By Judith Alvarado
A dimly lit, cavernous café/bar located close to campus, Sweet Lou’s was best known for its happy hour special: a large pepperoni pizza and a liter carafe of murky Chianti for $10.00. The first time I heard of the cafe was when my professor suggested that we meet there instead of his office to discuss my thesis; life changed forever when I agreed to meet him at Sweet Lou’s on a balmy, Indian summer night.
Pulling into the café’s parking lot that day, my mind drifted away from the present, away from the rendezvous I’d agreed to; away from fretting over what might happen after sitting, outer thighs pressed together, sipping cheap red wine while examining passages of John Milton’s Paradise Lost; away from Sweet Lou’s and the man who waited for me inside.
I was a faithful wife. Very. 17 years faithful. I had never strayed from my marriage. Oh, I fantasized about it, what an active sex life I had while my well-intentioned, emotionally distant husband snored next to me in our vast king-sized bed. Affairs were plenty as I lay next to him. Trips to Rome with the hot construction guy, building the deck on my neighbor’s house. He and I making out next to the Trevi Fountain on a humid summer day, hands roaming over each other’s tan, salty bodies. Secret trysts with the muscular Whole Foods produce man, doing it pressed up against a massive, stainless steel refrigerator in the back of the store. I even fantasized about men I had never met: a billboard ad boasted a hot male model with a smoldering stare—oh, the adventures one can have with a one dimensional person. I had an active imaginary sex life to counter the very real stale one in my bed. It was safe, only I knew about my fictional indiscretions. But to actually cheat, shifting the act from the world of fantasy into the real world, would change everything.
I knew the literal rendezvous would send tremors through my life, an earthquake of the highest magnitude, and that’s what I was thinking as I labored to push open the imposing wooden door to Sweet Lou’s Cafe. I exhaled, hard, put both hands on the recalcitrant door and thrust it open. Wide.
Round tables of different heights and diameters, covered in vinyl red and white checkered tablecloths were arranged in no particular order on top of a dark-stained wooden, plank floor. The tables sat in front of a long oaken bar that accommodated more than 25 barstools, and multiple dormant pool tables hungry for attention were on the bar’s left side. Three muted TVs tuned to various ESPN channels were spaced equally apart, mounted above rows of expectant, liquor bottles, patiently waiting to be tipped over icy, stainless steel shakers. And, an old fashioned, chrome jukebox like the one Danny Zucco from Grease leaned on as he chatted up Sandy, played The Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
As I walked over the threshold, I spied him, his back to the room, sitting on a stool, both elbows propped on the bar, sipping a half-full glass of Chianti. I thought, I must appear nonchalant. Must conceal my trepidation. I spied my reflection in a smudged, long mirror with the Sweet Lou’s logo on it. I looked good, sexy. My short, silky skirt and thigh-high leather boots were perfect for this meeting. The multiple wardrobe changes were worth the effort, and I was even wearing a thong. Hands trembling, I reminded myself that I’d rendezvoused hundreds of times in my fantasies. I was always calm, the one in control, looking hot. Staring at his hunched back, I ventured further into the café, channeling my best fantasy self. My heart leapt because as I did so, he turned his head to face the door and me.
Unfortunately, though, my suave entrance was disrupted. Shattered. The heal of my leather boot snagged on a sticky, rubbery doormat, and down I went, head-first. My thunderous thud proved to be serious competition for The Rolling Stones, who I wished would give me what I wanted and get me the hell outta Sweet Lou’s. Adding insult to injury, as I lay face first on the wooden floor, I noticed a draft, a draft revealing that my silky skirt had flipped up high over my ass—I was mooning the room.
Splayed, I reached both hands back readjusting my skirt, while at the same time willing the varnished, dark, wood floor to swallow me up. Something this undignified never happened to me in my fantasies. Maybe he didn’t notice, I thought. He’s an intellectual, absorbed in heady thoughts, ruminating on nascent Marxist elements in 17th Century poetry. But a bold hand appeared in front of my face, his actual hand, not the hand of some imaginary man. A warm, manicured hand that I had to grasp. Grasp, rather than do a rewind in my head to restart a fantasy gone awry. It took me a moment to reach for it, but bracing my body and my fragile ego on his hand, I eventually stumbled to my feet.
As I got my footing, I took in his appearance, and, for the first time since meeting him two years prior, I noticed that he was a little man, and I realized that I didn’t much like him. In fact, I didn’t like him at all, but I knew that I had to have him.
About the author:
Judith Alvarado has been published in 101 Words and The Napa Valley Register. Her other newspaper appearance was at age 11: she was the subject for an article in the San Francisco Chronicle when she tried breaking the Guinness Book of World Records pogo stick jumping record. Although she ended up with bruised legs and no record, she, to this day, fully embraces life’s ups and downs.