The Idiot's Girl
by Jeff Archer Black
Marlon Kovetti was an asshole. And, the folklore which his friends told proved that he always had been. Most of his friends were assholes, too. How do I know? I happened to be the latest to join his collection.
I'd just moved into the neighborhood, alone, on the nearly unfulfilled promise of a decent job by dude named George, who I'll skip explaining where I knew from, who hung out at Mick's Tavern on Irving Park Road, who in inviting me on one of his Wednesday night pool playing blasts, introduced me to Marlon Kovetti and his entourage.
My instant position in the surly beer-bonging group, oddest of all, since I looked like the group geek with long hair, turned out to be the bouncer; the savior of the unsuspecting soul.
Never failed, every Wednesday night we'd be up poppin' balls at Mick's, having a rip riot, and inevitably, every Wednesday night some unsuspecting fool would stumble into the bar and get coerced into playing pool with Marlon. Every time that happened, Marlon would harass the guy into losing at pool and usually into a good fist fight. That's where I did my job. I was the only one in the group who could step right up to Marlon with finger in the air and calmly tell him, "Hang on a second," turn my back to his unmitigated anger and shoo the unsuspecting fool out the front door. Outside I'd tell the stranger that he'd better get lost before Marlon came out after him with his gun. All in all it was just my way of seeing to it that nobody got hurt all that bad.
When it came to Marlon and women, my initial assumption was that he couldn't attract a decent one even if he glued a slew of hundred dollar bills all over his body. That assumption ended the day Jana started showing up with him.
Jana was a big, dark haired Italian girl. Peaceful eyes and a very pretty face. She unlike Marlon kept herself reserved. Mostly she sat and watched all of our drunken antics and as far as I saw, never showed a bit of affection toward him. He rarely talked to or about her. I didn't know why they were together, they just were. Jana avoided me at first. She just didn't like me for some reason.
Or so I thought.
Much different than our mad Wednesdays, Monday nights at Mick's were much slower. Monday night was my night to settle into my corner alone and slip into my own personal drunken oblivion. One of those Monday nights turned out to be the most pronounced alteration to my life's direction. The one which changed everything.
In the middle of my fifth Jack and Coke I felt the hand on my shoulder which to my utter surprise turned out to be the hand of Marlon's girl, Jana.
She gave me just enough time to recognize who she was then softly said, "Hi Nicky. Care if I join ya?"
The bright red flashing light of TROUBLE lit right up in my head and of course I said, "Sure."
So, there I sat, face to face with the idiot's girl, whom in which I quickly remembered didn't like me.
"What brings you out on a Monday night?" I asked her, sarcastically.
She said, "Honestly?"
She hesitated just long enough to light a smoke then said, "You."
Oh, shit. . . At that point I knew I should've asked her to leave but her eyes sucked me in and something about her well proportioned hundred ninety or so pounds turned me on. I chalked it off to the whiskey and asked her, "Why me?"
She stared me down and made me feel all gooey and insecure, then said, "Because, in the short time I've been around Marlon and his friends, I've found you to be the most interesting."
With my usual dripping sarcasm, I asked, "Oh, really?"
"Yeah. I watch you. You always come in and leave alone. You sit and dig on the music from the jukebox and never blow your cool. You look like you always got somethin' crankin' away in your head and I want to know what it is."
All I could crank out of my head at that moment was, What if Marlon were to walk in right now? I had to put that one on the table and did. I started asking, "What if. . ."
"Yeah. He'd beat the hell out of me if he found me alone with you."
With a good amount of confidence, she told me, "Don't worry about Marlon. He thinks you're a gutless turd and wouldn't stand up for a woman if her life depended on it."
That embarrassed me because basically, she was right.
I asked, "So, whaddaya want?"
From there the rest of the evening became sort of a first date type thing. We discussed just about everything I would talk about or at that, admit. After three more drinks each, I found myself, regardless that I'd previously had a bad hang up with larger women, falling deep in like with her. She, such as myself, was intelligently cool, got into psychology, music, the good thinking stuff. On one hand, I was baffled as to why such a wonderful woman would spend her time with a violent jerk like Marlon. And on the other hand, I spent time with him too, so. . .
I asked her, "How'd you know I was here?"
"Someone told me."
My face had to have shown my panic. I asked, "You mean someone we know? Someone knows you're, we're, ya know?"
She said, "Don't worry about who. They won't say anything. Trust me."
Something felt real suckerfishy about the whole thing. She was being too cool about it all. I felt like I was tossing my life up and down in my hand like a ping pong ball, knowing he'd come smack it out of my reach. I couldn't seem to stop either.
The bar-keep, in an insistent tone, said, "Last call people!"
I blurted out to Jana, "Are you setting me up?"
She whacked the back of my hand and said, "No. I can't believe you would think that."
"Well. . ." I backed off. Wanting to believe her.
The bar closed and she kissed my cheek on her way out. I didn't ask to meet her again. I could still, maybe, be spared. If I could just ignore her.
The very next Monday night at Mick's I again sat alone half looped in my little corner of the world and just as slyly as before, Jana slid into the booth and scared the drunken hell out of me. And the next Monday. And the one after that, too. In each of those Monday nights we grew more familiar with each others personality and just the same, each of the Wednesdays with the group became more and more difficult dealing with as she sat by Marlon. Quietly. Glancing my way every now and then. In our talks, she never spoke of Marlon or of where she lived or too much of anything about her immediate position in her surroundings other than those within herself. I found it really odd that her and Marlon never seemed to care about each other whatsoever. But, knowing what I knew about Marlon - his woman was his servant - that was more or less up to par for him.
Wednesday nights and their anxiety filled resonance throughout the rest of the week were eating me alive inside. I knew Marlon had to be getting the off-beat vibes from me as I drew further away from him. I considered not hanging around with the group anymore, but that would mean I probably would never see Jana again and I wasn't about to jeopardize that. It felt sickly splendid having her sitting right there ignoring me while Marlon paraded around in his obnoxiousness, me and her both knowing that there was the beginning of an incredible relationship brewing right underneath his crooked nose.
On the sixth night of our secret meetings we moved into the next phase. After our usual talk about screwed up people and how not to live, we stumbled out the back door and made out in the alley behind the tavern. I wanted to propose taking her back to my flat and making sweet love to her but I was already in deep enough to have my legs broken by Marlon - dying wasn't an option.
On the Wednesday that followed, Jana put the fear of all creatures into me. I had just got my ass beat bad on the pool table and decided a whiff of that wonderful smell she had would cheer me up so I went to get another drink. Ol' vile-boy stood to her right, screaming something vulgar to Chuck, who had accidentally dropped his cue stick. I leaned up against the bar to Jana's left and motioned to Al the bar-keep for another drink. I took a big breath in through my nose. Ah yeah, her smell. The smell of Spring and Fall. Just as I closed my eyes to catch a quick fantasy about her and me, I felt her cold hand creep up my leg and into the front of my t-shirt. My first petrified look went to Marlon who was completely elsewhere. The second went to Jana, who when seeing my freaking fear immediately pulled her hand away and said loud enough for damn near everyone to hear, "Chickenshit."
I clutched my drink and hauled ass back to my seat on the other side of the pool table before anyone could connect her only spoken word in weeks to me.
The second she snuck in and sat down on the following Monday night I asked her, "What the hell did you do that for? Are you trying to get me killed?"
I got a simple, No.
I told her, "Here's how it is Jana. I really dig you. I mean, you've gotten past walls I've put up around me that no one has ever even tried to scale. I love talking to you and I'd love to see this through because for once in my life I feel sure about someone."
"So, what are you trying to say?" she asked.
"I'm saying, for both of our best interests, and my health, this has got to stop."
With zero emotion, she grabbed her jacket, got out of the booth and said, "How do you know what my best interests are? Chickenshit." Then she left.
Things changed after that night. The following Wednesday I felt some really strange vibes from most everyone in the group. Sort of a sympathetic osmosis. I often thought I caught them looking at me as it they felt sorry for me. Marlon hardly spoke to me. I thought that he might know what was going on at first but quickly changed my mind because he would've already beaten the bejesus out of me just like the guy who smiled at the last girlfriend he had just before Jana.
The next Monday night was nearly excruciating, sitting in my corner, alone, crocked. I wanted Jana to sneak in so bad but somehow knew she wouldn't. What did she want with me? I wondered. And what kind of fool was I?
As my eyes started to cross from the whiskey, my mind - so I thought - began playing tricks on me. I thought I heard her voice behind me. Then I thought I heard Marlon. Nah. I wanted to cry. I flopped my head down with a thump on the table and let the booze take me on that rocketing roller coaster ride.
On my fourth trip through the loop-de-loop, I felt the table shake under my forehead. I raised my head and opened my eyes to gorgeous Jana, apparently sitting across from me with her smell and her smile. I grinned big at the edible mirage until I actually heard her say, "Plowed, huh?"
I must've looked like a cat sat on the floor after being spun in circles by a cruel little kid.
It was her. She said, "I'm sorry I'm doing this to you."
She sounded sincere, but my defensive wall flew up anyway. I said, "Yeah, right. You're gettin' yer kicks offa watchin' me go outta my fluckin' mind."
"Nick, you just don't understand yet."
I stuck my face at her. "You're right," I said, "I don't understand. You sit there next to him every night an' an' an' and act as if I don't exist and then you come here and ma-make me feel like the luckiest guy in the world. And then, and then, you, you, come off with this chickenshit crap. I just don't get you."
Calmly, she said, "You will."
I was just about to ask what that meant when BAM! Marlon flies around the corner and slams his fists on the table right in front of my sloshed face. I was gonna die. If not by the beating I was about to receive, then by the instantaneous heart attack I would suffer fearing the beating.
Marlon said gruffly, "Nicky, Nicky, Nicky. I thought I knew you better than this."
I couldn't move due to my temporary paralysis.
He asked, "Are you sober enough to know who you've been meeting here every Monday night for the past six weeks?"
I looked at her, looking at me as if she was on my side. Then I looked up at Marlon with a big vein sticking out of the direct center of his forehead and huge arms poised to plow me.
"Nicky, come on man, think. What's your deal?"
I wanted Jana and that's all there was to my deal. I thought, what's the worst that could happen if I told him that? Besides dying, of course. Then from who knows where inside of me, a big, ballsy personality came stomping out. My mouth took over by itself, saying, "Here's my deal Marlon. I kinda feel bad that I had to get to know Jana the way I did but at this point I don't really care anymore. I really like her. That's my deal. Dig?"
He came right back with his famous, "Yeah, well wudda ya gonna do about it book-boy? Huh?" pointing a fat finger at my face.
"What's it gonna take?"
He sat down right next to me and got in my face. "Looks like you're gonna have to kick my ass."
I said, "Oh, come on man. You know as well me that I wouldn't have a chance."
He looked over at Jana and told her, "See what I mean? He won't stand up for anything."
Now that set me off. I said, "Man, I think she'd rather be with me, and I want to be with her, and if we have to resort to your usual act and take it outside, bring it on asshole!"
Marlon asked Jana, "Do you like this goof?"
I took her silent smile as a yes.
He used me as a brace to get his fat ass out of the booth, shoved me once, then said, "Get yer quarters, moron."
"My, huh? What?"
"Put your quarters up. Are ya deef."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I said, "You wanna play pool over her?"
"Three outta five. The better shooter gets 'er. Of course, if you lose, I'll then proceed to beat the hell outta ya for being such a dick in the first place."
I said fine, went for my stick and we went at it.
Crack! I sunk three high balls on the break and ran the table to the eight ball, missing it. He came back and sunk all the low balls, including the eight.
I racked and he broke the second game. After the explosive break which scored him four stripes, he missed an easy cross side bank. I came back and ran it to the eight ball, again. He made it to the eight and missed it also, leaving me with a hell of a tough bank shot to win. I made it, barely. One to one.
I broke on the third and ran the entire table of low balls. Two to one.
The next game took much longer. We volleyed back and forth missing some particularly easy shots. Neither of us left the other one shit to shoot at. Again, it came down to the lone eight ball, my shot. It was a long green, straight in shot into the cross corner. I hit it right on but didn't put enough reverse English on it so the cue ball walked right in the pocket with the eight. Two to two.
Marlon followed it with, "Pressure's on book-boy."
That was it. I had to win the next one. I racked and lit a smoke as he placed the cue ball just behind the foul line on the far right side of the table. I knew he was going to try to make the eight on the break. I'd watched him win the majority of his important games that way.
CAAARACK! The balls, faster than the eye, split every which direction. I watched the two ball bounce straight off the right rail then back into the center of the table where it collided with the eight ball which redirected the eight ball's line of movement to the precise angle of the left side pocket and sure enough, the damn thing plopped into the pocket and the cue ball stopped right back where it started from just before his break.
Marlon looked up at me with an evil grin and said, "That's too bad, Nicky." Instantly, he grabbed my right arm, spun it up behind my back and shoved me out the back door into the alley. At that point I guess I knew I had it coming to me, although I still gave him all I had. He shoved me again sending me crashing into Mick's stinky garbage cans. I quickly got up holding the broken broom stick that stabbed me in the back on my fall and went at him with it. Taking a hard swing at his head he catches the stick mid-air and stands there laughing at me. I wanted to clobber his ass and he stood there and laughed. Jana came running out into the alley saying, hey, hey, hey guys. Marlon looked over at her and I took advantage of it belting him a solid one right upside his head. It barely phased him.
He laughed and said, "Hang on a second Nick."
I was all fired up.
He said, "Jana, come 'ere."
She went to his side and he put his arm around her very gently. He said, "Nicky, ya see this woman here?"
"This here woman will always be a part of me and this is where you find out just how sure I am about that."
My main thought was, RUN! HERE COMES THE GUN! Who was gonna step in and save me like I did for all those other saps?
Marlon took his arm off of Jana and slowly stepped up to me putting his hands firmly around my neck. He looked me straight in the eyes and asked at a whisper, "Did you ever think once that she was fooling you all along and compelling the events that led up to you, here, helpless with my hands around your neck?"
"I must say, that did cross my mind."
He said, "Did you really think that she'd want you when she had someone like me as a boyfriend?"
With my heart fibers ripping and a monstrous imaginary dunce cap on, I said, "Yeah, I really did."
He got even closer to my face, pukey beer breath and all and said, "Well, you were right. She doesn't have someone like me as a boyfriend. It's more like, brother, you dipshit."
I closed my eyes and shook my head to make sure I heard what I just heard right. "You mean. . . ?"
"Yeah," he pointed to her and nodded.
All I could ask was, "Why?"
He said, "I had to be sure. So did she. I always thought you were cool but you know us Italians. I had to be sure you'd stand up for her."
Still blown away, I asked, "You mean you set this all up?"
He just said, "Yeah," and then laughed his head off.
I looked to Jana and asked, "And you knew about this all along?"
She smiled and nodded.
I said, "You shits," and began to laugh myself. Jana walked over to me, peeled a rotten piece of lettuce or something off my shirt, put her arms around me and gave me a big kiss on the lips.
I asked, "Did anybody else in the group know?"
Marlon said, "Hell man, they all did."
"Damn, do I feel like an idiot."
Jana said, "Then I guess I'm the idiot's girl."
We all went back inside where Marlon shook my hand and left. Jana and I got ourselves another drink and went to playing pool. She kicked my ass three games in a row.
Copyright 2006 Jeff Archer Black
~ Fiction Index ~