The Whisky Blot
Newly arrived in Ann Arbor for graduate studies at the University after five years of personal sabbatical in Europe, I knew no one. It did not take long to find an apartment, some used wheels and to check in with the Institute while awaiting the formal opening of class registration.
Every July the town has a massive art festival on its downtown streets. With nothing further to do, I wandered from booth to booth examining works of art and chatting with the artists. Despite living in France and Italy, I know nothing of art, just that certain blends of color are pleasing and classical designs hold layers of meaning for me. In addition to the artist booths there are those for organizations such as the Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Alliance Française, and Michigan Drone Club. At one such booth an enthusiastic young woman, not attracting as much attention as I would have expected, was touting the virtues of geo-thermal energy. Pleased to have found someone to listen, Kitty invited me to join her in the booth.
Never have I met anyone so knowledgeable about geo-thermal energy. Never have I met anyone so enthusiastic. We passed the rest of the afternoon talking and passing out literature. The effort seemed educational rather than directed at recruiting members or soliciting donations. Her black shorts and black running shoes highlighted her light-skinned legs. Her black tee-shirt with red block letters reading “Geo-Thermal” below the scripted “Go For,” highlighted the rest of her. After three hours, Kitty said, “Some of us are having a party tonight. Why don’t we get dinner together and then you can come along.” I had no reason to refuse.
“Since you are new to town, I can give you a walking tour along the way.”
She proposed a Japanese restaurant, a personal favorite as sweet soy sauce goes well with anything. I chose the beef teriyaki.
Kitty chose sushi, tuna maki and salmon nigiri. “Isn’t it amazing that they can prepare raw fish that people like to eat?”
We shared a small bottle of warmed sake, offering numerous toasts to new towns, to adventures, and to geo-thermal energy.
“Excuse me, but I have to use the little girl’s room. Be right back.”
I enjoyed watching her leave, the tight shorts twitching as she walked toward the back of the restaurant. Moments later a black cat dashed toward me from the back of the restaurant, stopping beside the table to sniff the air, before scampering out the front door. The server shrugged. “Must live in the neighborhood. I see it often enough.”
Kitty was gone longer than I expected. “Always a line for women,” she laughed, suggesting we go to the party as it was after 7. We walked toward Burns Park, a wealthier neighborhood.
“A longtime professor of geology, Professor Bubb, is out of town and letting us use his house.”
Arriving at the party, we climbed the stairs in front to enter a crowded foyer and living room. Kitty found me a place to sit on an old red velvet couch and went to find beers for us in the kitchen, obscured by the crowd, squeezing between them to the obvious delight of some. She returned with two cold cans of Scratch Ale, with a devil head caricature of “Old Scratch” on the can.
“Artisan brewing is a big thing now, especially in Ann Arbor. This is one of the best. See if you like it.”
After a few moments of conversation as the crowd thinned to other parts of the house, “Oh, I see some people I need to talk with. Will you be okay?” And she disappeared.
I savored the beer, considering what I might do next, reflecting upon how juvenile this party seemed after five years in Europe. I remembered college parties whose only purpose was to put a lot of people and beer in one place.
The living room furniture belonged to an earlier age. The one item alien to a Victorian sitting room were the lamps, whose Tiffany shades would belong but whose bases were made of black or gray igneous rocks, a geology professor’s affectation. The bulbs were red, barely visible as the summer sun in Michigan does not set early.
A woman with straight, long black hair was seated opposite me across the room. She was staring at me. Her eyes bluish-gray. Her eyeshadow was black as was her lipstick. I smiled. Her expression did not change. Her tongue moistened her lips. I looked at my beer, took a sip. She was still staring. She soon rose, wearing thigh high cage stiletto boots, and walked across the room toward me.
“May I sit down?”
She sat on my lap, pulled my head toward her and began kissing me passionately with the taste of alcohol and tobacco on her lips. I accepted the kisses, wondering what Kitty might think if she returned. When the passion had faded, she said, “Now that we have been introduced, my name is Charona.”
“Unusual name. I don’t think I have heard it before.”
“It’s Greek. There is a large Greek community in this part of Michigan.”
After the usual chit chat of people who have just met, she got up from my lap, took my hand and offered to show me the rest of the house. We walked into the kitchen so I saw where Kitty had found the beer. I grabbed another. Charona said that the professor kept his papers and other valuable upstairs so that was off-limits. We descended the steps beyond the kitchen. Amidst the regular party noises I heard murmurs, uncertain of their origin or import. There were moans, of pleasure, and of pain, sometimes indistinguishable, one from the other. And the click of her stiletto heels on the tile floors.
The lower level seemed larger than I expected, with many rooms and longer corridors. Suddenly a door opened to the right, ahead of us. A man tumbled out onto the floor. He was middle-aged, his hair already white. I reached down to help him. His eyes registered fear as he stared at me and then at my hand. He grabbed for my hand and began to cry. As I helped him to his feet, a large, muscular arm tattooed with swastikas pulled him back into the room. The door slammed.
Charona’s eyes narrowed. “It is late. Probably time to go.” When we had returned to the living room, its sole illumination against the night was the lamps, their red glimmer reflected on the rocks that supported them. A black cat rubbed against my shins and darted toward the kitchen.
“This may not be your kind of party.”
“Before I went to Europe, a college party, gathering to drink beer, splitting off for kinks, had more appeal. Will I see you again?”
“Perhaps. We are here most weekends, but you have to come to party—and for kinks.” She winked.
Kitty appeared from the direction of the kitchen. Her hair was disheveled. Her face was flushed and moist. She was wearing a different top, black but without lettering, than the one she had been wearing.
“Sorry we got separated. Hope you had a good time.” She took the hand Charona had been holding and led me toward the door.
We walked the half block to the corner. She turned left as I turned right. “Thanks for inviting me, Kitty. It has been an interesting evening that passed quicker than I expected. Hope to see you again.” She waved.
After a few moments of reflection, a few more steps, I looked back in her direction. A black cat was disappearing down the street in the direction of the house.
Although Ann Arbor is a medium-size town with a large university campus, I expected to run into Kitty or Charona but never saw them again. An online search of “Go For Geo-Thermal” a few weeks later brought no results. I have returned to Burns Park, unable to locate the house. Indeed, the University of Michigan has no department of geology, just Earth and Environmental Sciences, and only one Professor Emeritus of Geology, whose name could never be mistaken for B. Z. Bubb.
Sometimes a small black catalyst triggers the search for mislaid memories of that strange time. Is it that shadowy speck, scurrying just ahead?
An American retired to his wife’s native Singapore, Samuel “Sam” R. Kaplan holds graduate degrees in Economics and Russian Studies. A longtime member of the US Society of Professional Journalists, he has also taught English conversation in France and Italy. Working as an economist at the University of Virginia Cooper Center for Public Service to produce economic projections was perfect preparation for his current project of writing fiction.
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