It’s not very often that I invite guests over to my place. It’s pretty sacred to me, so I only open the door for the very special ones, and today (darlings) I’m sharing a very talented, very intriguing writer with you. You may have heard of her. Drum roll, please.
This is the fourth part of her story, so you’ll want to run over to the adorkable Lizzi’s first, then to the beautiful Gretchen’s, and then to the sexy/sultry/vixen Samara’s. (Looks like my guest chooses good company, too.)
While you all read the other posts, I’m going to get my place set up for my guest. The other girls got out the good wine for her, but I tend to follow the road less taken, so I’m going with a hunch here and pouring my friend, Helena, a Mandi made Greyhound, and I’m not afraid to say that I make a fantabulous, drinkgasm worthy Greyhound. Here’s how: I fill a glass to the rim (never less because liquor melts the ice) with square ice cubes, and then add a generous pour of Grey Goose Vodka (The rule is to count to five. I count to 7.) Now come close and lean in as I whisper my secret to the best Greyhound you’ve ever had…I only use fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruits. It only takes a minute to squeeze the juice. Don’t be lazy and buy the processed shite. Fill the glass to the rim with the grapefruit juice, and enjoy.
And remember (darlings), don’t drink and drive.
Now sip your drinks while you relish the next part of this swoon-worthy story.
Helena, the world’s your oyster.
After that night at the club — after that dance — we began talking to each other every night on the phone, like a couple of teenagers. Just chatting, talking music, talking movies, so that by the time our coffee date rolled around a week or so later, all the chit-chat was over.
I still wasn’t sure what he was thinking — I’m nearly ten years older than he is, and have, therefore, nearly ten more years of train wrecks and car crashes and heart break and hang ups. Nearly ten more years of lost jobs and one night stands and dabbling with self-destruction. Nearly ten more years of disenfranchisement, of disillusionment, nearly ten more years of the seeds of misanthropy growing inside me and threatening to rot me from the inside out. I don’t have baggage, darlings, I have luggage — a steamer trunk full of ex-boyfriends and alienated friends, of abusive parents, dead siblings and failed suicide attempts.
All of this paints a picture of a Helena that is completely broken — damaged goods, as the kids say — and therefore undesirable. Everything I said to him, though not always so blunt and direct, was basically a variation on the theme. You don’t want me. You can’t possibly want me. What’s wrong with you, if you are so stupid as to want me?
And yet he still called me, said he was on the road from Toronto, and would I like to meet for coffee?
I’d grown comfortable talking to him. I enjoyed it, even, the same way I might enjoy speaking with any of the many faces on the Internet. Even so, I hesitated in saying that I would meet him. I was excited to see him again and yet terrified of ruining what had already become something warm and comfortable. Like an expensive pair of shoes that look great around the house, but that you don’t want to get all scuffed up by taking them out on the street.
Penny practically pushed me out the door, and I was glad she did.
Spenser called and said he’d pick me up, and asked if I’d eaten yet. I’d only just gotten home from work, and was arguing with Penny the whole time about whether I should go or not, so no, I hadn’t eaten, darlings. I was starving, but I wasn’t about to disclose that.
“I could eat, I suppose,” I conceded.
“Oh, good,” he replied. “I’m starving! I wanted to beat rush hour traffic, but I guess I missed my window. I’ve been sitting in traffic for an hour and a half, and my fingers started looking appetizing.”
It was supposed to be coffee, I reminded myself, and told Penny I’d be home early. She made some lewd gestures at me while Spencer wasn’t looking, and said she wouldn’t wait up. Of course, when I strolled in at four o’clock in the morning, she was eating Cookies and Cream ice cream and sipping Bailey’s Irish Cream, and waiting to hear all about my night.
“That was the longest fucking coffee I’ve ever heard of!” she cried excitedly when I crept in the door, hoping to enter undetected. I nearly jumped out of my skin, not expecting to be verbally assaulted so soon after my return.
“Jeeebus, Penny!” I screeched, and then I couldn’t help myself, darlings — I broke out laughing, and the sound of my own laughter brightened my heart.
I jumped over the back of the couch and plopped down beside my favourite niece (Penny insists that at this point I remind you all that she’s my only niece, and I counter by insisting that she’s my favourite only niece) and gave her the biggest squishy hug I could manage, until she was crying for mercy.
“So,” she said when she recovered. “It went well, then?”
I composed myself and feigned boredom.
“It was okay, I suppose.”
“Do I need to go to the drug store for a pregnancy test?” she asked cheekily.
I smacked the back of her head and asked her exactly what kind of slut she thought I was.
“I never really thought about it, Helena,” she answered, courting death with fearless abandon. “I suppose more research needs to be done as to how exactly to quantify and qualify sluttiness.”
“And just for that, I’m not telling you anything,” I said, standing to go to bed. Of course, I was just teasing, and I suspect the Countess knew it, because she called my bluff.
“Okay then,” she yawned. “Nighty night. Sleep tight.”
“I was completely unprepared,” I sighed, sitting back down beside Penny and putting my head on her shoulder.
All week long we’d discussed music — it’s not often I get to talk music with someone who knows it as well as I do — and discovered that, among other things, we shared a love of Tom Waits. It made sense, of course, him studying Jazz — all that early Tom Waits is neck deep in barroom jazz, mixed with American folk and blues, run through the electric conduit that is Tom himself. His storytelling, his characters, his many voices, plucked right out of Tin Pan Alley and set on a gin-soaked stage, have held me captive for years. When Spenser told me that he had a few Tom Waits songs in his set list, I was tempted to just ask him to find a piano and play for me all night — but that would have to wait for another night. This was just supposed to be coffee.
We got in his car — nothing special, just four wheels and an engine, as he described it — and he popped in a CD of all his favourite Tom Waits songs.
“Where are we going?” I asked, and he kind of tilted his head, like that dog from the old RCA ads.
“You know, I’m not sure yet,” he said, and I didn’t believe him. Later, he’d try to convince me that he really didn’t have a plan that night, that everything really was spontaneous, but I remain unconvinced. But only because I don’t like being wrong, darlings. You understand.
We drove for an hour, down toward Niagara. It was only supposed to be coffee, but at some point, Spenser got in his head that he wanted to take me somewhere specific.
“Do you like Thai food?” he asked, and I may or may not have jumped up and down in my seat, screaming like a five-year-old that Helena loves Thai food! Yummy yummy!
Okay, I probably didn’t. I may have grinned, which gave away my position, and so any attempt at downplaying my enthusiasm was futile.
This wasn’t supposed to be a date. It was just supposed to be coffee. And yet somehow, we ended up at the greatest restaurant ever — though you wouldn’t know it from the outside.
“This is kind of a dodgy neighbourhood,” I remarked, as we parked in the lot of a convenience store, which was right across from a Bingo Palace on one side and a hospital on the other. It was not even dark out yet, but there were already ladies standing by phone booths and stopping cars as they came out of the Bingo Palace’s parking lot. They might fool other people, but I’ve seen too much not to recognize prostitutes when I see them.
Spenser laughed. “Yeah, it kind of is. But I promise you won’t regret this.”
I thought that was pretty confident, considering the restaurant looked like it should be condemned from the outside.
But then we stepped inside, and my jaw hit the floor.
I’ve never been to Thailand — never even been anywhere close to Southeast Asia, but it was everything I imagined Thailand would be. Two effeminate twelve-year-old boys were selling sexual favours to American tourists as we came in, and in the corner, you could get cheap plastic surgery, no questions asked. In a back room, Leonardo DiCaprio was drinking snake blood and Yul Brynner took the stage singing “One Night in Bangkok.”
“Hang on a minute!” Penny interrupted. “I think you’re getting carried away here. Yul Brynner? Isn’t he dead?”
I stared at her, thinking back to all the stories that Penny has told me over the years, and smirked.
“Really?” I asked. “That’s where you draw the line? With Yul Brynner? What about the rest?”
“I’m willing to concede the possibility of the rest of your story,” the Countess said through a mouthful of cookies and cream. “But dead is dead.”
“You know what?” I said, ignoring her. “This is my story, and I will muddle the details as I see fit. Now, where was I?”
“Zombie Yul Brynner was telling Moses something about The Magnificent Seven.”
“Oh, so you do know who Yul Brynner is,” I said.
“Was,” she corrected. “Still dead. And of course I know who Yul Brynner was. He was the King of Siam. Geez, Helena, what kind of uncultured swine do you think I am?”
I considered echoing her response about sluttiness from before, but instead, launched into a chorus of Getting to Know You from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I.
I may not have been completely accurate in my description of the Thai restaurant in my previous statement, darlings, and so I hope you can find it your sweet little hearts to indulge and forgive me. The restaurant was, in fact, lovely — beautiful wooden tables carved out of sections of large trees, dim lights and candles. This was not coffee. This was a date. This was romance.
We were brought to a booth, and it looked unusual to me at first, until I understood. These booths were on elevated platform, so that you sat on the floor, with your feet dangling beneath, with the table low to the ground. They were very private, with curtains around them, and satin pillows in the corners.
Our waitress came, and placed one of the satin pillows down to kneel on. She was dressed in whatever the Thai equivalent of a kimono is, and poured tea for us, and took our order. I felt like royalty. Spenser must have seen the shock and delight in my face, and though I hadn’t said anything, he smiled at me, eyes wide, and nodded.
“I know, right?” he laughed. “Isn’t this place amazing? Wait until you try the food — make sure you get some lemongrass soup — I’ve never had anything like it anywhere but here.”
It was ridiculously amazing food, and we joked and made fools of ourselves, sharing dishes back and forth, daring each other to try spicier and spicier dishes. I couldn’t believe I’d ever been nervous or afraid of this. I’d never felt so at home with anyone so quickly in my life. He accidentally dropped a tiger shrimp in his lap, and I laughed at him — I mean, I laughed at him the way I would laugh at Penny if she’d done it. Completely bad etiquette for a first date — and I’d completely forgotten that that’s what this was — but I laughed at him, and he laughed back, and stole a shrimp off of my plate to replace the one that had fallen on his lap and on to the floor.
And I let him.
We ate so much food that we were both slightly comatose, and after the waitress came around to re-fill our tea for the third time, we kind of got the idea that they wanted the table.
He paid the bill — I tried to pay for it, but he insisted that he’d invited me, and that I’d only been expecting coffee. Then we walked out of the magical restaurant full of brass and silk and darkly stained wood and candles and strange exotic paintings, back out into the street, where Bingo night was in full swing and the sound of traffic threatened to spoil the magic.
The sun was going down, but the night hadn’t yet arrived. I didn’t want the day to end, and I told him so. He looked at his watch.
“It’s not even nine o’clock yet,” he said. “What do you want to do?”
I thought about where we were, and suggested maybe going for a walk by Niagara Falls.
You may think that sounds perfectly boring, but personally, I liked the idea of just going for a walk with him, darlings, so you think what you like.
Spenser agreed that would be nice, and so we got back in his car and started driving again, taking back roads and listening to more Tom Waits, until we came to a crossroads, and at that crossroads was something I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager.
We could turn left and head toward Niagara Falls, or we could turn right and go to the Drive In movie theatre, which was just starting up.
“So you went to the Make Out Movie Theatre,” Penny said with a grin.
“Well of course we went to the theatre,” I said. “But there was no making out.”
“What?” Penny said, spitting ice cream out of her mouth in most ladylike fashion.
We decided on that Planet of the Apes movie and whatever else was playing with it, I can’t remember. We parked the car, got some popcorn, leaned our seats back, and watched the movie. We chatted some, without feeling the need to fill the silence with words, and other than incidental touches, he didn’t try anything. We finished the movies, and I confess I was beginning to worry that maybe I’d disappointed him somehow, or that maybe he wasn’t attracted to me, or that he was gay, but when we pulled out of the lot, he asked me if I minded if he took the long way home.
“Because I’m having a really good time, and I just don’t want to take you home any time soon.”
I laughed, and secretly melted inside. “You’re totally going to kill me and drop my body in a ditch, aren’t you?”
“Never,” he deadpanned sincerely. “I always eat my kills.”
“Well, okay, then,” I agreed, settling in for the drive.
“We ended up getting lost along the way,” I told Penny. “We got turned around somewhere where the highway changes direction or something, but we didn’t mind, we just kept driving until we figured out where we were, and then he dropped me off here.”
Penny looked at me in confusion.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute,” she said, waving her hands at me like a crazy person. “You mean to tell me that you were out all night with this man, and he didn’t try anything with you?”
“Okay, well, I lied — he did hold my hand for about ten minutes during the second movie. It was sweet.”
“Oh, that is sweet,” Penny said, uncharacteristically doe-eyed. “So are you gonna see him again?”
“Oh, you better believe it,” I told her. “And next time, he’s going to try something, by god, or I will!”
The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.
She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming.
She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them.
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and has finished Volume Two and is in the editing process.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat