harvest

“Harvest is change and consequence. It is calloused hands picking ripened crops for market, avaricious hands sweeping winnings across a poker table. It is payoff and payback, celebration and tragedy.” — O.S. 1980

 

"Quit!" she snaps. He says, "I’m not doing anything except touching you." "Well, quit touching me. All I am is your private whore, Odys Schwartzpilgrim’s private little whore!" He insists, "You mean more to me than that! I love you, Reiko Lee. I absolutely love everything about you." She sneers, "All you want from me is sex. You’re the horniest man I’ve ever known. For what I do I should get paid in cash." He questions, "Is that what you want?"

 

Slate gray suffocates the sky. A bolt of dry lightening strikes a tree. There is a high-pitched sound of cracking timber then the smell of burning wood. A black wind blows.

 

Their paths tear away from each other. They disagree about anal sex then quarrel over money. Their chemistry turns toxic. She insists her longings and rhythms are no longer fitting for him. He questions why she is having a change of heart.

 She claims he takes too much time to get off. She says, “Maybe all my past lovers were premature ejaculators. I don’t know! I need affection and tenderness. All you put out is dirty and self-possessed. I’m sick of trying to satisfy you.”

Later she explains she feels inadequate. Eventually her emotions snowball into worse feelings about herself. He says, “I can change, I swear. I’m willing to do anything even see a therapist. Please have patience.” She turns away insulted.

 

He eats calabacitas and she picks at chicken enchiladas in the booth of a Mexican restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. It is January 1980. They have been seeing each other for roughly three months.

Odysseus sits back and wipes his mouth with a napkin. He comments, “Mmmm, that was good. I’m stuffed. Want to order another pitcher of margaritas? Mind if I smoke?” Reiko says, “You smoke too much and you drink too much too. You gross me out.”

His brow wrinkles. "What’s bothering you?” She answers, “Nothing.” He says, “Don’t humor me. Tell me the truth. Be real. Why are you being so difficult? You used to be so playful and willing. Why now do you have such a tough time sexually with me?"

Her voice tightens. “You think I can’t talk about sex? For a while it seemed good. But then I got bored, bored by you and your demanding and mediocre dick. Bored by your itsy-bitsy left ball. Bored by all your stupid sexual antics. This whole relationship lacks zing.”

“Zing?” he questions. Reiko stops chewing. Her jaw clenches. Her eyes dart wildly. She grips the edges of her plate with trembling hands as if she is about to throw it. He asks, "What’s going on inside you, Reiko Lee? Are you all right? Do you want to leave?"

She glares into his eyes. "Yes. Let’s get out of here!" He tosses some cash on the table. They walk outside.

She raises her arms above her head and clasps her hands. She is not herself, scowling in a way he has never seen. She spits on the sidewalk then grabs her own crotch.

Her mouth turns foul as she mumbles unintelligible curses. He demands, "What? What are you saying? Reiko Lee, look at me."

She does not answer as she turns and walks away down the street. He stands and stares as she disappears around a corner.

He wonders what is happening. Why is she behaving this way?

The neighborhood is not safe. He thinks to follow and protect. He heads toward the corner she disappeared around. Exhaust fumes expel from a passing bus and the noises of children squealing. A liquor store sign blinks. He stands and searches down the street. It is dark. There is no trace of her.

 

He does not hear from her. A female acquaintance he knows from the North End Bar mentions she has seen Reiko’s ex, the actor. She says he flew in from New York City to audition for a role in a new TV series being shot in Chicago. Odysseus realizes it was possibly the actor who Reiko ran into at the Veblens’ party.

 

He goes over to her place. The lights are on but no one answers. She routinely leaves a key under the doormat on the back porch.

He enters calling out her name. He walks through rooms but no one is home. He notices a large blue unzipped backpack with an international flight tag lying on the floor. The sofa looks like it has been slept on.

He walks into her bedroom and finds the bed unmade. He sees pubic hairs, neither hers nor his on her sheets and tan dog hairs on the carpet.

He thinks he recognizes the pubic hairs. They look like the same pubic hairs in the bottle on display in her bathroom the first time he visited her house, the missing bottle that never again turned up. He realizes they are definitely not Reiko’s straight dark hairs but rather someone else’s curlier brown pubes.

Reiko mentioned her sister Winnie is coming home to Chicago. In a photograph Winnie has blonde hair. He wonders if the pubes he sucked on while Reiko talked at length on the telephone were Reiko’s ex, the actor’s? His stomach sours.

The sun is setting fast. He leaves her house without checking the blue backpack. He goes for a walk. The wind blows furiously. He walks to the nearest tavern.

 

He swallows beer in a bar, alone. The jukebox blares. There is laughter all around him. In the booths couples kiss, whisper and look out. The low lighting hides him in the darkness, waiting to be found. People scuttle, argue and make toasts. He has no words for tonight, no phrase of consequence. She is not coming and he does not want to stop waiting.

 

Reiko genuinely does love Odysseus yet she is afraid to feel her true feelings, afraid to let go in the way he needs. He wants too much. He spurs her too far and she is fearful to follow, fearful to go so deep. She needs to put up walls to protect herself from him and herself. She needs to hold back and stay where she does not feel challenged by him or sex or life and the world. She chooses instead the easy lies her ex, the actor, strings her along with.

 

They are showering together and Reiko asks Odysseus to hand her the soap. He presses the soap bar rudely between her thighs. She screams at him and slaps his face. She slips and falls in the bathtub. She is crying and kicking as he reaches to help her. Maybe it is the tone in her voice. She snaps, “Quit! Quit touching me!"

Blood rushes to his head. His heart pounds. His jaw clenches. Suddenly he loses it and begins banging his forehead against the wet porcelain wall. She lies face up, frozen in terror in the bottom of the bathtub with arms defensively crisscrossed over her chest. The water sprays down blending with his blood. Not another word is spoken. He bloodies a towel as he dries, dresses and departs.

 

The wind blows through the trees and bends the branches and shakes the leaves, casting shadows that look like horror movies on the pavement. He walks home from her house in the frozen moonless night.

 

His forehead is cut and bruised. His nerves are shattered. He hides in bed. He calls in sick to work. He calls her numerous times. There is no answer. A week goes by. He stops by her place and leaves pink roses and sand dollars outside her porch door. Another week passes yet still no communication. He sleeps restlessly.

Finally he drives her BMW back to her house and taps on her bedroom window. It is one in the morning. She lets him in through the front door.

She is wearing a white nightgown and smells of amber and sandalwood. “Shhhh," Reiko whispers, “Winnie is asleep on the sofa." They climb into bed together. He nuzzles in her warmth and whispers, “Whatever you want I will do."

Reiko suggests they go back to his place. He agrees. She warns, “Be careful. There’s a loaded gun on the floor next to the bed." He questions, “What? A loaded gun?" “I was afraid you might come after me," she says. He searches her eyes. “Why would you think that?"

She looks down as she confesses, "I never trusted you. I just knew one day you would cross the line."

He cannot believe what he is hearing. He stares into her face. “Look at me. What did I ever do to you to mistrust me?" She turns away in silence.

He stands and walks toward the door, hanging his head in resignation. He leaves her car keys on the dresser as he whispers, “Sorry to have disturbed you. Goodnight, Reiko Lee.”

 

Hours later alone he speaks to the ghost of Reiko. "You make it hard for me. All the questions I’ve had to ask to get the one answer you knew I always searched for. If this is modern romance then I’m going back to the caves."

 

Day after day overcast skies linger. He feels her drifting further away. The story is no longer about their love but rather back to being about Odysseus and his struggling inner world.

He thinks, "There is something sick and pathetic about me. If I find a woman with the right vagina, a vagina I obsess about, then even if she’s a terrible bitch, I’m surrendered. Not to her, but to her vagina. That’s not entirely accurate. I’m also vulnerable to how cock crazy she is for me. I realize how superficial these values are. Like I said, there’s something sick and pathetic about me.

"I’m addicted to vagina. It’s a sickness. The worse part is I do not want to be cured. I’m perfectly happy to be addicted to vagina. Flash me a hairy pussy and I’m a street beggar. Jah, please forgive my obsession and stupidity. I’m addicted to vagina.

"Me with my cursed history of goddess fixation. And you, Reiko Lee, dragging your ex, the actor and whomever else you pick up on the way. Are we not each to the other one in a long line of lovers? Do these odysseys ever find home?"

 

He sits on a barstool drinking beer at the Parkway Tavern. He ponders his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He feels betrayed by her. On a deeper level he misses her and feels sorrow. Ordering another beer and a shot of tequila, he drops some cash on the bar. He walks to the phone booth and dials her number.

She answers, “Hello. Who is it?” “Reiko Lee, it’s me.” “Odys, what a surprise. Where are you? I hear noises in the background. He speaks, “I’m getting drunk in a bar and thinking about you.

“You used me, Reiko Lee. After you broke up with the actor, you couldn’t face being alone. You needed someone to ease you out of your dependency. You needed closeness without risking your true feelings.

“I was available and convenient. Now your ex is back in town with a showy job and disposable income. You’re back on your feet and don’t need me anymore. He’ll buy you all the coke you want. You used me. I’m just a dumb-ass bartender with artistic aspirations. You played me. How could you? I never played these kind of games on you."

There is an uncomfortably long pause then Reiko speaks in a wounded voice. "You’re trying to make me feel guilty, aren’t you? I never intended to mislead you, Odys. I didn’t have a master plan. I was hurting. You were funny and sweet and so easy. You took away my pain. This is tough for me, Odys. I feel sad."

He says, “Are you seeking pity? You’re twisting everything around, Reiko Lee. I can’t talk about this anymore.” He hangs up the receiver and walks back to the barstool. He throws the tequila shot down his throat.

He realizes he expressed anger when what he really wants to communicate is something different. He orders another shot of tequila. He walks back to the phone booth and calls her number again.

She answers, “Odys?” He says, “I’m sorry I hung up on you. Please, forgive me. Reiko Lee, I’m at your mercy. I’m down on my knees. Whatever you want I will do. I love you and don’t want to lose you. If you see me once in a while then I’ll be grateful for that night. I want to remain in your life. I accept your conditions. I will make concession. Allow you all the space you need. I will wait out the bad timing."

She remarks, “Odys, you’re drunk. You need to quit drinking and go home. We’ll talk about this some other time. Goodnight.”

“Reiko Lee, I’m very drunk. Don’t hang up on me. Hello, hello? Damn you, Reiko Lee.”

 

He walks home and tries to sleep but cannot. He gets up and walks around. He writes.

“Tonight, I dread this whole relationship. How did I let things go so far? Tonight the fantasy is slipping through my fingers and the reality is grabbing hold of my wrists. Tonight the irony twists and rips to bits. The telephone doesn’t talk, it calls. All promises have claws.

“The table turns and the chair squirms. The room shoves around the walls as the curtain falls. Tonight the vase is strangling the flowers. The romance of the century took such few hours."

 

He misses her scent, her wine dark sea smell. He misses her taste, touch, eyes, craziness, dysfunction and pain. He misses her voice and laughter and gestures and jokes. He misses her insecurities. He misses her pleas for help. He misses her promises. He missed her outbursts.

He missed her horniness and neediness. He misses her warm body clinging to him in the morning. He misses her teasing and kidding and childlike impulsiveness. He misses her fierceness. He misses her unpredictability. He misses her company, intimacy and opinion. He misses her so bad. He goes through withdrawals late into the distant night.

 

Mom calls concerned. “Odys, are you all right? Your voice doesn’t sound right. Have you been crying? You sound weak. You’ve got to be strong in life. If you want my opinion, I think you’re better off without her. She wasn’t right for you. She was a loser and a user.

“My advice to you is to join a temple and find a nice Jewish girl. Listen to your mother, Odys. Now is a good time to get out of that filthy bartending job with all those drunks and learn the commodity markets like your cousin Chris. He’s doing so well.”

He says, “Right, Mom. I have to get ready for work. I’ll talk with you soon. Love you. Later.”

 

He feels a cold drab numbness. He goes to work performing his duties like an automaton. People try to make conversation. He cannot hear them. His manager warns him to snap out of it. He returns home to an empty house and passes out drinking. He wakes up in the predawn and wrestles within himself.

"Mom accused me of being weak. Why is crying weak? I don’t understand. I thought I was strong. The truth is so compromised and complicated. It’s difficult to understand. I’m weak and strong.

"I’m so weak for her. I got to drink that drink and forget about her or else I’m going straight over to her place and make a fool of myself. I got to drink that drink, big gulps, swallow, don’t cry."

 

The following night at two-thirty in the morning, the phone rings. He wakes startled and picks up the receiver. “Hello…hello?”

Reiko’s voice presses urgently. “Odys, come get me. I’m in trouble. Someone is trying to hurt me. I need help. Odys, please, come get me.” He asks, “Where are you? Who is trying to hurt you? Is it the actor? What did he do to you?”

She begs, “Please just come get me. Let me come home with you." “What happened?” he asks. She cries, “I can’t talk about it.” “Reiko Lee, talk to me.” She pleads, “I can’t talk! Please, please, come get me.” He asks, “Where are you?” “Old Town Ale House.” She hangs up.

Odysseus throws on jeans and shoes, grabs his leather jacket and darts out the door. He runs to the corner and hails a taxi.

He finds her drunk and sluttish, sitting at the bar in the Old Town Ale House. He asks, "Are you all right? Reiko Lee, what happened to you? Talk to me. What do you want? Do you want to go?" "Your place. Take me home with you," she demands. He questions, "What happened to you tonight?" "I don’t want to talk about it," she whimpers.

They ride in silence in the back of a taxi to his place. As soon as they enter the house, she strips and climbs into bed. She nervously questions, “Odys, did you double-lock the door?” He assures her, “Yes. You’re safe here. Reiko Lee, who are you frightened of?” "Odys, come here."

She passionately sucks him in a manner she has never done before. He wonders who her new teacher is.

In the early morning she dresses and leaves without a word. He sleeps in.

Mom calls and wakes him. She insists he attend the funeral of a distant cousin. He rankles inside. Later he showers, dresses and takes a bus to work.

 

His job is drudgery. The post-holiday drunks overstay their welcome. The sun has not shown through the clouds in weeks. Around nine in the evening, he takes a break and calls her number. There is no answer.

His manager directs him to the back of the bar. In a terse tone of voice, he tells Odysseus to go home. “I’m taking you off the schedule. Don’t come back until you get your act together. You worry me, Odys.”

Days passed indistinguishably. He calls her repeatedly but there is never any answer.

 

He stares into space then writes. "I dial her number on the telephone, stretch out on the bed, hold the receiver to my ear and listen to the ringing, ringing, ringing, while I imagine her vagina. This is the sordid exposé of my sex life, a vagina that keeps ringing, ringing, ringing and no one ever answers."