Cold. The stiff Chicago winter crusted the sidewalks and took your breath from your mouth the minute you stepped outside.
I was a chauffeur. My 26 foot long stretch limo was grey with salt and the slushy residue of curbs and intersections. At midnight I was returning from the airport with a certified Hollywood star in back. He was going to town with the beauty we picked up at O’Hare. His holiday date I suppose.
When he went in to get her bags she fussed about how awful she looked, flouncing her hair and pressing her hand on her concave belly. If only I looked that bad on a good day, I thought… I pressed my lips together, told her curtly she looked fine and packed them both in the back. I was glad they wanted to have the privacy window up – I got tired of listening to people suck and grope back there.
Belmont Avenue. Before reaching New Town it was deserted on a sub-zero midnight. At a stoplight I look over and see a disheveled homeless man sprawled in a doorway. His dirty face, red from exposure to the frigid temperatures. Eyes closed, his face turned toward a streetlight, perhaps hoping for a degree of warmth I thought. No.
His hand was jammed down the front of his pants, working maniacally, bringing a beautific turn to his cracked lips. The Hawk, our pet name for the wind in Chicago, buffeted the limo and whistled through air vents. The man would’ve looked frozen, dead even, if his hand wasn’t jumping under the zipper, like a rodent feeding.
Warmth, I thought. He can’t feel the cold because his whole body is flushing with that touch. I glance into the rearview mirror and see my Hollywood couple silhouetted through the smoky glass divider, arms wrapped around each other, hands smoothing, twining, caressing… They don’t seem to come up for air.
The stoplight changes but I look back at the raggedy man in the doorway. He’s wearing two long, oily coats, open to allow himself access, well, to himself. I almost don’t want him to climax. I’m afraid that the cold will smack him out of his fantasy; that his heart will break when he realizes he is alone, in a doorway, hand jammed in his pants and sticky.
Please, I say under my breath, make it last, man. Make it last. Because whoever is in your head is probably long gone. Make it last. Hold that image, melting the ice around you. Make it last, man. Because I don’t want the warmth generated by your busy hand to end. I don’t want her to leave you, again, alone in that frigid doorway.
The light turns green again and as I pull away I hear the couple sigh in back. For a moment, I hate them both.