Intermediaries by Thomas Israel Hopkins

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Sometime around two o’clock on Sunday morning, the small hours of Halloween, my date took a break from telling me stories about her former life as a stripper and got up to go to the ladies’ room. We were having a drink at Marion’s in the East Village. I noticed for the first time that the man seated to my left was by himself. He had small, buggy eyes behind enormous black Elvis Costello frames. He looked like a haunted Peter Falk, drained and dissipated, thirty quickly going on sixty.

“Your girlfriend,” Falk said. “Your girlfriend’s fucking beautiful.”

“Yes she is,” I said.

“How long have you been going out,” he asked. He sounded like Falk as well, his voice rough around the edges, plus oddly uninflected, flat. Peter Falk playing a robot, maybe.

“This is our first date,” I said, which was true. We’d met up at Angelika. She’d been an hour late. We’d gotten a beer at Apple bar, then went back to the theater for a later showing of Capote.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I went on a date with a girl earlier this week. She’s a white girl. I’m Cuban,” he said, although his skin looked whiter than mine. “I have a huge brown cock. White girls love it. Things got crazy. It got out of hand. We ended up having a three-way with my roommate. But now it’s like she’s a whore, I can’t fuck her.” He paused to take a sip of his drink. “Have you ever thought about doing that,” he said.

“No,” I said, “I haven’t.”

“I’d totally be into that,” he said. “She’s really, really hot.”

Falk was right: my date was a knockout. She looked like Kate Hudson, if Kate Hudson had skipped Hollywood, started out her career as a pole dancer in Nevada, and was now, Jennifer Beals-like, trying to go legit at Julliard. Falk downed the rest of his drink, hailing the bartender simultaneously.

My date came back. “Did that guy proposition you?” she asked.

“Both of us,” I said. “Or rather, he propositioned you, via me. I’m just the intermediary.” I don’t think Kate completely understood what I meant, though. I think she thought that Falk was her competition.

“Fuck that shit,” she said. “Let me know if I have to beat him up.”

Kate told me more details of her former life in Reno: about all the women she’d slept with in those days; how she had been a bottom with girls, but now she was a top with boys; how Reno wasn’t what it used to be; how crystal meth and college girls had ruined everything.

While she was telling me stories, I could hear Falk behind me talking with the bartender. It sounded like Falk might have been propositioning him as well. I couldn’t hear the questions, but the answers mostly had to do with the bartender’s wife, how happy their marriage was.

Kate needed to step outside for a smoke, so I got up from my barstool to let her out. She teetered a bit on her three-inch heels, steadying herself. Then she grabbed me by the waist and leaned in toward Falk.

“This is my man,” Kate said to him, hugging me tight. “He’s coming home with me.” She patted my belly. “Got it?”

After she stepped outside, Falk shifted his approach, now pleading and pitiful. “C’mon, man,” he said. “It’s not fair to keep all that good stuff for yourself. Don’t Bogart, brother.”

I finished my beer. I took the cardboard coaster off the top of Kate’s beer and finished hers, too. I grabbed her coat off the back of her barstool. I patted Falk on the shoulder as I headed for the door. “Happy Halloween, brother,” I said.

I stepped outside. Kate was putting out her cigarette with her toe on the curb. I held out her coat. She put her right arm through her sleeve, then pulled me close and kissed me so hard my teeth hurt. Her kiss tasted like the smell of the earth in my mother’s herb garden, and in twenty years of first dates, right up until the night I kissed my second wife for the first time, it was the best first-date kiss I ever had, but after I left her apartment the next day, I never saw Kate Hudson again. She stopped kissing me, smiled, put her left arm through her other sleeve. “Goddammit,” she said, “but I am fucking starving.”

Halloween was only a few hours old, but on the Bowery, it was already in full swing. The sidewalks that night flowed with endless Elvis Presleys, James Deans, Marilyn Monroes. “Has anyone ever told you you look like Kate Hudson?” asked a Madonna in a crosswalk. “Your husband’s not worthy of you!” yelled a Superman from the steps of Cooper Union. A million and a half movie stars spilled out over the small-hour streets of Manhattan, ebbing slowly back and forth, long, cool rivers of Hollywood. Kate and I weaved and teetered our way through them, hoping for an all-night diner that could satisfy her, her arm never not through mine.


© Thomas Israel Hopkins, 2018

Stories by Thomas Israel Hopkins have been published in The Massachusetts Review, BOMB, Fence, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Indiana Review, Cincinnati Review, and One Story, among other places. He has also also written for Bookforum, Tablet, and Poets & Writers. A former New Yorker, Tom lives in Oberlin, Ohio with his wife and their two sons.

Intermediaries was read by Alex C. Ferrill on 3rd October 2018 for Courage & Cowardice