This Is How It Happened

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This Is How It Happened

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Promenade Promenade tells the story of a group of friends on one night out in the City. In this episode, our hero, Sam Moscowitz, relates a story about the villainous Charlie Potatoes.

I think what I find most disquieting about Charlie Potatoes is how unexceptional he really is, how alike he is to most other people. What I mean to say is that I think Charlie Potatoes is simply a distillation of the basest impulses that we all share, only he is somehow gifted with the preternatural ability to act on these impulses in good conscience, so to speak, while masking them in what most people mistakenly take to be courtesy. He’s no more or less talented than anyone else, and he’s not fooling anyone; but somehow he carries it off. He has utter, complete conviction in himself. I believe he even feels a kind of pity for


those people who do not have the guts to carry out the kind of treachery that for him is thoughtless, ordinary and, in his mind, necessary. The acts of sadism that he pursues are not transgressions in his mind but simple and value-neutral manifestations of his will to be. Once, at a party at Phil’s place, I walked in on Charlie masturbating into Phil’s bathtub. I laughed and I facetiously asked Charlie what he was doing. His red face was clenched and serious. Without interrupting his business he turned to me, and, in a voice that was dry and humorless and which bore strains of intensely concentrated masturbation, he said, “Would you close the door, please, Sam. Thank you.”
    Everyone else showed up before too long, Spiderman Jackson, Hal Lefkowitz, Polly Flotsam, I don’t really remember. Sarah was meeting us there. We said hello to Big Sugar and Sugar Dieter as they walked by with a cart of stolen electric amplifiers. Anyway, at some point Lucy Pithwit showed up, wearing a blue librarian’s dress and carrying a designer clutch. She was looking at the ground. She said hello to everyone, still looking at the ground. But for a moment her eyes flicked up to Charlie and Madlin, who were now

Hal slipped over to my side, grabbed my hand and whispered into my ear, “He fucked her.”

holding hands, and then flicked quickly down again. I saw it. So did Horseface Hal, who used to go on and on about Lucy’s ass, which had always struck me as strangely tall and skinny, and he and I exchanged a look. A few minutes later, as we all walked up the steps, Hal slipped over to my side, grabbed my hand and whispered into my ear, “He fucked her.” Then he slipped away again and began talking to Stookie Schultz about ice hockey and pickled watermelon. Lucy’s head was bent down and she was staring at the clutch that she held at her chest. I remember Sarah telling me that when Lucy was pretty and fourteen she had been passed around by the high school seniors like a football.
    I don’t know how it actually happened, but this is how I imagine it. I imagine, first of all, that Charlie Potatoes, whose motivations shall ever be mysterious and whose inner life is somewhat less accessible to observation than the center of the earth, if indeed he has one, fucked her not just on a lark, but because he wanted to. And then, too, I imagine that Lucy, for all her poorly masked insecurity and deep need for affection, did not just acquiesce in grateful acceptance of attention, but wanted to fuck him, too. This, then, is how it must have happened.
    First of all, I know for a fact that Lucy sometimes drinks alone. I have seen her twice sitting at the bar in the Black Lavender at five or five thirty p.m. drinking some red or orange gin drink. Most people would not guess her to be a gin drinker. She seems too proper, and really she is, but because it is a sort of propriety that most of us know less from experience than from old Tcheeber stories we forget about its darker pieces. In any case, it would have been a drizzly autumn day, sometime not too long before the winter solstice, so that it would have been already dark when Lucy came out of work. Depressed and alone she went to the Black Lavender, sat down at the bar and ordered her drink. “How are you, Lucy?” asked Spanikos the bartender, and Lucy answered shortly, “Thirsty.” Any one of my friends, Lefkowitz, Spiderman, Corduroy Phil, Astragon Henry and especially Madlin and Sarah, would have been amazed to hear Lucy so curt. Nobody categorizes women in little boxes more than other women. Somehow I don’t think Big Sugar or Sugar

He waited until he had finished his first drink. They both knew it was inevitable.

Dieter would have been surprised. But the point is, Lucy went in there to drink. She did not intend to drink a lot, not more than three or four drinks, but she had not eaten, and that would get her drunk enough to carry her till bed time. I imagine that she was there for about twenty minutes before Charlie Potatoes walked in. Drinking is something that people also somehow fail to guess about Charlie Potatoes. I don’t mean drinking on social occasions, or getting drunk at parties; everyone has seen him do both of those. I mean steady, all the time, mirthless, deadly, devoted drinking. Somehow you look at Charlie and you don’t think of it. But it is there, and few are the days when he doesn’t stop in one bar or another between work and dinner or between lunch and tea. He also never has less than two drinks. I have seen him do it at cocktail parties and he does it brilliantly: he carries himself in such a measured way, and sips his drink so discreetly, that he makes you feel like a lush if you drink yours at all; but meanwhile he puts away an invariable minimum of four to seven ounces of strong liquor or its equivalent whenever such is available. So Charlie pushed between two patrons, caught Spanny’s attention with a finger and ordered a rye and soda before he even caught sight of Lucy. Even when he did catch sight of her, he did not greet her right away, and after greeting her, he did not join her right away. He waited until he had finished his first drink. They both knew it was inevitable. Charlie Potatoes and Lucy Pithwit came from the same place and they had the same needs. They had the same sort of cracker-eating, funny-smelling, croquet-playing, Lyme-disease-having bond, and they felt the same things at the same times. “Once more,” Charlie said, “without the soda,” and once he had a second rye safely in his sweaty fingers, he moved across the bar to stand next to Lucy. Charlie’s fingers were always sweaty. It’s another thing about him that people fail to see.
    Charlie did not waste any time on small talk, and Lucy did not expect him to. It is true that Lucy’s gratitude was not her only motive in this drama, but it was certainly there, and it was on her mind. She was not about to rock the boat. When Charlie asked her a question, short and direct, she answered him, short and direct. “What are you doing here?” asked Charlie. “Getting drunk,” she replied. “What are you doing afterwards?” asked Charlie. “Going to bed,” she replied. “Good,” Charlie answered, finishing his drink, “I’ll come.” He ordered two more ryes, which they drank down together, and then they walked out holding hands. “What have you got to drink at your place?” he asked her, and she answered, “Three large bottles of gin.” Charlie nodded solemnly as if this would just barely be enough.
    They walked from the bar the long way down the Victory Steps to the metro. Charlie held Lucy’s hand — and Lucy submitted to having her hand held — as if she might change her mind and flee at any moment and they were both equally concerned to prevent this from happening. And in fact at one point, when they passed a large, brightly lit shop window full of black women’s hats, Lucy did briefly pull away; but whether she was yearning for the clean and perfect world of the shop window to save her from her own sordid struggle or

It was all perfectly mutual, as far as anything can be.

whether she just wanted to look at the hats for a moment we can’t know, because Charlie pulled her roughly into line. In the metro station Charlie awkwardly pulled the money from his pocket and paid for two tickets with one hand. He did not release her. They even straggled sideways through the turnstiles without letting go. On the train car half full of hard workers and early drinkers it was as if they were alone; Charlie stared like a reptile into Lucy’s eyes and Lucy, frightened, stared back. If I had been sitting in the car to see them, and had not known them, I probably would have felt sorry for her and angry at him; but because I do know them I know that it was all perfectly mutual, as far as anything can be.
    When they got to Havermore Junction, it was Lucy that pulled Charlie from the car. They walked through the narrow, genteel streets to the very edge, the beginning of Seven Corners, where Lucy’s house stood. At this point Lucy had begun to feel the rye, which she did not normally drink, and she was ready to go for broke. When Charlie hesitated at the sight of the fat matron sitting in the concierge window, she snarled a remark to him that would have shocked even Sugar and Sugar Dieter: “Don’t be a fucking faggot,” she said, and pulled him through the door.
    In Lucy’s shabby, unfurnished rooms it was now Charlie who was scared. The fact is that while he picked up women constantly and effortlessly, he had his reservations about their anatomy; moreover, though he was himself without any finer aesthetic since, he could not abide filth in a woman, and Lucy’s rooms were dirty. Charlie wore strong, bad cologne and sometimes stank of sweat, but he expected women to be immaculate, and the smallest hair out of place or body hair too long or dark could make him angry and violent. But now he was merely sweating. “Do you want a drink?” Lucy said, and Charlie, standing trembling near the door, nodded. Lucy dug through a suitcase on the floor that was full of mostly dirty underwear and found a half-empty bottle of gin. She pulled a drawer out of a cracked armoire and produced from it two cracked tea cups. They had faded spots of green that might once have been fairies or bullfrogs. She filled a cup to the brim and thrust it at him. “Here,” she said. She swallowed down her own gin and Charlie sipped his nervously. Lucy knew that as soon as it was over, Charlie would walk out the victor: he would discard her, he would go on to the next one, he would forget that any of this had ever happened; but Lucy would not forget. She began taking off her clothes.
    Charlie looked at Lucy’s threadbare, complicated underwear. He swallowed the spit that flooded his mouth and then swallowed the rest of his gin. He started to hold out his cup and Lucy said, “The bottle’s on the table.” He reached for the light switch and Lucy said, “Don’t touch it.” Charlie poured himself another slug and swallowed it hastily, spilling a small stream down the front of his shirt. He walked shaking toward Lucy Pithwit, attracted inexorably like a bluebottle to the spire’s web, and in the attempt to put down his cup on her tiny beside table he dropped it on the floor. Lucy pulled him close and began kissing him; her mouth tasted like chicken soup. Charlie wanted to retch. Lucy said again, “Don’t be a fucking faggot,” but the fact that she had already said this once, and the fact that she tried to whisper it tenderly in his ear, made even insensitive Charlie Potatoes understand how pathetic it was, how pathetic she was, how pathetic the night was. It made him realize how pathetic he himself was, too, and in rebellion against that he seized control. He crushed Lucy in his arms and forced his tongue violentl

He broke the catch on her bra and somehow managed to tear her panties in half.

y deep into her mouth; she moaned.
    It is my feeling that Charlie Potatoes is missing all human sentiments except the lust for power, that he is even without sexual lust, and I think that his behavior bears this out. For while Lucy was in charge, despite the fact that under her meek dress and grimy underwear was a thin but highly sexy body, Charlie was merely nervous and unhappy; but once the interaction became one of conquest, of subjugation, of power, his blood began moving, he stopped sweating, and his body woke up. He grabbed her tall and skinny ass and ground his erection into her crotch. “Oh,” she moaned, “touch my breasts,” and Charlie answered, “Keep quiet.” He would touch them when he was good and ready.
    Once Lucy had begun moaning steadily, Charlie began tearing pieces of underwear off her body. His primary concern was merely to get them gone, but if in the course of removing them he happened to tear them, that was all to the good. He broke the catch on her bra and somehow managed to tear her panties in half. Now Lucy was naked and Charlie was dressed. He was in command. Charlie stuck three fingers suddenly into her, making her open her mouth wide and gasp, and with his other hand he grabbed her breast and rolled the nipple between his fingers. After he had continued this for a minute, and Lucy had choked out, “Oh yes, gross,” Charlie grabbed her under the arms, lifted her up and threw her onto the bed. She cracked her head against the wall and they both pretended that she hadn’t. Charlie took a rubber out of his pocket, laid it carefully on the edge of the bed and began to undress. Lucy writhed and rubbed herself between the legs.
    Once Charlie had stripped naked, and having carefully folded his clothes and placed them on the only free surface, the kitchenette counter, he picked up the rubber and ripped it open. He struggled to get it on for a moment and then gave up. “You’d better suck my dick,” he said.”I’m not hard enough yet.” Lucy sat up and knocked the condom out of his hands. This reversed the dynamic again. She grabbed his cock and began jerking it roughly. “Come on, Charlie,” she said, “don’t you want to fuck me?” The air smelled thickly of her, when she said this, and Charlie looked down at her thin breasts and long waist and snaky wet lips, and he really did. She smiled and scooted back and he threw himself down on the bed, and on top of her, and began thrusting. After taking five or six thrusts to the belly, Lucy reached down, took him in her hand and guided him in. Charlie’s endowment was no better than average, but he worked at her fiercely, and Lucy began to shriek.
    They might have yelled things at each other, too, things like “Take it” and “Fuck me,” but that would be too much for me. That I don’t want to imagine. But I will say that they fucked and fucked, and that Charlie, noting that Lucy made no effort to put her skinny hips at a more convenient angle but simply lay there making noises and gripping at his sides, resolved to stick it to her somehow at a later date. It did not occur to him to move her gently or ever roughly into place, or to say anything . . . He is an asshole. Anyway they fucked for some definite period of time and then Lucy began to say, “Oh, oh, oh.” Charlie dogged on. “Come inside me,” she moaned. “Come inside me.” Charlie snorted. “Oh, oh, oh,” she said, and she could not hold out. Charlie increased his speed and pressure and Lucy began to twitch and run her hands up and down his back and ass. “Oh, God,” she said, “oh God!” She writhed and screeched and moaned, she said, “No,” and Charlie kept thrusting faster and

Charlie did not even look up at her. He was back on top.

faster until she had shuddered and quieted and totally stopped. Then he pulled out so abruptly that it made her choke and, jerking himself off, he moved up over her body on his knees and carefully came in her face.
    Lucy Pithwit did not always know when she was being degraded. After making sure that the semen was clear of her eyes, she opened her eyelids and her mouth and began licking her lips. She did not let on that Charlie’s ejaculate smelled like asparagus and tasted like motor oil. She tried to act sexy. But Charlie was already up and with his pants on and cinching his belt. Then, as if this were not enough, Lucy handed him the knife with which to disembowel her; she knelt down and put her head on the chopping block. Lucy should have known — anyone could have known — how it would turn out, but she was unconscious, she could not help herself, the words simply issued from her lips. She was small and lonely.
    “Can you hold me for a minute before you go?” she said.
    Charlie did not even look at her. He was back on top. He was back in character. He was stone cold sober, now, and he had to go back to the bar for another double rye before he went to meet his girlfriend for dinner. He was back to Potatoes perfection. Without looking up, while buttoning his shirt with a natural air of preoccupation, Charlie replied, “I’m sorry, Lacey. I just can’t spare the time.” He may have looked back from the door as he was fastening his wristwatch to see Lucy begin to cry, but then again, perhaps he did not. I have no doubt that he did get his drink and was spotless when he entered the restaurant.  

Reprinted from PROMENADE PROMENADE by A. Spielkind.

Copyright © 2005 by Will Heinrich & Noah Schwartzberg.
With permission of the authors via Anne Edelstein Literary Agency LLC.


A. Spielkind is a pseudonym for Will Heinrich & Noah Schwartzberg. Will Heinrich’s novel The King’s Evil was published in 2003. His story “Stalin’s Mustache,” which first appeared on Nerve, is included in the anthology Best American Erotica 2006. Noah Schwartzberg lives and works in New York.