I visited my friend Tom, almost always without notice, because he didn’t have a phone. Tom was about six-two with a bushy unkempt moustache and long curly blond hair similar to Custer’s. Tom had bad teeth, because he pathologically avoided the dentist. He said that he couldn’t stand to have someone sticking their fingers, anything in his mouth. It made him have panic attacks. The way he talked about it, it made me think someone at sometime stuck something truly rotten and revolting in his mouth. Now his teeth were decaying.
Tom smoked generic cigarettes, and being a recovering alcoholic, he washed them down with coffee rather than booze. As long I had known Tom, he had never been employed. Like a lot of recovering alcoholics, he discovered, that once he stopped drinking, the mental illness he had always had took the opportunity to rear its ugly head now that the booze no longer kept it at bay. Supposedly, Tom’s mental illness was so debilitating that he couldn’t work. He got social security since he was disabled. I kind of thought it was bullshit. Granted, he was kind of fucked up, but I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t. I guess the stress of a job was too much for him. It would cause some kind of break down for him. Tom appeared to function quite sanely, lucidly, and even highly functioning. He was quite intelligent, and spent much of his free time in the library reading up on any subject that interested him. Sometimes he got a little abstract, which some people found strange, but he made more sense to me than most people I knew.
I knocked on his door. I heard the TV on inside so I knew he was home. Before he answered the door, he turned the TV off. I thought it was his etiquette, but after I got to know him very well I realized that he didn’t want anything else in the room vying for my attention. Tom liked to dominate conversation, and he liked an audience, even of one. Tom felt like he deserved an audience. He believed his intelligence gave birth to ideas and thought that the rest of the world should pay attention to, and at least give him the proper respect he deserved. Tom talked like he was an undiscovered genius, and he was resentful that mankind hadn’t acknowledge him yet. But I wanted to ask him, “Don’t you think you should do something of genius for mankind to acknowledge that you have that value?”
“Hey buddy,” he said when he opened the door. He was visibly happy to see me. He always was, to varying degrees.
“What’s new? Have a seat. Wanna cup of coffee?”
“Sure,” I said.
“How’s the kids?” he asked, although I think he only saw my kids once, the one time he visited my house. He was visibly uncomfortable being in my home. I never took it personally that he didn’t want to visit me. My life, my home, reminded him of everything he didn’t have. Tom lived in an efficiency apartment. I had a house, a family, a decent job. He envied my life, but I also envied something he had that I didn’t. Freedom. Free to do whatever he wanted to do on any given day.
Most of our conversations were about writing. That was how we became friends. Tom was a friend of one of my brother’s friends, so we crossed paths at some birthday party for someone neither of us knew very well. The subject of books came up which led to writing, and I shared that I had published a novel in the small press. Tom was a poet, but he had aspirations to write a commercially viable science fiction novel, something that would make him a lot of money, something that would get made into a movie like a Michael Crichton novel. Tom wanted to collaborate on it with me. I got the feeling that it was why he wanted to be my friend. Tom was a man of a lot of ideas but little action. I saw exactly how it would have worked out. He would be feeding me plot and storyline, and I would be pounding the words out. The whole idea of collaborating with him gave me anxiety. I finally convinced him that he could do it on his own. And he did write it. It was a crappy piece of shit, but a lot of crappy pieces of shit go on to get published. His never did. But while we wrote our novels, we became each other’s muse. I always left his apartment feeling creatively charged.
I hadn’t seen Tom in few days, so we spent a couple of minutes catching up.
“Writing much lately?” he asked.
“Yeah, I have been. My wife has been giving me a bunch of shit for how much I have been. You know, if I published a book and made a million dollars it would be a different story.”
“Course it would,” he said and got that look on his face that showed restraint. I know he wanted to tell me that she was fucking bitch and that I should leave her. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t know how I could. “You’re a lot different than she is,” he said. It was his way of saying that I shouldn’t be with her.
“How’s your writing going?” I asked. I didn’t want to talk about my wife anymore.
“I just sent my novel out again. I still don’t know what I want to write about next. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to invest the time in another novel, until I see if something happens with this one.”
I figured this was the way a lot of pseudo-writers quit writing. They don’t acquire the success they want and they quit. I always thought that writing wasn’t a choice. For me, it was something I needed to do, had to do to feel like my life meant something. Without it, I think I would eventually blow my brains out. It was how I defined myself. Mind you, this didn’t ever mean that I was a good, or even an adequate writer. It meant that I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Doing it was living. Not doing it was a slow death.
“I went to the library today,” Tom said.
So, I thought, you always go to the library.
“I found some pictures.”
“Pictures of what? What kind of pictures?”
“They fell out of the paper towel dispenser, when I pulled a towel out to dry my hands.”
“They fell out? Pictures of what? Nude pictures?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said and smiled uncomfortably. Tom wasn’t a prude, so I didn’t quite understand his apprehension.
“Who are they of?” I was asking for specifics like, male or female, old or young. I was looking for physical attributes to see if I wanted to see them. “Do you have them?”
“They’re of one of the librarians,” he said.
“What the hell?”
“Yeah,” he said then paused. “Want to see them?”
“Yeah,” I said excitedly.
He started to get up, and then he said, “I don’t know I feel lecherous showing these pictures. I’m sure she doesn’t know they were in there. Probably some pissed off ex-boyfriend put them there.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t tell anybody about them.”
“I won’t. I understand.” Tom didn’t give a shit about exposing this woman. He was concerned that I might rat him out. He could be a bit paranoid.
He handed three 5×7 color photos to me. She was kind of cute. She had mid length reddish-blonde hair, and it was her true color. All of the photos were basically the same. She was completely naked. She was lying or leaning back with her legs spread apart to varying degrees. Her pussy looked very red and swollen like she had just had sex.
“Wow, I think I recognize her,” I said. I was no stranger to the library either. Odd as it was, I stared at her face as much as the rest her body at its vulnerable best. She was a little chunky with pale Irish skin. She was smiling like she was pleasing someone or had just pleased them. I think both. I wanted to keep the image of her face in my head for the next time I went to the library, which would be at my first opportunity. “What are you going to do with them?”
“I thought about giving them back to her so she knows what some asshole did to her. I’m all for taking the pictures, but he didn’t have to do that to her.”
I was thinking that Tom probably jerked off to her more than once since he found the pictures. Who wouldn’t?
“As unlikely as it seems, maybe she put them there herself,” I said.
“I doubt it,” Tom said. “I think I’ll just throw them away.”
“Don’t do that. I’ll take them off your hands,” I said.
“I don’t think so.”
“I won’t show them to anyone.” Both of us knew I was lying. I would be discrete with them, but at some point I would show them to someone. How couldn’t I?
“I think I’ll just throw them away,” Tom said with a tone of integrity in his voice that I thought was probably bullshit. He was one of the biggest horn-dogs I knew. As long as I knew him he hadn’t had a girlfriend, nor do I think he had even gotten laid, and it wasn’t for lack of want or trying. He wasn’t going to throw those pictures away. If there was a possibility that they could get him laid, he would use them. What assumptions or conclusions he would come to in his somewhat complex and convoluted mind were the unknowns. Once Tom and I went to a strip club, and on the ride home he kept talking about one of the strippers and how she had special interest in him. “She kept looking at me,” Tom said. “I think she really liked me. Damn, I should have asked her for her number.” I don’t know how someone can be so intelligent and so deluded at the same time. The girl was a stripper. Her job was to make every man think he was special. That was how she got tips. It had been way too long since Tom had gotten laid. Jerking off satisfies a temporary urge, but only real sex truly treats the malady
I went to the library a couple of days after I visited Tom. For some reason I didn’t think she would be there, but she was. At first I wasn’t sure it was her, because I imagined her shorter from the picture. She had also gained some weight from the picture, but for all I knew she might have gained and lost a couple of different times since the pictures had been taken. She was wearing a dark blue skirt with nylons and a buttoned up white blouse. Her shoes, although I didn’t know what they were called, were also conservative looking. By the way this woman dressed, I didn’t think she would pose for the kind of pictures she did.
I checked out a couple of books I knew I would never read. Not that I would never read these books. It was just that I had a pile at home I was working through. The other librarian checked me out, but I got a better look at the red head, and I heard her voice. It was high and young in tone.
It was probably just me, but I got a sense that she knew I was up to something. After I left the library, and as I walked to my car, I realized how much I must have been staring at her.
Four days later I had a chance to visit Tom again. I wanted to tell him that I had seen her. I wanted to see those pictures again after I had seen her in person so recently.
I heard the TV on inside. I thought it was strange that he found so much to watch even though he didn’t have cable. Without cable only five stations were available. For a guy who lived alone I could see how the background noise of TV could help alleviate loneliness.
Tom turned off the TV and opened the door. He was as glad to see me as he always was.
“I saw her,” I said.
“Yeah, so did I. A couple of times. I talked to her.” Then he hesitated for a moment and said, “About the pictures.”
“Really? How did that go?” I hoped for the best but expected the worst.
“I asked her if I could to talk to her in private, and we walked up to the nonfiction upstairs way in back.” Tom introduced himself and learned that her name was Cindy. He told her that he found something in the men’s restroom, and he handed her one the pictures in an envelope. Tom left the other two at home. How would she know that he found three? She stared at the picture, and her pasty Irish complexion became a dark pink, as her green eyes welled. Tom told her he was sorry, but he thought she should know.
“Do you have any others?” She asked. She obviously knew how many had been taken.
“She was really intimidating. I didn’t know what to say, but I said no, and she didn’t believe me.”
“I want the others,” she demanded. Being a librarian, she knew how to talk harshly but quietly.
Tom admitted to having two others.
As she snatched the one from his boney fingers she asked him why he didn’t bring the other two.
“I said I wanted to take her out on a date, maybe for coffee, but she called me a freak and accused me of knowing her ex-boyfriend and that we were in it together.”
“In what together?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have a chance to.”
She stuck her finger in Tom’s chest and told him that he better go get the other pictures, “Now!”
“Then she pushed me. That woman is strong.”
Tom reeled back and fell into a book shelf. The shelves didn’t domino over like in the movies. Library shelves and sturdy and well supported, but Tom said, as he crashed into the stacks that about a hundred books fell off onto the floor, and ended up on the floor himself.
“I hit my head. Look at this lump,” Tom said meekly like a battered husband, as he pulled his hair back to show me.
He had a small knot.
“Did you take her the other pictures?”
“Not yet, but if I ever want to go back to the library I’ll have to,” he said and sighed heavily.
“It will be okay. I’ll go with you if you want?”
“No. I hoping that she’s had some time to cool off, and we can still have that cup of coffee.”
“Really?” I didn’t think there was any way this woman would be interested in establishing a relationship with Tom based upon an introduction from the chance finding of explicit pictures. “Would you want to go out with someone that has the ability to physically abuse you? Maybe she beat the shit out of the other guy, so he retaliated by humiliating her with strategically placing the pictures in the library.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Tom said.
“I would just drop the other two pictures off and walk away. Let it go.”
The next time I saw Tom he told me that he tried to give her the pictures and walk away, but Cindy found him a little later, when he was browsing through the fiction section. I know Tom well enough to know that he wanted her to approach him; otherwise he would have left the library after dropping off the pictures. “She apologized for pushing me. And thanked me for bringing them.”
“That’s good,” I said.
“She asked me if I showed the pictures to anyone else who knows she works here, and I told her I didn’t, so don’t say anything when you meet her.”
“What?” I said.
“We went for coffee, and then she took me back to her place and fucked my brains out,” Tom said with his chest puffed up like a rooster.
I had never seen him feeling quite so good about himself. I was dumbstruck and then envious. I didn’t know if I should congratulate him, or be concerned for his welfare. “When do you think I’ll meet her?”
“I don’t know. We’ll see how things go.”
Well, I never did formally meet her. Tom only saw her one more time when she came over to his place and screwed him a couple of days after she screwed him the first time. Tom thinks she wanted to be sure he had given her all the pictures. But he also believed she had a thing for him, because she didn’t necessarily have to fuck him twice to find out if he gave her everything he had. Of course, he regretted ever telling her how many he found. “If I had only said I had one other at home.”
“At what point were you going to use it to have her screw you again. And do you think it would be worth the ass-kicking she’d give you afterwards?”
“She couldn’t take me. I’d be ready for her next time,” Tom said and nodded subtly but confidently.
For the next six months I listened to him talk about Cindy and the lost opportunity. And for the next six months Tom parked himself within eyeshot of the bathroom, and after almost every visitor to the men’s restroom (he didn’t bother with the real old guys), Tom checked the towel dispenser.
“Don’t you end up going into the restroom a lot? Doesn’t anyone ever say anything to you?”
“One of the librarians did, but I told her I had a bladder condition.”
Tom never did find anymore pictures. I have to admit, when I go to the library and use the restroom, I slide my fingers up the paper towel dispenser just to make sure.