The Marquis de Sade and Me

1.
It isn’t even eight a.m. when I climb the rundown second floor landing and knock on the Marquis de Sade’s door but the Texas sun is already scalding.  My tee shirt clings in drenched perspiration and the elastic of my track pants cuts into the flesh of my large, soft stomach.  My glasses fog up.

I wanted to sleep in.  Saturday is the only day I can do that since my IT job at TexSource Rebar and Plastic means twelve-hour days and I have to drive three hours north to Dallas every Sunday to see my parents.  You can say I should’ve hung up the phone.  But you don’t know the Marquis de Sade.  If I didn’t agree to come over, he’d have been banging on my window within ten minutes.

Nobody answers at first, so I knock louder on the torn screen door, which teeters by a single hinge.  A woman inside squeals.  The Marquis de Sade shouts he’s in the bedroom.

The cramped kitchen smells really bad, like dirty wet sponge and used kitty litter, even though there’s no cat.  Empty bottles overflow from the trash and dishes are piled in the sink where slow flying flies hover.  It’s even hotter inside.  The Marquis de Sade hasn’t replaced the air conditioner he tried dropping out the window on his last ex-girlfriend.

A chunky blonde lies on the bed, very young and very naked.  She’s on her stomach, rump in the air, legs parted without shame.  Rivulets of fluids roll down the backs of stout thighs.

The blonde turns over her shoulder and a heavy breast flops, like a half-filled water balloon, areola big as a dinner plate.

The Marquis de Sade struts out of the bathroom.  He’s naked, too, furiously scrubbing the tangle of black hair around his privates, kicking out each thin leg in some sort of chicken dance.

“Petey!” he says, even though he knows I hate it when he calls me “Petey.”

He drops his towel and his obscenely long dong swings back and forth like a tube sock packed with soft cheese.

The Marquis de Sade turns his attention to the blonde.  “Hey, sweetheart.”  He does not say this affectionately.

The blonde looks up dreamily.

He throws the towel at her.  “Now clean up and get the fuck out.”

2.

We’re driving, the Marquis de Sade and me, in his beat-up, powder blue ’79 Ford pick-up, bouncing along the dusty streets of Tuscaloosa Flats on our way to breakfast.  I asked the Marquis de Sade what was so important I had to get out of bed at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning, but he said he couldn’t talk about it until he got some food in him.

He’s wearing his cowboy hat, which he says is his way of making fun of people who wear cowboy hats.  He fires up an American Spirit and takes a deep-throated drag.

“Why do you have to be like that?” I ask.

“Like what?”  He reaches over, pops the glove compartment, and brings back a fifth of Jim Beam, suckling off it like a baby on a teat.

“With the blonde back there.”

“What can I say?  I like ’em young?”  He smacks his lips.  “Like a paper cut with a wisp of cotton.”

“I mean, why do you have to degrade women like that?”

“That’s your problem, Petey.”

“I told you before, it’s Pete.  Or Peter.  And who says I have a problem?”

“I say you have a problem, Petey.  Girls don’t go for that tender, sensitive guy crap.”   The Marquis de Sade flicks his cigarette out the window.  An oily mirage of heat vapor rises from the scorched asphalt behind us.  “It’s probably why Beth left you.”

That’s a low blow.  My long-term girlfriend, Beth, moved out nine months ago, and I’m having a hard time getting over her.  Beth is the only girlfriend I’ve had since graduating from Houston Tech almost ten years ago.

3.

“Well, if it ain’t Little Whorin’ Annie,” the Marquis de Sade says, gazing contemptuously past my shoulder.

The diner is called Lou’s Breakfast Shack, and it is the Marquis de Sade’s favorite place to eat.  A hefty, half-breed Mexican, Lou cooks all the food himself in the same fryer, so fish tastes like sausage and everything is greasy as hell.  I have a delicate constitution.  Not the Marquis de Sade.  For him, the greasier the better.

“You believe the nerve of that cunt?” he says.

We’ve just finished our breakfast.  The Wrangler Special for the Marquis de Sade—three flapjacks and eggs sunny side up along with a slab of ham that smelled like motor oil—a blueberry muffin for me.  I’m trying to slim down, but no matter what I do I can’t seem to lose the weight.  How the Marquis de Sade can pack away so much, I’ll never know.  He claims 5’8”, but he’s not even close.  All tight-roped sinew, the guy can’t weight more than a buck forty.

I turn around.  A petite redhead sits at the other end of the dinette.  I don’t know her real name.  The Marquis de Sade has always called her “Little Whorin’ Annie,” even when they were dating.  She’s with a man.  I can’t see his face but can tell he is broad shouldered.  Annie doesn’t acknowledge us.  She is a pretty girl with big green eyes.  Not that looks matter to the Marquis de Sade.  He’ll sleep with anything.

I turn back around.  “I thought you broke it off with her?”

“I did.  But that doesn’t mean I want to see whose dick she’s sucking in my diner.”

The Marquis de Sade pulls his American Spirits and strikes a match even though he knows Lou doesn’t allow smoking in here and that he will get thrown out.  The Marquis de Sade is always getting thrown out.

Lou sticks his head through the cook’s window and tells the Marquis de Sade to put out his cigarette.  The Marquis de Sade tells Lou to shut his gordo pie hole.  Lou throws the Marquis de Sade out.

As we walk past Annie, the Marquis de Sade leans over and swipes a home fry from her boyfriend’s plate.  The man looks to Annie, who gestures to ignore him.  The Marquis de Sade takes his time swirling the home fry through a gob of ketchup, deliberately letting his fingers linger, big shit-eating grin, before popping the potato into his mouth whole and chewing exaggeratingly.  He makes a long show of swallowing, before letting go an exuberant “Ahhh!”

He winks at Annie, who still refuses to look at him.

The Marquis de Sade stares at her boyfriend, black eyes full of hate.  “Just so you know,” he says, “she licked my asshole first.”

4.

We’re sitting in the parking lot of Tootsies.

“This is what you woke me up for?” I say.  “To come to a strip club you’re not even allowed in so you can buy some coke?”  The Marquis de Sade got 86’d from Tootsies because he did something bad to one of the girls.

I shouldn’t be here.  The Marquis de Sade knows I am in recovery.  Part of the reason things went sour between Beth and me involved my drinking and occasional cocaine use, stuff that got worse whenever the Marquis de Sade came around.  I’ve been sober six months, thanks to my support group, all of whom tell me, in no uncertain terms, to cut off old using buddies.  But I only have one buddy, using or otherwise.

“Bring me home,” I demand.

The Marquis de Sade doesn’t restart the engine.  His arm hangs out the window, gaze locked straight ahead, cigarette dangling.

I stare at him.  I can’t tell how old he is.  His chiseled jaw sports five-day growth, and deep lines dig into a leathery sheen.  Some days he looks thirty; others, I swear, he could be three hundred.

I start to open the door.  He grabs my arm.

“What?”  I’m breathing heavily.  When I get upset I have a tendency to wheeze.

“I’m in trouble,” he says.  “I need to make a fast turn around.”

“If you need to borrow money—”

“It’s not the kind of money you’d be able to loan, trust me.”

“Why do you need me to go with you?”

“I don’t need you to do anything.  I thought we could go in, have a drink—or I could have a drink, you could have a Shirley Temple or whatever—we’d see some tit, have a good time.”

I brush aside my limp brown hair and shield my eyes from the harsh glare reflecting off the parking lot.  It is already hotter than yesterday, and yesterday was very hot.

“Hey,” he says, cajolingly, “we’re already here.  Let’s go in.  We’ll say hi to the girls, I get what I need from Jimmy Dread, and we’ll be out the door.”

Jimmy Dread is the owner of Tootsies.  He was drafted by the Houston Oilers but blew out his knee rookie year.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I remind him.  “You’re not allowed inside.”

“Ancient history.  Now what’d’ya say?  Be a pal?”  He flashes his trademark Cheshire cat.

I’ve never been able to say no to the Marquis de Sade.

5.

“Well, if it isn’t Marky Mark and his funky bunch,” Bobbie, one of the dancers, says.  “Bobbie” is her stage name; her real name is Sugar.

There aren’t any other customers, and only two girls are working.  Beside Bobbie, there is a full-figured Latina on stage.  The MC introduces her as Fantasia.  I don’t know her real name.  The Marquis de Sade tells me she’s into water sports, and it makes me feel sorry for her.  We’re at least two hundred miles from the nearest beach.

Bobbie wears a g-string and her small breasts have started to droop.  You can tell she must’ve been beautiful once.  She’s still good looking, but she’s getting older, and you wonder what she’ll do once men won’t pay to see her naked.

“You better get your ass out of here before Jimmy catches you,” Bobbie says.

“Who do you think invited me?”  The Marquis de Sade cranes his head around her.  “Where is the old boy?”

“Jimmy don’t get here before noon, you know that.”

The Marquis de Sade shrugs.  “As long as we’re waiting, why don’t you bring us a drink?”

Bobbie scowls.

“Budweiser for moi,” the Marquis de Sade says trying to sound French, “and Petey here will have—”

“Ginger ale is fine.”

“You need to write that down, honey?”

6.

The Marquis de Sade has scootched his chair next to the stage where he’s extracted a wad of singles mixed with scraps of paper and lint, which he slaps down.  He begins sifting each, straightening them in rows.

The Marquis de Sade whistles like he’s calling a dog.

“Jesus,” I whisper, “these woman aren’t animals.”

As I say this, Fantasia looms above, back arched, backside extended, standing on her tiptoes.  She begins hopping, tight, little hops, so that her plump butt ripples.  She speeds this process up, and the effect is like slapped Jell-O, waves thwapping inward toward the shimmering center.  It reminds me of the mating calls of red-assed baboons I’ve seen on the National Geographic Channel.

The Marquis de Sade smirks at me as he tucks a dollar bill into her panties.  “Go buy yourself something pretty,” he says, smacking her ass.

He leans back and peers toward the bar, where Bobbie stands talking to the bartender/MC, who they call Monk.  The Marquis de Sade says they call him Monk because he is black and probably plays the trumpet.

“Yo, Jezebel,” the Marquis de Sade shouts.  “Socialize on your own time!”

Bobbie tells him to shut up or she’ll shove a beer bottle up his ass.  The Marquis de Sade tells her it’s a date.

He turns back to me.  “You talk to her?”

“Who?”

“Beth.”  He almost sounds sincere.

“Yes, I have,” I say, happily.  I received some very encouraging news when she and I spoke last week but haven’t been able to tell the Marquis de Sade, who isn’t big on sharing feelings.  “Last week, in fact,” I say, proudly.  “She told me I’ll be in her heart forever.”

The Marquis de Sade laughs.  It is a snide, vicious laugh.  “Jesus Christ, talk about the kiss of death.”

“What?  I thought it was sweet.”

“Don’t you know anything about women?  You’ll ‘be in my heart forever’ is just this side of ‘we should be friends’ or ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’  It’s a brush-off, man.  They don’t really mean it.”

“I think she meant it.”

“That’s because you’re a fucking tool.”  The Marquis de Sade shakes his head.  “How the hell did you survive before I came along?”

Bobbie brings our drinks.  “Ten bucks.”

The Marquis de Sade leans over.  “You mind?  Until I take care of that…thing.”

As I’m reaching for my wallet, the Marquis de Sade runs his eyes over Bobbie’s body.  “Wanna go in the back room?”

“After the stunt you pulled last time?”

“Don’t be a baby,” he says.  “Skin grows back.”

“Know why I took so long getting your drink, asshole?  I called Jimmy Dread.  He’ll be in here in fifteen.”

“Good,” the Marquis de Sade says, “I look forward to seeing him.”

Bobbie puts a hand on her hip.  “But he ain’t looking forward to seeing you.”  She turns to me.  “You seem like a nice guy, Pete.  I don’t know why you hang around with this loser.”

The Marquis de Sade slaps my arm.  “Maybe you should take her in the back then, Petey.”

I wince a smile.

“I mean, you’d be doing the old gal a favor.”  The Marquis de Sade nods.  “How old are you, darlin’?”

“None of your fucking business.”

“I’m guessing forty, give or take.”  The Marquis de Sade slings an arm around my shoulder.  “See, Petey, if Bobbie here had any other skills—and I mean any other viable, career options—she wouldn’t be here.  And she knows it.  Look at her eyes.  No, I’m not talking about the wrinkles starting to form around those baby blues.  I mean, look in them.  You know that that look is?  It’s fear, Petey.”  The Marquis de Sade sits upright, removes his cowboy hat, black mop of bed-head spreading wild as he fixes a cold stare through the tops of whittled eyes.  “Let’s face it, Sugar, when your looks go, which isn’t as far away as it once seemed in little girls’ dreams, you can shake that sad, flabby ass all you want, ain’t nobody buying the cow.  Or the milk.  It’ll be tug jobs for nickel bags behind the trucker motels, quarters flipped to see who gets your mouth.”  The Marquis de Sade pulls his wallet and extracts a crisp fifty-dollar bill, waving it seductively under her nose.  “I want you to think carefully now: Can you really afford to pass up what few opportunities you have left?”

7.

While the Marquis de Sade and Bobbie are in the back, I’m wondering what I am doing here.  Why can’t I cut ties with people?  Forget the money, or even the snide remarks to me; it’s how he treats other people.  Like the blonde this morning.  Or the guy at the diner.  Or poor Bobbie.  But when I start thinking about that stuff, I only remind myself of what I admire about the guy: nobody treads on the Marquis de Sade.  Right or wrong, he gets what he wants.  Me?  I’m a big guy.  6’3”, 270 lbs.  But I am soft, weak, always getting pushed around by everyone.  My boss.  My parents.  My girlfriend.  Say what you want about the Marquis de Sade.  He may be a prick.  But he isn’t chickenshit.

8.

Fantasia has come off the stage and is sitting next to me, trying to get me to buy a lap dance.  I don’t really want one but am about to give her a tip anyway, when it happens.

The first thing I hear is the scream, followed by Bobbie running out holding her left breast.  Blood drips between her fingers.

“He bit me!  The mutherfucker bit me!  Again!”

The music stops.  Monk hops over the counter, shotgun in hand.

Then the front door is kicked open, and Jimmy Dread storms in, Louisville Slugger clutched in his giant linebacker hands.

And here comes the Marquis de Sade.  Shirtless, whistling, tucking in his business like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

9.

We’re sitting on the curb of the Gas ’n’ Sip, one town over in Chester Falls, across from Rifles “R” Us and a Yarn Hut.  I told him to keep driving, but the Marquis de Sade said not to worry.

“The last thing Jimmy Dread wants is the pigs poking their snouts around.”

The Marquis de Sade has a bag of ice pressed against his smashed eye.  He laughs.  I don’t see how anyone could laugh after having the bridge of his nose splayed open by the butt of the shotgun.  He packs his smokes and strikes a match.  I listen to him inhale deeply through broken nose and wide-open mouth, like he’s sucking the very ether of life.

A few moments pass and he slaps me on the shoulder, pointing a finger across the street, which is bathed in warm, buttery light.

Beth is walking into the Yarn Hut.

“Here’s your chance, loverboy,” he says.

But I’m not feeling it.  The Marquis de Sade is right; she doesn’t want me anymore.  I am a tool.

“What’s the point?  You said it yourself.  She’s brushing me off.”  I hang my head.

The Marquis de Sade slides closer and wraps an arm around me.  “Come on, Pete,” he says with a chuckle, “you know I’m full of shit.”  He catches my eye, smiles.  “You want her, go get her, buddy.”

He pushes at my back.  At first I resist.  But he keeps at it.  It takes a few shoves, but finally he makes me stand up.

***
Joe Clifford’s work has appeared in Big Bridge, Bryant Literary Review, the Connecticut Review, Dark Sky, Fringe, Hobart, Opium, Thuglit, and Word Riot, among others. Most recently he served as editor of Gulf Stream magazine, and is currently the producer of Lip Service West, a reading series in Oakland, CA.  His published stories can be found at www.joeclifford.com.

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