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The People That Care Forgot

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When Guy first offered him the evening, he said, "Sure," figuring the girls would never show up anyhow. But he and Guy could sit around and have a few drinks, maybe smoke a joint or two, watch baseball on the cable or maybe talk about horses.

Guy had a wife and stepdaughter now, and they all lived on a nice street in Lakeview, the kind that made you realize why people had come to Lakeview in the first place.

But Lakeview had its questions for him, questions asked with feigned casualness by scattered neighbors and his stepdaughter's teachers. So Guy went out and got a real job. His wife was happier and more willing to meet his price: one or two nights out a week, no questions asked.

Many of those nights he spent here at Sid's apartment when Sid had gone back to Lafayette to be with his family, like tonight. Guy started telling him about the two girls and he started laughing. One of them was a friend of Guy's, a cute little blonde named Cathy that he had seen before. Her husband had grown tired of trying to slow her down with other men, so he had her committed to a private mental institution. The other girl, Gwen, was a friend of Cathy's. Guy said Gwen was or had been a preacher's wife but was currently an inmate at the same institution. They were getting out tonight on some kind of special pass, but they had to be back by a certain time.

The idea of coming close, even bedroom close, to madness was strangely appealing, though he still didn't believe the women were coming. He and Guy poured out some Captain Morgan's rum and shared a large stick of reefer. They sat and watched a couple of chicks shoot pool on TV, with the volume all the way down. Bend, crouch, stroke. You go, girl.

Almost before he could remember it, the women -- the crazy women -- were there. Cathy was playing some kind of video game with Guy and the one named Gwen was sitting beside him on Sid's sofa. He was asking her stuff like what games she had played as a child in Minden and was there Indian blood responsible for her striking dark eyes?

There was, one-quarter, she claimed. She was smiling a nonstop smile and talked about what she called muffins. That meant the midriff lumps that overlap her shorts. She was illustrating muffins by reaching under her blouse and pinching with her fingers.

When she finished, she flicked her little-girl eyes up and painted onto them a look that asked: Am I being adorable yet?

Oh yeah, girl. Slow down. You got it made.

In the three years since his divorce, he had found no interesting women interested in him. In the last four months, there had been no women of any type. He tried not to think of the causes and consequences of this.

So he sat there, enjoying this lonely woman's talk, phrases from a Hollywood writer flowing smoothly, oh so smoothly, from his tongue. He found himself meaning every one.

Soon they moved to the bedroom, touching each other with the reverential touches of the truly lonely. As he reached for more of her, the thought ran through him that at this very ion of time, this precise microdot on any calendar, a Lebanese woman was laying under her bed hoping the mortar shells will not pierce her roof or some old Korean man was wondering how to replace the crumbling quilted coat that had gotten him through so many hard winters.

He felt some small guilt that he was for the moment having such a fine instant. Then he thought of the times when he would be sweating out a loan application at a bank or being alone in his bed missing his children, times when other men, even Lebanese and Korean, would be reaching over for their women. His conscience troubled him no more.

Gwen was sweet and plain and full of a wild gentleness to match his own. She seemed to like holding him very much and she told him he was very good, not an obligatory once, but many times.

Suddenly, he could hear Cathy's voice in the hallway between the two bedrooms. "It's quarter to eleven," she called -- twice.

Gwen leaped up and began the dark retrieval of her clothes. She didn't have to say she was worried; that was easy to feel through the unspokenness.

Quarter to eleven. That had been the call, the call of time, that had ended his at last touching with this sweet, crazy woman. Always at my back I hear Time's Winged Chariot drawing near, he had thought. But that had come to him later, driving home from Sid's.

Oh hell, was what he had thought as he hand-groped the floor for his socks.

"We're gonna be late. I just hope they don't give us that blood test when we get back," whispered Gwen from Minden, dressing to go back to the crazy house. It was an angry irony he felt toward the notion that some outside tyranny, some institution, might soon be degrading this woman whose only act of the evening had been to search his heart for some feeling.

He and Guy watched their hurried exit from the front door. Neither he nor Gwen had talked even once of her preacher man or her troubles or whether they would try to get together again. She looked back over her shoulder at him and he waved goodbye. He felt Guy look at him.

She waved back.

There are lots of games you can play with women, he thought, and not all of them hurt.

"How's a little nightcap sound?" Guy asked, and for once his voice didn't have its usual smarter-than-all-things sound in it.

He turned from the door and muttered a prayer to himself, a prayer to his parochial God, that his new friend would not have to undergo some kind of blood test when she got back to the institution,

There was a time he would have felt such a prayer to be blasphemous, but not anymore.

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