Charlotte – Maui, Hawaii
I met Afaf at a tiki bar.
At the time I was trying to earn a living by being a writer. I would read books and write all day then go out and drink and talk to people. I needed to be away from myself and liked the feeling of being in a crowd. I would drink shots of vodka and smoke cigarettes. Sometimes I would talk to people, but mostly I would just sit and look around and drink and smoke.
Afaf was a tourist. She came over and started to talk to me, asking me for a cigarette, ‘I don’t usually dress like this,’ was the first thing she had said to me.
She took a seat next to me and we talked. She told me that she was a singer in a punk rock band in Los Angeles. Afaf had taken meticulous pains to replicate a vintage pin up model; bright red lipstick, fishnet stockings, sweater. I found her pearl necklace odd; I had never seen anyone actually wear one. Her black hair was coiffed like Marylin Monroe. Her arms were covered in old-school tattoos. She was nearly as tall as me and had very thick lips.
On her chest was a large arching tattoo saying the word Freitas in Old English script. ‘My last name. My dad is from Morocco and my mother is from Spain. She was a flamenco dancer back in the day. She is here with me, we always go together.’
She fussed about her clothes. ‘I usually dress..you know. Better. It’s too hot here and this humidity is fucking up my hair.’
‘Who gives a shit?’
‘Where do you stay here?’ I ask.
She sips her drink. ‘Four Seasons.” She giggles.
“No shit? You rich?’
‘Nah, but I got money. I can afford it. You can come over, we can go swimming or something.’ She was now sitting very close to me.
She had a mole on her upper lip.
‘Is that real or did you draw that shit on,’ I asked her.
If you must know,’ she said, reaching over and fixing the collar of my sweatshirt, ‘I drew it. It’s a style. You wouldn’t understand. Your a boy, too macho.’
I wanted to be alone with her. I got up, motioning her to follow me.
‘You have..an attitude..I think you should be nicer to me,’ she said as I led her into the parking lot.
We got to my car and began to kiss. ‘Your not, you know, crazy or anything are you? Are you gonna rape me and kill me?’ she asked with a crooked smile.
‘I think I am afraid of you,’ she whispered as I lifted her on to the hood of my car.
I called her the next night.
‘What’d you do today?’ I asked her.
‘Nada. Me and Charlotte went to the beach, I got fuckin…burned. I thought you said you were gonna call me at 3:00’
‘I had business. Who is Charlotte?’ I asked. In the background there was a moaning sound.
‘Oh, my daughter. She knows we are talking about her. She wants attention, she is jealous, ha-ha. Hey, you coming over here or what?’
‘Yeah, let me do some shit first. I’m about to take a shower. I’ll leave in a half hour. Should I call you in the parking lot or just..come up?’
‘Call when your close but just come up. We’re in room 904.’
I had never been to Four Seasons before. I didn’t know if they would let me in. The reception desk was expecting me and enthusiastically told me to ‘go right on up.’ I wanted to see what the bathroom at the Four Seasons was like. I pretended to get lost, walking out onto the beach path that ringed the property. There was a Luau going on. Fat pasty tourists in Bermuda shorts; I peeked inside and pondered stealing some food.
I looked at the huge building and wondered if Afaf could see me, wondered where her room was and what was inside.
I went back into the lobby and got into the huge boat of an elevator. The walls were made of mirrors and it was cool and spacious inside. It silently rocketed up the floor, arriving with a tidy little ding. The elevators efficiency made me feel safe.
Hotels are weird. For me hotels always have this feeling of artificiality; someone slept here before, someone ate, showered, shit and fucked his wife in this room. Countless naked people examined their bodies on these mirrors, newlywed couples frolicked here, marriages were broken apart. All in these little rooms.
Afaf greeted me with a kiss. Her hair was hot and she was holding a blow dryer.
‘In the fridge there is beer and stuff. You want a beer? I am starving,’ she shouted over the hairdryer. I hadn’t heard this sound in many years; it reminded me of waiting for my mother to take me to school.
I took a beer and sat down on the couch. She came running from the bathroom and jumped onto the couch and tickled me. On the television was a black and white film, ‘the only movies I watch are from the 1940’s,’ Afaf told me solemnly. I liked her.
‘Come on, I want you to meet my daughter.’
Afaf had, in fact, two hotel rooms; a door joined the two together and she took my hand and led me into the next room.
Sitting in the center of the room was a frail and beautiful girl. She had Mediterranean features; thick black hair, olive skin, black eyes. Her expressionless face was hauntingly reminiscent of the Spanish painter Frida Kahlo; the same dead on stare, the faint mustache, magnetism. She was sitting in what looked to be a baby stroller.
‘She has cerebral palsy. I didn’t want to tell you about it last night or on the phone because..I didn’t want you to be scared off or act weird.’
‘Naw, it’s cool.’
‘Charlotte, meet my freind Barukh,’ Afaf said.
I hated this. How to act? Be ‘normal’ and pretend nothing is unusual? That is stupid. Speak in ‘babytalk?’ That’s condescending. I am uncomfortable around babies and the very old for the same reasons.
‘Whatsup Charlotte?’ Jesus.
Her body from the shoulders down grew increasingly spindly; small arms, thin torso and rail thin little legs hanging about. I realized she was dressed exactly like I was; Carhart jeans, Dickies work shirt, converse high tops. ‘ Charlotte!’ Afaf gasped in shock mock indignation, ‘he stole your style.’
That night I slept at the Four Seasons with Afaf. She took Charlotte and gently placed her in the same bed as us. The bed was huge.
I looked at Charlotte’s limp body, listened for snoring. I didn’t hear anything; maybe she had died. I wondered if Afaf feared Charlotte would die in her sleep.
Afaf was married and cheating on her husband with me. I wasn’t mad. It was an abusive relationship, he would beat her. We had no obligations to one another, she was a tourist in Hawaii and this is what happens. People meet and start little relationship-worlds that last only several days.
I wondered what he looked like.
‘He has tattoos,’ Afaf explained, propping herself up on a pillow, examining me. “He has an ugly face and is tall. Hey, he looks…like you..” she teased. It was Sunday morning. The sun shone bright against the curtains, giving the room a soft shadow.
‘I have pictures if you want to see ’em..”
“Yeah why not?’
She went to get them. I liked looking at her walk through the hotel room naked. She was bottom heavy, more ass than tits. On her back shoulder blade was a tattoo of Johnny Cash.
She came back five photos. I looked at the pictures and saw a man with an empty face, sitting at a drum set, looking blankly into the camera. He had a pompadour haircut and thick sideburns. In one photo he was holding two pistols. In each photo he grew progressively fatter, uglier.
‘Man, he’s fuckin..fat. This fool? This is the guy your married to?’ I was thankful he was ugly.
She started to laugh then began to cry. She looked away, wiping her eyes. ‘ We are getting a divorce. He hits me and is crazy.’ I looked at her and knew she would never rid herself of this man. He was crazy and Afaf was into ‘crazy.’ She was into villains. She liked me because I was indifferent to her. Woman are dumb like that.
‘Maybe I’ll move to Maui,’ she said, climbing on top of me.
I prayed she didn’t.
We were at the pool, Afaf’s family and I. I liked her mom, age was taking its toll but she had a flirtatious, frantic energy I found appealing. She would whisk me away, dancing like an old pro and tell Afaf she would ‘steal your boy-fren!”
It was dinner time and they wanted to buy me food. I have always been uncomfortable taking things from people and tried to decline. I tried to order something called ‘The Volcano Burger,’ the cheapest item.
‘You know you want the ste-ak,’ Afaf teased in a sing-song voice. We were sitting in the hot tub.
‘Just get it, I’ll get one too. We’ll have a steakfest. Don’t worry about the money. Your my guest,’ she insisted, kissing my cheek. I liked her kindness and affection.
They bought Charlotte pasta and fed it to her. ‘Ooh look, she is hungry,’ they enthused. ‘Yeah, she always eats the pasta,’ said Afaf’s sister. ‘Remember when we took her to Six Flags?’ Afaf asked, laughing, ‘and she ate three hot dogs!?’
I chewed my food and watched this in silence. This girl is on borrowed time. I hated this pretending; pretending she is a normal human being, pretending everything is Ok. She has lived past her time already, I remember Afaf telling me.
She will soon be dead and all these people will cry. There was this unfairness, this fate. God chooses you and you live your live as a vegetable, you are a cripple or a paraplegic.
After dinner, Afaf, Charlotte and myself piled into Afaf’s rental car and went to the beach. I sat on a bench and drank my beer and watched Afaf and Charlotte sit on the sand together. A simple, timeless scene, a mother and and her slowly dying daughter watching waves crash on a shore break. Afaf loved Charlotte. I would never understand that kind of love; that compassion that mothers have for daughters. I was far too distant, too selfish to understand these things. They were too far beyond me.