carpet, and empty the trash cans. Then the lights go out.
The crew enters Fluffer’s office, lights suddenly on. You sneak back, seeing black work shoes and panted legs, the raiment of cleaners. The vacuum nearly hits your shin and you almost shit. But moves on. You are surprised not to be found out. When they finish, you can’t because you’ve gone flaccid. Finally, lights out. When the coast is clear, you pull up your pants, sneak the hell out.
In the dim hallway, you notice the hem and fly front of your dress shirt.
“Your new shirt! Well, that’s shitty,” Fluffer says and giggles. “Guess I leaked,” she says and kisses you, darting her prehensile-like tongue. Then she says, “It’ll come out.”
“Something will,” you say and smile.
“Well, we shouldn’t do that again.”
“In your office or…?”
“At least I can’t get preggers that way, hatch little Jimmies with blue eyes or female versions.”
“Wouldn’t be so bad,” she says.
You take the elevator down to the ground floor and reality. Your legs throb from the prolonged position, knees rug-burned.
Outside, it’s chilly and clear. The streets are vacant, nary a trolley. You show off your pinkie whistle, hail Fluffer a stray cab. She’s going the opposite direction of you.
“We should get married,” she says, getting into the back seat.
Oh, you think, feeling the shoe on the other foot. She shuts the door and smiles through the window, waving fluffer hands.
You stagger-limp downtown needing a pee worse than blue-balls. You recall that human embryos start out as female. If testes drop, she or they become male. Not telling why. And why does tekhelet appear forty-nine times in the Old Testament, the number of stories as Fluffer’s building. Who knows? You non sequitur to the theologian Thomas Merton’s autobiography — The Seven Story Mountain. Seven goes into forty-nine seven times. Grasping at straws, you try to derive meaning, find a God denominator but lose thought in a dead-end alley. So, you unzip, drop testes, the rest, and urine away ideas of little Jimmies.
Relieved, you compose yourself, head west. Your apartment is several if not seven blocks away. You know the way minus an algorithm.
Fog encroaches from the Pacific, out of the blue and black of night. The sea change shrouds street lights. You think how the weather changes quickly as life and traffic signals that go red, then green, then yellow, back to red. Patterns constant yet emerge as you wonder what caused Maud to change, lose her way, leave the cloister. Go in another direction. Did the Order sack her? Did she want to go transgender or lose faith? And did they sneak her out in the night to maintain order so others wouldn’t know or follow?
And how do you maintain faith anyway? Keep it up? Hold on to it? Seems humanity needs a handy spiritual fluffer. There’s no telling the number gone flaccid from a flaky God, fired him, or just dropped him.
Outside a hotel bar, hipsters in fedoras and tourists in dad-shorts flood the corner sidewalk you want to cross. They crowd smoke and spill into the street and bike lane with their potations and pints. There’s a long-haired transitioning person, bearded as John The Baptist gone drag queen with womanly mammaries, dropping out of their blue-sequined dress. Hirsutism aside, he is no bearded lady; physique says he is becoming she. Any case, the person is busking or begging change or soliciting chippy tricks. Or maybe handing out coupons for a burlesque show at one of the niteries and peep-show theaters and spankeasy chambers within crawling distance. Or just harassing. Who knows.
Make way, you want to say like a scop cop. Public drinking is barred. Get back inside. Cover yourself up, John. But they and others might flip the bird and laugh at you. You could claim accident but don’t want to draw attention to your shirt. So, you clam up and redirect, take a different course, left instead of straight. You’ll turn right on the next corner where there are no obstacles.
At home, you rinse the Poplin in the bathroom sink, arm and hammer in fresh-smelling blue liquid detergent. Lather bleeds brown as skubala, the Greek for shit and the only cuss word in the New Testament, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, originally written in Greek. Who knew? Apparently, Paul’s life was shit before Christ.
And after, you laugh. You leave the shirt to soak, set the alarm, and pass out on the bed.
+ + +
After three hours of sleep, the alarm blares you awake. You drink cold day-old coffee from the pot, then shower. The hot water slaps the claw tub loudly. You dry off, comb your limp hair with the towel, fluff with your fingers. You floss and gargle over the kitchen sink. You almost swallow, the alcohol mouthwash has an IPA appeal. You don a new Oxford sky-blue dress shirt and double-check the fly front before tucking it into your trousers, though no one would care if it were in or out.
You walk in the fog, dark, and flashing traffic lights. Downtown is empty, your hangover in full gear as you try to recall the blur of last night with Fluffer and The Nun, hoping you didn’t get out of hand.
Until you see the bearded transitioning person emerge from the fog in a menacing fashion. Like some damn disco space ship. They are still dropping out of blue sequins, approaching and hollering, “You white-ass motha fuckas aint shit!”
Wanting none of that, you are too slow to cross the street, right or left. There’s always a down-and-out drifter, a vagabond, a stranger. Sometimes you can’t even cut them a wide berth. They sashay under the dirty street lamp, a dim spotlight on a drag show, and halt. With dark eyes they seize and size you up. You expect diva or the wrath of God. But tears streak their suddenly sheepish face akin to the bleating grade-school you. Then they straighten broad shoulders, chest out, nipples frosted as nightshade berries or manna seeds, in full display so you can get a good look before blowing by with the first step.
It’s what Fluffer would say. Don’t you think?
Thomas Weedman has a BA in English from Notre Dame and an MFA from Lindenwood. He’s been a seminarian, a forklift operator, barista, and a professional gambler. His short stories have appeared in the Acorn Review, TheWriteLaunch, The Paragon Journal, The Penman Review, Marathon Literary Review, Limited Experience Journal, Constellations, Bridge Eight and forthcoming at DLG Publishing, Running Wild Press, and Drunk Monkeys.