In this snippet, Dori barters for her dinner with a homeless man she meets, something she later will come to regret.
I reached in my bag and pulled out one of the bottles of wine. His eyes moved quickly to survey what I’d produced and he licked his lips. “Would you like to share this bottle with me? I don’t like to drink alone.” I reached in the bag again to pull out two plastic cups.
“Who am I say ‘no’ to such an offer?” he said then chuckled. “You should never try to drink away your sorrows…not alone anyway.” The chuckle made an encore and I had to laugh with him this time.
“There is a catch though; I need something from you in return.” I held the bottle in front of me to examine and read the label with feigned interest.
“Miss Dori, if there’s something I can offer, you just only have to ask. But what you see is all I got.” He moved closer to me on the bench and I moved closer also.
I shifted to face him. “I need some of your blood, George.” I sniffed the air around him, tried to ignore the stench of his unwashed body, to zero in on his blood type. “You smell like you’re…O positive.”
“My blood? You mean like them that I sell my platelets to?” His filthy brow line dented in the middle.
“Sort of. Only not for cash. I’ll give you this bottle for about a half pint of your blood.” I dangled the bottle by its neck in front of his face. His eyes moved with it then met mine and he nodded.
“I guess we have a deal then.”
“Good.” I opened the bottle and poured him a cup, filled to the brim, then myself a couple of swallows. It seemed wrong for him to drink alone. “Here,” I said as I handed it to him then, “Cheers.” I tapped my cup to his.
He surprised me by sipping his drink instead of downing it. The swipe of his hand across his mouth in the next instant belied those manners.
“How long you been living here, George?”
This time his sip was longer and he let out a loud “Hhhaaaa” when he’d finished. “I used to be a concert pianist, if you can believe that.” He shook his head ruefully. “But that was a long time ago back when I lived in Boston, before the Gulf War.”
“Piano, eh?” I downed my cup and poured us both a refill. “I don’t play any musical instruments, sadly, never had a chance to learn. But we’ve a piano at my house that my…housemate plays sometimes.” Donovan did play and sing, had a nice baritone voice and I loved the bawdy tunes his nimble fingers produced. Those nights I stayed home and he entertained me with music and stories were among my favorites, especially since Veronica and Jacinda rarely hung around. They’d heard all his material a zillion times before.
“I started playing when I was only five, had true talent. Do you know what true talent is Dori?” The words sounded slightly slurred.
I shook my head. I’d never considered myself talented at anything, had had a lifetime of evidence to the contrary.
“True talent is perfect pitch at age three. I was barely out of diapers but I could tell you all the notes on the piano.” He chuckled, a phlegmy sound that didn’t bode too well for the current state of his health. I worried briefly about blood borne diseases like AIDS or hepatitis but recalled Donovan telling me that pathogens weren’t a concern. They might affect the taste of the blood but couldn’t harm us. We were already dead.
“Wow, that’s impressive. So perfect pitch by age three, lessons by age five and then for how many years did you take them?” He’d been chugging away at his drink as I spoke so I topped him off again.
“I took lessons for over fifteen years then I became the teacher, played in the Boston Symphony. Chopin. He was my favorite because his pieces were bitches to play, but I killed ’em all. Killed ’em dead.” He’d raised his voice by then but stopped, as if in mid-thought, his mouth still open, before he continued a little more calmly. “But I also liked Bach and Debussey.”
“I like Gershwin, myself,” I said. “My mother used to play a cassette tape of Rhapsody in Blue when I was little. I loved that song.” I drew my legs up on the bench to the side and sat on my hip closest to him, arm on the back of the bench. “I used to make her play the fast and loud parts over and over again. That and Fortuna from Orff’s Carmina Burana. I really liked both of those songs.”
He grinned at me and I noticed he was missing his canines and the molars nearest them. “Yeah, those are nice. Did you know that Carmina Burana is nothing but a bunch of drinking songs?” A laugh escaped through the gaps in his teeth and the lips he drew back. He brought the cup to his mouth then paused. “How you gonna get my blood?” The words were definitely slurred.