Delivery trucks and oafs with boxes. Dropping and crushing them everywhere. Breaking Coke bottles, a score of them, and laughing. God save me from morons. I would torch it all in a second if I didn't have to live.
The old fantasy. A doctor tells me I have inoperable cancer. Three months to live. I go home, take the old Army pistol from under the bed. It hasn't been fired since 1945 but I clean and oil it sometimes. I buy ammo every few years. It ought to still work. Put a bullet in Jeff's brain. Merciful: my idiot brother, three minutes younger, couldn't live without me. I go downstairs (the apartment is right over the store) and pour lighter fluid everywhere. I spread charcoal, all the pickings of our barbecue section. I run through the store lighting everything. Wait for it to blaze, then put a bullet in my own head.
Everyone thicks we're sick, bachelor twins living together in middle age, never married. Last year I read in the Daily News about twins found dead in Manhattan, who had drugged and starved themselves amidst appalling clutter and filth. I thought, we're not so far from that. We're neat but strange.
I had an employee, Bernerd Millman, who used to talk to me. I wanted to call him Bernard, but he insisted, Bernerd was on his birth certificate. Which he brought in to show me when I didn't believe him. I said, your mother was the only Jew in Brooklyn who couldn't spell. My mother was Puerto Rican, he answered, very hurt. My father was Jewish. He picked the name, in honor of his dead father. He was away in the war, so she spelled it her way. Okay, Bernie, I said, and I called him that ever after.
He was only here three or four years, but it was the only time I had anyone to talk to, because the usual morons have no conversation. Sports and fucking. I have no interest in the one and little experience of the other. The last woman I had was an Italian whore in Rome in 1946.
I could go to a prostitute in Rome, which was a foreign country and where I had just been through a period where I might have died any day. But I can't here. I've been to the theater a few times on Broadway and when you walk out, you see the whores on every corner, calling to you. Some are very pretty. But how could I go with one, even if Jeff also picked one and we went together? I'm afraid of disease, of violence, of being arrested, of being seen by someone I know. A customer of the store. Why should I care? But I do. I read in the Post about a man who went with a prostitute. When he had his pants off, she threw them out the window and left with his wallet. And he never even got to fuck her.
I think about whores so much that I finally arrived at the idea: I could bring my army gun. To protect myself. When I went to the whore in Rome, I was wearing it. We were required. I never even took it off.
I drew Bernie out. I don't get to know my customers. Other grocers are everybody's buddies, I never had to be. For thirty years, I've been the only choice for the streets around, unless you get in the car and drive to Waldbaum's. But Bernie knows everyone; he's got this manner that makes them like him. He's like a poodle dog. So I asked him what people say about the Charlton brothers. He didn't want to say. I took him out to the Tarantella on King's Highway for a couple of beers and he told me: Everyone thinks you bugger each other. I was astonished. The most amazing thing, given I'm a pessimist, was that it could be worse than anything I've thought of. They think brothers bugger each other?, I asked.
They don't think you're really brothers.
In other words, the whole neighborhood thinks we're a couple of aging faggots posing as brothers.
That led to a revision of my fantasy. On Thursday nights, when Jeff goes next door for his pinochle game, I retire early to bed, with a clean washcloth, and masturbate while thinking about the following:
Belle Chalfin, the politician's wife who lives around the block on Twenty-first street, comes in . She is a beautiful young French Canadian woman who is a bitch and a brat. She knows how beautiful she is. Usually I see her in the store at a distance, but sometimes she comes over to me. I am working the register and I ring her up. Or I am at the desk and she comes over with coupons or a question. She always gives me a brat smile. After talking to Bernie, I understood: that smile says, I'm a beautiful, sexy young woman and you're an aging faggot."
I start by reviewing the times I've spoken to her. And a few other times I got a good look at her and she didn't know. Years ago, we installed a one-way mirror in the back, by the meat and produce. Its the one part of the store you can't see from the front. People were stealing us blind. Putting steaks in their handbags, tomatos under their sweaters, heads of lettuce in the baby carriage. Only Jeff and I and the floor supervisor know it exists. There are only two keys to that room; Jeff and I have them, and sometimes we let in the floor man. I like to take my lunch back there. The other employees can't know about it; sometimes they're the ones we catch stealing.
On several occasions, I have watched from less than two feet away as Belle bends over the produce. Poking pineapples, feeling melons. I look down the front of her sundress. I got a really good view of her tits once.
I remember all that and then move on to my fantasy. The doctor tells me I have three months to live. I still shoot Jeff, but I don't burn the store. I leave Jeff in the apartment, go downstairs and open up as usual. Where's Jeff? He has the day off, I tell people. They expect to see us always together. It is a Tuesday and Belle comes in to shop as usual. I am working the register. She gives me her insolent smile.
Here's where the fantasy becomes a little problematic. Belle never has her stuff delivered; she lives right around the block. If Charlie is in town, she brings her little shopping cart and wheels her groceries home. If he's away, her purchases fit in a single bag, and she carries them.
In the fantasy, I have to resolve two things which don't go together. I know Charlie is away, because she doesn't buy much, but she leaves it with me to be delivered. It doesn't make sense, and sometimes I waste time trying to work out a more natural way it could happen. Then I remember, its a fantasy and it can be any way I want. If it were a plan, it wouldn't work and you'd have to find something else.
I slip the gun way down in the bottom of the bag and go to deliver the groceries myself. This is another unlikely thing; I haven't been out of the store during business hours in thirty years, except during the war and then when our parents died. I would never leave the place in charge even of the best floor man. I'd still expect the workers to steal us blind. They would back trucks up to the place and take everything, if I wasn't there.
Belle lets me in, a little surprised to see me but not expecting anything. This is one of the places where I vary it from week to week. Sometimes I'm already so excited with the memory of her breasts seen through the mirror that I just grab the gun and get to business. Other times, I want to play around and drag things out. I unpack the bag for her, commenting on the quality and selection of her purchases. Marjoram! Not many people think to buy marjoram! How suave of you. Like the elderly fag she thinks I am. At the bottom of the bag, the pistol. What's that! I exclaim. She comes over to look, sees it as I lift it out, looks at my face and knows what's happening.
Next, I make her drop to her knees. In some renditions I give her The Speech: For the next two hours, you will be a thing, to be used as I want to.... Sometimes I get right to it. I sit on the kitchen chair holding the gun to her head while she performs. In the early fantasies, I push her over, slap her a little and we finish up right on the kitchen floor. Later, when the novelty wore off, I began to imagine her bedroom. An ornate brass bed for her hijinks with Charlie. Lots of intricate fittings to tie her wrists to. I get involved with details again: I want her on her back, then on her front. Am I always untieing and re-tieing her? Maybe I can make a knot I can twist. Or tie a sort of loop I could slip from the bedpost and then back on.
I have heard men say women want it. I don't believe that, not after some things we cleared up in Rome when I was an MP. I don't want Belle to want it. I want her to be terrified. I want to say to her, Your fear is delicious to me.
I have masturbated on Thursday nights since Jeff started pinochle in 1953, but I never had a rape fantasy before. It was much more intense than the usual. Part of the reason is that the details are more workable. In my dream of raping Belle, I worry about what kind of knot to use. I can figure out knots. Before, when I thought about her breasts in the mirror and tried to imagine her inviting me into her house, I had to solve the problem of why she would be with me at all. The answer: she wouldn't.
So I tried to imagine whores instead. I made up a huge whorehouse, hidden in some comfortable area of Brooklyn. An underground place, with mirrors and plush carpets, where women of every type waited. You could walk down a long line searching for the one who looked just like Belle, or before that, Elora Menotti, my former favorite . They would come to a room with you and do anything you wanted. I imagined that for a little extra money, you could even slap them a little. Not too hard, no bruises.
It wasn't satisfying because I put myself in the mind of the whore: bored and disgusted, thinking about her nails, waiting for it to be over.
In the dream of Belle I have her complete attention.
I had been doing this for months when I read in the Post about the mind of a rapist. It was a profile of a man serving a life term in Sing Sing. He talked about the fantasies he always had and how one day he turned them into action.
I asked myself for the first time: am I a rapist? Would I ever do anything? I said, no, these are just fantasies. Belle never has her groceries delivered. I never leave the store. If she saw me at the door, she probably wouldn't let me in.
I wish it could have stopped there. I couldn't stop myself thinking. I don't know if it was a test of myself, or if I passed or failed. I said: If I really wanted to do it, I wouldn't go after someone I know. I'd take the van, put tape over the hand-lettered name on the door and mud on the license, then go up in the Catskills and look for a woman walking alone late at night. That had no reality to it; I'm fifty years old and flabby, haven't had any exercise since the war and get winded easily. If she ran or fought back I'd be out of luck. You idiot, I said, you'd control her with the gun. But it wasn't appealing. Too much exposure, too much danger. Brooklyn grocer arrested trying to abduct girl in Plattsville.
I still wasn't sure if I was a rapist. The guy in Sing Sing hurt women. I didn't want to cut Belle or bruise her. I just wanted to frighten her, then fuck her. I supposed not every rapist was also a torturer. Other than the torture imposed by the fear.
I said, if I wanted to do it, I'd have to rape someone I knew. Someone who would let me in the door, with the right excuse. Like a delivery. Hello, Mrs. Chalfin. We're a little short-handed today. In the privacy of her kitchen, the gun. I saw that if I could solve the problem of getting to her door, it would work. We must have delivered to her sometimes, when she has parties. Get her talking on a day when she buys a lot of groceries, find out if Charlie is home yet . No, Mr. Charlton, he's coming in tomorrow. I have a lot of preparation to do.
About four months into it, something strange happened. One day, I detected a lump in the flesh of my throat, like a little thing attached on the outside. I was sure it was cancer. I made a doctor's appointment for the next day, which was Friday. Jeff, to whom I hadn't said anything, went out to play pinochle that night. I lay in the bed but I couldn't masturbate. I began to question myself instead. I said, if tomorrow Dr. Stern tells me this looks cancerous, as I expect, what will I do? I asked, what would prevent me from paying my little visit to Belle?
I thought about it for an hour. I tried to bring myself off, but I couldn't even get a hard-on, because I was too occupied with the central question. The answer was that God wouldn't stop me, or law, or morality. The only thing was fear. I didn't want to be the fat slob pulling his shirt over his face in the newspaper photo. Be roughly handled by the cops. Go to prison. Lose the store. Not be able to take care of Jeff. Or have to look Jeff in the eye and tell him I did it.
If I was dying, and didn't have to be around for any of those things, then I knew absolutely nothing would stop me.
I saw that I am one of those people who would do something, only if they knew they could get away with it. Pick up a jewel or a package of money. Attack a drunk girl walking alone in the trees at a campground. If you could ever know there would be no consequences.
To make a long story short. I went to see Stern the next day and all I had was an adhesion. He took a sample for testing, just to be safe, but he already knew looking at it that it wasn't dangerous. He took a little scalpel and popped it right off.
That was three days ago. This morning, Sunday, I was at the register when Belle Chalfin came in. She bought herself a big tomato, a rib-eye steak and some A1 steak sauce. Eating alone again, I thought. She smiled that bratty smile at me and I thought: if things ever get a little worse, Mrs. Chalfin, I have something I'm saving for you.