[Part 6 of a fictional blog serial told in 7 installments. Only some of it really happened, but all of it is true.]
The kiss is a prize -- three kisses, actually, each one a deepening, an opening further into a delicious mystery. The act of it -- crossing over, through the portal, into an arousing who-knows? -- is the trophy My Romance carries into the night. Still blasted, I'm glad to be unmoored again as the cab careens down narrow canal streets, because (what a difference an hour or two makes) I'm at the same time finally grounded: my leap has landed. The ringing of the bicycle bells outside the cab window sounds like heralds of this arrival (here, now, home) because at last, the trip makes sense.
Tina and Roy's houseboat is a small two-story house that sits on water, with a grand piano in its narrow living room. I play it while the pasta cooks and Babette dances round the room, a pretend ballerina. Over dinner served snug in a tiny balcony on the canal, Tina and Roy laugh at the story of my rom-com turnaround. "God, it's been so long since I've been where you are," Tina says wistfully. She's holding Roy's hand and I know all I'm hearing is the realistic ruefulness of a working mother. "Ah, yes," says Roy. "So now the question is... now what?" "Now what?" echoes Babette, grinning gleefully at me as she licks tomato sauce from her fingers. "Now what!"
In the morning I move from my broomcloset hotel room to the expensive place I booked for the last two nights of my stay, a room in a townhouse with big picture windows overlooking a canal on a beautiful quiet block in the city center around the corner from Anne Frank's. I meet Michelle for lunch in a sunny plaza on a bridge a few blocks away, and for the first time take possession of her hand. Our fingers intertwine, linger, it's the letting go that's awkward. We're both a bit spooked by what's started up here -- Michelle, who hasn't been with anyone since her husband passed away two years ago, me practically a monk in my three post-marriage years. How can we not be as anxious as we're excited?
That anxiety's amped as Michelle takes hold of my hand again, green eyes alight with anticipation in the cafe sun and asks, "So how many children do you want to have? Because what I want is a big family, three, maybe four. I've been making up names for them, ever since last night." She gives my hand a squeeze. "Because I just know you're going to be such a good father!"
But this is not what happens. Instead, Michelle lets go of my hand, sits back in her chair and plays absently with one of her long blonde curls, gazing off into the distance. "So, I looked into it on-line last night, but I'm not sure if what I downloaded is completely current. Just how long does it take to get a green card these days?"
No, it doesn't go this way, either. Nor does she say she hopes I'm not Jewish, she doesn't tell me that her girlfriend is really fine with her doing a little experimentation.
But she is a stranger, still. There are moments when her accent, her references, her shimmering other-ness confronts me with how far I've removed myself from the world of woman and how alien it seems. When we stop in at my hotel room so I can call Stan (dinner later, Michelle with a prior commitment) and a casual caress blossoms into a full-blown, heated makeout moment, she pushes me away with a level of alarm and ferocity that gives me pause. "What are we doing? I can't do this!" she cries. "You're leaving..."
Still, My Romance tries out a few tap steps on the canal railing as we stroll down to the bicycle rental shop, the sun is shining, our goodbye kiss is sweet. And I love bicycling alone around the city, now a part of the wheeling force that's really the heart of the Am-dam transportation system. It's only later in the evening, as the questions Sam peppers our conversation with re: Michelle yield the same responses (religion? don't know it, makes a living how? not sure, family situation? no idea) that a seed of anxiety takes root in my stomach's floor and blossoms. Who is this person I'm already involved with?
Bicycle parked and locked by my hotel, I wander the streets of the Dam, exasperated with myself for tempering fun with neurosis but nonetheless the irony is inescapable: just when I was making my peace with the idea that Michelle would never be mine, she's suddenly mine-able, and I hear Babette's "now what?" singing in my ears.
My Romance is apoplectic. "I can't believe this! The minute it looks like something good could happen, all you can do is look for the downsides? What is wrong with you?"
"Me? You're the one," I retort. "The last time you got me head over heels for a woman from Europe -- words heartbreak, devastation, um, divorce mean anything to you?"
My Romance glowers. "What I got you last time was the love of your life."
"Then what's this?" I counter.
"What, you think there's only one?"
"Oh, there's a ton of ones? Jeez, this is what you always do, send me running after a fantasy, heedless of the damages, raising impossibly grandiose expectations -- What if she's the Anti-One? What if this has nothing to do with love? What if it's just about lust?"
"Why do you have to define what this is? Get over yourself and go with it," insists My Romance. "You know love's what you want. True, real, transformative, monster love--"
"Oh, shut up," I snap. "You're the monster."
I want to shut down My Romance for good now, I want it off my back, I want my recent years of bitter cynicism and hard-earned realism to knock My Romance flat for once and for all. Someone's watching me, a woman in black lingerie with too-high breasts and eyes racooned with makeup. She taps her butt with black-nailed fingers as she puckers her lips at me. And I realize from the neon-magenta glow halo-ing her window that I've wandered into the Red Light District.
There's women arrayed in windows right and left as I walk by, blowing me kisses, bumping and grinding or just leaning out their doorways, smoking, half-naked, bored. Here is the cross to shove in the face of the My Romance vampire. So I veer into a side alley where, as if she'd been waiting for me, there's a petite blonde wearing only a white chemise and a lascivious grin. And the negotiation takes all of a minute before I'm in the door with the curtains down and then my pants, and with each thrust, each clench of her nails on my bare behind, I'm battering My Romance in the face, stabbing it in the heart, saying, "This is--all a--man really--needs--and this is what I think of your--true--love--"
But this is not what happens. Fifteen minutes later I'm lying atop my too-empty hotel bed in the dark, quietly throbbing with a desire for the woman I kissed goodbye and no one else. And My Romance is glued to the window, watching a little candlelit dinner-on-a-barge restaurant float dreamlike down the canal.
[to be continued]