Sometimes You Get What You Want
Second Place Short Story Contest Winner
Ira Cohen was a bongo player, drummer type person who picked up gigs whenever he could, which wasn't often. Mostly he worked as a part-time janitor in a bank downtown and gave me the impression that being a musician had a lot to do with not being able to make a living. He lives with me now.
I know exactly how it happened.
I met him one night in the warehouse district at a jazz bar that I called the "hump." I was standing at the bar drinking Carlsberg, waiting for something to happen, and he appeared out of nowhere. He had the body language of a marionette, loose and jangly, and I suspected right away that he knew how to tap-dance.
"What're you drinking?" He asked me in a whisky, cigarette voice.
The bartender was standing by, waiting for an order.
"Bailey's Irish Cream," I said.
"I'll have a Dewar's rocks and she'll have another Bailey's," he said, tapping my large beer glass. When the bartender walked away, he said, "Your treat, right?"
The thing is, he wasn't kidding. I paid for the drinks and was gently hooked. Why being conned into buying his drink was so alluring, I cannot explain, but I was glad the bartender brought me another Carlsberg and not Bailey's. "I met a woman at this very spot last year," he said, stirring the ice in his drink with the forefinger of his left hand. His hands were large for his frame, thick palms, fat fingers. Great for hand drumming.
I stared at him, wondering if he was attractive or just good looking. He had red hair and crooked teeth, for which I am a complete sucker.
"We only knew each other a couple of months and she got pregnant."
He was telling me something important, so I looked up from his teeth to his pale blue eyes.
"She bolted," he said.
The surprised look on his face made me think it had happened that morning.
"When was that?" I asked.
"Eight months ago." When he said it, I heard the slight catch in his throat. "I guess I'm a father." He lifted his glass in a salute and took a big swallow.
"Congratulations," I said.
He had told the story so matter-of-factly to me, a complete stranger, that I wasn't sure if I should believe him.
"Yeah, well," he said. For a few seconds, he looked pensively at the ice cubes in his glass, until some musicians came in the bar and called to him.
"Are you a player?"
"Are you gonna play tonight?"
"I hope so," he said and winked.
The hair on the back of my neck rose up.
"I gotta go," I said.
He came close to me, chest facing chest.
"I want your number."
I started at a small tattoo near his collarbone. It took all my strength not to put my finger on it -- an orange starfish.
He leaned close, too close, and whispered, "I wanted the baby."
I wrote my number on a napkin.
"See ya," he said and tugged on my hair.
I walked to my car and sat looking at the dashboard for a long while, thinking about trouble. I hadn't had any for a while. I decided to go back to the bar. And when I did, Ira was playing.
The music was Brazilian and Ira's hands were a blur as he pounded the bongos. Just inside the door, I leaned back against the wall, transfixed. His eyes were closed, a cigarette dangled from his lips, sweat polished the sides of his face. The veins of his arms stood hard, defined, as the music traveled through them. His feet moved with the beat, tap-dancing, and the effect on me was unspeakable.
Ira was just the breath of dangerous air that I needed.
I worked as a meter maid. I had a bachelor's degree in art history, so I was able to recognize the effect of cubism on the American parking ticket. I had good benefits and dry scalp.
I wasn't a real cop though. I was part of a special program the City had created so they could issue more tickets downtown. I didn't even have a little cart to ride around in. Or a bicycle. The job was temporary to me. Just like the rest of my life.
The first night that Ira came over, he brought his bongo drums and played softly for me. He drank a six-pack of beer and left at midnight to go vacuum at Bank of America.
After that, he came over every night. He brought his shaving gear and his janitor uniforms and left his dirty clothes behind. Pretty soon there was a large pile of his laundry beside my dresser.
He brought other stuff too. CDs, books, a toaster oven he got at a pawnshop, and finally, his own pillow. The first Saturday morning that he woke me up coming back from work, I gave him a house key.
Right after I graduated from college, I went to a headhunter, thinking that somehow, some way, I could apply my art degree to a real job. Coming out from the interview, feeling a little despondent because I'd been told to try teaching at a preschool, I stood near the gutter in a daze. A moment later, a garbage truck blew out a tire and wobbled into my car, which made it lurch toward me and knock me down on the pavement. I chipped my tailbone and jammed my spine a little, doing some kind of damage to the stuff between two disks and wrecking a nerve so that I had a 2-inch patch on my back that lost all feeling forever. Lucky for me, there was a lawyer coming out of the headhunter's office who witnessed the entire incident, called an ambulance, and shoved his card into my pocket before they took me away.
The garbage truck was privately owned and insured, and 18 months later, when my back was diagnosed as permanently damaged and I hadn't had a period in all that time, the lawyer settled for me. For some strange reason, the accident caused me to stop ovulating, and the doctors said that I'd never be able to conceive a child. I didn't believe them, and even though I haven't had a period in five years, I still don't believe them.
I took the money though.
I bought $100,000 in bearer bonds and a house in Hyde Park. When Ira asked me how I could afford such a nice place, I told him, "rent control." He wasn't sure what I meant, and I didn't explain. Mystery is an important part of any relationship.
Then he said, "I was thinking you might ask me about paying a share of the rent."
Ira was in front of me wearing blue wind shorts and a Rolling Stones tank top, mussed hair, a two-day beard, and my chest ached just looking at him.
"What're you saying?"
He started beating a tattoo on the table, cocked his head a couple of different ways and said, "Oh, you know, a lot of my stuff is here."
"Five hundred dollars a month would help out."
He stopped drumming.
"Would that include utilities?"
I had to smile.
"I guess so."
"How about three hundred?"
"Deal," I said.
"I love you," he said.
At that moment, more than anything else I had ever wanted in my life, I wanted to have Ira's baby. I couldn't speak in case I said the wrong thing or started crying. He looked at me like he was memorizing my face. I expected my skin to tan from the light in his eyes.
I felt so awfully feminine.
"Ira, do you ever think about your baby?"
He jerked and said, "Sure. Sure I do."
"Have you ever thought about finding your baby?"
"What's the deal? Are you afraid she's gonna come around?"
"Then what's the deal?"
I put my toes against his naked calves.
"I just wanted to see your baby."
Suddenly, he was on his knees, hugging me, his mouth inches from mine. I watched him form the words.
"Do you want to have my baby?"
"Well, I was thinking that it would be nice to see the one you already have. Do you know anything at all about where she is? The mother I mean."
"She's back in town," he said. "A friend of mine saw her a couple of weeks ago."
"I've got a boy. A son."
I watched his mouth form all of these words.
"Ira, kiss me."
Ira kissed me a long time.
"Do you want to see him today?" he asked when we came up for air.
Ira's baby had red hair and blue eyes and two little teeth that I was sure looked slightly crooked. When he pounded his little hands into the strained carrots, Ira commented on his drumming talent. The baby's mother was a pretty blonde who looked 18 years old and hungover. She spent most of her time draped around, over, under her new boyfriend, Lakey.
This might be easier than I figured.
"If you ever need a babysitter or want to go away for the weekend, just let us know," I told them.
"We want to go to the Lilith concert this weekend," Lakey said.
"Great," I said.
That was how it began. First the baby and some diapers, a few toys, then his swing, playpen. Finally, a crib.
Louie lives with us now. His mother and Lakey are somewhere on the West Coast last we heard. Louie's dentist says he'll need braces on his permanent teeth. I don't know about that. Ira is teaching him to play to conga. Like Ricky Ricardo and Little Ricky they play together singing "Baballoo."
Ira quit smoking, but his voice is still husky. I got a new job. I teach at Louie's preschool.