WADE: a novel
There are two things you ask when you get to Wells, Nevada: where’s the brothel, and where’s the other brothel?
You can ask Wade, but he’s the rare Wells local who’d never stepped foot into either the whole time he was married. Now that his wife is gone, Wade’s loneliness threatens to drown him.
In a sexless marriage for nearly three decades, he is a man bruised and bleeding from constant rejection, starving for acceptance and touch. So what happens to man denied basic sexual intimacy when he finally decides to set foot in the local cathouse?
With a colorful cast of local characters, like his 83-year old neighbor, Durward--"Dude"--who looks after Wade (although Wade sees it the other way around), and a mixture of humor, poignancy, and a sensitive exploration of human sexuality, Wade explores the journey of a good man fighting for a personal sense of honor, while at the same time, finding a way to honor himself.
As he wrestles with the pull of the mystery, the ache of loneliness, and a whole lotta curiosity, the neon sign beckons him like a soft, warm hand.
Somehow Wade knows that whatever he's searching for just might be behind those darkened windows; windows with the shadows of real human beings, moving, talking, living, connecting--and what he finds behind the big metal door will both shock, shatter, and elevate everything he thought he knew about himself and his world.
Thought-provoking, tender, humorous, and achingly honest, Wade will pull you into a new world, and show you the many, surprising ways a human being can heal--even hurts that are old, unnamed, but go deep enough to hit bone.
Excerpts from Wade:
"Would you like to talk to Sienna, Wade?"
"Yeah, sure, that'd be great."
Sienna's wide almond eyes are a deep brown, her skin like raw honey. She smiles at him and walks toward him, one foot in front of the other, balancing on precariously high heels. Her shiny, straight black hair is parted down the middle.
"Hi, I'm Wade."
She takes his hand, her grip limp, but her skin is impossibly soft. "Hi, nice to meet you."
"That's an interestin' name you got there. I mean, it's a color, ain't it?"
"Yeah, it's a color." She scoots next to him and crosses her bare legs. Her short, black miniskirt rides up to the tops of her thighs and he tries not to stare at her ample cleavage. He can't quite look into her eyes just yet. That niggling part of his brain is at it again with the age thing, mostly because he sees himself as her job, her 'have-to,' her necessary evil, and he doesn't like it. Not one bit.
"So you workin' on Christmas…you got family?"
"Yeah, I've got family in Utah. That's where I'm from. Where're you from?"
"Here. Well, I was born in Elko. Moved here when I got a job workin' insurance. Well, when I got married."
"You still married?"
"No." Wade doesn't want to have that conversation, not again and not with her. He doesn't want death sullying the mood. "And my son's home, sorta ran me outta my house tonight. Long story. Anyway."
She smiles and then does something that leaves him with shock waves throughout his frame. She reaches over and takes his hand. There is nothing sexual about it, it's just warm and comforting and it makes her seem so much wiser than her years.
"So tell me something about yourself that's unique, Wade. Anything."
He opens his mouth, then closes it. How is he unique? Nothing comes to mind. He reaches for his beer with his right hand without thinking, then stops.
"Well, uh, here's somethin' weird, I guess. See these three fingers? I can't move 'em. I can feel 'em, but can't move 'em. Doc says there ain't nothing wrong with anything. Says it's all in my head or somethin'."
She reaches over and wraps her fingers around the three fingers, squeezing them together. He can't help but picture her hand around something else and he wonders if she does it on purpose.
"You can feel that?" she asks.
"Yeah. Just can't move 'em."
"So you next. What's unique 'bout you?"
"Oh, I'll show you. But you have to wait. Don't worry, it's not weird or anything."
"You'll 'show me'?"
"Yeah." Her smile is wide. "I'll show you. Okay, so if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?"
Her face is open, eyes searching his, and he suddenly feels like she is really with him. She isn't just doing a job, she's asking him—searching him for a piece of him he didn't know was missing. Her eyebrows arch beautifully. His heart is a battering ram against his ribs as he takes in her face.
"I guess I'd be on a beach somewhere, nice and warm and sunny. How 'bout you?"
She tucks her hair behind her ear and looks down, then up at him again, smile deepening. "That sounds really nice. Me too."
He doesn't tell her he made that up. He doesn't tell her that right there, in that room, is exactly where he wants to be.
Wade feels her hand in his, soft and warm and he doesn't want to let go. He also wants to be practical, wants things to go smoothly.
"Can you hang on? I'll be right back."
"Sure, I'll be here."
She releases his hand and it almost tingles from her touch. He makes his way over to the ATM. He feels that sense of adventure return, but maybe it's because his savings account is bulging with money. He suspects that has only a little to do with it. He takes out the bills, enough for a whole hour and a hundred for a tip. When he comes back into the room, Sienna's eyes light up and his cynical mind can't understand how she can fake that so well. It occurs to him that maybe it's for real and he decides to stop second-guessing her motives as he takes the seat next to her again.
"I hit the ATM," he says. He regrets it instantly and looks away.
"Okay. So you told me where you would wanna be, now tell me about your family. You have kids, right?"
"Yeah, two." But he doesn't want to talk about his family; he knows about his family. What he doesn't know is all about her and that's what he craves.
"What about you? You said you're from Utah. What brings you out here?"
"Well, this job. I live in Utah two weeks out of the month. Two weeks, I live here."
"No kiddin'? It's only 'bout four hours or so from Salt Lake, I guess, right?"
"Actually about three. I live in a small town, north of Salt Lake. Brigham City. So it takes me about three and a half hours to get here. I like the drive. I listen to books."
"You listen to 'em? Like tapes?"
"Well, no, they're downloaded onto my phone."
"No kiddin'? What kinds of books you like?"
"All kinds. I don't like romance books, though."
"Oh yeah, why not?"
"They're stupid. I like books that mean something, you know? Like, books that go deep into what life is about. Books that talk about humanity."
"Wow. That's…I didn't figure, I mean, shi—shoot. So, you always like those kinda books?"
"Well, not when I was in school—high school, I mean. But when I took college classes I took a lot of English Lit classes. I learned to love books like that."
Wade can't remember the last book he read and he feels ashamed, suddenly, as if this bright, young college student sits here with some back-country rube. He vows to read a book before he comes back. Maybe she could recommend one? Maybe they would read one together, then talk about it?
"So didja finish college or—"
"No, I…I had a son."
"Oh. I see. Well, that's good, I mean, right? How old is he?"
"He'll be four in February. And yes, that's very good. He's the light in my life." Color comes into her cheeks as her eyes become even more alive than before.
Wade turns from her and sips his beer. This new information causes a sense of protectiveness to well up in him. She's a mother. She's doing this for her son. She changes before his eyes. Then he opens his mouth and regrets his words instantly.
"So why do you do this? I mean, I guess the money, but—I—never mind. It ain't my business. Sorry." His ears burn with shame and he wants her to take his hand again. Surely Lana was a mother. He didn't ask her why she was a prostitute. What is wrong with him?
"It's okay. You want to see my room?"
"Yeah, sure. I mean…yeah." Suddenly the reality of going with her strikes him and all he can see in her is the young mother with an almond-eyed boy at her side and he wants to turn tail and walk right out the front door. He also wants to help her. Hell, if he could, he'd give her whatever she needed so she could turn-tail too, go back to Utah, to her small town, and be with her son all month, every month, forever.
Her room is smaller than Lana's had been. Or maybe her bed is bigger. He looks at it. It's made, with a pretty peach and pink comforter on it and he imagines her sleeping in it, on her side, curled up with no makeup on, her hair spread out on the pillow. Breathing out sharply, he doesn't know why he's doing this—like his mind is loading torpedoes and shooting them through his body to douse and ruin his desire. She closes the door behind him and before he can get his bearings, she slips her arms around his neck.
"Remember how I said I'd show you what's unique about me?" she asks.
She places her hands on the sides of his face and kisses him on the lips. Her lips stay there, gently pressing and he opens his mouth a little for her as she deepens the kiss. His body reacts instantly. Torpedoes gone.
She pulls away and smiles a little shyly at him. "No one else kisses."
His breathing has quickened and he clears his throat and reaches in his pocket so she doesn't have to say it. "I—I got enough for a whole hour—I mean, if that's okay, I—"
She puts her finger up to his lips. "I don't charge for time on a clock. I look at it as time together. However long that is. Okay? So for one time together, that's two-fifty."
"Okay," he isn't sure he understands, but she's touching him and that's all he wants to understand. He'd taken out six hundred, thinking he would have an hour. He's confused but he figures it will work itself out. Anything she says—he'll do anything she says.
She takes the money from him without looking away from his eyes. "I'll be right back. There's a robe for you on the back of the closet door if you want to get into it."
"Oh, okay. I will."
He had been doing his sit-ups regularly and his paunch has lessened into something he's not ashamed of anymore. But he also knows he isn't some twenty-five-year-old stud and he has hair on his back, front, everywhere and he thinks of how beautiful she is and…
He comes to life, strips off his clothes and gets into the soft dark-blue robe she showed him. His erection has gone down and he's glad, as if seeing his desire would make her think less of him; then he thinks that's nuts and his brain is all confused again. He stands, but then wonders if he should sit on the bed, but that seems like he's taking things for granted, but then she took the money…he can't quiet his thoughts, can't slow them down. He doesn't know why this girl has him so befuddled in his mind that he can't think straight.
He almost jumps when the door opens. Sienna walks in and her smile dazzles him so that the light in the room seems even brighter. When she kicks off her heels, she shrinks down so that she comes just to his chin, and he looks down on her face as she pulls off her clothes.
Her naked skin is like the dark, sandy desert; he'd walked through it, driven past it so many times, the burnt sand and sage, dunes smoothed by wind, swelling then tapering then swelling again, so smooth, the color seemingly all the same, but shadows and light contort every surface, making her like a satin cloth wound around an hourglass. He hardly notices as she kneels down with the warm baby wipe and inspects him, wipes him down.
Then she turns on the bedside lamp, placing a red silky scarf on top of it to mute the light. She then flips off the glaring overhead light.
Where Lana had taken charge, Sienna seems to intuit what he wants, reading his mind as if he has a list of things he desires and needs from her. When he moves to the bed, she lies down next to him and kisses him again, and nothing, nothing else matters but her lips and the feel of her silky skin.
When she breaks the kiss, she looks him in the eyes and brings her hand up to his cheek. "You can do anything you want to. This is our time together."
So many things play in his mind, so many visions, words caught in his throat, his mouth, between his teeth. The thought grabs him by the throat and gut and he wants to ask her permission, and she had said “anything” but he still isn't sure.
"I want…I'd like to…uh…"
"Tell me, it's okay."
He licks his lips, suddenly dry, and looks down between her legs and back up at her. "I want—I want—"
"Yes…I would like that."
He stops stammering and his breathing deepens, becomes heavy, like he can barely take in enough air. Heart pounding, he lays her back on the bed and moves over and above her. He kisses her breasts, tasting the slight musky scent on her nipples. He buries his head in her neck, smelling her, then he moves down her soft belly mound, soft downy hairs on her lower tummy leading below.
He feels like he's been blinded his whole damn life, and suddenly a cloak is lifted from his vision. It's the moment of fulfillment after complete starvation and thirst and want, and he thinks of the desert again, of her desert-sand skin with this oasis she's allowed him to visit.
He crawls to it like a ravaged man and he bathes relentlessly in its comfort.
He hears the shuffling on the front step before the pounding on his door.
The rapping is urgent, and he can't think of who could possibly be out there. He glances out the window and sees Mildred without a coat. She sees him and starts talking, but he can't hear her. Her face is stricken.
He stands, slightly alarmed. He’s never seen Millie on his front stoop, not once. He’s glad he’d shoveled and salted that afternoon as he opens the door. The chill causes him to brace, as he'd just warmed from his recent trip to the shed.
“Millie, where’s your coat!”
"Wade, I need you to come over to Dude's—he's…something's very wrong…he woke up from his nap and he's not right, something's not right, he—"
"Okay, slow down, Millie—slow down. Lemme get my coat. And where's your coat? You're gonna catch yer death."
He regrets saying it as he grabs his parka, feeling like the word "death" is a word he should avoid saying in front of old people at all costs, like the word itself will bring the event closer. He has a sneaking suspicion why she’s there and doesn’t know quite how to tell her, because there’s always the chance Durward is sick.
They hurry down his walk, but the roads are snow-packed. He quickly grabs on to Mildred's arm and navigates them across the snow.
Durward's house is silent when they walk in and Wade's breathing becomes deeper as his heart pounds.
"He's in here…"
Mildred leads the way down the hall and when Wade enters the bedroom, he sees Durward crouched in between the bed and the wall, eyes wild.
"Shh!" Durward snaps his head and looks at him. His whisper is harsh. "Be quiet, get down. Damn fools, get down!"
Wade looks at Mildred, who then looks back at him. "He woke from his nap and this is what he's been sayin'."
Wade takes Millie's arm and gently pulls her down to the floor to the side of the bed.
"Stay here," he says to her. Wade crawls around the bed until he's right in front of his friend, who has his hands up to his ears, cupped as if he's trying to capture sounds in the air.
"Dude, we're all down. Coast is clear."
"Naw, it ain't clear. That's what they want ya ta think. It ain't clear! I heard ‘em in the bushes. I heard ‘em. They found me—“
Wade moves in closer and puts his hands on Durward's shoulders. "It is clear. Remember? It's just me, you, and Millie here and nobody's shootin' nothin'. Those shots you're hearin' were just them dreams you get."
“Naw, my eyes were open and I heard ‘em.”
“Look at me. No one heard ‘em. No one’s there.”
Durward's eyes search Wade's face, red-rimmed and teary. His mouth moves as if he's saying a silent prayer. Wade begins patting one of his shoulders. "See that? You’re home, now."
Voice ragged as ripped cloth, Durward starts stammering. "Belnap n' Greenwood, they're gone, they were over in the reeds, they were—"
"Shh, they're resting now in heaven, Dude. Been there a long time."
"I got blood on me, I got blood…"
"No more blood. Look at your arms. Look at 'em. See that? No blood. Now turn your head ‘n' look over there at Millie. Now see? She's all right. We're all right. We done this before, remember, buddy? What do we call them dreams?"
Durward's eyes look back and forth as his eyes clear, his forehead loses the crinkles. "We call 'em 'glue dreams.'"
"That's right buddy. Them glue dreams get stuck on you when you wake up, but it's just a dream. It ain't real, it ain't nothin'. Just yer head playin' tricks. Just that old goddamned head playin' tricks. No war. No guns. Just blue sky and snow and Millie here. Dude? Ya hear me?"
Durward's head nods and then his hands cover his face. Voice muffled, he says his words quietly, only for Wade's ears.
"Why can't I shake them dreams?"
"'Cause they're made of glue, buddy. Awful, sticky, rotten glue. Been a long time since you had 'em. You're gettin' better every day. Been a real long time since the last one."
"I could hear the screamin’."
"I know, buddy. I know. Let's get you up. C'mon."
Wade stands and holds Durward's forearm. He puts another hand underneath the old man's armpit and they rise together. Durward seems to see Millie for the first time.
"Didn't mean ta scare ya. I got these dreams sometimes…"
Millie stands and walks around the bed. Wade moves out of the way so she can wrap her arms around Durward's middle. "Let's go in the other room and watch a nice old movie. I made us chili. We'll look at the snow outside."
They walk out of the room together and Wade is struck by how Durward wraps his arm around her shoulder, how tender yet protective it is. That Millie, he thinks, she's a good one.
As he walks through the living room to leave, Wade smiles at Millie as she sits on the couch close to Durward, her hand rubbing small circles on his back. Durward sits on the couch, a dull look in his eyes. Wade knows Durward will be all right.
A few more minutes will go by and the gunfire in the old man's thoughts will be silent; the fire, the smoke, the mangled bodies that sank into the mires of Korea will sink again into the depths of his mind, and he'll not speak of it again.