No one knew about Linda’s and my apartment in the basement of her parent’s house. It had a galley kitchen and bathroom. In the main room there was a kitchen table covered in coral Formica surrounded by six color-coordinated vinyl and aluminum chairs. There was a fully stocked bar, a TV with an antenna with extra-long rabbit ears, a stereo console that opened from the top, and a beige modular couch that filled one whole corner of the basement. It was the best “finished basement” on the street. Everyone said so. We were very proud of it.
The L-shaped bar filled the opposite corner from the couch. It had high-backed metal bar stools that swiveled when we climbed up on them, swinging this way and that, as we pondered what we wanted to drink. There was a seemingly endless supply of possibilities, every bottle reflected in the mirrored walls that converged in the corner. On the bar itself was an enormous bottle of whiskey suspended on a rack so you could easily tip it to pour your drink. One Christmas her family went to Mexico and they came back with a blood-red velvet sombrero covered with gold sequins that they hung on the wall above a sign with an arrow pointing to Tijuana. Where the bar was.
In a place of honor, in the middle of where all the glasses were, was a bottle of Mezcal. It had what looked like a pale white worm in the bottom. Believed to have magical powers and to be an aphrodisiac, it was actually the larvae of a Mexican moth. I’d looked it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the library at school.
“What can I get you?” asked Linda.
“I’ll have a Martini please.”
I watched Linda select the v-shaped glass, check it for spots and put it down in front of me.
“What are you having?” I asked.
“Today I believe I will have a Manhattan,” she said as she smiled and selected the two bottles from the lustrous wall behind her.
Sometimes we’d play that we were hosting a party for our friends, other couples we knew, and we’d sit at the bar and laugh and entertain and pretend to drink and flirt. That day it was just the two of us.
Linda reached into the empty ice bucket and dropped a couple of invisible ice cubes into our glasses. I could hear the clink and tinkle, the one I knew from listening to my parents pour their Old Fashions, the cocktails they had on special occasions, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, or Easter, a holiday we celebrated even though we weren’t churchgoers. Never were. Never would be.
She lifted the vodka bottle and without taking off the top, she tipped it and asked, “Shall I make it a double?”
“Oh, why not?” I answered with a smile.
I watched her visually measure my drink, wanting it to be perfect for me. She waved the white vermouth bottle over the top of the glass and slid my cocktail across the bar towards me.
“Try that,” she said with a generous smile of her own.
I lifted it to my lips, tipped it, and sipped, its imaginary transparent liquid triggering my mouth to water and my tongue to tingle.
“It’s perfect. You make the best Martini in town!”
Laughing, she reached for the stainless steel cocktail shaker. Hers was more complicated. “Clink! Clink!” went the two imaginary ice cubes. A shot of scotch, a dash of unopened bitters and a splash of sealed red vermouth. She put the top on, gave it a good shake like she was a playing maracas in a mariachi band, removed the lid and let her cocktail flow from one vessel to the other, her glass filled and ready for the final touch.
She reached into the fridge and took out the jar of luminous red maraschino cherries. She opened the lid. She really did. She reached into the nectarous syrup near the bottom of the jar, swirled her fingers around until she caught hold of one, and she lifted it out, looked at it, considered it, and smiling to herself, she offered it to me.
I loved its sticky roundness and her syrupy fingers as I took it. I loved the slow release of the soft inside when I bit through the sugar-preserved skin.
She reached back into the jar to get one for her, popped it in her mouth and laughed, then plucked one last imaginary cherry from the jar and dropped it into her empty glass.
“Cheers!” she said.
“Cheers!” and I touched my glass to hers, gently, without a sound, so as not to break the glass.
“Wait! I have an idea!” she said, as I watched her come around from behind the bar. She crossed the room and went to the stereo console, opened the lid on the top and switched it on. She slid one of the doors open in the base of the console, ran her fingers across the ends of the albums until she found the one she wanted.
“What are you putting on?” I asked.
She slipped the glossy black disk from its sleeve and put it on the platter in the console, lifted the arm and dropped the diamond-head needle into the groove at the edge of the record.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. A Taste of Honey. Our favorite.
We held hands, twisting them over our heads and spinning, releasing them when we got tied up in knots, reconnecting and starting again. We loved to dance together, trying to look like our parents at their parties, sophisticated and worldly, married and happy. Well, hers were.
The music stopped. The needle scratched in the silence.
Linda went to the console, lifted the arm and took the album off before the next song began. She put it away and opened the other door, the one where her parents kept their singles. She changed the speed from 33rpms to 45 and the legato piano intro of This Guy’s in Love With You began. My heart sped up. We fell into each other for our “slow dance”. We tucked our heads into the bend in each other’s neck as we rocked back and forth. Side to side, a simple two-step, no need to lead, no need to follow.
Around we went in our tiny circle of two.
The zippers of our jeans brushed against each other. We could feel the rise and fall of each other’s chest as we slowed to a standstill and the music stopped. We heard the crackle of the record and the whoosh and clunk of the arm as it automatically returned to its stand.
She stepped away from me, still holding my hand, and led me to the L-shaped couch in the corner of the basement – our basement. She indicated for me to sit down and I did. She sat down beside me. I brushed her bangs to the right side of her forehead, touched that un-tanned part of her, rested my hands on the back of her head and closed my eyes. Linda brought her hands to the outer edges of my emerging breasts. She traced the modest curves on each side. We both shuddered and stopped.
I twisted her hair with my fingers and haltingly pulled her head towards me. I felt her breathe out as she kissed me and my head fell back as I opened my eyes. The creamy white ceiling in her basement was sprayed on. It was bumpy all over and it had sparkles. Thousands of glistening sparkles. I opened my arms wide and laid them down on the couch, my palms upwards, the knubbly fabric of her parents’ couch rough on my yielding skin.
She kissed me once again, this time with her mouth open. I felt the warmth of her breath and as she continued to kiss me I felt a flare ignite deep within the bones that encased my pelvis. Hidden down inside. I felt it begin to glow. And build. Until it had nowhere to go but out. It had to. And molten and pulsing, it did, it flowed out.
In the backyard I heard her sister jump into the pool.
Another girl screamed and jumped in too.
Her mother closed the fridge in the kitchen overhead.