The down-and-out actor finds himself wanting the wrong woman. 2,032 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
As late afternoon approached, Rubi was beside himself knowing that another night in the airport would be torture. Kate hadn’t returned his last phone call but he knew he had a date with Kristen the day after tomorrow so if he could just survive till then. His first offensive move at the airport was to call his brother and see if Carlo would change his mind about providing funds or shelter. If anatomy was destiny, it was clear why the younger brother was an aging playboy actor and the older a good-for-nothing loafer living in Turks And Caicos.
Carlo was hypersensitive to perceived slights and was rude to the many people he thought treated him like he was a no-talent who basked in the shadow of the famous Rubi. Most people ignored Carlo but even those who gave him a fair shot determined he was indeed a worthless replica of the original. And even though they didn’t look that much alike, Carlo pretended he was Rubi to inebriated women who were seeing double. The older bro’s only steady job was when he’d worked as Rubi’s stand-in back when Rubi was so busy he was turning down acting jobs.
But when Rubi finally got Carlo on the phone, Carlo pleaded poverty and then tried to hit up Rubi for a loan.
With less than $25 to his name, Rubi planted himself near the American Airlines Admirals Club and acted like a man about to embark on an unfamiliar journey. He hoped to be lucky enough to spot an acquaintance he could solicit for funds, even if he had to descend to some lost wallet excuse. Athletes, rappers and other actors came in and out of the club, but Rubi was a stranger to them and to this place. So he settled in for the night right outside the club’s entrance.
He was surrounded by mundane conversations about how great Seattle was when it didn’t rain, or the new features of the latest iPhone, or how to personalize bland black luggage with strips of colored tape. Rubi remained oblivious to them all except when a white man stood nearby and started screaming he was a victim of racism after getting bounced from his flight.
The next morning Rubi shaved in one of the airport bathrooms which afforded a modicum of privacy. That afternoon he ate someone else’s leftovers for the first time since he’d been in elementary school. But, maintaining his standards, he would only select food from a female’s plate.
And then Rubi accepted the inevitable. He snuck onto the train back to South Miami and took an Uber, one of the few companies that would still honor his credit card, to Porfiria’s house.
He knocked on the door and waited… and waited… and waited. Dogs barked. A stranger who obviously had been drinking threw his beer can at Rubi, soaking the actor’s shirt and hair. Porfiria would not return home until ten and, when she did, she appeared unsurprised to see Rubi perched on her doorstep.
“Have you been drinking beer?”
“No,” mumbled Rubi as he entered the tiny house behind her.
“Aren’t you going to ask me about my day?”
“No,” said Rubi. “I assume it was horrible.”
Now inside her lair for the second time, Rubi felt strangely comfortable. He sat on the couch and, after nudging the table lamp, got it to work. Porfiria retreated inside. She brought out the rest of the cognac, but this time she didn’t want any. She did want to wash his pants that now had the unsightly remnants of a mustard packet he’d apparently sat on somewhere along his downhill journey. Rubi put his cognac down on the ugly end table that wobbled under pressure and stepped out of his pants.
After starting the laundry, the housekeeper sat down across from Rubi and fell asleep to the sound of the early model washing machine before they could start a conversation. Rubi watched her drift off. He stared at her, daring to touch her fingertips. Five minutes later he heard her snore lightly.
He decided to help Porfiria into the larger of the two bedrooms. He carried her and laid her down atop the blanket. He started to leave and then returned to adjust her pillow. He started to leave a second time when he thought he heard her say, “Take off my clothes.”
Rubi paused. He stared at Porfiria. There lying before him was a woman and living monument to strength and fortitude who slaved for ten hours cleaning other people’s houses and then washed his clothes.
He pulled off her shoes, careful not to touch her feet, their slight odor arousing him. Did she awaken when he undid her belt? He thought when he rid her of the top of her maid͛’s uniform her eyes opened if only for a second. When he turned her face down and unhooked her bra, gently sliding it away, she seemed to cooperate. As he removed each item of her clothing, he carefully folded them on the chair next to the bed.
Rubi imagined himself living in this tiny house, anxiously awaiting Porfiria’s return from her day of labor. He could buy and maybe even grow the food she would need to prepare dinner. Whether or not he worked in its garden, her backyard was overgrown enough for him to sit and feel the presence of nature. As he entered his twilight years, did it really matter where he watched TV and stole occasional glances at the outside world?
He stared down at her warm naked body and swatted at a mischievous fly. Queen Porfiria beckoned. Something was happening to Rubi. For him it was no less transformational than the revelations that had marked the agonies and ecstasies of the apostles of the world’s great religions. Here was the woman — not of his new dreams, but of his new more spiritual reality — giving everything, asking for nothing. Soon Rubi was levitating and then floating around the room. He did back flips above her head, and corkscrewed his body so he might see his new muse the way Picasso had seen his before painting them into history. Rubi’s feet didn’t move but he was dancing.
For the briefest of moments, he melded his spirit with hers. He wasn’t sure what love was, but if this wasn’t it then Rubi was doing a pretty thorough job of fooling himself.
He turned to leave when she reached up and pulled him down on top of her.
The next morning he was now the one serving her. Rubi and Porfiria had coffee in bed. They didn’t talk much, but they never stopped touching. Both were being reflective. Rubi was contemplating how his life of sensation was endless greed and that he had squandered his best years. While Porfiria was thinking that she had lived without purpose or pleasure.
After Porfiria went off to clean Kristen’s penthouse, Rubi spent the day listening to the radio and tending to her flowers on the window sill. The backyard garden would have to wait. He wanted to do something to make Porfiria’s life easier but he really did not have any practical skills so he confined himself to not making things worse. Ultimately, his curiosity got the best of him. He opened her drawers until he discovered a trove of photos that showed Porfiria in happier times with a man who looked the part of her husband.
That night Rubi and Kristen had a date for cocktails before third-row tickets for an atonal musical experiment. To avoid seeing Rubi, Porfiria had worked at superspeed, trying to leave the condo a touch earlier than normal, but Kristen decided this was the day for the housekeeper to do the windows. Again, Porfiria worked as fast as humanely possible.
She was about to exit when Rubi rang the doorbell.
“Can you let him in?” requested Kristen.
Porfiria checked herself in the mirror before opening the door. They must have been staring silently at each other for the better part of a minute when Kristen appeared.
“Rubi meet Porfiria, my maid,”
“We’ve already met,” said Rubi. He wanted to scream. He wanted to get down on his knees and kiss Porfiria’s feet. But he didn’t. He just faded back into the old Rubi and acted nonchalant.
Porfiria picked up her purse and went home. Normally a sound sleeper, Porfiria was restless that night. Especially when she re-read the note Rubi left on the bed.
My dearest Porfiria,
I don’t know if you seduced me or I seduced you. I do know it matters not. What matters is what we feel inside. Something that I thought was dead and buried has been awakened. And it feels sublime. Forgive me. I don’t know what the next move is.
All my love, Rubi
She placed the note on the wobbly night table so she could easily reach it and read it again and again. In between readings numbers 87 and 88, she fell asleep for 45 minutes. But in that time she dreamt that Rubi had left Kristen of his own volition to join Porfiria in bed. It didn’t happen. Not that night, nor the next, or the next. Apparently, Kristen had decided to invite Rubi to sleep over permanently. The next time Porfiria went to clean Kristen’s penthouse, the housekeeper didn’t make eye contact with Rubi until Kristen had left for work. At the door, Porfiria handed Kristen her thermos of Kombucha tea and her briefcase. Porfiria waited, then confronted Rubi after he stepped into the shower. Rubi expected her to act jealous, but she surprised him again by stripping down and joining him under the water. Even though, at this point in his life, Rubi could only muster hard-ons every eight hours or so; he was immediately erect by the time Porfiria soaped him. He penetrated her openings, using all his tricks to retard his ejaculation until the supply of hot water began to turn cold. That’s when the bathroom door opened. Porfiria knew that Kristen would be back in time to catch them in the act because the housekeeper had deliberately taken the phone from the briefcase and left it beside the bathtub. Back at Porfiria’s that night, Rubi was alternately confused and elated. Confused because his last resort with the two Ks had failed. Elated because he had feelings for a woman he hadn’t experienced since his first quickie marriage five decades earlier.
Porfiria tried to be elated, but she was pretending. She didn’t expect to feel as bad as she did for her deceit and, unlike Rubi, she wasn’t a good actor. Rubi knew Porfiria wasn’t herself but attributed it to their change of circumstances, for they were a couple now and that would take time to navigate.
“Love cannot be bought and sold; it can only be given away.” It didn’t need to be said but Rubi said it anyway. When Rubi tried to make love to Porfiria that night, even though she allowed him to enter her, it wasn’t at all like the first time. Now she was the actor, with equal parts of faking too much and too little, as if the relationship had aged ten years overnight. Porfiria woke up in the middle of night and rehearsed her confession about hiding Kristen’s phone so her boss would discover them "in flagrante", but Rubi was sleeping so peacefully that she just kissed his forehead and allowed him his slumber.
The next morning, she knew she had to tell him, but the woman who worked her limbs to the bone couldn’t find the strength. And then the front door was being forced open. Rubi opened his eyes to see a Latino man appear who resembled the one in the photos which the actor had found in Porfiria’s drawer. The man’s eyes went from Rubi to Porfiria and back to Rubi again. In one motion, as if in slow motion, the jealous husband reached under the wobbly side table, pulled a small handgun, aimed at Rubi’s heart, and fired point blank… An eternity passed, more than enough time for a smile to light Rubi’s face, before the bullet ripped into his flesh. For the old playboy knew his obituary would say he died for love. Part One. Part Two.